Hunter eyes Mzansi top spot
Robert Hunter (Gallo Images)
Nelspruit - SA National Team rider Robert Hunter hopes experience will count in his favour as he looks to move past Mzansi Tour leader Julien Antomarchi on Thursday's second stage.
Hunter finished just behind the Frenchman in a tightly contested sprint finish between five riders on Wednesday's first stage, a 164km leg between the Kruger National Park and Nelspruit.
“It was a really hard day today. A lot of people didn’t expect it to be this hard and this hot," Hunter said.
“To be second, where I am right now, is a perfect position... and I'm in a good position for the rest of the race.
“Tomorrow I hope to get some bonus sprint points and close the gap.”
The veteran rider, a former Tour de France stage winner, was part of the leading pack of five riders who made their breakaway from the peloton in the last 10km.
“From there we all rode together till the finish,” Hunter said.
“It didn’t really help that we attacked each other all the way till here, so five guys sprinted for the finish.
“Now we have five guys in contention for the title, which has worked really well, as it makes it a lot easier for the rest of the tour to try control five guys instead of 90 guys.”
Winner of the best young rider's jersey, JC Nel of the MTN-Qhubeka feeder team said he had struggled in the conditions.
“It was really hot today, I think the heat along with the really hard route played a part in how we performed today,” Nel said.
“We had a lot of climbing to do and there were really tough riders out there who showed they were a cut above the rest.”
Nel, who finished the stage in eighth position, nearly seven minutes off the pace, said his team had set lofty goals for the five-day tour.
“We came here to see if we could get someone into the white jersey and carry it all the way to [the finish at] Montecasino and today we took a big step towards reaching our goal,” said Nel.
“This is one of the most important races for us this year and we are happy so far.”
Thursday’s second stage is the longest of the UCI graded tour, a 189km ride from Lydenburg to Middelburg.
Results after the first stage of the Mzansi Tour, a 164km leg from the Kruger Park to Nelspruit on Wednesday:
General classification: 1 Julien Antomarchi (La Pomme Marseille) 4:20:56, 2 Robert Hunter (SA National Team) same time, 3 Fortunato Baliani (Nippo-De Rosa) st, 4 Ian Mcleod (FedGroupc Itec) 4:20:57, 5 Paul Van Zweel (ERP) 4:21:01, 6 James Perry (Tasol GT) 4:27:29, 7 Kohei Uchima (PPO) st, 8. JC Nel (Team MTN Qhubeka Feeder) 4:27:32, 9 Leonardo Pinizzotto (PPO) 4:28:29, 10 Theo Reinhardt (Rad-Net Rose) st
King of the mountain: 1 Antoine Lavieu 6 pts, 2. Willem Smt 4 pts, 3 Mario Vogt 3 pts
Young Rider: 1. JC Nel 4:27:32, 2 Emanuel Buchmann (RNR) 4:28:29, 3 Luke Grivell-Mellor (Rapha Condor JLT) 4:34:22
African Rider: 1. Robert Hunter 4:20:50, 2 Ian McLeod 4:20:57, 3 Paul van Zweel 4:21:01