RoadCover rider Willie Smit continued his rehabilitation after a suffering a severe crash in April by claiming the second stage in the Bestmed Jock Tour in Nelspruit, Mpumalanga, today.
The 23-year-old from Nelspruit was competing in his first race for two months after crashing in the Tour de Bretagne in April when he broke a collarbone and suffered torn shoulder muscles and ligaments.
He underlined his ability by edging Team NAD’s Nico Bell for first place, with the pair being credited with the same time of 3:53:24. They were followed home by Smit’s team-mate Mornay van Heerden (3:53:42).
Bell, also from Nelspruit, had the satisfaction of claiming the yellow jersey from opening day time-trial winner JC Nel (ProTouch) and will take a seven-second advantage over Smit into the final day tomorrow.
He leads in a time of 4:48:32, with Van Heerden in third place on the overall standings in 4:49:33.
The trio broke away from the peleton on Long Tom Pass when a lot of riders were starting to sit on, said Smit.
“Mornay went really hard for the last two kilometres and only Nico was able to follow us,” he said.
“The three of us rode away over the top and from there it was a matter of just rolling through once we were sure that we had a good gap.”
Smit said they were not able to shake off the strong-riding Bell in the final run-in to the finish but was happy that they, at least, had managed to secure the win.
About 60km into the stage on Spitskop, the day’s first major climb, Smit’s team set him up for an attack that ultimately led to the demise of the yellow jersey.
Smit said he was also suffering from an upset tummy which had often affected him in his career.
“This is my first race in two months and when my nerves get too excited it often leads to stomach issues,” he explained.
“However, I have a great team behind me as usual and they are the foundation for my success.”
Smit said tomorrow would be another hard stage and he would assess the situation in the early stages.
“If the stage starts easily I may have a chance to gain the seven seconds, but I will save my energy for Hilltop, which is one of the hardest climbs in South Africa.
“If anything happens it’s going to happen there,” he said of the summit which is about five kilometres from the finish.
The third and final stage of the tour, which is presented by Rudy Project, is over 138km and features 3 100m of vertical ascent.
The elite women competed in today’s Bestmed Jock Classique, with Heidi Dalton claiming the honours in the three-stage 154km race.
Her time of 4:56:09 saw her finish ahead of ahead of Samantha Sanders (4:56:12) with Carla Oberholzer (4:56:13) completing the podium.