Nicholas Dlamini and Jacques Janse van Rensburg have confirmed that they will race in the green-and-gold at the UCI World Championships, stepping into the void left by a raft of withdrawals.
With the beleaguered Cycling South Africa requiring riders to self-fund their kit, travel expenses and support costs at this year's world championships, the country was at risk of not being represented by any elite men in Innsbruck, Austria. That was after Daryl Impey, Willie Smit and Clyde Hendricks withdrew (citing the financial implications), while Louis Meintjes' heavy crash during the Vuelta a Espana at the start of the month saw him ruled out too.
However, after not having any riders for Wednesday's individual time trial (which Impey and Smit were initially slated to race in), Team Dimension Data for Qhubeka have stepped into the breach by freeing up Nicholas Dlamini, Jacques Janse van Rensburg and some support staff to represent the nation in Sunday's elite men's road race which conclude the week-long championships.
Janse van Rensburg's participation, which he confirmed via Twitter on Monday, sees him effectively replace Meintjes. While the 31-year-old is a former road race champion (from 2015) and claimed second at this year's nationals behind Impey, he has had a low-key season playing domestique during week-long races and the Giro d'Italia in May -- it wouldn't be a surprise if Janse van Rensburg attempts the type of breakaway Smit went on a year ago which earned him his World Tour gig.
Similarly, Dlamini's expectations would be tempered by the fact that he is in his first year as a UCI World Tour rider, but the 23-year-old has shown a penchant for overachieving. That much was evident when he won the mountains classification in his debut professional race back in January, the Santos Tour Down Under in Australia, before claiming another polka dot jersey at the Ovo Energy Tour of Britain at the start of this month.
Be that as it may, Dlamini told Ride magazine that he is happy to gain further world level experience rather than targeting the rainbow jersey which Peter Sagan has won three years in a row.
"On a personal level, the importance of competing in Innsbruck is two-fold: I need to develop my cycling career and experience, but I also want to showcase the importance of participation for young South African riders and hopefully give potential sponsors an idea of what is possible at the highest level, even for 'normal' South Africans," Dlamini said.
While Dlamini's early pro triumphs have 'mountain' in them, his strengths lie more in the short, punchy rises whereas Sunday's 258.5km-long course has been designed with pure climbers in mind. The initial 84.7km circuit out of Kufstein will undoubtedly feature breakaways, but then the pretenders will be whittled down during the six 23.9km short laps which each feature a 7.9km-long climb at an average gradient of 5.7% with a peak at 10%. Finally, the contenders will emerge during the 31km-long Höll lap which includes a brutal 2.8km-long climb at an average gradient of 11.5% peaking at 28% between Hötting and Gramartboden.
"I know this 2018 edition is tough and not suited to me... for me it is an opportunity to learn a lot in preparation for the 2019 World Championships in Yorkshire, where the shorter, punchier climbs suit me far better."