Lady Luck will be a mere spectator when South Africa’s top professionals battle it out at the 28th annual BESTmed Jock Cycle Classique, presented by ASG, on July 23.
In one of the truest tests of strength and endurance on the national classics calendar, riders will compete over 154 kilometres and three stages for the unofficial title of strongest single-day rider.
The prospect of taking on the treacherous Lowveld terrain in the heart of winter has formidable climbers like South African road champion Darren Lill champing at the bit.
“A lot of South African racing comes down to the bunch sprint because the courses are flat and lack distance,” said Lill. “On a professional level there aren’t too many opportunities to break things up.
“What’s nice about the Jock is that it’s longer than most one-day races in South Africa. To me that’s a definite plus and also the fact that it’s got some decent climbs.”
Lill, who won his national title on an equally demanding circuit, is looking forward to leading his new team, Bonitas, to a winning result. “We’re going to race positively in an effort to put the other teams on the back foot. I think we’ve got the riders to do it.”
Having acclimated to the long distances on the international circuit, where he competed for six years, the Capetonian said the Jock would be a good race to stretch his legs and gauge his form ahead of the five-day Clover Tour in August.
The 28-year-old said he was still “sussing out” his fellow local riders but singled out MTN-Qhubeka climbers Dennis van Niekerk and Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg as potential threats.
Should Lill demonstrate the kind of form that saw him take the queen stage of the Cell C Tour of South Africa in February, he will be the outright favourite to take line honours.
According to organiser Wynand de Villiers, the Jock is indeed a pure climbers’ race and this year’s edition will be the longest yet. He said riders would encounter the first serious climb (the five-kilometre Hilltop ascent) 30 kilometres into the 42-kilometre first stage between Barberton and Nelspruit.
“Boulders is the signature climb of the 58.8-kilometre second stage to Kaapmuiden. It's a seven-kilometre monster with an average gradient of 12 percent, which is steep in anyone’s book.”
Despite having no trademark climbs on the 54-kilometre third and final stage to Barberton, De Villiers says there are many small backbreakers to challenge even the hardiest soul.
“Kaapmuiden is the lowest point on the route and Barberton the highest, which means riders climb almost all the way back to the start/finish at Coronation Park.
“Finishers generally don't speed past the line – most of them literally have to be held up on their bikes and guided to the medals table,” smiled De Villiers.
“For the ordinary rider it is a massive achievement just to complete the distance in the allotted time.”
He said organisers had decided to return to the multi-stage format last year because riding 150 kilometres in one go in the middle of winter on some of the highest mountains in the country had put the race beyond the scope of all but a talented few.
“With an anticipated field of more than 1400 riders – the most we’ve had in a very long time – we feel vindicated.”
De Villiers said the welcome signing of new sponsors BESTmed and ASG had also secured a solid future for the country’s second oldest road race.
“The added value goes directly into the rider's hands, not just with extra goodie bag items, but it also enables us to give the breakfast and lunch menus a facelift and improve the infrastructure at stopovers.”
Entries close on July 10 but late entries will be accepted at registration at a penalty of R50.
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