Julien Antomarchi from La Pomme Marseille(FRA) won the first stage of the UCI 2.2 Mzansi Tour powered by Cathsseta by out sprinting Robert Hunter riding for the South African National Team(RSA).
The French rider won the stage from Kruger Gate, Kruger Park, to Nelspruit over 164km in 4 hours 20 minutes and 57 seconds.
What makes this win special is that Antomarchi and his teammates only arrived in South Africa on Monday a mere 2 days before the start of the inaugural Mzansi Tour. When they flew out from France the temperature was a meager five degrees Celsius, during the Mzansi Tour’s first stage the temperature soared to a high of 35 degrees
It is no wonder most of the international riders complained about the extreme heat after they finished.
The stage boiled down to a classic race of attrition on the long climb just outside Sabie, South African Town of the Year, where a serious attack was launched.
The South African riders from FedGroup Itec (RSA) featured quite prominently in this move as the pace increased the riders started to drop off one by one, by the time the riders reached the top of the climb only five were left and they never intended to ease up, basically increasing their lead with each pedal stroke.
Hunter is not too despondent on losing out to Antomarchi in the sprint to the line, actually it might just turn out to be a blessing in disguise seeing as the National Team might not have the depth to defend the yellow jersey from the first stage all the way to Johannesburg.
The La Pomme Marseille (FRA) riders will have to do most of the hard work and dictate matters during the second stage from Lydenburg to Middelburg if they want to keep Antomarchi in yellow.
Fortunato Baliani from Nippo-De Rosa(JPN) finished third in the sprint with Ian McLeod FedGroup Itec fourth a mere second adrift and Paul van Zweel, Europcar SA, fifth a further four seconds adrift.
James Perry from Tasol GT (RSA) won the bunch sprint in 4 hours 27 minutes and 29 seconds.
It could be game over for most of the riders who missed this move as the chances of closing a 6:28 lead over the next four days are slim.
Antomarchi is hesitant to make any bold predictions as to what might happen during the second stage. “We are going to take it one stage at a time.” Although Antomarchi did hint that they are not going to give up the yellow jersey without a decent fight.
Hunter is looking forward to the next few days of racing. “It is going to be interesting. There are quite a few games we could play not having the yellow jersey on our team.”
Leading up to the event Hanco Kachelhoffer, Team Bonitas captain, predicted that the next two stages could be interesting following a team recce on the Mzansi Tour route. “It was never our goal to try and win the Mzansi Tour outright that is why we deliberately did not try and chase the breakaway down”
“We actually tried to save as much energy possible without being eliminated because we want to try and get good results in the second and third stages. It is more suited to one day classic specialists.”
Kachelhoffer predicts that Friday’s fourth stage which includes the climb to the Union Buildings and Saturday’s fifth stage at the Cradle of the Humankind is where the five leaders will battle it out to win overall.”