The cycle is complete as Girdlestone gets a look in
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”.