There couldn’t have been a better start to 2013 for the Team Bonitas Continental professional road cycling team. On Sunday, Christoff van Heerden won the Value Logistics Fast One 106km race just south of Johannesburg, South Africa, while Justin Jules captured the win for Team Bonitas’ sister team, La Pomme Marseilles, at the 148km Grand Prix Cycliste la Marseillaise in France on Sunday.
It was Van Heerden’s second win in successive weekends, after he claimed the Gauteng Provincial Championships road race title. It was also Van Heerden’s second successive win at The Fast One, South Africa’s traditional season-opening race. His Team Bonitas squad had planned to work for him so that he could defend his title and were appropriately rewarded.
“It sounds cocky, but it really was the easiest win of my career,” said Van Heerden. “It wasn’t because it was an easy race; it wasn’t, the pressure was always on. It was because our team’s cohesion is of such a high level that we shared the load, physically and mentally exceptionally well and that left me feeling confident and really strong for the finale.”
Van Heerden was part of a nine-man breakaway that hovered off the front of the peloton for the last 40km. The break comprised Van Heerden, HB Kruger and Willie Smit (all Team Bonitas), David Maree (Tasol GT), Ian McLeod, JC Nel (MTN Qhubeka), James Fourie (ASG), Brandon Smith (Panda) and Donovan Lubbe (Westvaal BMC).
“We never got more than a 50-second gap on the peloton, so there was always tension in the break and in the chase. Our team was superb. We didn’t have to talk much, we all just knew what to do and when to do it,” explained Van Heerden.
With 10km remaining, the Bonitas trio began to take turns attacking the break and with 7km left, the lead pack had been pared down to Kruger, Van Heerden and Smit from Bonitas, McLeod, Nel and Maree. More attacks saw Nel and Smit fade away and with 4km remaining, Kruger kept the pace high to allow Van Heerden the luxury of sitting in and timing his sprint perfectly.
“There was a tailwind and a descent in the finishing straight. I know it’s best to wait a bit longer in that situation and I was with a group of guys that were inexperienced in a sprint. I figured they’d go a bit soon. I let Ian start the sprint and I came around him quite smoothly.”
McLeod finished second and Maree third.
In France, the La Pomme Marseilles team was in the thick of the action from the outset as Thomas Vaubourzeix (La Pomme Marseille) and Jelle Wallays (Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise) spent much of the race away in a two-man break. With 20km remaining, the race came back together and Jules timed his final dash to claim the narrowest of wins in the 1.1 UCI-graded race from 2012 winner, Samuel Dumoulin (AG2R La Mondiale).
This week, Team Bonitas’ South African-based squad will travel to Port Elizabeth for Sunday’s The Herald VW Classic, while French-based riders, Christopher Jenkins and Jason Bakke will start the five-day 2.1-graded Etoile de Besseges with La Pomme Marseilles on Wednesday.
“It’s great to see our plan for a three-tiered South African rider development system taking shape,” said Malcolm Lange, of Lange Sports, the company that owns Team Bonitas. “With the road cycling now getting rid of its tainted-era baggage, there’s a fresh motivation among those of us that want to see a clean sport and give talented young South Africans the appropriate support in the process.”