South Africa’s elite cyclists will converge on picturesque Franschhoek for one of the country’s only remaining road tours, the BESTmed Tour de Boland, presented by ASG, on March 5.

Following the demise of the Cell C Tour of South Africa, the dearth of road tours means the four-day event is one of the few opportunities for pros to test themselves in a European-style stage-racing environment ahead of the international season, which starts a month later.

According to event director Carinus Lemmer the tour is ideally slotted on the racing calendar – one week after the national road champs and a couple of days before the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour.

“It’s just soon enough to wind down after SA champs and hard enough to rev the engine for the Cycle Tour.”

Lemmer says the four-stage format will comprise a 10km individual time-trial, 40km team time-trial, 140km road race and one-hour criterium.

“This combination is unique in the current South African cycling landscape, bringing the event on par with international racing standards.”

Featuring a field of just 100 riders, he says the tour is strictly for the best of the best.

“Although it caters for a combination of amateurs and professionals, it is not for the faint-hearted and only for the most experienced.”

After a year-long hiatus due to a lack of funding, Lemmer says the new BESTmed-sponsored tour will resume exactly where it left off in 2011.

Then national road champion Darren Lill defeated former mountain bike world champion Christoph Sauser in the men’s race, while Olympian Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio snatched victory from team-mate Jo van de Winkel in the women’s.

He says Lill and Sauser, as well as top riders from the World Cycling Centre Africa team, have vowed to return this year for a scintillating rematch.

Starting and finishing each day at the Allée Bleue estate and racing through the heart of Franschhoek wine country, the event promises all the glamour, grit and history of a miniature Tour de France.

The tour, which has had various incarnations over the past 30 years, kicks off on day one with an individual time-trial to the top of the ominously named Helshoogte climb.

“The route cuts through the heart of Pniel, Johannesdal and Dwarsrivier, which are small historical settlements that made up the early Stellenbosch and Franschhoek corridors 300 years ago,” explains Lemmer.

In the team time-trial on day two, teams will start three minutes apart. Individuals will be batched into groups of six according to the previous day’s times.

“It’s a bit of a new format, seeing that we have both individuals and teams racing, so this stage will not count towards the GC.”

Day three consists of a tough 140km course, which includes the Taal Monument climb in Paarl, racing through the streets of Franschhoek as well as the old and new Helshoogte mountain passes.

“Slower riders will be diverted onto a shorter course but will still receive an adjusted finishing time,” says Lemmer.

These riders will complete their tour with a half-hour criterium on the fourth and final day, while the top GC group will finish with a one-hour circuit race through Dwarsrivier.

Entries close a week before the event, but will become progressively more expensive. Lemmer says riders could approach them regarding financial assistance.

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