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Uphill climb for riders

After four coastal events, the Alpha Pharm Seeding Series, the country’s most prestigious road cycling series, heads for the hills of Mpumalanga on Saturday for the fifth round at the Medihelp Jock Cycle Classique in Barberton.

It’s not only the terrain that changes, but also the distance, as the country’s top professional men and women shift from racing over 100km to the more challenging distance of 150km at what is regarded as South Africa’s toughest race.

Following a string of consistent high placings, which have earned him a total of 135 points, James Ball (House of Paint), leader of the men’s category, is still looking for his first win in the Series and with some of his nearest rivals on international race duty, he could well get that elusive victory in Barberton.

ÔÇ£It’s race with lots of climbing, but the longer distance certainly suits me; and as far as sprinters go, I climb quite well, so hopefully I can stay within striking distance over the top of the bigger climbs,ÔÇØ said Ball.

Missing from the start line will be the MTN Energade trio of Juan van Heerden, Jay Thomson and Christoff van Heerden, second, fourth and fifth respectively in the Series, as they are currently racing in the United States. 

Also absent will be Nolan Hoffman (Neotel), last year’s Jock runner-up, who won Rounds 1 and 3 of the 2009 Alpha Pharm Seeding Series. He is currently third on the rankings, but, as with Rounds 2 and 4, he’ll also miss Round 5 due to overseas racing commitments. A young Neotel contingent, comprising John Ntuli, Loto Petrus, Siphiwe Sowela and Douglas Makama, will however be on the start line.

Two teams that are sure to strongly influence the racing will be Medscheme and Konica-Minolta. Medscheme’s Waylon Woolcock won this event in 2007 and he will have the high-profile backing of Hanco Kachelhoffer, Malcolm Lange, Nicholas White and Arran Brown. Having skipped Round 4, the team is hungry for success and grabbing their first Series victory.

With no recognised sprinters, Konica Minolta have been at a disadvantage in the first four rounds, but that is likely to change on Sunday according to team boss John Robertson:

ÔÇ£It’s a race that suits us very well and three of our riders have been training in the area for the past three weeks,ÔÇØ said Robertson. The team comprises Shaun Ward, Kosie Laubser, Dennis van Niekerk, AB van der Walt, Tiaan Swart and Mauritz Faber.

In the women’s category, Series leader, Jennie Stenerhag (Alpha Pharm), will be present, but will certainly find the longer distance a new challenge. She’s had two first and two second places so far over the shorter Series races, all ending in bunch sprints. But the distance and terrain of ‘The Jock’ tends to break the race up and bunch sprints are rare.

In the absence of a strong MTN team, who will be on their way to Germany, the Toyota Supercycling and Nashua Telecoms teams are expected to dictate the pace in a race that’s tailor made for the strong, rather than that fast.

Nashua Telecom’s Anriette Schoeman is lying second in the Series and will bring with her 2007 winner, Robyn de Groot, An-Li Pretorius and Sanet Smal in an effort to secure maximum points. Yolandi du Toit (Konica Minolta) will be out to turn her recent mountain bike racing success into a podium place on terrain that suits her, while Lylanie Lauwrens will be the sole MTN Energade team representative on the start line.

South African champion, Lynette Burger, will be absent from her Toyota Supercycling team’s line-up due to illness, so Ashleigh Moolman, currently third in the Series, will look to Lizanne Naude, Isabel Moolman and new-signee, Joanna van der Winkel for support.┬á

The 150km race follows a circular route that starts and finishes in Barberton passes through Nelspruit and Kaapmuiden and includes two significant climbs at Hilltop (after 23km) and Boulders (after 70km). There is also a 105km race and a 58km fun ride.


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