VANDERBIJLPARK – Boksburg-born cyclist Herman Fouche handed the Bonitas Pro Cycling team its first stage win at the Mzansi Tour after he won a bunch sprint finish on the third stage of the tour on Friday.
Fouche crossed the line in four hours, 27 minutes and 17 seconds (4:27:17) to win the longest stage of the tour, a 201km ride from Bethlehem to Vanderbijlpark, ahead of Jan Sokol (Synergy Baku Cycling Project) who finished second, while Team Abantu's Nolan Hoffman had to settle for the third spot on the podium.
There were no changes on the general classification (GC) after the fourth day of the Mzansi Tour as Jacques Janse van Rensburg (MTN-Qhubeka) retained the yellow jersey after finishing 19th on the third stage.
MTN-Qhubeka's Louis Meintjes retained the King of the Mountain (KOM) jersey, while Nolan Hoffman walked away with the points jersey, leading with 15 points.
Racing got underway on the R714 in Bethlehem after going through a 5.3km neutral zone from the CBD.
Airgas Cycling riders Connor McCutheon and Justin Mauch opened a slight lead ahead of the peloton, but were soon pulled back into the bunch.
Later, another breakaway of six riders formed which was caught by three other riders. The group maintained its lead for over 5km before the peloton made a few attacks, eventually pulling the nine back as the race headed for the first hotspot.
Shiki Kuroeda (Team Vini Fantini-Nippo-de Rosa) surged ahead just before the hotspot to be the first rider across, grabbing the vital points.
He was pulled back into the peloton and the bunch kept together as it made its way along the R57 headed for Heilbron.
Soon after a five-rider breakaway formed, which included Willie Smit (Team Vini Fantini-Nippo-de Rosa), Phillip Lavery (Synergy Baku cycling project), Patrick Kos (Airgas Cycling), Bonaventure Uwizeyimana (Africa mixed team) and Jayde Julius (Bonitas Pro Cycling).
The five kept together as the race made its way through Heilbron, turning onto the R57 heading for the finish in Vanderbijlpark.
There was some drama in the chasing bunch, though, after two riders from the Synergy Baku Cycling project crashed as they went over a few speed humps in town.
The lead group maintained their lead, stretching their advantage as they neared the end of the stage.
With over 20km to go to the finish, Smit launched his attack and did well to open a significant gap ahead of the peloton. He maintained his lead for over 10km but was caught in the closing stages of the race.
The race was decided by a bunch sprint finish, where Fouche came out tops.
“The last 20km of the race were hectic. Then the last five 5km Ä that's where the teams started with their lead-outs and luckily I've got a great lead-out team,” Fouche said after the race.
“Luthando (Kaka) took me into the last corner with over a kilometre to go and HB Kruger took me to the line.
“At first I thought I wasn't going to catch up with the attacks in front, but it turned out my form was good on the day.
“I'm glad to have pulled off a win for my team. We had a perfect race today and the whole team rode as a great team.”
Janse van Rensburg said it was great to end MTN-Qhubeka's dominance on the podium after the team had won the first and second stages of the tour.
“We have a good climber, Dylan Girdlestone, and from the first race we tried going for the GC but unfortunately MTN-Qhubeka came with a very strong climbing team and we could not match them.
“It's good to pull off a win before the last day tomorrow.”
The Mzansi Tour wraps up on Saturday with the fourth 79.5km stage in Midrand, Johannesburg. – Sapa