By Ian Sadler

Pretoria's "Bionic Man" arrives in Cape Town at the weekend, his focus firmly set on a two-part mission.

Morne Bester aims to retain the Cape Argus/Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour title and help his new teammates go a step better than last year in the Giro del Capo that starts on Tuesday.

A successful mission for Bester will finally erase the memory of a horror crash four years ago, an incident that almost wrecked his leg, and cycling career.

"I had been doing really well in Italy, then went to Ireland for a race, it was in '97," recalled Bester from Pretoria on Tuesday.

The SDD Milk Race started in Dublin and a couple of days later Bester, 19 at the time, came face-to-face with the nightmare every cyclist dreads - a motor car on the wrong side of the road.

"We were just outside Cork, I was riding with a German guy, going downhill on a blind bend and this car came round the corner - the road was supposed to be closed to traffic."

Bester and the German cyclist hit the car head on and both went over the top. The South African's left leg was fractured in three places, the German's thigh muscle torn from his leg.

"We were doing about 65km/h when we hit the car, it should never have been there," said Bester who recalls torn knee ligaments were as bad as the fractures.

"My leg was a real mess, all the ligaments were ripped from the bone and I still have screws in my leg - it took so long, I almost stopped cycling."

A year later Bester was back riding low-key races at home. "I still remember newspapers in Pretoria had headlines about 'Bionic Bester makes his comeback'."

But it wasn't until winning last year's 109km tour of the Peninsula he felt he had started to regain the level before the crash in Cork.

"There's nothing bigger in South Africa than winning the Argus - it got me into the Lotus team and also made me realise I could make it after my accident.

"Now my main goal this year is to win The Argus a second time - no one's done that for a while; last year I was the youngest winner - that's another incentive."

But before that, though, Bester's IBM/Lotus teammates will look to him in their push to beat the slick HSBC team, winners of last year's Giro.

IBM/Lotus captain Douglas Ryder said: "You don't get more exposure these days than winning the Argus.

"Soon after Morne won last year we approached him and we ended with a win-win situation. Kosie (Loubscher) had been made an offer from another club, but when he heard Morne was going to ride for us, he decided to stay - they both come from Pretoria and are good buddies."

Loubscher was in brilliant form for the South African national side (for which Bester was overlooked) at the recent Tour of Langkawi in Malaysia, coming 16th overall in a world-class field.

Bester's omission, though, seems to have worked in his favour for next week's Giro.

"Langkawi took a lot out of the guys," said Ryder, also the SA national skipper. "That's why we've left Simon (Kessler) out and included Morne in our Giro team."

With Ryder, Bester and Loubscher, the rest of the Lotus/IBM team will be James Perry and Daniel Spence, who both competed in Malaysia.

After his 2000 triumph, Bester knows it won't be easy to emulate Willie Engelbrecht, a five-time winner of the Cycle Tour and who boasts a hat trick of wins between 1988 and 90.

"Sure I'll be a marked man, it's going to be a more tactical race, but I've got a really strong team to help me," said the 24-year-old cyclist.