This is where Louis Meintjes cut his teeth for the rigors of professional cycling. Meintjes - now riding for the MTN-Qhubeka team in Europe - won the junior title in 2011 and the under-23 title last year. He was also crowned national under-23 road champion this year after finishing second overall behind seasoned European campaigner Jay Thomson. Although still under-23, Meintjes is not eligible to defend his title from 21 - 24 March this year as the TRAC National Junior tour is not an UCI sanctioned event.
Meintjes' shoes need to be filled and a select group of riders hope to do just that when around 140 of South Africa's most promising cyclists descend on the Mpumalanga capital for the third edition of the event.
Calvin Beneke - son of the legendary Gary Beneke - Willie Smit, JC Nel, Ryan Gibbons and Wesley Eslick are the under-23 riders to watch out for. Apart from being crowned champion, these riders will also set their sights on inclusion in the national under-23 team that will take part in the Mzansi Tour later this year.
The junior men's and women's events will serve as qualifying for the World Championships in Italy in September and the UCI Nations Cup in Europe.
Jevandre Pauls, Ryan Felgate, Stefan de Bod, and Ivan Venter are among those with champion credentials. As far as the junior women are concerned, look no further than defending champion Heidi Dalton. The Richards Bay cyclist also won the under-16 title in 2011.
Teams from Namibia, Ireland, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Tanzania will take part in the four day event, starting with stage one on the Schoemanskloof section of the N4 toll route. This undulated stage will test the resolve and stamina of all riders.
The second stage will take the riders from Sabie to White River, while a double delight awaits the participants on day three. A fairly short stage on the Nelspruit Ring Road will be followed by a criterium around the Mbombela Stadium in Nelspruit on Saturday afternoon. The final stage will take the riders from Nelspruit via Mara and Boulders to Kaapmuiden and back via the Nelspruit Ring Road and the Mataffin Road to finish at TRAC N4's Nelspruit office where the champions will be crowned.
Safety awareness will be paramount during the four day event. Following the tragic death of ABSA Cape Epic champion and Olympian Burry Stander on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast earlier this year, the title sponsor and cyclists will all strongly support the 1.5m safe cycling initiative. Funds raised through entry fees will be donated to the Burry Stander Foundation.
Trans African Concessions (TRAC) manages the N4 East toll route between the capital cities of South Africa and Mozambique (from Pretoria to Maputo). TRAC has sponsored the Junior Cycle Tour since its inception three years ago. “It is an honour to be part of an event which is already considered to be the top junior cycle tour on the African continent; and in this way play a part in facilitating the development and exposure of junior cyclists,” says company CEO, Arthur Coy.
“As guardians of the N4 toll route, road safety awareness is an important facet of our interaction with all road users. This is also a particularly important issue for cyclists. Mutual respect and strictly adhering to the rules of the road will go a long way to help decrease the fatality rates on our roads.”