South Africa will return to the international road cycling calendar when the inaugural Mzansi Tour takes place from 17 to 21 April. The five-day, five-stage event will host both South African and international teams.
The Mzansi Tour will be South Africa's only international road stage race in 2013, and it heralds a welcome return of a premium multi-day road event following the demise of the Giro del Capo, the Tour of South Africa and the Tour de Free State (women's tour), which were the country's most recent high-profile international stage races.
Organised by Echelon Events and partnered by Cathsseta (the Culture, Arts, Tourism, Hospitality and Sport Sector Education and Training Authority) the Mzansi Tour is expecting a total of 13 teams, five from South Africa, four from the rest of Africa and four from outside Africa. There will be a mixture of club, national and continental teams.
Cathsseta CEO Mike Tsotetsi said the rise of sports tourism had prompted his organisation to structure its skills development initiatives around this, resulting in the partnership between Cathsseta and Echelon Events to launch the Mzansi Tour 2013.
"It is our objective that with this race we will be able to promote transformation in the cycling fraternity and introduce professional cycling to young black aspiring cyclists," Tsotetsi said in a statement this week.
"I am very optimistic that through this partnership, South Africa's expertise in hosting and managing big international events will propel even greater investor interest in hosting sporting events in this country."
While Echelon Events is a new company, it offers many years of cycle event experience, comprising a collaboration of expertise from Lange Sports, the company that owns the Team Bonitas professional men's road cycling team, and Tanya Harford and Jenni Green of Harford Sports Promotions, the company that organises the annual Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge, the world's second largest cycle race, among other major events.
Barry Austin, Mzansi Tour sporting director, has designed the Mzansi Tour race route. It will start on the border of the world-renowned Kruger National Park in Mpumalanga and finish at the Montecasino entertainment complex in Johannesburg.
The race will pass through the Mpumalanga province towns of Hazyview, Sabie, White River, Nelspruit, Lydenberg, Dullstroom, Belfast, Middelburg and Witbank, and the Gauteng province towns/cities of Verena, Bronkhorstpruit, Cullinan, Mamelodi, Hartebeespoort, Pretoria and Johannesburg.
"Having international racing on the doorstep of so many folks who never get to see any type of international events creates heroes and feeds aspirations and dreams of the many people we will touch with the Mzansi Tour," said Austin.
Fun rides and internaitonal racing
"Also, the UCI actually only really considers you an active affiliate nation when you have events in the international calendar. We probably have the most fun rides, yet the least international racing days of all the major African cycling nations. That ratio means something is unhealthy and will not produce the needed heroes and international stars we ought to be producing."
South African road cycling legend, Malcolm Lange, is one of the directors of Echelon Events. He brings two decades of racing experience to the mix and therefore understands matters from a competitor's perspective.
"In order to effectively develop road racing in South Africa, there needs to be a pinnacle stage race within our country. The Mzansi Tour is just that," said Lange.
"Most riders in my generation had the Rapport Tour and the Giro de Capo as domestic international tours, but with the demise of those, there's been no consistent international high-profile stage race for our talented young racers to aim for. The Mzansi Tour will fulfill that important role."
The total prize purse for the Mzansi Tour will be R700 000, with R100 000 going to the overall winner. As with other stage races, there will be contests within the event for the King of the Mountains, Points and Young Rider divisions, as well as Best African rider.
"We're adding a lot more depth to the Mzansi Tour than you'd expect from an elite level road stage race," said event director Tanya Harford. "We have a two-pronged approach: firstly, ensure interaction between the sponsors and the communities through which the race passes; and secondly, connect with the general cycling community.
"Mzansi Tour is all about showcasing South Africa to the world. While we have a core unit that's organising the event, we are open to anyone's suggestions to help make this annual premier sporting event a success. We're keen to be as inclusive as possible in the interests of creating an event of which we as South Africans can truly be proud," she said.