The Tour de Boland may have appeared in various guises over the years but, with confirmation of continued sponsorship from Bestmed and ASG, it looks set to become a major player in the development of African cycling.
The four-day tour, which last took place in 2010, rolled out from the Alleé Bleue wine estate in the Stellenbosch-Franschhoek area amid much anticipation at the end of March.
Podiumwise it was a clean sweep for the MTN-Qhubeka feeder team with former Australian Nicholas Dougall taking overall honours ahead of South African team-mates Till Drobisch and JC Nel.
With the inclusion of individual and team time-trials, a road race and criterium, the new-look tour heralded the return of classic stage racing.
“There are certain skills that are sorely lacking in South African road cycling,” says event director and former Cycling SA chief operating officer Carinus Lemmer.
“The last 20 years have been dominated by fun rides, which are essentially from A to B.
“You can’t be competent or competitive internationally just by being able to ride 120km from one point to the next.”
As a top pro rider in the late eighties, Lemmer speaks from experience when he says the aim of the Tour de Boland is to rekindle the glory days of SA road cycling.
“I was raised in an environment where cycling was a holistic experience and you had to have a varied skill set.”
Without creating opportunities to exercise these faculties, he says modern African roadies will remain forever at the tail end of the international bunch.
“For example, we currently only have one time-trial event at elite level – the national championships.
“Although some provinces stage their own events, a rider is doing at most two or three per year.”
Lemmer says he believes they should be doing 15 or 20 such races to advance at an international level.
The Boland Cycling Association chairman says he is pleased to see the emergence of other stage races like the UCI-sanctioned Mzansi Tour, which takes place from the Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga to Johannesburg in Gauteng later this month.
“It’s of cardinal importance; we should have many road tours across the country throughout the year.”
As far as the Bestmed Tour de Boland is concerned, Lemmer says it will retain its current position on the national calendar, which is the week between the national championships and the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour.
With confirmation of the title sponsor’s increased financial commitment, he says organisers will soon be able to expand the size of the field and invite more riders from other parts of the continent.
Lemmer is particularly proud of the developmental focus of the tour, which this year featured Pan-African teams from World Cycling Centre Africa in Potchefstroom and top riders from as far afield as Namibia, Rwanda and Egypt.
“Exactly 50% of the finishers this year were classified as black. That’s the biggest balance in any CSA-classified A-level event, as far as I know.
“It’s important to stress the word ‘finishers’ because it shows they were more than able to complete such a challenging tour.”
Headlining the event was international track star Nolan Hoffman, who mentored the Boland ASG junior team.
“Nolan was one of the key patrons I wanted for our tour,” he says. “He’s a world class cyclist who was born, raised and educated in Franschhoek and coached by members of the Paarl cycling community.”
By staging events featuring heroes that local children can relate to, Lemmer says the youngsters will see that they can aspire to, and realise, great cycling dreams.
The event has certainly come a long way from the early days when black and white cyclists staged separate Tour de Boland and Tour de Winelands events.
“The two stage races happened on and off over the years but no one ever had ownership of the name.
“In the last 10 years, my brother Hendrik and Ian Goetham started running one inclusive provincial tour, which became known as Tour de Boland.”
Now firmly embedded under the auspices of the Boland Cycling Association, and with seed money from the Western Cape Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, the latest incarnation promises to develop cycling talent for a good few years.
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