Professional road team Tasol-GT will be fighting for more than just the win at The Herald VW Cycle Tour in Port Elizabeth on Sunday, they will be fighting for survival.
The 28th edition of the 106km Classic marks the start of the riders’ campaign to save their squad, following the announcement that headline sponsor Tasol will only fund them until the end of the current financial year.
Team principal Dean Edwards said the race now had extra meaning for the team, which boasts former winner Nolan Hoffman and defending champion James Perry in the line-up, and his riders were determined to make it count.
Although Tasol-GT is currently without the services of Hoffman as he prepares for the world track championships in Europe, Edwards said the recent signing of former Bonitas danger man and Amashova Durban Classic winner Johann Rabie would strengthen their attack.
“We will now be looking to Rabie and David Maree as our primary go-to men. With the route change this year, the harder first half could well split up the race, which would suit these two guys.
“However, in saying that, we thought it was going to be a bunch sprint last year and James rode away in the final 2km, so we will make sure we have all our bases covered.”
Among the arrows in Edwards’ quiver is talented local youngster Kellan Gouveris, who made his professional debut in front of his home crowd last year.
Since then, Gouveris has gone on to finish seventh at the junior world track championships and also achieved a good matric result.
Edwards said he now played an integral part in the team along with fellow juniors Myles van Musschenbroek and Jevandre Pauls.
“I don’t think he’s quite ready to win the race just yet but then again with Kellan you never know. That’s what I like about him – he is a fighter and a huge talent.”
He said the eight-man Bonitas squad, which is spearheaded by sprinters Christoff van Heerden and Herman Fouche, would be the team to beat on the day.
“One can also never discount local rider and former European pro John-Lee Augustyn. It’s probably a bit too short and not hard enough for him but he will still make life difficult for the sprinters at every opportunity.”
He said the coastal tour was one of the Johannesburg-based team’s favourite events and a win would go a long way to securing their future.
“We really need to show the corporate world the potential of this young team and what cycling can offer.”
Edwards said the outfit had raised enough funds to race the first quarter of the season and would take part in big events like the Optimum Berge en Dale Classic, Carnival City Macsteel National Classic and Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour, as well as the national road championships.
He said the “little big team”, as it is known, required an operating budget of around R1.7 million per year, which would allow them to compete on road, track and mountain bike and also run a development programme.
“Tasol MD Chris Nelson has, out of his own goodwill, fought to keep us going as long as possible – it’s not every day that you get sponsors with such passion.”
In the women’s race, last year’s winner and national road champion Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio of Momentum-Toyota will also return to defend her title against the likes of local favourite and multiple winner Anriette Schoeman (Mecer-Africa Silks).
British riders Sharon Laws (Momentum-Toyota) and Catherine Williamson (bizhub-FCF), who finished first and second respectively in the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge in November, will add international flair.
Riders and VIPs will be hosted by Town Lodge in PE and the Zuurberg Mountain Village at Addo, the official accommodation partners of The Herald VW Cycle Tour.
Riders are reminded to bring along items such as school uniforms, shoes and stationery to registration to support the metro’s Educational Task Team initiative.
Follow the racing action at @heraldcycletour or on Facebook. For more info visit www.heraldcycletour.co.za.
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Tasol-GT’s James Perry celebrates his victory in The Herald VW Cycle Tour last year. Perry and his team will return to defend the title in the 106km Classic on Sunday, February 3. Photographer: Photo: Marc Sing Key/The Herald