It was confirmed on Tuesday that South African professional road cycling outfit, Team Bonitas, has been added to the list of teams competing at the prestigious 2012 Tour of Portugal. This is significant for the team, which only became an International Cycling Union Continental team this year.

The 10-stage Tour of Portugal, which takes place from 15-26 August, is graded 2.1 by the International Cycling Union (UCI). This is a high profile race category and one in which South African teams have seldom competed in the past.

“As a first-year Continental outfit, being invited to the Tour of Portugal is a really big step for Team Bonitas,” said team manager, Barry Austin. “It also shows that our results in our first European leg of 2012, where the team raced with some distinction in Portugal and Spain, were noticed and that the conduct of the team was recognised of being of a high level.”

The news comes just two days after Team Bonitas dominated the Le Coq Sportif Tour in the North West Province and a month after the squad won the Tour de Free State. The team’s star allrounder, Johann Rabie, claimed the overall individual title at both events.

“We are very grateful to have been able to race two tours at home in the winter. Previously, this time of the year was very quiet in terms of local races. Those two tours certainly helped us prepare for the rigours of not only stage racing, but also hard racing – not just popular flat 100km dashes like most South African races, but some real tough stages over longer distances,” explained Austin.

The Tour of Portugal includes a prologue time trial, an individual time trial, a mountain stage as well as other undulating stages.

“It will be a very close tour I believe. The mountain stage and individual time trial come near the end on stages 8 and 9 respectively, so it should be exciting throughout. It will definitely suit a good allrounder for the overall win, but we also plan to be in the mix for stage wins,” added Austin.

“This is exactly what our goal has been this year. We registered as a Continental team to take the standard Team Bonitas to a new level from an international perspective and being invited to the Tour of Portugal shows we have gained the recognition we have been seeking,” said Malcolm Lange, of Lange Sports, the company that owns Team Bonitas. “It’s all been part of the plan. I think the team surprised many in Europe earlier this year and now the riders will get a chance to show what they can do on an even higher level.”

Team Bonitas departs for Europe on 22 July and will begin their racing with two 1.1 graded one-day races in Spain, the Prueba Villafranca-Ordiziako Klasika on 25 July and the Circuito de Getxo on 31 July. A five-day 2.2-graded stage race in Spain, the Vuelta Ciclista a León, follows from 7-11 August before the team heads for their finale at the Tour of Portugal.