Nico Bell, runner-up in the three-day Jock Tour over much of the same terrain last year, said the penultimate stage over Spitskop was the hardest of the three stages and likely to have the greatest impact.

The 33-year-old, who lives in Mbombela and regularly trains on the course, said the 45km stretch between White River and Sabie started out relatively flat and he expected the favourites to keep their powder dry until Spitskop.

"It is a climb of between 10 and 15 minutes and the attacks often start right at the bottom," he said, pointing out that last year's decisive split came towards the top.

"From there, they have a fast 10km downhill into Sabie, with a small kick after a left turn into town."

The current national marathon mountain bike champion said the opening stage, a 42km segment between Mbombela and White River, usually set the tone for the race.

"It has a long drag out of town and the speed is often high with lots of attacks as everyone tries to get into the first break of the day before the Heidel Eggs climb."

Leading into that steep ascent, he said, the pace in the main peloton usually picked up as they tried to neutralise the break and general classification contenders attempted to distance their rivals.

Although the final leg over 63km from White River back to Mbombela featured Long Tom Pass, the NAD Pro rider felt it came too early on to have a real impact on the overall standings.

"The pass is steep and gets hard in the last kilometre, where most will attack and try to get a gap over the top," he said.

"But to ride away alone is not easy, so most opt to be in a small group and share the workload and then sprint it out between themselves for the stage win or overall lead."

He said although the Bestmed Jock Classic, presented by Rudy Project, suited pure climbers, the positioning of the main ascents would make it difficult for them to beat all-rounders unless they had a really strong team to support them.

As both Spitskop and Long Tom Pass were followed by long downhills, unhitched riders also had a good chance to reclaim lost ground, said Bell.

"If you're fast on the downhills, you may surprise many."

He felt the best strategy for those who targeted overall victory would be to try and gain little bits of time on each stage, rather than racing conservatively early on as "you might run out of chances by the third stage".

The Jock Classic, which is contested over 150km with 2 900m of vertical ascent, is South Africa's second oldest race and an official seeding event for the Cape Town Cycle Tour.

Go to www.thejock.co.za for more information.
 
Caption: NAD Pro's Nico Bell, seen here in action during last year's Bestmed Jock Tour, believes stage two holds the key to success in the Bestmed Jock Classic, presented by Rudy Project, in Mbombela, Mpumalanga, on July 15. Photo: Memories 4u Photography