Defending women’s champion Ischen Stopforth will make her comeback from injury at the joBerg2c, which starts at Heidelberg south of Johannesburg on Friday.
The nine-day mountain bike race will be the ultimate test of fitness for Stopforth, who fractured her right arm just weeks before she was scheduled to ride the Absa Cape Epic with British partner Catherine Williamson (Team bizhub-FCF).
Williamson, who helped Stopforth to eight stage wins in last year’s Old Mutual joBerg2c, went on to finish fifth overall in the Western Cape race alongside Yolandi du Toit.
The unfortunate Stopforth had started her season strongly with podium finishes at the Attakwas Extreme Mountain Bike Challenge in Oudtshoorn and the first leg of the MTN national marathon series at Barberton. She also placed fourth in the UCI Marathon World Championships at Sabie.
Although it had only been eight weeks since she sustained the injury, the George resident said her arm had felt good since returning to the bike and that her fitness was on track.
“My cast was removed two weeks ago, but I’ve been maintaining my fitness on the indoor trainer all along.
“I’m definitely feeling strong enough to challenge for the win, while Catherine’s on very good form following the Epic.
“We wouldn’t want to miss our title defence for anything, but being the defending champions adds pressure and nothing less than a win will do. We’re both very competitive.”
Stopforth said she felt a bit of apprehension as she was not sure that she would be up to her partner’s level by the start of the race. “But I’ve got 900 kilometres to ride myself back into form.”
The veteran campaigner, who turned 40 on Sunday, said her focus was definitely shifting towards longer multistage events. “The endurance-style races tend to suit older riders like me.
She said she and Williamson, who returns to South Africa this week, would be competing in the eight-stage TransAlp Challenge in July and the Old Mutual joBerg2c was imperative to a good showing in Europe. “There’s nothing like a stage race to put you on a different level.”
Their bizhub-FCF team-mate Leana de Jager will compete in the mixed category alongside Carel Bosman (PeptoPro), where they will be up against Yolande de Villiers and Johan Labuschagne (Cycle Lab KTM), as well as in-form defending champions Erik and Ariane Kleinhans (GMAC), who turned in a dominating performance at the recent Cape Epic.