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Tour of South Africa re-introduced

A popular off-season training location for many European pro cyclists, South Africa may soon see more top riders come to visit the country at the southernmost tip of Africa as it is preparing an international event for next year.

Cycling South Africa has announced that it is planning to have the Tour of South Africa, discontinued 10 years ago, back on the calendar for at least the next two seasons, 2011 and 2012. The national tour will get underway in the third week of February.

"The aim of the tour is to create a cycling culture in South Africa and to make professional cyclists around the world want to ride in South Africa," Cycling South Africa general secretary Ciska Austin told AP.

Cycling officials were meeting Thursday in Johannesburg to start preparing the route.

Moreover, Austin added that a program of competitive cycling weekends was planned next year to improve the performance of South African riders in international race conditions, where distances covered are far longer than in local competitions.

If successful, the country could see its national tour rise to similar popularity as the Tour Down Under held in January. Over the years, the Australian event has gained in status and is now a confirmed early season destination for many European teams despite being held on the other side of the globe. It is also a major aim of the International Cycling Union (UCI) to extend pro cycling, still very much centered in Europe, to a world-wide level.

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