Photo courtesy: Michelle Cound/ www.procycling.co.za
This is perhaps the hardest race in South Africa all year-long. This is why in recent years they changed the format to be 3 seperate stages in one day. However for us professionals, it makes the race harder….much harder…as every stage is flat-out from start to finish.
In our pre-race strategy discussion it was Dylan Girdlestone that muttered the words that he will win this race, but he needs the total support of the team. Brave man, but hey, “live by the sword and die by the sword”, rather him than me.
Stage one, Barberton>Nelspruit, started off with a flurry of attacks, but no man could get clear before we reached the 3.5km ascent of hilltop. Bonitas with 4 good climbers took control and set a fast tempo up the climb, ripping the field apart. I made it over the top with a 10-man group. Everybody realised it as an oppurtunity to gain the tactical advantage and the attacks continued. 5 of us rode clear in the final km, but it was Hanco Kachelhoffer, whom over the years earned the fitting nickname of “the Uno Turbo”, was just to quick for me as I had to settle for 2nd. Dylan opened up a 9s gap over most of his rivals, which later proved to be important.
Stage two, Nelspruit>Kaap Muiden, passed over the much feared 6.5km Boulders climb before the 10km descent down to the finish. I knew as a big man, I probably would need to chase on the way down and I was prepared to take all risks…I even had a skinsuit for this stage, which some of the other guys found amusing. I was indeed dropped halfway up the climb and despite my best efforts on the descent I finished 45s behind a bunch of 8. Once more Hanco Kachelhoffer pipped our man Dennis van Niekerk in the sprint to the line.
Stage three, without any major difficulty, is perhaps the toughest of them all. Climbing away from the day’s lowest point back to the start in Barberton. An early 5-man break went clear, with no GC contenders, it seemed set to take out the stage, while Bonitas merely had to defend their lead in the overall classification. However greed met its match as they were imminent on an another stage victory. They spent much of their team in chasing down the break. Big mistake, as the final 10km of this stage has alway historically been the telling kilometers. As soon as the break was reeled in 10km to go, we made the race hard by attacking. Soon Bonitas found themselves exposed and in the final 3km our two GC riders launched their bids for victory, first Dennis van Niekerk and then finally Dylan Girdlestone.
Dylan’s move was devastating and he blew bunch to pieces, Bonitas’ leader Kachelhoffer couldn’t follow as well. Jason Bakke from Bonitas managed to win the stage, but because of the 9s Dylan gained on him during stage 1 he was declared the overall winner ahead of Bakke and Richard Baxter of Tasol-GT. I ended up 8th overall, which wasn’t a bad result, but helping a teammate to overall victory is much more important to me than any secondary placings.