The stage is set for an epic road cycling battle when South Africa’s top professional teams gather for the five-day Bestmed Tour de Boland, presented by Pinarello, from March 2.
Fielding a full complement of six riders each, the half-dozen squads will enliven the sharp end of the 465km Pro-Am race through the Cape Winelands as they jostle for position in the peloton.
Aside from familiar foes, the local teams will also face stiff competition from Australian Pro-Continental team Drapac, which is headed by South African export Dylan Girdlestone.
According to race director Carinus Lemmer, the 2015 edition promised to be the most closely contested tour to date.
“In the wake of the recent national and continental road championships, we’re expecting all the riders to be on top form and ready to deliver some of the best performances of their careers.”
The MTN-Qhubeka feeder team will be without the services of two-time champion Nic Dougall, who was promoted to their Pro-Conti outfit this season.
However, Eritrean Meron Teshome, who won last year’s penultimate stage to Riebeek-Kasteel, will be back to put his climbing skills to work for the team alongside the likes of national U23 road champion Jayde Julius.
Franschhoek-born sprinter Nolan Hoffman will delight his local supporters as he spearheads the Abantu attack in preparation for his Cape Town Cycle Tour title defence.
Hoffman and teammates Reynard Butler and HB Kruger are currently honing their form representing SA at the Tour of Gabon.
Also at that tour is Willie Smit, who will join his fellow EuropcarSA riders –
including Fast One winner Ryan Gibbons – at the Boland event.
Bonitas, led by Luthando Kaka, should bring a competitive attack once more that includes fastman Herman Fouché and climber JC Nel.
Not to be discounted is the Giant team that features stage race specialist and 2009 Tour de Boland winner Johann Rabie, alongside the likes of Carl Pasio and Martin Wesemann.
Putting his home ground knowledge to work for his Lights by Linea teammates will be Stefan Ihlenfeldt, who won this week’s Tour de Stellenbosch.
While the bigger teams are expected to dominate the tactics, one or two pairings could throw the cat among the pigeons.
Cannondale-Blend’s seasoned climber Darren Lill, who powered up Franschhoek Pass to scoop the final stage win last year, is one such rider.
Teammate and former Tour of Egypt winner Waylon Woolcock, who took a solo win into Tulbagh on stage two last year, could help Lill to shake things up.
Switzerland’s multiple Cape Epic champion Christoph Sauser and Tankwa Trek winner Erik Kleinhans will pair up in the colours of Aramex to drive the pace on their local training routes.
The tour starts in Paarl and finishes at the Taal Monument above the town on March 6.
Stage 1: Paarl to Worcester via Franschhoek (114km)
Stage 2: Worcester to Op-die-Berg via Ceres (111km)
Stage 3: Ceres to Tulbagh (30km individual time-trial)
Stage 4: Tulbagh to Riebeek-Kasteel via Piketberg (138km)
Stage 5: Riebeek-Kasteel to Paarl via Wellington (74km)
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