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Africa’s TDF aces can enjoy a break after a week of successes

Natnael-Berhane-1-TdF-Stage-8-Grubers

Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka will enjoy Monday’s first rest of the 2016 Tour de France and can rightfully sit back and look back on a week where the wins just didn’t stop coming.
Sprinter Mark Cavendish took three stage wins and teammate Steve Cummings made it a fourth in a week of high-quality riding.
Sunday’s stage nine took riders into Andorra and it was Tom Dumoulin (Giant-Alpecin) who took the stage spoils from a large breakaway. Rui Costa (Lampre-Merida) finished second and Rafal Majka (Tinkoff) third on the stage.
For Team Dimension Data, the stage did not get off to a great start as one of Cavendish’s key lead-out men, Mark Renshaw had to abandon the race due to illness picked up overnight. Renshaw was instrumental in the team’s opening week success, delivering Cavendish to his three victories. The Australian took the start but after less than 5km of racing it was clear that he could not continue.
The stage went on though and Dimension Data still wanted to be part of the action despite the disappointing news. Eritrean Daniel Teklehaimanot was one of the first riders of the day to attack as the race went up the first of five categorised climbs for the day. A number of counter-attacks followed while Team Sky also kept a consistently high tempo going in the peloton. Eventually it was 20 riders who were allowed clear with Natnael Berhane ws representing Dimension Data in the move.
With so much climbing throughout the day, it was a nervous stage for Cavendish and the African team with the time-cut being a constant threat. After the first big climb, Cavendish and Bernhard Eisel were two minutes behind the rest of the race and so apart from Berhane in the break and Serge Pawuwels in the yellow jersey group, the rest of their riders went back to help pace Cavendish and Eisel back to the pack. It was a strong show of teamwork which proved successful.
As the race made its way into Andorra for the final 50km and where the final three climbs of the stage awaited, Berhane was still present in the lead group, Pauwels was riding well in the 35-rider yellow jersey group and a large grupetto of more than 70 riders had formed containing the rest of the African team. With a number of strong climbers in the break, they were able to maintain enough of an advantage by the time the final climb to Andorre Arcalis began, ensuring they would decide the stage.
Dumoulin went away just as the rain started to fall and his attack could not be matched. Berhane slowly started to fade on the final climb and was eventually caught by the select yellow jersey group with 3km to go.
It was still a good showing by the Eritrean, and one from which he would have gained much experience. The grupetto came in a little over 30 minutes down on Dumoulin and Cavendish was able to retain the lead in the Green Jersey points competition as the race headed into the first rest day of this year’s Tour de France.
Said Berhane: ‘From the start many riders wanted to be in the break. We were 35 riders at first, Contador and Valverde were there as well and the peloton didn’t want them to go away. Finally, they dropped back to the peloton and we started to pull harder on the front to get a gap.
‘In the final the attacks started and I tried to follow as much as I could because I was hoping to make a top 10 result. I couldn’t do it today but I hope to have a good rest now so that I can try again to get a good result.’
So after a week’s racing Dimension Data find themselves 17th out of 22 teams, 39min 35sec behind Movistar (combined time 16:04:21).
In the General Classification the best South African rider is Rio Olympics bound Louis Meintjes (Lampre – Merida) in ninth spot overall, 55sec behind the yellow jersey of Team Sky’s Chris Froome (44:36:03).
Meintje’s Olympic Team SA partner, Daryl Impey, is 41st (37:03 back) while best Dimension Data rider is Serge Pauwels, 10 slots back in 51st (43:08)
Tuesday’s resumption of battle will see no respite for the riders. They head straight into what looks like the toughest start to a stage on this year’s tour.
The stage goes from Escaldes-Engordany to Revel, a 198km stretch, but they leave Andorra right into a 22.6km climb up the 2,408m Port d’Envalira which is going to highlight any legs that haven’t recovered sufficiently on the rest day.


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