The 30th Bestmed Jock Cycle Classique, presented by ASG, will give riders a painful history lesson as they ascend the misty hights of Long Tom Pass en route to Nelspruit on Saturday, July 20.
It is perhaps fitting that this Mpumalanga pass, which takes participants into South Africa’s colourful past, forms the highlight of the final leg of the three-stage road tour.
Long Tom Pass was named for the 155mm Creusot siege cannons used on its flanks, for the last time, by the Boer commandos against the British in September 1900. Today, just over 20km from Sabie, a replica of one of these field guns stands as a monument to this skirmish during the Second Anglo-Boer War.
In a similar vein, 1 500 riders will have to come out with all guns blazing as they muster their reserves for the final fight in SA’s toughest one-day stage race.
According to race organiser Wynand de Villiers, the last stage starts with the battle up this massive ascent.
Much like the MTN Panorama Tour, the Jock traverses the monster climb, for about 8km, at an average gradient of seven percent, and turns towards Nelspruit just before its peak.
The summit on the R37, which is one of the highest tarred roads in the country, is situated at 2 150m above sea-level and offers breathtaking views of the Sabie valley below.
“The good news is that it’s mostly downhill after that,” says De Villiers.
“The bad news is that there are some serious hairpin bends and the last stage is 18km longer than last year!”
Riders who find it tough going should spare a thought for those who forged the original pass with picks and shovels back in the early 1870s. The steep and treacherous track formed the basis of the Transvaal Republic’s trade route to Delagoa Bay in modern-day Mozambique.
Many who came to seek their fortunes in the gold fields of the Lowveld also crossed this way, including Jock of the Bushveld author Sir Percy Fitzpatrick and his faithful canine companion who gives the race its name.
The modern pass, as used by traffic today, was constructed in 1953 and tarred in 1964.
This year, the Jock’s route planners are essentially rewriting the race’s history, as roadworks on the N4 have forced them to abandon the traditional triangular route between Barberton, Kaapmuiden and Nelspruit.
The new 151km route starts and finishes at Mbombela Stadium near the provincial capital of Nelspruit and bypasses the previous focal point of Barberton completely.
De Villiers says this means that participants will be spared the infamous Hilltop (stage one) and Boulders (stage two) climbs.
These will be replaced by the 2km Heidel Eggs climb on the 43km first stage towards White River and the 7km Spitskop ascent on the 45km second stage en route to Sabie.
“But this doesn’t mean that it’s going to be any easier. This is still an incredibly tough and cold winter race.”
The Jock has certainly stood the test of time and is South Africa’s second oldest cycling event after the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour.
Some of the past winners who have etched their names in its annals include the legendary Alan van Heerden, Willie Engelbrecht, Robbie McIntosh, Malcolm Lange, Robbie Hunter and the Beneke brothers.
With last year’s winner Reinardt Janse van Rensburg now racing overseas, the way is clear for a new champion to emerge.