Following a recent successful six-week European stint, Team Bonitas, one of South Africa’s leading professional men’s road cycling teams, is primed to defend its Tour de Free State title this week.

Stage race specialist, Johann Rabie, claimed the inaugural Tour de Free State title last August when it was a five-stage event. This year, the race will be held a lot earlier in the year and will offer Elite men a more compact three-stage event from 25-27 May. It will be held in conjunction with an International Cycling Union women’s tour.

Rabie will be Team Bonitas’ protected rider, especially since the tour format will be decided on points and not elapsed time.

bonitas1.jpg

Johann Rabie is ready to defend his Tour de Free State title this week.

Photo credit: Craig Dutton

“I don’t win that often, but I do place consistently high up so I actually think the points format will suit me,” said Rabie. “I obviously want to win this title again, but the points format really opens the racing up so I’m expecting a tough battle.”

None of the three stages is flat, an important factor according to Team Bonitas owner, Malcolm Lange.

“Flat races are a real lottery in this country. And there are so many of them! It’s good to see the organisers choosing routes that are a bit tougher. My guys have been focussing on tougher terrain with our European racing schedule, so this event should be a good reflection of allround ability, not just sprinting speed.”

“Most of our team riders seem to excel on medium length climbs – up to 4 or 5km – so this route should benefit us. It’s only Darren (Lill) that seems to prefer the very long climbs of 10km or more that we had in some of our European races,” added Rabie.

Lill, who was runner-up to Rabie at the 2011 Tour de Free State, will be a strong back-up rider for Rabie this week as will the team’s other noted climber, Jason Bakke. The allrounders in the squad are Hanco Kachelhoffer, HB Kruger, Ian McLeod and Luthando Kaka. McLeod makes a return to racing following a long layoff after a crash in March left him with a fractured shoulder.

Tyler Day and Herman Fouche are the team’s sprinters, both having claimed confidence-boosting podium places in Europe and both also having shown some good climbing strength in the tougher stages of the tours.

The average altitude of the Tour de Free State is around 1 500 metres above sea level (similar to Johannesburg) with the riders climbing to well over 2 000 metres on the final stage through the Golden Gate National Park Reserve. The weather is expected to be mild to cold.

“The cold is not likely to trouble us,” smiled Rabie. “We rode in the snow in minus 4 degrees Celsius in Europe. It’s unlikely to get as bad as that at the Tour de Free State.”

“It’s so important to have stage races in South Africa. Well done to the organisers and sponsors for putting on this tour again. It’s the kind of event that builds good riders up – the perfect springboard for our riders to shine at international events abroad. The points format will also encourage positive, exciting racing on a daily basis,” said Lange.

Other professional men’s teams that have entered the three-day race include MTN Qhubeka and Tasol GT.

Tour de Free State 2012:

Stage 1 – Friday 25 May: 100km (5 x 20km lap), Clarens

Stage 2 – Saturday 26 May: 120km, Clarens– Bethlehem-Fouriesburg-Clarens

Stage 3 – Sunday 27 May: 75.3km, Kestel-Golden Gate Highlands National Park– Clarens