The cy­cle is com­plete as Girdle­stone gets a look in

The Star Early Edition - - SPORT - KEVIN McCAL­LUM CHIEF SPORTS WRITER

DY­LAN GIRDLE­STONE will be­come the next South African cy­clist to take another step on to the in­ter­na­tional stage after he signed for Dra­pac, an Aus­tralian Pro Con­ti­nen­tal team.

There is a South African twist to the story as Girdle­stone will be rid­ing on a team spon­sored by Swift Car­bon bikes, a company founded by for­mer South African pro­fes­sional Mark Blewett. His agent is for­mer South African pro, Rob­bie Hunter, the first South African to win a stage at the Tour de France back in 2007.

“It’s for sure the big­gest con­tract of my ca­reer,” said Girdle­stone, who is cur­rently with Team Boni­tas. “I’ll be mov­ing over to Aus­tralia to be with the team, meet­ing up on Novem­ber 28 for the first camp, which will see us get our kit and new bikes and then again on De­cem­ber 28, which will be a proper train­ing camp. The Aus­tralian guys will be pre­par­ing for the na­tional champs. It’ll be a hard camp.”

Dra­pac will mostly be based in Aus­tralia, but their Pro Con­ti­nen­tal li­cence puts them on the same level as South Africa’s MTN Qhubeka, who rode in the Tour of Spain, a World Tour event, this year.

Their pro­gramme will in­volve races in Asia, Aus­tralia and the United States, with aims to take it up another level next year to Europe. Girdle­stone’s hopes are to make the line-up for the Tour Down Un­der, the first World Tour event of the year.

“The Tour Down Un­der is the first big race I want to race for them. There is also the Her­ald Sun Tour in Aus­tralia, which I’ve raced in be­fore for MTN Qhubeka. Then there is the Tour of Cal­i­for­nia, Utah, USA Pro Chal­lenge, Cadel Evans Chal­lenge, Tour of Korea, races in Oman and Dubai.

“I ap­proached Dra­pac a few years ago. I’d raced against them in the Sun Tour. They looked like MTN and had the same feel. My dad and my brother live in New Zealand and my brother rides for the Dra­pac feeder team. He’ll be based in Mel­bourne, where I will be, although I may look for some­where cheaper to live. I’ll be rid­ing some races with him.”

Hunter or­gan­ised Girdle­stone a spell with Garmin-Sharp, the team he rode for in his last few years as a pro­fes­sional. It was an ex­pe­ri­ence that opened the eyes of the young man.

“It was the best thing that could have hap­pened to me. They were great and helped by send­ing me to France for two months. I got to race in France, Spain and Aus­tria. I won a race, got a sec­ond and third and a King of the Moun­tains.

“Rid­ing at the level Garmin-Sharp op­er­ate at is a com­pletely dif­fer­ent world. It’s hard in its own way. It’s a dif­fer­ent level. Much more tac­ti­cal and a dif­fer­ent kind of hard. It’s smart rac­ing. In South Africa we don’t do tac­tics as well. Ev­ery­one is just go­ing crazy, shoot­ing from the hip. It’s mad from the gun.

“In Europe, it’s an in­sane level at the end when ev­ery­one is fight­ing. But you go in more re­laxed and smarter be­cause of that.”

Girdle­stone de­scribes him­self as more of a “tour rider, I don’t clas­sify my­self as a climber, not at World Tour level. I do well on multi-day races as I have that strength.”

Girdle­stone be­gan rid­ing at school after his su­per­bike-rid­ing fa­ther broke his legs in an ac­ci­dent. The doc­tor sug­gested cy­cling as a way of re­hab, the bug bit and his fa­ther be­came more com­pet­i­tive. Girdle­stone ju­nior joined in. He rode his first race in Sa­bie on an old Raleigh, then moved to road at 16, rode for MTN Qhubeka for a few years be­fore spend­ing some time at West­vaal BMC (“The best years of my ca­reer, thus far.”) and now Boni­tas.

“For me, it’s a se­ri­ously big bonus hav­ing Swift as a spon­sor of the team, hav­ing some­thing South African to look down at and re­mind my­self of the her­itage of cy­cling that my coun­try has,” said Girdle­stone.

“Dra­pac want to be in the World Tour by 2016 or 2017, and so I want to hit the ground run­ning when I get there. I want to race in Europe. I have a one-year con­tract with them and I in­tend to make the most of it”.

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