Keagan Girdlestone is set to line up in first elite race since horrific injury
Saturday will mark the first time Christchurch cyclist Keagan Girdlestone has been on the start line in an elite race since his near-death crash in Italy last year.
Girdlestone, who was told by doctors his career was over after he cannoned through the window of a team vehicle and severed his carotid artery and jugular vein, will race in the second round of the Calder Stewart Cycling Series in Dunedin.
It follows him conquering Le Race - an 100km event from Christchurch to Akaroa - last weekend, as he continues to overcome brain damage, a result of several strokes and a cardiac arrest on the operating table after the crash last year.
Racing for the Moore Stephens Markhams Canterbury Development team, the 19-year-old is relishing the chance to compete in an elite event after competing in three mass-entry races.
"My recovery has really taken a massive upward trajectory, fully exceeding what everyone expected, and the pieces are really starting to fall into place," he said.
Girdlestone finished Le Race in a respectable three hours last week, but knows things will step up a notch in Dunedin.
"It felt really good being able to rev the engine after being on a heart rate restriction," he said. "I had pushed myself prior to Le Race, but on Saturday I could really push myself and not worry about anything bad happening.
"This Saturday will force me to push myself the whole time, so I'm hoping it will see a rapid improvement in my performance."
Girdlestone feels he has a second chance at life and has set his sights on competing at the top level of the sport.
Competing in the Calder Stewart Series is another vital step towards being able to be competitive in November's SBS Tour of Southland, before potentially looking at opportunities to race overseas.
Series leader's jerseys are also up for grabs on Saturday, with round one elite winner, Dunedin's Brad Evans, absent as he's racing in Thailand.
That leaves last year's elite series winner, North Otago's Tim Rush, best positioned to take the series lead.
In the elite women's section, series leader Mikayla Harvey will defend her lead while attacking the Dunedin course for the first time.
"My climbing's been going well and it's improved which is good, as I know its going to come down to who's the strongest on the final climb of the day on Saturday," she said.