By Jean-François Quénet in Montpellier
Never before has an South African cyclist won a stage in the Tour de France. In 2001, Robert Hunter became the first South African to start the biggest race in the world, but he had to wait for his sixth participation before claiming a stage win.
Hunter came close in 2001, when he finished third in stage 2. He was the fastest rider that day in a group on the road from Calais to Antwerp. His Lampre team at the time was the only squad with three riders in the lead group; however, his teammate Johan Verstrepen, perhaps overcome with a sense of nationalism on his home turf, forgot to chase down Belgian compatriot Marc Wauters.
Hunter has played different roles in the Tour de France over the years. Last year, he was a faithful domestique for Floyd Landis at Phonak. Low on morale after Phonak folded at the end of the year, he was keen to go race crits in the US, but instead he joined Barloworld, a team that born in Johannesburg, South Africa, like him.
Poor management at Barloworld had put the future of the first South African sponsored team in danger two years ago, but when respected Italian team manager Claudio Corti took over, the team's reputation and security grew. By the time Hunter came onboard, it was the perfect platform for re-launching his career.
"We only got our selection for the Tour de France one month before the start," said Hunter. "There's already more respect right now for Barloworld. We have won two stages, and we currently are second in the running for the green jersey and the polka dot jersey. There are not many ProTour teams who have done better than that. Barloworld will be one of the best teams in the world in the years to come."
To read the complete feature, click here.