They say that the friends you make at the Absa Cape Epic are friends you keep for life. I believe that. On Monday I took a call from one of them, my Team Absa teammate Clayton Duckworth. Clay misses the Epic. He misses the team, the laughs, the frisson, the satisfaction, the pain and the togetherness.
He wants us to meet for a reunion, a braai at his house. Soon, while it’s all still fresh in the memory. He wants to tap into what we created, although there is no firm word that can describe it properly.
It’s more than friendship, bigger than that. There’s trust, understanding, memories – it’s probably as close to family as you can get.
Sport creates that sense of, what, ubuntu, if you like. I’ve played middle-of-the-road team sports all my life, I’ve made friends from playing in those teams that I will know for the rest of my life.
People I can call up at any time for a chat, bump into after five years and still know what makes them tick and that they haven’t changed.
On Sunday I played my first game of football for Rhodes University Old Boys since last July. We played the Crusaders Knights, a team based at St Stithians and which usually includes the talents of one Joel Stransky. Joel, you may know. He’s very big in the car hire industry these days. He played for the Springboks. He has finished three Absa Cape Epics. He was my another teammate at the 2012 Absa Cape Epic.
We beat the Knights 6-0 on Sunday, despite their referee having mercy on his team and blowing the second half 10 minutes short.
We were just in the zone on Sunday, playing simple football against a team that were a few players short. A few years ago, the Knights thumped us 7-1. We helped them by scoring an own goal, setting one up with a Distin-like back pass, playing with a certain midfielder so hungover he ran around the field with an Energade in his hand and then going a man short as our right half pulled a fat in his thigh.
Not that anyone really keeps score in the Johannesburg Social League. There is no actual league table, but there are bragging rights on the day, and the chance to avenge defeat in the next match. It’s all about getting out on the Sunday, feeling the sun on your face and your back and working up a sweat large enough to justify the post-match beers.
At Super Rugby or Currie Cup rugby matches on a Saturday, Joel and I would speak more of the Sunday football than the rugby. Then we started speaking more about cycling as Joel signed up to ride the Epic, telling me about his training, how hard he was going, how tough the Epic was and how I should ride it one day.
Joel was full of support all the way through my first (and, possibly, only Epic), but advice and support was never far away during the race, particularly from professional cyclists.
Kevin Evans of 360Life never stopped sending messages on BBM and, when he saw the light, from Whatsapp on his new iPhone 4S (my only good bit of advice to him in return was to tell him to get the iPhone 4S). Pedals causing strife? Kev knew the agent and suggested ways of fixing my Crank Brothers Eggbeaters. Pedals with a weird name were always going to cause strife. Burry Stander’s advice to me was to tell me the “Epic isn’t just three days long” after I had finished the Columbia Grape Escape, which was true.
Rob Hunter, the Tour de France stage winner, sent BBMs from cold Switzerland during the race. He told me that it had taken him until his second or third Tour de France before he learnt how to eat and drink properly at a stage race, and it was the hardest thing of all.
On the night before the last stage, as Joel and my Epic partner Jack Stroucken sat watching rugby in the Castle Lite Chill Zone, Rob BBMed me to say that he would love to ride the Epic one day. He’d love it. I did. Clay did. It’s a race that does not leave you.