Cutting the ribbon to mark the start of the inaugural Tour de Limpopo, from left: Andrew Dipela (Limpopo Tourism Agency Board Chairperson), Onicca Moloi (Limpopo MEC for Sports Arts and Culture), Seaparo Sekoati (Limpopo MEC for Economic Development, Environmental Affairs and Tourism) and Yster Xatasi (Cycling South Africa Vice president) on Stage 1 of the Tour de Limpopo from Polokwane to Tzaneen on Monday 23 April 2018. Credit: HaydsBrown

“We wanted to get the yellow and we did, so we ticked the first box,” said Hendricks. “The first sprint hotspot was a brilliant lead-out from the boys – it’s our routine, it’s what we do. To come away winning that was special. I’m pretty happy with second on the line. I would’ve liked to have won the stage, but you can’t win them all and we’re looking forward to what’s coming up next and to recover now, and we’ll take it day by day.”

Stage one departed from the iconic Peter Mokaba Stadium, erected for the 2010 Football World Cup, in Limpopo’s capital city Polokwane in an easterly direction towards Tzaneen, presenting the riders with 1266 metres of climbing for the stage.

The first Sprint Hotspot of the tour was positioned at 26.6km, with Hendricks claiming maximum points in the charge for the green jersey followed by Ryan Harris (Officeguru Racing), then Abou Sanago (World Cycling Centre Africa Mixed Team) and Steven van Heerden (Team BCX).

Oupa Maluleke (Proud Beginners) launches an attack in the opening kilometres on Stage 1 of the Tour de Limpopo from Polokwane to Tzaneen on Monday 23 April 2018. Credit: HaydsBrown

Soon after, six riders broke away and rode valiantly for the majority of the race as the fast descent past the Zionist City Moria began – the headquarters of the largest African initiated Zion Christian Church in southern Africa. This is where over three million pilgrims attend religious ceremonies over the Christian Easter weekend.

Marc Pritzen and Brandon Downs (both Team BCX) James Fourie (ProTouch Sports), Temesgen Buru (World Cycling Centre Africa Mixed Team), Alexander Worsdale (Officeguru Racing) and Jaco van Dyk (ACDC Luso) extended their lead by over two-and-a-half minutes from the peloton at one point.

James Fourie (ProTouch Sports) with his wheel in front, led a number of attacks which ultimately won him the Red Jersey for the Most Aggressive Rider of the day on Stage 1 of the Tour de Limpopo from Polokwane to Tzaneen on Monday 23 April 2018. Credit: HaydsBrown

The race was punctuated with several attacks by Fourie and then Van Dyk punctured and was forced to drop back just prior to the first King of the Mountain hotspot at 56.6km – which was claimed by Fourie, followed by Buru then Pritzen and Worsdale – before the peloton descended the steep and fast Magoebaskloof Pass.

Hendricks, Basson and Calvin Beneke (ACDC Luso) made good time on the descent to close the gap and to join Pritzen and Worsdale in the lead as the new group of five extended a short gap ahead of the peloton. Within the final 10km, the peloton was chasing hard and within two kilometres to go, Jayde Julius (ProTouch Sports) bridged across to join the lead group in a charge for the victory, with Basson crossing the line first.

“The plan was to get a rider into the break and then hopefully come down to a sprint,” said Basson. “On the descent, a few guys got away and I just hopped on the wheel and then we had a gap over the peloton. A few guys came across in last two kilometres to go, and we still had a gap on the peloton and we had to sprint. Then Jayde also came across and we rode as a unit and managed to pull off a win.”

ProTouch Sports Team Manager Tony Harding said: “We’re really grateful for Cycling SA to put this event on, we really need more events like this in Africa, but more so in southern Africa. It’s great for us. All went according to plan, although there are still some areas for us to tweak here and there but overall, we are very happy with the results. Gustav woke this morning with a terrible headache, but he hung in there and pulled it off for us. We’re very proud of the way that the guys are riding!”

James Fourie (ProTouch Sports) led a courageous descent down the steep and fast Magoebaskloof Pass on Stage 1 of the Tour de Limpopo from Polokwane to Tzaneen on Monday 23 April 2018. Credit: HaydsBrown

Speaking about the breakaway, King of the Mountain winner and winner of the red jersey for the Most Aggressive Rider James Fourie said: “It was a combination break today where BCX had two riders in there and we were one rider short. We still had Gustav, Reynard and Jayde in the bunch, so it worked out quite well.”

Speaking to Bonga Nqcobane – Cycling SA Transformation and Development Chair and Team Manager of Proud Beginners – about his team’s day in the saddle, he said: “There was a big bunch of over 90 riders, so this type of racing was very new to them. I think overall, they are strong; we had a few challenges with punctures, but they were able to get back to the bunch. I still believe that they can make it.”

Gustav Basson (ProTouch Sports) lunges his wheel in front to claim the victory on Stage 1 of the Tour de Limpopo from Polokwane to Tzaneen on Monday 23 April 2018. Credit: HaydsBrown

Team rider Songezo Jim, who is no stranger to racing at this level, spoke about his leadership role within Team Sampada. “It is important to have someone to lead the youngsters – to tell them when to go, how to ride in the peloton and save energy, keep eating and drinking and so on. They are all very important aspects of racing in a tour.”

Jim added: “This is a great experience for everyone in the team. It’s good to grow the sport in the country with international riders coming, it’s a UCI race, and it’s an incredible event overall. Today we got seventh place with Siyabonga Somciza, so not the greatest start for us. Tomorrow’s going to be a hard day.”

Tomorrow’s stage two – the “Queen Stage” – sees Tour de Limpopo start and finish in Tzaneen, as riders climb the mighty Magoebaskloof Pass toward Polokwane early in the day and travel along the R71 until the University of Limpopo, where they will turn away from Polokwane toward the R81 passing through Marobala, Moketsi and Modjadjiskloof before returning to Tzaneen. The undulating route is spiked with short and sharp climbs thereafter that will acknowledge those in the hunt for the King of the Mountain jersey with three hotspots at 26.6km, 40.5km and 153km, while Sprinters have the opportunity of gaining points at one hotspot positioned at 14.5km.