Mzansi Tour Prepares Hunter for Giro d'Italia

Words & Photos: Zoon Cronje

Road Cycling

South African cycling fans will do well to follow the Giro d'Italia that begins on Saturday, 4 May, as Robert Hunter (Garmin-Sharp) might just cause an upset in one of the bunch sprints to the line.



The South African cycling legend, who recently won the UCI 2.2 Mzansi Tour powered by Cathsseta in a convincing way, is currently in awesome form.


During last year’s Giro d’Italia, Hunter and his Garmin-Sharp teammates won the team time trial. Hunter was also placed 5th in the fourth stage of the Giro. Dylan Girdlestone (Westvaal/BMC) was the only other local rider who won a stage. David Maree (Tasol-GT) finished second once, Nolan Hoffman (Tasol-GT) finished third twice and Waylon Woolcock (Bonitas) was third once.


Hunter wins Mzansi Tour 2013

South African cycling star Robert Hunter, riding for the South African National Team, claimed an impressive victory in the inaugural Mzansi Tour, which took place from 17 to 21 April, 2013 and started and finished at Montecasino in Johannesburg. His win in the general classification was built upon a superb solo effort in the second stage - at 189 km and the longest of the race - which left him almost six minutes clear of the second placed rider. Hunter kept up the pressure throughout and ultimately finished the race 5 minutes and
56 seconds ahead of second-placed Julien Antomarchi.


The five-day, five-stage event carried a 2.2 International Cycling Union (UCI) grading and attracted a total of 15 teams, of which 8 were from South Africa and 7 were international teams, including Germany, Japan, Algeria, Egypt, France, Great Britain and one mixed African team. The Mzansi Tour is South Africa’s only international road stage race in 2013 and was organised by Echelon Events (Pty) Ltd and powered by CATHSSETA (Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority).


Hunter openly admitted that the main reason why he decided to participate in the Mzansi Tour was because it was ideal preparation for the Giro d’Italia.


"To do the long, hard kilometres all on your own is simply not the same as competing in a tour," he said. Hunter was full of praise for the way in which the Mzansi Tour was organised, “It was one of the best local tours in which I have ever competed. The organisation was faultless throughout the five days. If the organisers could upgrade the Tour to a higher UCI status, I have no doubt that more of the top riders will come to South Africa to prepare for the Giro d’Italia. I've already had some of the riders ask me about the Tour."


The Mzansi Tour will also play a developmental and transformational role, creating role models and inspiring young people to pursue cycling as an alternative profession; all while instilling values of discipline, teamwork, professionalism and leadership.


Velokhaya is the Mzansi Tour's skills development and transformation beneficiary who, with the support of CATHSSETA and the Mzansi Tour, aims to contribute to the economic growth of the South African sports sector, growing champions on and off the bike. Velokhaya Life Cycling Academy, or Velokhaya for short is a non-profit organisation that uses education-based cycling programmes to give children from disadvantaged communities the skills and opportunities they need to make a success of their lives. The word Velokhaya is derived from the French word for cycling (velo) and the Xhosa word for home (khaya).


Mzansi Tour Stage Results
Stage one, April 17: 163 km. Kruger Gate, Kruger Park to Nelspruit.

Julien Antomarchi from La Pomme Marseille (FRA) won the first stage of the UCI 2.2 Mzansi Tour by outsprinting Robbie Hunter. The French rider won the stage in 4 hours 20 minutes and 57 seconds. Fortunato Baliani from Nippo-De Rosa (JPN) finished 3rd in the sprint, with Ian McLeod FedGroup Itec in 4th, a mere second adrift, and Paul van Zweel (Europcar SA) 5th, a further four seconds later.


Antomarchi’s victory was even more special because he and his teammates arrived in South Africa only two days before the start of the inaugural Mzansi Tour.


When they left France, the temperature was only 5 degrees Celsius, but during the first stage of the Mzansi Tour it soared to a high of 35 degrees Celsius. It is not surprising, therefore, that most of the international riders complained about the extreme heat after they finished.


On the long climb just outside Sabie - the South African ‘Town of the Year’ - where a serious attack was launched, the stage developed into a classic 'race of attrition'. The South African riders from FedGroup Itec (RSA) featured quite prominently in this attack. However, as the pace increased, the riders dropped off one by one and by the time they reached the top of the climb, only five riders were left. These remaining riders had no intention of easing up. They basically increased their lead with each pedal stroke.


Stage two, April 18: 184 km. Lydenburg to Middelburg

Robert Hunter, captain of the South African National team, won the stage in 5 hours 5 minutes and
25 seconds. David Maree (Tasol-GT) was 2nd, 2 seconds behind Hunter, and 3rd place went to Kristian House (Rapha Condor JLT), 51 seconds behind Hunter.


True to Hunter form, the way in which he won the second stage was the stuff that legends are made of. He always approaches cycling with an attitude that says, ‘You are either with me or against me. If you are against me, you might regret it’. Early in the stage, a group of riders, consisting of Maree, Shaun Ward (NuWater), Dan Craven (Rapha Condor JLT) and Neil MacDonald (FedGroup Itec), managed to break away. Nobody in the peloton was prepared to exert themselves to chase them and the gap between them and the main bunch quickly grew to well over five minutes.


Hunter, who started the stage as one of five riders that had a realistic chance of winning overall, realised that it would be dangerous to allow the breakaway to succeed. He had a brief discussion with Julien Antomarchi from La Pomme Marseille, winner of the first stage and overall leader.


The French rider was not keen to commit himself to work with Hunter, to limit their losses. Hunter subsequently decided to take matters in his own hands and he went off on his own. Fortunato Baliani from Nippo-De Rosa (JPN), who was 3rd in stage one, made a half-hearted effort to keep up with Hunter, but he soon dropped back.


The South African powered towards the leaders on his own and in impressive style. He caught up with them about 25 km from the finish in Middelburg. With about 10 km to go, Hunter accelerated again. Only Maree managed to stay with him. According to Maree, he told Hunter about 3 km from the finish that his legs were blown. Hunter’s modest explanation afterwards was that his race plan was to get away in a break with six other riders in an effort to increase his overall lead. But things did not work out as planned. “I had to make the decision to go on my own. I must admit that I am happy with the way the race played out.” Hunter basically ensured his overall tour victory with his stage win.



Stage three, April 19: 144 km. Witbank to Mamelodi

Argentine’s Mauro Richeze (Nippo - De Rosa) outsmarted South Africa’s foremost sprinters to win the third stage. The day belonged to the international riders, who made the most of the tricky, technical last few hundred metres to the finish line.


Richeze’s winning time was 3 hours 19 minutes and 51 seconds. Germany’s Lucas Liss (Rad - Net Rosa) finished 2nd and South Africa’s Nolan Hoffman (Tasol - GT) was the 3rd rider to cross the line.


The top 55 riders all finished within 20 seconds after the winner of the stage, which made the finish very exciting for the spectators. The Argentine rider was quite relieved to have a stage victory under his belt. "I owed it to my team to get a good result and today everything played out exactly as it should. I knew that I would be in with a chance to win the stage if there was a bunch sprint." The main break of the day was launched by Nippo's Fukushima, who was joined by three others, namely South Africa’s Neil MacDonald (FedGroup - Itec), Portugal’s Jose Goncalves (La Pomme Marseille) and Japan’s Shinichi Fukushima (Nippo - De Rosa).


When Goncalves decided to attack just before Cullinan, he proved to be too strong for Fukushima. Goncalves was in front and on his own over the last 25 km. It took some serious organising by the chasing teams to catch the 'flying' Goncalves. He was eventually caught with approximately 5 km to go, when the sprinters took over for the dash to the finishing line.


Robert Hunter retained his overall lead of 5 minutes and 50 seconds on Julien Antomarchi(La Pomme Marseille) who remained in 2nd position. Fortunato Baliani (Nippo-De Rosa was in 3rd position, a further 6 seconds adrift.


Stage four, April 20: 163 km. Hartbeespoort to Pretoria Union Buildings, via Tom Jenkins Drive.

Judging by the performance of Argentine’s Mauro Richeze (Nippo-De Rosa), it would seem that winning stages in international tours can be addictive. Richeze won the sprint to the line for the second consecutive day. The proud rider from Argentina rates his second stage victory as one the best ever of his career. It does not happen every day that a rider from one of the smaller professional teams manages to outsprint a former Tour de France stage winner, such as Robert Hunter of the SA National Team.


With 50 m to go, it looked like a foregone conclusion that Hunter would win the fourth stage. But it was not to be. Richeze pipped the South African on the line to take his second stage victory of the tour. His winning time was 4 hours 2 minutes and 43 seconds. Hunter was 2nd and Nolan Hoffman (Tasol-GT) finished 3rd for a second time. Calvin Beneke (MTN-Qhubeka) and David Maree (Tasol-GT) were 4th and 5th respectively.


Stage four of the tour was scheduled to finish at the Union Buildings in Pretoria. However, a bit of drama before the start of the stage forced the organisers to make a last-minute change to the route. According to Tanya Harford, director of Echelon Events, their main consideration will always be the safety of the riders. "


We were very disappointed when Tshwane Metro arrived, half an hour before the start, with 14 officers instead of the contracted 30. It was especially disappointing because we had spent hours on planning, as well as on the dry run.


Without the support required from Metro, we could not run the risk of ineffective road closures. We simply could not guarantee safe passage for the event through central Pretoria. We therefore reverted to plan B, which cut out the entire Pretoria section, rather than risking it with understaffed Metro support," Harford commented. 


David Maree (Tasol-GT) and Christopher Jennings (La Pomme Marseille) were the two unsung heroes during stage four. Maree rode aggressively right from the start.


The duo made it into an early break with nine other riders. Maree was a rider on a mission, making sure that he took maximum points in each of the Hollard King of the Mountains primes. This ensured that he won the competition. At one stage, the breakaway riders had a lead of almost five minutes, but the peloton had no intention of allowing the escapees to get away. A serious chase was orchestrated with team Nippo-De Rosa as the main protagonists.


Jennings, who was under team orders not to contribute to the first breakaway, rode a clever tactical race. He was still relatively fresh and, the moment he realized that they were going to get caught, he launched a counter attack. Maree and a rider from the Sovac Team were the only riders who were able to keep up with him. But with 35 km remaining, Jennings was in front on his own, followed by the chasing pack. The chasers only managed to catch Jennings during the last 8 km at the summit of Saartjiesnek. Hunter was very active in the chasing pack, leaving nothing to chance in the final kilometres. During every climb he was one of the riders who determined the pace and put pressure on his rivals. After the stage, Hunter said that he was never under real pressure during the stage.


Stage five April 21: 117 km. Montecasino to Montecasino

By winning the fifth stage, Dylan Girdelstone (Westvaal BMC) proved that anything is possible if you are prepared to put your mind to it. He out-sprinted Hischem Chaabane (Velo Club Sovac) to take the win, and Waylon Woolcock (Bonitas), who was closing in fast over the last few hundred metres, finished 3rd.


Girdlestone said afterwards that he was elated to win the final stage of the Mzansi Tour. "My first goal was to win overall, but after the first two really hard stages I realised that it was not going to happen. I then had to refocus and decided that, come what may, I was going to win a stage. I hoped to win the fourth stage, which would have finished at the Union Buildings in Pretoria, but unfortunately the organisers were forced to make changes to the route at the very last minute.


"That left me with only stage five in which to fulfil my goal of winning a stage. I realised that I would have to race aggressively right from the start.


Therefore, I did not hesitate to go with the first breakaway of the day. After a while only JC Nel (MTN-Qhubeka Feeder Team) and I were left of the original break. We worked well together. I let JC take the points in all the primes so that he could improve on his position in the general classification. We were caught eventually, but the moment I saw an opportunity during the second lap, I attacked again. Towards the end it was just Hischem Chaabane (Velo Club Sovac) and I out in front. In the final few hundred metres I had the legs to outsprint him." Girdlestone was full of praise for the way in which Hunter rode over the five-day race. "Robert is a real class act. Actually he was phenomenal and deserved to win."


Jersey Winners

Cathsseta General Classification Yellow Jersey: Robert Hunter, South African National Team (RSA)
Hollard King of The Mountain Jersey: David Maree, Tasol GT (RSA)
Europcar Young Rider Jersey: JC Nel Team MTN Qhubeka Feeder (RSA)
Cathsseta African Rider Jersey: Robert Hunter, South African
National Team (RSA)
Echelon Events Points Classification Green Jersey: Robert Hunter,
South African National Team (RSA)



For more information on the Mzansi Tour, visit, find them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter @mzansi_Tour