South African cyclist Keagan Girdlestone will be tackling his biggest challenge back on the bike this weekend in the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic.
South African cyclist Keagan Girdlestone will be tackling his biggest challenge back on the bike this weekend in the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic. Facebook/Keagan Girdlestone

Back from the brink: Cycling's 'Superman' ready to soar

CYCLING: Less than a year ago, South African cyclist Keagan Girdlestone was lucky to be alive, this weekend the 20-year-old tackles the toughest challenge of his career: the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic.

The man people in cycling circles have started to dub Superman, Girdlestone was involved in a horrific accident while racing in Italy last June when he collided with the back of his own team car while chasing back the peloton on a descent.

Sustaining huge amounts of blood loss due to lacerations to his carotid artery and jugular vein, Girdlestone was hospitalised in severe condition. He had uncertain prospects of survival and remained in a coma several days.

Initially doctors suggested the cyclist would not last the first 24 hours, but after surviving three days in a coma, that diagnosis changed but it remained rather grim for the young cyclist.

After three weeks in ICU in Italy, Girdlestone finally built up the stength in his body to return to his home in New Zealand, but his prospects of getting back in the saddle were non-existent.

 

South African cyclist Keagan Girdlestone will be tackling his biggest challenge back on the bike this weekend in the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic.
Keagan Girdlestone has been putting in plenty off kilometres on the bike ahead of this weekend's GRafton to Inverell Cycle Classic. Facebook/Keagan Girdlestone

However with a spirit built on defying expectations, Girdlestone refused to stay down. Pushing himself as far as his body would let him as he set his sights on returning to the bike. Now the cyclist has a new goal of returning to the Subaru National Road Series and that journey begins in the heart of Grafton this Saturday (May 13).

It will be a gruelling 228km journey for Girdlestone as he pushes his body further than he has in more than a year.

"I really believe I'm ready for this. I've had an awesome block of training with solid 30 hour weeks in the lead up," he said.

"I've gained movement and dexterity in my right arm and I'm lean and super hungry to get back into the NRS for this race. It's a really competitive level of racing and I just want to ride!"

Due to the nature of the graft in his neck, Keagan was initially restricted to under 145 heart beats per minute at all times. After months of steady training under this limitation, his doctors saw fit to remove the restriction last month and that was when "the real comeback could begin".

While it is the single biggest one day cycle event in Australia, the journey of the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic is not scaring the young competitor as he suits up as part of the newest team in the NRS, Team Ultra Racing.

 

South African cyclist Keagan Girdlestone will be tackling his biggest challenge back on the bike this weekend in the Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic.
Keagan Girdlestone represnted South Africa at the 2015 World Junior Championships. Facebook/Keagan Girdlestone

"There are a number of factors (to choosing the Grafton to Inverell)," he said. "The timing, the single day nature of the race and the fact that it's over 200km and I've never raced over 200km. It's all about constantly challenging myself.

"I am just going there to finish. This is just another piece in the comeback puzzle. That said, since my crash, I've become notorious for wanting to over-achieve so the not-so-secret secondary goal is to finish with the bunch - or what remains of it.

"I'm not going in as a favourite rider nor as a supported one. There's no pressure to perform, so I am going to just enjoy it."

The Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic will take off from Prince Street on Saturday morning as a strong field of competitors put the pedal to the metal across the Gibraltar Range. 2016 A Grade winner Patrick Lane heads a sizeable field for the first Subaru NRS event of the season.

Grafton Cycle Club's Craig Evers, racing for Pheonix Cycle Collective, and Aaron Watts will also compete in the A Grade division while Grafton's Jye Reardon will make the step up to B Grade this weekend after claiming C Grade honours in 2016.