South Africa’s toughest one-day road cycling race takes place over three stages in and around the town on July 15 and Bell, runner-up in the three-day Jock Tour last year, said the penultimate stage over Spitskop was the hardest and likely to have the greatest impact.
The 33-year-old, who trains on the course, said the 45km stretch between White River and Sabie started out quite flat and he expected the favourites to hold back 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 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 national marathon mountain bike champion said the opening stage, a 42km segment between Mbombela and White River, usually set the tone for the rest of 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 GC riders attempted to drop their rivals.
Although the final stage 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.
“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 that although the race theoretically suited pure climbers, the positioning of the main ascents would make it difficult for them to beat all-rounders unless they could count on the support of strong teams.
Bell felt the best strategy for overall victory was 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 takes place over 150km with 2 900m of climbing.