Wednesday, October 25, 2006

C'Mon Summer

It's steamy summer already, with temperature already crawling up to 33 C. The top half of the country is in the grip of a heat wave (and it's still October!).

And now for the good news...

Tour de South Africa; yes, really!
Now we have our own Tour

I’m sure I’m not the only one who watched international cycling teams battling up the Alps, swishing through sleepy villages and then thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be grand if we could have something like Le Tour de France over here.’ I recently wrote an article for go! magazine (published in this month’s issue, p164) called Tour de Free State which is about the joys of multi-day cycling. And only a few days ago I was wondering: how come there are the Tours of Britain, Italy, Spain, Malaysia, Australia and we only have (in terms of an international cycling race) the paltry Giro del Capo. Well, that’s about to change.

By March next year we’re likely to see a big tour, with 20 teams (12 local and 8 international) kicking off in Bloemfontein. Mr George Schoonraad is the organizer of the Tour of Southern Africa (it includes jaunts into Lesotho’s murderous mountains). The dates are tentatively set from 16 March to April Fool’s Day, and they’ll cover around 2200km.

The UCI must still endorse the tour and insodoing give it a status rating. It’s expected to get a rating similar to the Giro’s of 2.2.
This Tour will be the real thing. It will have a prologue, team time trial and lung bursting climbs. And in the tradition of the Tour de France, the last stage will culminate in several laps through Bloemfontein.

The route is likely to change every year, so one year it may start in Durban, another year in Port Elizabeth etc. Schoonraad has said that the only bottom line is that the Tour will end every year in Bloemfontein. If Bloemfontein seems an odd choice, people ought to visit this city in 2 weeks when the OFM Classic is held, one of the countries biggest cycle races. The highways around the city teem with cyclists, especially around weekends, and on some roads signs have been erected warning motorists to beware of cyclists.

The Tour will be good news wherever it goes. Staying overnight can boost a small town’s revenues by perhaps R200 000, according to rough estimates by Schoonraad.

I can already see flocks of cycling fans heading towards Lesotho’s steepest slopes, and special cycling hotels being erected eventually, near the toughest climbs. It ought to be a feast of fun and fitness.

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