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Johannesburg – It is perhaps appropriate that the only international road cycling race in South Africa this year will start in the wilds of the Kruger National Park and end in the milds of the Cougar National Park, also known as Fourways.
The Mzansi Tour, a five-day stage race, will run from Kruger to Fourways in Joburg from April 17-21. The event will signal the return of international stage racing to South Africa for men, a gap that has been sorely felt by local riders and organisers. The race will be ranked 2.2 by the International Cycling Union, a ranking that is a beginning, according to race director Barry Austin.
“Having a 2.2 ranking is a start for the Mzansi Tour,” said Austin. “We want to grow the event year by year, but we need to do that in a way that is sustainable. The country has been calling out for an international road race. Having international racing on the doorstep of so many folks who never get to see any type of international events creates heroes and feeds aspirations and dreams of the many people we will touch with the Mzansi Tour Also, the UCI actually only really considers you an active affiliate nation when you have events in the international calendar. We probably have the most fun rides, yet the least international racing days of all the major African cycling nations. That ratio means something is unhealthy and will not produce the needed heroes and international stars we ought to be producing.”
A new company has been formed, Echelon Events, to run the race, which has been partnered by Cathesseta, the government’s skills development arm for culture, arts, tourism, hospitality and sport. The reason behind their involvement is the logistical and organisation skills the race will impart.
“It is our objective that with this race we will be able to promote transformation in the cycling fraternity and introduce professional cycling to young black aspiring cyclists,” said Mike Tsotetsi, CEO of Cathsseta. “I am very optimistic that through this partnership, South Africa’s expertise in hosting and managing big international events will propel even greater investor interest in hosting sporting events in this country.”
Thirteen teams, five of them from South Africa, four from Africa and internationa teams will make up the bunch. The race will take in Mpumalanga, including the towns of Hazyview, Sabie, White River, Nelspruit, Lydenberg, Dullstroom, Belfast, Middelburg and Witbank, before heading to Verena, Bronkhorstpruit, Cullinan, Mamelodi, Hartebeespoort, Pretoria and Johannesburg. How, though, will this not be another Tour of South Africa from 2011, a dream of a race that turned into a mess in Joburg and is the subject of a squabble between the organisers and CSA. “CSA are not involved as a financial partner, but as as the local authority,” said one of the organisers. “We’ve taken on board a lot of those mistakes, most of which were because they did not form a relationship with the local metro officials. That will not happen again.”
There is R700 000 on prize money for the event, R100 000 to the winner.
Stage one, April 17: 163km. Skukuza rest Camp, Kruger Park > Belfast > Cork > Bejani > Shabala > Hazyview > Sabie > Whiteriver > Nelspruit
Stage two, April 18. 184km. Lydenburg > Dullstroom > Belfast > Stofberg > Middelburg
Stage three, April 19: 144km. Witbank > Verena > Wolvenkop > Vlakfontein > Bronkhorstspruit > Cullinan > Mamelodi
Stage four, April 20: 163km. Hartebeespoort > Hekpoort > Magaliesburg > Pretoria Union Buildings, via Tom Jenkins Drive
Stage five April 21: 117km. Monte Casino, Johannesburg > 3x laps of the Cradle of Humankind > Monte Casino. (A second and final stage of the race is planned for the afternoon, but details have not been released.”