My 2016 racing season got underway at the Mpumalanga Road Tour which took place from the 18th to the 23rd of January. As the name indicates the tour showcased the beautiful Mpumalanga Province – the Province of the Rising Sun.
The mountainous terrain, quieter roads and pleasant climate of the area make it an ideal setting for a road cycling tour. The Mpumalanga Tour also followed in the footsteps of well known races like the Hanson and Rapport Tours, providing professional riders with a weeklong stage race to showcase their talent.
With the Mpumalanga Government funding the event, the province wanted to have a Mpumalanga Ladies Team participating at the event and I was approached at the end of last year to ride as part of the Mpumalanga Team. Not being able to race as an individual, I was delighted to have a team and form part of the event.
The squad consisted of Anriette Schoeman (Africa Silks), Samantha Sanders (Valencia), Dalene van Der Leek (Bell’s Cycling), Emily Clark (Valencia), Ronet Human (Clover), myself (Garmin) and team manager Bosseau Bosshof. It was our first outing as a team and we made the most of this opportunity, having as much fun off the bike as on it.
The event started on Monday at the Forever Resort Loskopdam, from where the Elite and Under 23 Men tackled an undulating 200km stage to Badplaas. The following day the Elite Ladies, Vets and Open categories joined in on the action for day two’s 97 km stage from Badplaas to Nelspruit via Barberton.
From Nelspruit the tour visited Whiteriver, Hazyview, Graskop and Blyde River Canyon to give the Elite – and U/23 men a total distance of 752km divided into 6 stages. The ladies, vets and open categories on the other hand completed a total distance of 450km over 5 days of racing.
Whatever we ‘lacked’ in kilometres we surely made up for in climbing. In total we ascended 7144 meters and despite the hills being gruelling at times, it was rewarding to climb the Lowveld’s famous Kowyn’s, Bonnet and Robbers Passes on day 3’s queen stage.
If racing a tour in a region I’m very fond off wasn’t inviting enough, it also fitted in perfectly with my program as a build-up event for Tankwa Trek, Garden Route 300 and the Epic. Dr. Mike Posthumus has been guiding and helping me with a training plan since November 2015 and after all the work over the holidays, I was pleasantly surprised with my form so early in the year.
On stage one Lise Oliver (Time Freight) and I rode away on the final long climb and stayed away until the end where I finished 2nd in the sprint (no doubt due to my giant calves – weight does hold you back you know ;).
Thanks to my climbing prowess on day one, the MPU Ladies Team decided straight after the stage that I’ll be the General Classification rider and selflessly helped me wherever they could during the ensuing stages.
Apart from the final stage 5, all the other days finished on top of or just after a long climb. This made for a climbing battle royale which saw me, Michelle Vorster (Namibia) and Lise Olivier fighting it out towards the end of stages 2, 3 and 4. Each day’s concluding uphill battle came after the MPU Team completed a big part of the pacing work up front, especially Samantha and Anriette who were always the final two girls left standing before battle commenced.
With the help of the MPU Team I placed 3rd overall in the general classification and 2nd in the queen of the mountains (QOM) competition behind Lise Olivier. Michelle Vorster finished in 2nd place overall and 3rd in the QOM competition after the week’s racing.
A big well done to Hendrik Wagenaar and his H&A Toere team for organising a road tour which caters for professional road cyclist in terms of its physical demands. Not only is SA cycling in need of such an event to improve the sport but it’s also wonderful to have a week-long road tour in one of SA’s most beautiful provinces.