Following the team’s win in the prologue team time trial on Tuesday, the Men in Black were seemingly well poised to defend Kristian House’s yellow jersey on the hilly 140km first stage.
However a number of early crashes and some aggressive riding by MTN-Qhubeka saw the race split asunder and six riders, including Handley, build up a four-minute lead by the 90km mark.
Team manager John Herety explained that the team’s best form of defense had been to go on the attack.
“We were in a position following the T.T.T that we had a lot of strong riders in with a chance of doing something here, but we couldn’t just ride on the front all race. Right from the start we put our guys in breaks, and the boys were all very aggressive early on.”
“Rich did the right thing getting in the move and as far as we were concerned that was perfect. He didn’t have to do too much work in the front until the group split down to the final three riders. Unfortunately it was a really hard finish and he wasn’t quite prepared for it. It is disappointing for him to lose the stage, but he did everything he could.”
Worse news for Rapha Condor JLT was the loss of Tour of Korea winner Mike Cuming, who was forced to abandon the race in the first 50km after breaking his collarbone in an early crash.
Speaking on the way to the hospital to collect Cuming, Herety commented,
“Mike went down quite early through no fault of his own and was quite quickly out of the race. It is a real shame for Mike, as he will miss some good racing now and his form was looking very good. Soon after Mike fell Kristian went also over the bars when someone fell in front of him, luckily he was OK, and could carry on to the finish.”
Handley now sits in second place overall, just 11 seconds behind new race leader Janse Van Rensburg. The race continues tomorrow with the second road stage between Clarens to the mountain top finish at Golden Gate.