At last year’s Olympics in London the Kenyans won two gold, four silver and five bronze medals and the Ethiopians won three gold, one silver and three bronze medals.

Observers may wonder what relevance this information has to the Mzansi Tour (17-21 April), a five-stage event which has a 2.2 International Cycling Union (UCI) ranking.

JP van Zyl is the director of the MTN-Qhubeka-sponsored UCI World Cycling Center in South Africa. He predicts without hesitation that anyone of the four Ethiopian riders who are currently training in Potchefstroom is capable of winning the inaugural Mzansi Tour overall. That is providing that a rider from Eritrea does not win overall.

Van Zyl is definitely not just shooting off his mouth. South Africa is no longer the dominant force in cycling on the African continent. Riders from Eritrea have won the road cycling races, as well as the individual time trials, at the African Continental Championships since 2010.

Together with soccer, cycling is at the moment the most popular sport in Eritrea. At the 2011 African Continental Championships there were more than 500 000 spectators along the route to cheer on the cyclists. A total of 750 policemen had to be employed to control the crowd.

Eritrea's dominance in, and stranglehold on, African cycling have in recent years been so strong that other teams could be forgiven for thinking that they knew who would win even before the competition takes place.

It was indeed either Daniel Teklehaymanot or Natnael Berhane who claimed the top spot in any international cycling competition held in Africa. Sometimes the competition for the top spot was between the two compatriots. Both have turned professional. There is no question that Eritrean riders are enjoying a great deal of success nowadays.

Cycling was first brought to Eritrea by the Italians and it is true that there is a long cycling history in the country. But history alone does not win championships. The national cycling team has proven that Eritrean athletes can succeed in international competitions if they receive proper training and equipment.

The Kenyans are being helped by an Australian cycling initiative.

Van Zyl predicts that there could be some black cyclists competing in the Tour de France within the next six to ten years. In the past the opinion was often held that, although black cyclists had the endurance to excel in road cycling events, they often lacked the necessary tactical ability. “This has changed because of the coaching we are doing at the UCI's World Cycling Center. Our training programme is based on the Team Sky model which means that we leave absolutely nothing to chance.

“The riders are coached as scientifically as the top professional riders in Europe. This includes the explanation of team tactics.

Van Zyl said it will be a real challenge to select the six riders who will ride the Mzansi Tour.

“As I have said, each one of the four Ethiopians, as well as a few of the Eritreans, is capable of winning overall, and I would love to have at least one South African rider in my team.”

STAGES

Stage one, April 17: 163km. Skukuza rest Camp, Kruger Park to Nelspruit

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

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

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

Stage five April 21: 117km. Monte Casino to Monte Casino

For more information on the Mzansi Tour, visit www.mzansitour.co.za or contact Jenni Green on jenni@echelonevents.co.za

Find us on Facebook www.facebook.com/mzansitour

Follow us on Twitter @mzansi_Tour