Professional cycling teams may just be enticed to return to the Eastern Cape in their droves after the announcement that next year’s VW Herald Cycle Tour will be the opening leg of a new “pro tour”.

In a telephone interview yesterday, Douglas Ryder, team owner of the MTN Energade professional outfit, said his team would be supporting the series, starting with the Eastern Cape’s premier event on February 1.

He said team Neotel was also set to join the field and he hoped that others “may follow” as well.

This new initiative, known as the Alpha Pharm Seeding Series, groups 15 races that form part of the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour’s participant seeding system.

While initially designed to offer social riders seeding opportunities for the Cape Argus, a prize purse of R200 000 along with the status associated with such an event, should see professional teams support the series.

Ryder said it was important to lure more of the country’s top pro teams to the mass participation events that South Africa has become famous for.

“Racing in South Africa is unique,” he said. “It is the only place in the world where you will find professionals racing alongside social riders of all ages.

“We need to raise the profile of professional racing in front of this captive audience. It is an opportunity to create new heroes for the youngsters to aspire to – names like Malcolm Lange, Darryl Impey and now also John-Lee Augustyn.”

Bill Stephens, communications manager of Volkswagen South Africa, said yesterday the news was a major coup for the event that bears the motor manufacturer’s name as well as for the region.

“We’re extremely proud to be included in this innovative new series. If more professional teams take part in our event, it will certainly raise its national profile.”

He said the higher the profile of the race, the more positive spin-offs for the event, which will ultimately flow through to the local economy. The Uitenhage-based firm’s commercial vehicle brand is also the official vehicle sponsor of the MTN Energade team.

Ryder said that although he felt there were still some teething problems to sort out, the series was a step in the right direction. However, he warned that while it might assist in raising the profile of the sport locally, the races were still too short to prepare local riders for international competition.

“It’s a wonderful new way to add value to these seeding events and it simultaneously creates a new goal for our professional riders,” David Bellairs, director of sponsorships and marketing of the Cape Argus, said in a statement.

The Alpha Pharm series includes established events in eight provinces, all of which adhere to a set of criteria that comply with high safety and participant-value standards.

The series consists of the following events: VW Herald Cycle Tour (Feb 1), Construction du Cap 99er (Feb 14), Dischem Ride For Sight (Feb 15), Daily Dispatch/Felt Cycle Tour (Feb 22), Cape Argus (Mar 8), Pick n Pay Weekend Argus Rotary Knysna Cycle Tour (Jul 5), Medihelp Jock Cycle Classique (Jul 18), Kumba Iron Ore Classic (Sep 5), Powerade Dome 2 Dome Cycling Spectacular (Sep 13), Pick n Pay Amashovashova National Classic (Oct 18), Telkom Satellite Cycle Classic (Oct 24), Pick n Pay OFM Cycle Classic (Nov 1), AGA Cycle Challenge (Nov 7), Pick n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge (Nov 15), Die Burger Cycle Tour (Nov 29).

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