Race Report: Tour of Mauritius sponsored by Wynn
Straight after the MTN Rooiberg Ultra Marathon it was pack up and go, as I traded the wintery weather of SA for the much milder climes of tropical Mauritius.
The Tour of Mauritius was my introduction to bike racing on this beautiful island back in 2009 and since then I have returned twice to compete at the Omnicane Southern Tropical MTB Challenge. Returning to do the road tour once more was like completing the circle, or much rather starting the sequence again.
The Tour consisted of 7 stages in 6 days running from 27 May to 1 June. I was riding the Tour on invitation from friend Yannick Lincoln and his VCJCC cycling club, filling in for him as he was on duty for the Mauritian national team during the race. The four other members of my team were Aurelie Halbwachs, Jeremy Seeyave, Dominique Bechard and Jean-Robert Olivier who literally joined us on the start line. Island style racing is very relaxed…
We kicked of proceedings with a 21km team time trial – spectacular to watch, but painful to complete as you are always at the limit of your ability. We posted a respectful time and finished 7th out of 18 teams that took to the start.
The next day we had a flat 113 km route around the Northern part of the island to complete and I was happy to sit in the bunch and recover as much as possible from the illness which was still affecting me since the weekend at Rooiberg. It was only in the latter stages of the race that proceedings got animated, but I managed to finish safely ensconced in the bunch as James Tennent took victory from a breakaway just ahead of the charging pack.
Day 3 was a roundtrip from Curepipe to the coast and back meaning downhill and flat to start with and a climb back to the finish. The positive racing again produced a breakaway and James was forced to chase in defence of the yellow jersey he had won the previous day with his audacious attack. He gave everything on the ascent to the finish, but had to give best at the last and lost the yellow tunic by a few seconds to French ex professional Mickael Damiens.
Day 4 featured a dreaded split stage, with an 18km Individual Time Trial in the morning and an 80km afternoon stage. The time trial specialists brought out the heavy artillery and ‘aero’ was taken to a whole new level. I just did the TT on my standard road bike and got just rewards for it by being soundly beat. Yannick Lincoln and Barend Burger had exactly the same time for the stage with the judges awarding stage honours to Burger while Yannick took the yellow jersey by a scant 3 seconds from James Tennent.
The afternoon’s stage featured a big climb which separated a group of about 15 riders from the rest. We went all the way to the line with Ian Pienaar taking the sprint for line honours. Even a downpour at the climb’s summit couldn’t dampen the youngster’s spirits and he was all smiles as he also pulled on the blue jersey as the tour’s most consistent daily finisher.
Day 5 brought the ‘queen stage’ with 120km to cover and the feared climb up Bassan Blanc to separate the men from the boys. Yannick’s Mauritian team (with the help of a few patriotic locals) controlled the race well until we hit the climb. On the steep ramps Yannick, James Tennent, Ian Pienaar and I drew away from the rest, catching Stephane Pharmasse who had been in an earlier breakaway at the summit of the climb. From there we drilled it to the finish to make up as much time as possible on our pursuers. Pharmasse won the stage in a well timed sprint, while all 5 of us moved up in the GC (General Classification).
The final day was a circuit race with quite a few spectators coming to watch the action as Yannick attempted to protect his slender 3 second lead over Tennent. Although longer than expected the 12 lap race went by pretty quickly and up the final ramp Yannick tenaciously defended his yellow jersey from a feisty James Tennent who did his best to wrestle it away from the determined Mauritian.
The story of the day was definitely the breakaway featuring Pharmasse, most aggressive rider of the tour Jaco Fereirra, Mickael Damiens and Barend Burger who almost stole the day and the overall race lead. It was only some fine riding by the Mauritian National team, a few friends and the yellow jersey himself which managed to save the day.
All in all it was a good experience finding my legs in a big bunch again and I’m hoping the tough racing will stand me in good stead for a busy month of racing lying in wait. Finishing 9th overall at the event was the cherry on a rather sweet Mauritian cake!
(My Team for the event, from L-R: Rashan, Jean-Robert Olivier , Jeremy Seeyave, me, Caroline LeBlanc, Aurelie Halbwachs, Jeremy’s mom, Gilbert Queland) Not pictured, but a vital cog in the machine are the families Halbwachs and Lincoln who generously hosted us during our stay and made us feel part of their families. Now all I have to do is work on my French before my next visit…