Top South African professional road cycling team, Bonitas, has begun the first of two six-week racing stints as part of its 2012 European campaign, kicking off with the Volta a Alentejo four-day stage race in Portugal today.

“It’s a big step for Team Bonitas to be racing in Europe,” said Malcolm Lange of Lange Sports, the company that owns and manages the team. “After three years of local dominance, it’s time for progression. The only way to do this is to compete internationally where the events themselves and the standard of racing is world class.”

The cost of basing the team in Europe for a total of three months is high, but according to Lange, should be rather seen as an investment.

“South Africa will never produce Olympic, World and Tour de France champions by having our professionals compete week in and week out at local 100km races. This European campaign, which is a huge logistical undertaking for Lange Sports, needs to be seen as investing in the future success of South African road cycling. I’d like to thank Bonitas and our other sponsors for sharing this growth vision and supporting us.”

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Hanco Kachelhoffer will be one of the Team Bonitas riders searching for breakaway opportunities during the Volta a Alentejo, which starts in Portugal today.

Photo credit: Cycle Nation

During the first leg of the 2012 European campaign, Team Bonitas will contest five events – three stage races and two one-day races. The team begins in Portugal with the Volta a Alentejo from today and until Sunday, before moving to the Volta Santa Maria da Feiro on 30 and 31 March.

The squad then heads to Spain for the Klasika Primavera Amorebieta one-day race on 8 April, followed by the Vuelta a Castilla Leon, a 2.1 International Cycling Union (UCI) graded stage race from 13-15 April, before ending off with the Vuelta a Rioja, another one-day race on 22 April. Both the one-day races in Spain are graded 1.1 by the UCI.

The Volta a Alentejo, which starts today, has relatively long stages, but with no significant climbs. The event holds a 2.2 UCI grading, essentially a third-tier professional event in terms of points allocation and prizemoney. Bonitas joins 19 other professional teams in the event, hailing from Portugal, Spain, Russia, Poland, Germany and the Netherlands.

“It seems this tour in the past has been decided on bonus seconds for stage finishes and sprint primes, so we will be looking after Herman Fouche and Tyler Day, our two sprinters,” explained Bonitas team manager Barry Austin.

“We’ll also be looking for opportunities during each stage to get riders up the road if possible. There are some strong teams here including CCC Polstat, Rabobank Continental and Katusha Continental. The team is fired up, but also a little nervous, which is normal.”

Lining up for Bonitas on today are Tyler Day, Herman Fouche, Johann Rabie, Jason Bakke, Hanco Kachelhoffer, Darren Lill, Johann Rabie and Luthando Kaka.

Volta a Alentejo, 22-25 March:

Stage 1: Castelo de Vide–Redondo – 165.8km

Stage 2: Portel–Santiago do Cacém – 191.3km

Stage 3: Odemira–Ourique – 168.6km

Stage 4: Mértola–Grândola – 151km