The 2017 Tour of Eritrea which took place from Tuesday 18 to Saturday 22 April saw 20-year-old local Solomon Zemenfes race to the top of the overall General Classification (GC) and race podium, and South Africa’s Clint Hendricks place fifth on the overall GC after four stage top fives.
Teams from Eritrea, Rwanda, Sudan, Kenya and South Africa all took part in the five-day multi-stage race.
The team also took part in two one-day races before the Tour, which were the Fenkil Northern Sea Challenge where Hendricks secured sixth place, and the Massawa Circuit race which saw him place sixth again; as well as one race after the Tour, the Asmara Circuit.
In the two rest days prior to the Tour, Hendricks, Jayde Julius and Myles von Musschenbroek fell terribly ill, which depleted their energy dramatically.
The first stage of the Tour was a tough one for all involved, with unforgiving roads and temperatures reaching the mid-forties. The team fought hard against the bumps and harsh weather conditions to get Hendricks to a favourable spot in the race where he then managed to finish the stage in second place even after a rear flat tyre with less than four kilometres to go.
Team Manager Peter-Lee Jefferies made mention of the excellent performance by the riders, especially those who had been unwell in the days prior.
The second stage of the race was up in the mountains and Myles von Musschenbroek and Jayde Julius fought tirelessly and delivered outstanding performances. Jefferies also said that it was impressive to see Hendricks and Chris Jooste keep at it in an ever-depleting bunch of riders with temperatures over 40 degrees. “Not only just hanging on but racing aggressively on the climb when they needed to,” he added.
Hendricks ended up third in the sprint and fourth on the stage, but was relegated to 14th due to a technicality in the finish stretch.
Stage three was tough but short, with strong winds and small climbs. Hendricks spent much of his energy to fight hard for fourth place on the day. After a small regroup and re-plan with the team, the riders were re-energised and ready for stage four. The energies were however soon beginning to fade when Bradley Potgieter, Von Musschenbroek, and Julius had to pull out of the race due to food poisoning. Hendricks finished the stage in sixth place.
The fifth and final stage of the tour presented 35 kilometres of rolling roads before beginning a 65-kilometre pass in 40-degree heat.
Jefferies said: “Clint was phenomenal, it cannot be said enough just how hard a climb like that is to ride with pure climbers.”
Hendricks finished off in fourth place on the stage and fifth in the GC, only one second off the overall fourth place.
The racing finished off with the Asmara Circuit race, but illness, fatigue and mechanicals all contributed towards an unsatisfactory day for all of the riders.
“I think if I had ended the week without the last classic, I would’ve ended on a much higher note. The last race for me was a bit of a negative one,” said Hendricks. “I had great condition and I felt really good, but it just wasn’t working for me that day,” Hendricks added.
Looking back at the week, Hendricks said: “All-in-all it was a great experience. I learnt a lot about my riding ability and myself. I managed to push my limits and had some of my own personal findings in terms of diversity as a rider and what I can do. From sprinting, to making it over the hills in the climbs and my position on the GC, it has made me realise that maybe there is a lot more that I can do and I’m very excited to put it all to the test.”
Cycling South Africa’s Road Commission Director, Bosseau Boshoff was impressed with the performance of the team. “The team that we sent was very well balanced. Because the stages were a mixture of it all – climbing, sprinting, teamwork – we had to make sure that we had all,” he said.
Boshoff said that it was refreshing to hear how the team worked for Hendricks throughout the majority of the race: “Everyone worked together and nobody had their own agenda. They all tried as hard as they could to do what they went there to do – I’m really happy.”