Team Bonitas, one of South Africa’s top professional men’s road cycling teams, started its European campaign with a bang at the four-day Volta a Alentejo stage race in Portugal, which ended on Sunday.
The team’s top climber, Darren Lill, won the King of the Mountains title after a fierce battle with Portuguese climber Jose Mendez and Russian Sergey Belykh. Mendez and Lill were even on points after Stage 1, but a crash in the peloton held up Lill in the latter part of the race, giving the jersey to Mendez because of his higher finishing position. Belykh was three points adrift.
On Stage 2, Belykh was first over the day’s only climb, claiming maximum points with Lill second and Mendez third. But overall, Lill took a one-point lead over Mendez and two over Belykh to earn the right to wear the jersey, which he held until Sunday’s final stage.
Darren Lill (in blue) shares the final podium with the other category winners, from left: Alexey Kunshin (Russia – Locosphinx), the overall winner, Samuel Caldeira (Portugal – Carmim/Prio), the points competion winner, Filipe Cardoso (Portugal - Efapel/Glassdrive), the final stage winner, and Marc Goos (Ned - Rabobank), the Under-23 division winner.
Photo courtesy: Volta a Alentejo
Then on Sunday, Mendez’s LA/Antarte team pulled back a seven rider breakaway before the final climb in order to try and set their man up to wrest the jersey away from Lill. But the with the support of a vigilant, motivated Team Bonitas, combined with Lill’s experience, the South African secured third spot over the final-stage summit, one place behind Belykh, but enough to secure him the final lead in the competition.
Another highlight for Team Bonitas in its first race was Tyler Day’s third place on Stage 3, a 168.6km leg from Odemira to Ourique. The powerful young South African sprinter was pipped to the finish by Russian Sergey Shilov and Poland’s Grzegorz Stepniak.
On a negative note, the crash on Stage 1 saw Bonitas riders, HB Kruger and Herman Fouche go down hard. A bleeding Fouche rejoined the race and finished the tour heavily bandaged, while Kruger had to be taken to hospital to have surgery on a broken and lacerated finger, forcing him to abandon the race. And Johann Rabie, who won three medals at the recent South African Road Championships, was forced to miss the tour due to illness.
Next on the Team Bonitas schedule is the Volta Santa Maria da Feiro. It’s a two-day three-stage race on Saturday 31 March and Sunday 1 April.
Tyler Day (far left in black and white) tussles with his rivals on his way to third place on Stage 3.
Photo courtesy: Volta a Alentejo
“Despite the illness and injuries, the team’s morale is good and the guys are very focused,” said team manager, Barry Austin on Monday. “Herman seems okay and is riding with less discomfort, HB will try and ride today to see how he manages shifting and braking and Johann is almost back to full health and is riding again.”
The weekend’s race, Volta Santa Maria da Feiro, offers some new challenges as it includes a team time trail stage. Team Bonitas is the current South African champion team in this discipline, but will be up against strong opposition.
“All the same Portuguese teams, including the big Portuguese Continental teams as well as some Spanish teams that we raced against these past few days will be there. It’s going to be a tough field,” explained Austin.
On Saturday the riders face a 141km road race stage. On Sunday is the 16km team time trial in the morning followed by a 65km circuit race in the afternoon.
“I’m glad all the riders are on the mend. The team was definitely weakened by the absence of Johann and HB over the past few days. But the others really pulled together as a team and did a superb job of helping Darren retain the King of the Mountains title. I’m very proud of them. I’m happy to see Tyler back on fire. He’s got huge potential and just needs to regain his rhythm,” said Team Bonitas owner, Malcolm Lange.