Injuries at an inopportune time will see Bestmed Jock Tour defending champion Willie Smit look no further than the opening day individual time-trial when the three-day race gets underway in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, on Friday.
The 23-year-old RoadCover star’s preparations for what is widely regarded as South Africa’s toughest road stage race were disrupted when he suffered a crash in the Tour de Bretagne in France in April.
“It did not happen at the ideal time; right in the middle of my racing season,” said Smit, who broke a collarbone and tore shoulder muscles and ligaments.
“Winning the tour overall this year would be a bonus as my recovery process has been quite tough and I have been pressed for time. That is why I have identified the time-trial as my main goal.”
He said success in the solo discipline of the tour, which is presented by Rudy Project, was important to him due to his limited preparations.
“It is known as the race of truth,” he said. “There are no tactics involved. It is just you and your bike against the clock.”
Having grown up in Lydenburg and now living in Nelspruit, Smit is familiar with the challenges that participants will face this weekend.
“The Jock plays a big role in South African road cycling because it’s one of the most mountainous races in the country. So there is great status attached to winning this event and it also always reveals new talent.
“The climbs will be the biggest challenge for most participants as the routes around Nelspruit are very hilly compared to most races in the country. In addition, the stages are quite long.”
Smit started the year on a high when he won the Mpumalanga Cycle Tour in January, but admitted it had been “up and down” since then.
“I definitely do not have the form I had due to my injury, which has put me quite far back.
“I have focused more on my endurance, which mostly consists of four to six-hour rides. Rehab has been my main aim since the crash.”
The time-trial covers a distance of 27km, mostly uphill, between Nelspruit and the mountain town of Kaapsehoop and will certainly suit Smit’s strengths.
The second stage, which starts and finishes in Nelspruit, is over 140km. The route, via White River and Sabie, includes climbing tests such as Spitskop and Long Tom Pass.
The final day of 138km, via Kaapmuiden and Barberton, features 3 100m of vertical ascent and will ensure a tough finish to the tour.
The traditional one-day Bestmed Jock Classique, which consists of three stages totalling 154km with 2 900m of climbing, takes place on Saturday alongside the feature event.