The Kruger National Park is one of the largest game reserves in Africa, covering an area of 19 485 square kilometres in the provinces of Limpopo and Mpumalanga in north eastern South Africa, and will host the start of the Mzansi Tour at the Kruger Gate on the banks of the magnificent crocodile river
Parts of what is currently the Kruger National Park were first protected by the government of the Zuid-Afrikaanse Republiek (ZAR) in 1898, becoming the first National Park of the Union of South Africa in 1926. The famous members of the ‘Big Five’ are found in the Kruger National Park, which is fitting as some of South Africa's biggest cycling names will also be present at the start of the Mzansi Tour at the Kruger gate which introduces the rest of the first stage to the cyclists with a relatively easy 20km.
The cyclists will pace through Hazyview which is a small farming town in Mpumalanga, South Africa, and is renowned for its banana industry. The name of the town is derived from the shimmering haze that occurs during the heat of summer,which could literally heat things up for the cyclists on the tour be it a hot South African Day.
Sabie, 2012 South African Town of the Year, is a forestry town situated on the banks of the Sabie River in Mpumalanga. The name Sabie was derived from the Tsonga Shangaan word, ‘Ulusaba’, which means ‘fearful’. The Tsonga Shangaan people named the river, ‘Ulusaba’, because it once teemed with dangerous Nile crocodiles. The name was then corrupted by the colonists to ‘Sabie River’, as this river was treated with caution in the past the cyclists will have to themselves approach the winding roads of Sabie with caution as a mistake could cost valuable time.
Another unique town the riders get very near to and spectators of the Mzansi Tour should consider visiting is White River, a small holiday and farming town situated just north of Nelspruit in Mpumalanga, South Africa. The farms in the region produce tropical fruits, vegetables, flowers and timber.
Nelspruit, now officially renamed Mbombela, is a city situated in north eastern South Africa. It is the capital of the Mpumalanga province and will be the end of the first stage of the Mzansi Tour giving us the first glimpse of the participating teams race tactics. Located on the Crocodile River, Nelspruit lies about 100 kilometres west of the Mozambique border and 330 kilometres east of Johannesburg.
There are many orange farms in the area around Nelspruit. It is a key manufacturing and agricultural hub for the north eastern areas of South Africa. Major industries include the canning of citrus fruit, production of paper, manufacturing of furniture, as well as timber mills.
Barry Austin, Mzansi Tour’s Sporting Director, predicts that the first stage could be either won or lost on the 48 km stretch from Hazyview to Sabie, and predicts that a group of 20 to 30 riders will break away, creating a possible stage long break away
The riders will have to ride up the Drakensberg, the highest mountain range in Southern Africa, during most of the first stage – Hazyview being 500 metres above sea level and Sabie 1 000 metres. However, according to Austin, it will not be one long, hard slog up the mountain. He implies that it will rather be the continuous short, sharp little climbs, as well as quite a few switchbacks on the route between Hazyview and Sabie, that will be most challenging – easily leading to the scenario, ‘out of sight, out of mind’.
Judging by the results of the local races so far this season, Herman Fouché and Christoff van Heerden (both Bonitas), Johann Rabie and Darren Lill (Tasol-GT), and Ian McLeod (FedGroup-Itec), are riders who could be involved in such a breakaway.
It is difficult to predict who of the international riders will be in form, but Christopher Jennings and Jason Bakke, who are both riding for the French La Pomme/Marseille-team, should also be taken into account. During the tour of South Africa in 2011, the riders of Nippo/De Rosa from Italy featured strongly whenever the racing became more challenging.
According to Austin it is the final sprint to the line in Nelspruit that predicts a tricky affair as there is a 180 degree corner about 350 metres from the finish. The outcome of the race could be decided by who comes out of this corner first.
Stage one of the Mzansi Tour is bound to be a stage full of surprises with a truly South African flair from it's big five, tight corners and scenery the cyclists will be exposed to it all!