ccs-41808-0-06337200-1400754440.jpgImage credit: Jetline Action Photo
The 31st running of the three-stage event starts and finishes at the Mbombela Stadium near Nelspruit in Mpumalanga on July 19 and will cover a gruelling 151km through the picturesque Lowveld. A capacity field of 1 500 riders is expected to take on the new out-and-back route via White River and Sabie that was introduced with great success last year. The challenging terrain includes the 7km Spitskop climb and the 10km Long Tom Pass, which has an average gradient of seven per cent.

Girdlestone will be aiming to write his name in the annals of the super classic that has been dominated by such illustrious cyclists as Mark and Gary Beneke, Alan van Heerden, Robbie McIntosh, Robert Hunter and Reinardt Janse van Rensburg.

Campaigning in Europe with Martiques Sport Cyclisme, which is affiliated to his South African team, the 24-year-old Bonitas rider has already made international waves this season. He won the Gran Premi Odena in Spain at the end of April and claimed the king of the mountains classification in both the Prix de la Ville du Mont Pujols (where he finished third overall) and Arbent-Bourg-Arbent races in France.

“So far I’m really enjoying the experience and improving my cycling,” said Girdlestone.

He will return to South African shores a little over a fortnight before the Jock. “I believe I’ll return to SA with very good form but I might need to recover for a while and then sharpen up for the Bestmed Jock Cycle Classique.”

Girdlestone, who is based in Pretoria when in South Africa, said the distance and difficulty of the Mpumalanga route played to his strengths as a tour rider. “The fact that it’s a stage race means that focusing on recovery between stages is very important.”

He said the support of his new team would also help improve his chances of victory. “The support and guidance on the team is unmatched in South Africa and widens my room for error somewhat as I have really strong teammates who could also possibly win the race for us.”

In terms of challengers, Girdlestone named Eritrean rider Metkel Eyob and Ethiopian Alem Grmay Abebe of the MTN-Qhubeka feeder team as climbers to watch. He also listed local rivals Paul van Zweel (EuropcarSA), JC Nel and Nic Dougall (both MTN-Qhubeka), Gawie Combrinck and Johann Rabie (both EAI Cycling), David Maree (Abantu) and Darren Lill (Cannondale-Blend) as possible threats.

“Although I’m not sure which of them will be participating, all of these riders are able to climb well and have had good form this year.”

Registration for the event, which is presented by ASG, takes place from 10am to 4pm on the Thursday before race day at Cycle Lab Fourways, and from 2pm to 4pm on the Friday at the stadium.