The Bestmed Jock Tour, presented by Rudy Project is arguably one of the toughest road races in South Africa. Staged in and around Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, the tour makes use of the toughest roads in the area to create a 320km course with more than 6000meters of ascent over 3 days. The stages are divided into a 27km Individual Time Trial on Friday afternoon, a 154km stage on Saturday and finally a 138km stage on Sunday.
The Mbombela stadium on the outskirts of Nelspruit hosted the event giving race registration the feel that something big was about to happen. ASG Events made good use of the opportunity with an expo showcasing some of the ASG brands such as Tour sponsor Rudy Project, High 5 supplements and Pinarello bicycles.
After race registration it was a long wait until we started the afternoon time trial from Nelspruit straight up a mountain finishing at the quaint little town of Kaapse Hoop. The ladies were first to go and Yolandi flew up the mountain winning the time trial by almost 2 minutes and taking the leaders jersey in the process. I couldn’t quite follow up that performance, but finished in 9th place about 3.5 minutes behind stage winner Brendon Davids. The next race was to get home and recover before the 4am wake up call for the next day’s marathon stage.
Stage 2 took us from the Mbombela stadium to White River, on to Sabie over the well known Long Tom pass and back to the stadium. In the men’s race a breakaway group was established soon after the start with the Team ProTouch riders driving the move while Team Road Cover kept them in check along with Kent Main from the Dimension Data Continental squad. As Kent was wearing the yellow jersey he was forced to do most of the chasing and despite a little help he was isolated on Long Tom pass where Brendon Davids attacked. It was a chase all the way back to Nelspruit with Jade Julius just hanging on for the stage win from the original breakaway and Brendon Davids a few seconds behind. I rolled in with the 5-man yellow jersey chase group, happy to have the day done with.
The ladies race was a test of patience with the small field quite intimidated by the long distance and ascent making everyone afraid to put their nose in the wind. This meant that they only reached the 50km mark after more than 2 hours of racing. Although it was against her better judgement, Yolandi couldn’t linger any longer and started to pace in an effort to get home. Of course this left her vulnerable to inevitable attacks but Yolandi countered, finally getting away with Carla Oberholzer. Carla refused to work with Yolandi as they left the field behind, eventually attacking her on the Spitskop climb. From there it was an individual Time Trial of sorts with Carla taking the stage ahead of Yolandi.
Stage 3 was from Mobombela stadium out on the N4 highway, over the ‘Boulders’ climb towards Kaap Muiden, on to Barberton and back to Nelspruit. The men’s’ race was very controlled with Team RoadCover setting the tempo all the way to the top of Boulders and shedding the peloton of some ‘deadwood’ along the way. At the bottom of the tricky descent there were a few attacks with Team ProTouch being very aggressive. Team RoadCover brought calm back to proceedings leading the bunch through Barberton and back to Nelspruit. There were a few tough moments in the crosswinds where we earned our keep in the wheels, but we reached the final climb up Hilltop still together in a group. From here on in it was every man for himself as the bunch (or what was left of it) split into pieces on the lower slopes. James Fourie won the stage just ahead of Kent Main and Brendon Davids giving the breakaway group two wins out of two, but Davids walked away with overall tour honours. I started the climb slow but accelerated throughout, cresting the hill with Gregory de Vink which was a blessing as his big frame and strong legs made short work of the mostly downhill run into Nelpruit while I helped where I could but tried not to get in the way too much. Together we finished in 7th and 8th on the day for an overall 6th place for me in the tour – a result so unexpected I appeared on the podium in non UCI regulation shorts and Team Garmin T-shirt!
The ladies race was again a slow going affair with 3 girls riding off the front on the approach to Boulders and the bunch ambling along behind them. Over Boulders Yolandi set the tempo with only Cherise Willeit able to follow and they made contact with the 2 leaders at the bottom of the Boulders descent as they turned on to the Barberton road. Team tactics came into play again with no one willing to ride with Yolandi and Cherise, allowing the group to swell again. The reduced ladies peloton haphazardly made their way to Hilltop where Cherise attacked drawing Yolandi and Carla away with her. The 3 of them took it all the way to the line with Carla winning the sprint ahead of Yolandi and Cherise mirroring their overall tour placements.
A standout feature from the Jock Tour is the competitive nature of all the categories. As the race is so tough by nature most people that turn up for the event are pretty serious about their racing and each category win was vigorously contested. Of course this doesn’t mean there is no place for fun and quite a few riders completed the event purely to conquer the challenge that was set.
From an organizational point of view compliments should go to the commissaries (judges/referees) and Road Rangers who go out of their way to make the roads safe for us. These people drive their motorbikes and rental cars into the face of mostly indifferent, oncoming traffic for scant reward other than an occasional gratitude from riders. If it wasn’t for them and the other ground staff who tirelessly work behind the scenes an event of this nature and magnitude would not be possible.
The saying goes that you only grow outside of your comfort zone and although road racing isn’t necessarily our forte, it was good fun to race our road bikes in this beautiful part of South Africa. The data gathered by our Garmin Vector pedals proved that we had indeed been beyond the borders of our comfort zone and hopefully that will stand us in good stead as we head into the final part of the season.