The Le Coq Sportif Tour de Boland (8 – 11 March) is certainly a race for the climbers, during three days of racing the riders will be expected to conquer Bainskloof Pass twice, Du Toitskloof Pass twice and the Franschoek Pass once.
After the Cell C Tour of South Africa, riders like Daryl Impey and Dennis van Niekerk (both MTN/Qhubeka), Johann Rabie (Bonitas), Darren Lill (DCM) and Jacques Janse van Rensburg (Burgos2016) will certainly have some unfinished business to attend to. After seven days of racing, they were separated by a total time difference of only 82 seconds.
According to Van Niekerk, he owes it to himself as well as to his sponsors, MTN-Qhubeka, to perform well in the tour. “Strangely enough I am not really well-known for achieving good results in South Africa, but I have had some good results in international races. Earlier this year I finished fourth overall in the Tour de Langkawi in Malyasia and last year I won the Tour of Luzon in the Philippines.
“I find it exciting that this is the first time that I have the opportunity to ride for a South African team that believes in my abilities as a climber. That is why the Tour of South Africa was such a disappointment for me.”
“I crashed during the third stage while I still had a realistic chance of winning the tour.”
Van Niekerk makes no secret about what his most important goal for the year is.
“I want the rest of the riders to know that I am a GC contender who will fight until the last meter to ensure a good result every time I take part in a tour. This will apply especially to when we will race in Europe later this year.
Van Niekerk again emphasized the importance of not to be caught napping during the Tour de Boland’s first stage.
“The first stage is when you build the foundation for riding a good tour. I have learned it over and over again. We all erred during the first stage of the Tour of South Africa when we allowed Kristian House to ride away from us all to gain an advantage of more than two minutes. Hopefully we will not allow this to happen again.”
When asked what triggered his interest in a cycling career, Van Niekerk said that his aunt had bought a bicycle shop in Bethlehem when he was 15 years old.
“On a trip to Durban, we visited my aunt and my dad bought mountain bikes for us.
“My goal at that time was to do 10 kilometer races. Then, one Sunday, I saw the Rapport tour on television and that changed my life entirely. I then realized that I wanted to become a pro-elite cyclist.
“My dad supported me right from the start. He even was my first training partner.
“When I was a junior, I met Daryl and we rode together in a team for 2 years. On the last day of the junior tour I finished second. Martin Sanders encouraged me to continue to train hard because, in his opinion, I had what it takes to make it in the professional ranks.
“Riding with Jock Green for Konica-Minolta was another defining moment in my cycling career. It was Jock who taught me how to read a race. He taught me things like which attacks to let go and how many times to attack during a race.”
Arran Brown and Reinardt Janse van Rensburg will not be racing the Tour de Boland because they will rest for Sunday’s Argus.