Top Port Elizabeth cyclist Conrad Viljoen will carry the Eastern Cape’s hopes of a good showing at this weekend’s South African Road Cycling Championships in East London.

Viljoen (23), the current Eastern Province and SA Students’ champion, says he is in the best shape of his life. “I’ve had no injuries or illnesses during my build-up, so my preparations went extremely well. I’m confident of a good performance.”

He started the year in fine style by winning the gruelling Bruintjieshoogte cycle race in Somerset East for the sixth consecutive time before adding a fourth Daily Dispatch (East London) crown to his resume. Last month, he also defended his EP title successfully.

Although he is currently studying for his master’s degree in architecture at the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU), the leader of the Mecer NMMU cycling team says he has managed to train for 20 to 25 hours per week until recently.

“For the last two to three weeks, I have been putting in shorter, more intense training sessions,” he explains. “It is important to give your body a bit of a rest before big races.

“I’m polishing my performance and focusing on specific areas of training, rather than putting in a lot of hours to build stamina.”

Viljoen will compete in a time trial over 40 kilometres on Friday and the road race over 181 kilometres on Sunday. “The circuitous route is a good combination of flat roads and climbs.

“I think the strongest cyclist who takes the best care of his body, will win. Climbing is my strong point and my plan is to try to break away with a small group,” he says.

“It will be difficult for me as an individual to win with all the professional teams competing, but I am positive that I will manage a place in the top ten or even the top five.”

Viljoen has also been selected to compete in the World Student Championships in Holland at the end of the month. He and fellow NMMU cyclist Nicole Allen will be part of a group of six cyclists (four men and two women) representing the country.

“It will be my first time riding for my country overseas and it is definitely the highlight of my season,” he says. “I hope I will make the NMMU and South Africa proud.”

The team leaves for Holland on May 19, where Viljoen will compete in a 34km time trial and a 160km road race. “Being in Holland, the route will probably be very flat, but I think factors like wind will play a huge role,” he says.

“I really want to thank my sponsors, Mercer, Action Cycles, NMMU and Jaco Rademeyer Estates for their assistance. “Their support allows me to focus on my cycling, because all my other needs are taken care of.”

Managing director of Mercer in the Eastern Cape, Gerhard Roux, believes they made an excellent choice in sponsoring Viljoen. “He has tremendous talent and potential and I’m sure we will see and hear a lot more of him in the future.

“Cycling is a growing sport and I believe it’s important to invest in our youth,” says Roux. “Participating in the world championships will give Conrad wonderful experience for the future.”

Viljoen says he has his sights set on moving to Johannesburg to cycle professionally.