Kristian House and his British Rapha Condor JLT team lit up the first day of the Mzansi Tour on Tuesday, scorching up the 5km prologue around Emmarentia Dam in Johannesburg.
House was first across the finish line and will wear the leader’s yellow jersey on the first stage of the Mzansi Tour in the Free State on Wednesday. Rapha Condor JLT just did enough to hold off the much-favoured MTN Qhubeka team, who finished just four seconds behind them. The Synergy Baku Cycling Project from Azerbaijan were third, five seconds behind the leaders, with the Africa Mixed Team fourth (10 seconds behind) and Germany’s Rad-Net Rose in fifth (13 seconds).
House is used to victory in South Africa, having won the Tour of South Africa here a few years ago. British-born but raised in Austin, Texas, House is comfortable riding in heat and the cold, and yesterday praised the course and the conditions of the short, sharp 5km prologue, which took his team just six minutes and 37 seconds to finish.
“I rode in this race last year and have done the Argus,” said House. “I’ve been out here four or five times now. The prologue course was great, technical, some off-camber, dodgy corners you have to be careful on; that massive descent with the corner at the bottom of it was tricky and you had to judge it right. We all got around okay. It was a little scrappy, but we managed to pull it off.”
House will be hoping to hold on to the yellow jersey on the first day of Wednesday’s 140km stage from the Golden Gate Hotel to Clarens. There are some stiff climbs tomorrow and while House has won a King of the Mountains jersey before, at the Tour of Britain in 2012, he was looking to others in his team, like Rapha Condor’s Luke Grivell-Mellor, who will wear the young riders jersey. “Whether we’ll defend the jersey is another matter,” said House. “We have some good climbers here. On the mountain-top finish (on stage two on Thursday), hopefully we’ll get up there in a good position and it’ll be good for us.”
MTN Qhubeka will wear two jerseys on the first stage, with Jacques Janse van Rensburg taking the points jersey and Daniel Teklehaimanot, the jersey for the best African rider. Janse van Rensburg said MTN Qhubeka were happy with second place on the prologue.
“That was a good result for us, just four seconds behind Rapha Condor,” said Janse van Rensburg. “For a bunch of climbers in a prologue specialist event, I think we did quite well. We worked quite well together. We made a small mistake in the really fast corner, and maybe lost a few seconds there, but we’re happy with that. It’s good for us with what will be quite a hard stage tomorrow. We don’t have the yellow jersey so we wont have to control the bunch. We can be aggressive.
“The team is really motivated and we’re looking forward to the first stage. It’s quite a hard stage and with the altitude, a lot of the European teams are going to struggle a little bit. We’ve been here for a week and we’ve adjusted quite well. The last 30km of the course are hard (on stage one), and I think there will be a decisive move with about 15 riders going to the line. With that short, steep kick at the end.
“We have a lot of pressure on us being the favourites, there is no doubt. As we have got into the Vuelta now there’s a lot of pressure on us to perform, and as this is our home race, we want to put on a good show for the South Africans.”
The altitude of the Highveld did affect some of the Europeans, with German Christoph Schweizer of Synergy Baku, who will wear the King of the Mountains jersey today, admitting he had been gasping for air on the prologue. “It’s a lot higher that I am used to,” smiled Schweizer.
The Mzansi Tour, powered by CATHSSETA, runs from April 8-12.
April 9: Stage 1 – Golden Gate to Clarens (140km)
April 10: Stage 2 – Clarens to Golden Gate National Park (159km)
April 11: Stage 3 – Bethlehem to Vanderbijlpark (201km)
April 12: Stage 4 – Blue Hills Estate Circuit (79,5km – 15 laps of 5.3km circuit)
Cycling SA National Team Captain, Carl Pasio, said: “Five kilometres is really short and there is a fine line between keeping all your riders and losing some of them. Unfortunately when we hit that steep little climb, we looked back and we only had 4 riders and the best option was to keep pushing. We’re happy with our ride and will go into tomorrow for a stage win. GC (General Classification) will be a hard challenge now but GC is always possible.”
The National Team’s Manager, Owen Botha, said: “We’re not trying to put too much pressure on the guys, because they are young. But we still need to have a certain level of competitiveness and we lacked it today. I think we started a little too fast and that put us in the red. The 5km course is very deceiving – the amount of effort and the wattage that the guys had to put out is very high and they had to hold it for very long.”
Summary of Results – 2014 Mzansi Tour – TTT Prologue
Best Young Rider – GC
African Rider – GC