By Bardy the Action Scribe

MTN Microsoft’s, Daniel Spence hopes to end his professional cycling career on a high note at his final race, the Pick ’n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge in Joburg on Sunday.

The 28-year-old climber and stage-race specialist won the Cycle Challenge in the colours of HSBC back in 2002 when he and Adrian Maaske were in a two-man break for the majority of the race. While Spence feels he reached his best form in August this year at the Tour of Morocco, which he briefly led before succumbing to illness, he says his form is currently “pretty good”.

“I’m obviously hoping we can get one of our riders to win and will play whatever role I have to on the day. The thing with this race is timing. If you can get a group away at the right time, that group can stay clear to the finish. So it could be a breakaway that succeeds, but it’s more likely to be a smallish bunch dicing it out at the end.”

While MTN Microsoft will miss Neil MacDonald (a former runner-up at the Cycle Challenge) due to a broken wrist, the team will be virtually back to a numerical similarity to the other teams with Spence being joined by Malcolm Lange, Nicholas White, Waylon Woolcock, Jamie Ball and Daryl Impey.

“We’ve been a few riders short at recent races due to guys being on national team duty or injured or ill and it has shown in our results. Konica Minolta have definitely had the numbers advantage over us of late so it will be good to have six riders again.”

The return of Lange will also be encouraging for MTN Microsoft. The two-time winner (2000 and 2001) has been out of racing since mid-September with a broken collarbone, but has been training for the past five weeks in preparation for Sunday’s race and what he lacks in race sharpness he makes up for in experience.

“I’m not expecting to be able to go for the win necessarily, but I’ll certainly provide a solid springboard for one of my teammates to try,” said Lange, whose break from racing may actually be an advantage in terms of him being well rested. “I’m so hungry to race again! I felt ready to race not long after I got back on the bike, but was advised against it by the surgeon who felt the risk of a worse break from another crash would be too high.”

For Spence the finish line on Sunday will have much deeper meaning. He’s retiring about four years earlier than most pro’s, but believes it’s the right time.

“I’ve become a partner in a business unit in the Seattle Coffee chain and want to give all my attention to that in 2008. I’ll be going from one competitive job to another and really do believe I need to focus fully on my new venture in order for it to be a success. Many pro’s retire at 32 or 33 and have very little in the way of work opportunities after cycling. This opportunity has come now and I’m taking it.”

Spence began his professional career with IBM Lotus in 1999. He left the team at the end of 2001 for a three-year stint at HSBC before returning to the former IBM Lotus setup – then Microsoft, and now MTN Microsoft – again from 2005 until 2007.

He can’t pick a specific highlight from his nine-year professional career, but representing his country at the Commonwealth Games, world championships and the Tour de Langkawi count among his best achievements. In addition to winning the Cycle Challenge 2002, he was runner-up at the 2006 African Championships road race and runner-up at the 2002 Giro del Capo.

“To be honest, the highlight for me was the people I rode with. I feel very blessed to have met and ridden with such amazing people and I will always be grateful for those memories, said Spence.”

Spence is selling all his cycling gear and bikes and says he is taking a complete break for 2008.

“Maybe in 2009 I’ll get back on the bike again. By then I’ll be 30 and will be able to have some fun in the veteran racing groups,” he smiled. “But right now, all I’m focussed on is trying to get a MTN Microsoft rider to the line first on Sunday.”