Press Release: Overall report
Starting with an opening ceremony at Tikwe Lodge in Virginia on 22 May to celebrate the international flavour of this year’s event, the Tour de Free State definitely focused the world’s attention on the province’s tourism treasures and its ability to host events of international standard.
Only in its second year, this event managed to obtain international accreditation from the International Cycling Union (UCI) and was selected as the only Olympic qualifying road cycling race in Africa. Thus the vision of the Free State Tourism Authority to draw the focus to the province’s tourism potential through hosting the event had been validated. This year cyclist from 19 nations participated in the event, resulting in international exposure and tapping into a new market for this province.
Eco-orientated tourism has taken on like wild fire across the world. Travellers want to experience the outdoors from a different vantage point. There is no better way than doing it on a bicycle. Access to the local people and places of interest are more direct and tourists have the freedom to experience it and nature on a more intimate level than from a tour bus, dictating where you go, isolating you from the environment and the local inhabitants. Tour de Free State increased the amount of towns involved in this venture from six last year to twelve this year. Bicycles were donated to tour operators and agencies in towns to enable them to be part of the Kasie Tours project, taking tourists to the townships to experience the social life, visit interesting and historical places and experiencing community projects first hand.
An extra bonus of this event is that the Tour de Free State helped small town charities and schools to raise funds and awareness and to promote cycling among learners as more than sixty bicycles were donated to five schools who will be assisted by Cycling South Africa in driving a development programme for young cyclists in the province. The tour also aimed to promote tourism in the beautiful South African province of the Free State with the international exposure it enjoyed. Community races were held in Brandfort, Ficksburg and Clarens.
Lining up at the starting point of the race were four of the world’s top professional teams, Teams HiTech (Sweden Norway, France, Italy and Poland), Lotto Belisol (South Africa and Belgium), RusVelo (Russia and Germany) and DolmansBoel (Netherlands) Riding for these teams were no less than eighteen cyclists ranked in the UCI top-hundred. Forty-six cyclists were UCI ranked and many represented their country’s top ranked cyclists. The prize for these women was points for the Olympic Games, scoring as many as they can to advance their nation’s position. A total amount of €15 932 were given away in prize money. The money was divided between the top fifteen cyclists in each stage of the race.
The organization of this event involved a nightmare of logistics. Over the five days, 3800 meals was served, 1650 beds occupied, 120 organisers, officials and helpers and emergency personnel employed, 34 cars and 8 motorbikes utilised, ten small and 1 big tent went up every day of the race, 800 meters of fencing erected per day and 3250 litres of water consumed, 50 road signs erected per day and 1150 posters distributed. Moving everything along and making sure everything was at the correct location at the correct time was a major feet.
The South Africans riding for Team Lotto Belisol, aiming to qualify a third team member for the Olympic Games, had an up-hill battle as their star cyclist, Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, a former Free Stater and Eunice Girls High learner, were targeted from the start. Team HiTech Products Mistral Home and the Ukrainians, who were competing for the same points in their Olympic quest, combined their strength to keep Lotto Belisol’s domestics from easing Moolman’s way to the finishing line in each and every stage. They were determined to get her to the top though and on the last day they attacked relentlessly with Robyn de Groot taking the lead as they entered the mountainous Golden Gate Nature Reserve giving Moolman in the pack to safe her energy for the chase to the finishing line. The other teams succeeded to isolate Moolman again and she was left in the front crossing the last big climb. She broke away earlier at about 200 meters before the five kilometre mark and this time the South African wearing the Africa jersey crossed the finishing line first to the elation of the crowd supporting her en masse.
The Tour de Free State’s overall winner was Sweden’s Emma Johansson who completed the four stages, totalling 363.5 km in 10 hours, 45 minutes and 11 seconds. Hanka Kupfernagel from Germany, riding for Team RusVelo from Russia came second with only five minutes separating them and third was South Africa’s Ashleigh Moolman Pasio, 26 seconds behind the winner.
The Men’s Open Elite did not get as much attention as the WE2.1, but the country’s top men’s teams were all there to compete. The Tour de Free State introduced a new format for this event. Instead of elapsed time, the standard format for stage races, the 2012 Tour de Free State followed a points system, rewarding the most consistent top daily finishers. It resulted in a dominant performance by top South African men’s professional road cycling outfit, Team Bonitas, who won all four stages and successfully defended Johann Rabie’s overall title at the weekend.
The final stage caused great excitement among spectators as it was a spectacle of speed and tactics. The top 10 riders on General Classification contest a unique pursuit-style race around the Clarens town square. Riders were positioned 45 metres apart with the 10th placed rider at the front and the top-placed rider at the rear. Once a rider was passed, he was eliminated. Rabie won this pursuit stage and earned the 50 points on offer, giving him the highest points total and the overall win.
The Tour de Free State 2012 marked a milestone in cycling in South Africa, Africa and internationally as it was the first UCI Women’s road cycling tour on the African continent. It contributed to the growth of women’s cycling, not only locally but worldwide as it filled a very obvious gap in the UCI Women’s cycling calendar. Thus the tour contributed to the UCI goal of globalizing cycling by promoting racing across all continents. South African women cyclists were exposed to competing at an international level and gaining valuable experience, by making a UCI event more accessible to them. The Tour de Free State also provided the last opportunity for nations to increase their international rankings before the UCI’s deadline for Olympic qualification on 31 May.
The overall consensus of the cyclists was that the Tour de Free State was well organised and they were impressed with the security and the conduct of the traffic officers escorting them. Emma Johansson said: “We were here to compete, but we were also aware of the amazingly beautiful landscapes we were cycling through. We enjoyed the scenery which is totally different from what we are accustomed to and that made it an unforgettable experience.”