South African Johann Rabie (Team Bonitas) endured one of the most stressful bicycle races of his career during Stage 5 of the Tour of Morocco on Tuesday, but still managed to hold on to the race leader’s Yellow Jersey.
What was meant to be a 170km stage ended up being 147km, a fact that only became known during the race without any official notification, which could have cost the South African the lead that he has held since his victory on Stage 1.
A three-rider breakaway comprising Moroccan Ismail Ayoune, Aksoy Ismail (BTU) and Kara Gobek (KTS), both from Turkey, developed at 38km into the stage from Marrakech to Ouarzazate. The trio weren’t an immediate threat to Rabie’s Yellow Jersey so were allowed some freedom by the Team Bonitas riders, who set a steady tempo on the front of the main pack to maintain a position of control.
At 60km the breakaway had a 3min 50sec advantage over the peleton, which gave Ayoune the virtual race lead on the road. But with an expected 110km to go, Team Bonitas didn’t respond, as it would have been premature.
With 95km completed the breakaway trio had a 4min 40sec lead and it was about 30km later when the Team Bonitas team manager, Kandice Buys, saw the 20km-to-go board. And it was here where Team Bonitas went into emergency pursuit mode as they realised the odds were heavily stacked against them with a shorter race distance.
On the Category 3 climb with 15km remaining, the main pack split and Rabie, along with second placed compatriot Daryl Impey (MTN Qhubeka) rode off the front with two other riders, piling on the pace in an effort to reduce the lead of the breakaway riders.
The official race radio, which gives constant information to team cars in the race convoy about the race situation, went quiet, leaving the teams to race the final few kilometres to the finish with no time splits to the breakaway, which never did get caught, the victory going to Gobek in 04hr 07min 12sec.
But the deficit was dramatically reduced to 16 seconds at the finish, which ensured Rabie maintained his race lead for another day.
“The conditions were tough today – lots of wind. My teammates were great and really worked hard to protect and keep me fresh,” said Rabie. “It worked out well because I was strong at the end and my small group was able to almost catch the break.
“There is always an attack and usually by the many Moroccans, so we have to constantly be aware of who goes up the road and make sure we contain and control the race to keep the Jersey,” added Rabie.
“It’s a lottery racing in Morocco,” said Malcolm Lange, Team Bonitas owner and two-time Tour of Morocco finisher. “There’s usually collusion between the local teams, as we are seeing again this year with all four Moroccan teams working together. That’s 24 riders against our six! And it’s not uncommon for the stage distances to change without notice, as we saw today!”
Recently retired Lange, who is in South Africa, but in constant communication with Buys in the team car in Morocco, says that he’s extremely proud of the way his team has performed so far.
“It’s not easy to defend the Yellow Jersey from the first stage in 10-day tour, but the team has done a brilliant job. We are half way through now and the challenges are constant. It’s a draining effort to defend like this, so each day we can keep the Jersey is a small victory.”
On Wednesday there are two stages, a 110km leg in the morning and 116km leg in the afternoon.
Follow @Team_Bonitas on twitter for live race updates. For more information on Team Bonitas, visit www.teambonitas.co.za