Bring up the topic of the future of stage racing in South Africa and one name seems to crop up time and again – Dylan Girdlestone.

A natural tour rider, Girdlestone has been quietly making waves in the key multi-stage events that underpin the national calendar this year.

In April, the 23-year-old sprinted out from under the long shadow of eventual winner Robert Hunter to win the fifth and final stage of the inaugural Mzansi Tour.

The Westvaal-BMC rider followed this up with his second win in SA’s toughest one-day stage race, the Bestmed Jock Cycle Classique, in July.

Girdlestone then went on to round out a trio of stellar performances with his first overall victory in a multi-day event – the Clover Lowveld Tour in August.

He has also podiumed twice in the UCI 2.2-rated Tour of Rwanda – as part of the MTN-Qhubeka set-up in 2011 and for the SA national team last year.

“It was a highlight because I came third the first year and second in 2012, so it means I’m improving. Holding thumbs for 2013!”

When asked what makes him such a strong tour rider, the young climber says he believes it is the format in which he does his pre-race preparation, as well as recovering properly during a tour.

“I also like to focus on efficiency on the bike during each stage of the event. Being a good climber and an okay time-trialist helps too.

“With these strengths comes a good power-to-weight ratio which assist in other areas in the race, such as gutter winds, where time could be lost too.”

Girdlestone says what ultimately sets a good tour rider apart is mental toughness and single-minded focus on one goal.

“A good rider must have the patience to wait for the perfect opportunity during the tour to pounce and take valuable time out of his or her opponents.”

Patience is something he appears to have in spades. The Pretoria resident has been racing professionally for the past six years and has specifically targeted local tours and tough one-day classics to create a niche for himself and get noticed.

“My dream is still to race the Tour de France one day, and good results are the only way for me to pave my way to the top of the sport. Playing to my strengths in tours and tough classics is my best option.”

With the inception of the UCI-rated Mzansi Tour, the national scene has received a much-needed boost in terms of exposing local riders to international standard distances and formats.

Girdlestone says he hopes this will signal the return of longer events in the tradition of the Tour de Free State, Le Coq Sportif Cycle Tour and Giro del Capo.

In the meantime, he keeps the legs turning in the winter months with some supplementary mountain biking, which offers more stage racing opportunities.

True to form, he took the solo category in his first outing at the Nedbank sani2c in May.

“It was a fantastic event and I really enjoyed the new experience. It was my first multi-stage mountain bike event.

“I have always enjoyed mountain biking and, with the huge increase in its popularity in recent years, there could be a possibility to switch to full-time mountain biking some day.”

Now in his second year with Westvaal-BMC, Girdlestone has big plans for his small team. He says the unrivalled commitment from team principal André Lubbe and genuine friendship between all the riders make a huge difference to their success.

“The team has a common goal to move upward in the sport and give riders the opportunity to race on the international circuit in the near future.

“The past two years have been building blocks, with the team achieving great results. Next year there’s a possibility of incorporating mountain bike racing into the team’s racing calendar.”

Of course, being on a team that lacks serious financial muscle has its drawbacks and Girdlestone divides his time between training and a full-time job with equipment sponsor Velo Life in Pretoria.

“Initially it was difficult, as I struggled to get into a good routine, but now all is good,” he says.

He trains weekdays between 4 or 5am and 9am and then works from 10am to 6pm.

“Saturdays I work from 9am until 2pm, and then train in the afternoon. If I have a race or tour which conflicts with my working hours, my racing takes preference which is another positive about working for Velo Life.”

Girdlestone says his achievements are largely due to his father and professional coach, Wayne, who has mentored and motivated him throughout his cycling career.

He hopes to emulate the career path of his good friend Reinardt Janse van Rensburg, who currently races for Argos-Shimano. “I believe Reinardt is definitely the next Hunter or Impey.”

While his own riding style shows the tenacity and endurance of the likes of Chris Froome, Girdlestone knows he still has work to do. However, he is determined to make it to the top.

His goal races for the rest of the season include the Dome 2 Dome, Race for Victory and Bestmed Jacaranda Satellite Classic.

“Then hopefully African Continental Champs and, finally, Tour of Rwanda.”

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