On Sunday morning at around 3am, an alarm will go off next to my bed. I’ll knock it off the beside table, curse, blaspheme and curse some more. I’ll get up and think to myself that perhaps those extra beers at the Radium Beer Hall while watching the Scotland-Springbok match were a mistake. I’ll wonder why I didn’t take on the advice I gave myself last year when I said I would not drink the night before taking part in a big race.
On Sunday I will ride my 10th Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge.
On Sunday, at 3.30am, as I lie in bed wondering if I should just go to the VIP tent later instead of riding, I’ll remember the words of one Kevin Evans to Lance Armstrong before the 2010 Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour and “harden up”. I’ll get out of bed for the absolutely last time and get into the bath. I’ll have a quick feel of the legs, maybe give them a little scrape with a razor to make them smooth. Here’s the thing I have learnt about cycling over the years – sometimes it doesn’t matter if you’re fast, but as long as you look fast. I’ll dry myself off, put on suntan cream because it seems to work better and longer if you put it on a good few hours before you go out into the sun.
I’ll walk into the spare room at my girlfriend’s place and curse again. Where the hell’s my bike? Where’s the KTM Strada? I was sure I put it there on Saturday afternoon? I’ll stomp into the lounge. And the kitchen. Then I’ll remember how after the taxi had dropped me from the Radium I had insisted on packing the bike into my car so I wouldn’t forget.
I’ll walk to where I had laid my kit out the night before on the sofa. I’ll slather chamois cream on the bibs, wince and moan as the coldness of it forces my testicles to retract as though Khanyi Mbau has walked into the room. I’ll try on a few tops, and realise that my five months of tapering since I finished the Absa Cape Epic has not been good for my figure. Less medium and more “extra medium”.
I’ll pack my bags and a coolerbox with water and a towel for a post-ride wipe down, and clean clothes to change into. Then I’ll drive to the start of the race, where I’ll listen to people say how untrained they are. Then we’ll ride, for around four hours in my current state, I think. My hangover should be gone by the time we hit the Joe Slovo offramp. I’ll ride my 10th Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge on Sunday. I’m looking forward to it.
On Twitter yesterday, a few hours after South Africa had written another chapter in the dossier of their tour of Australia, a tweeter called @OutsideSledge (real name “Simon Beaumont”), from Oakleigh in Victoria, said that Dale Steyn “carries on like a flog”.
Steyn, a naturally curious chap, was naturally curious: “What’s a flog?” he asked @OutsideSledge. The reply was enlightening: “An insufferable tool is a wanker. A flog is part of a wank.”
Then our friendly Australian from Victoria quickly added that he wasn’t being serious. “All fun, bloke, great bowling today, your boys are on top but it was a great day of cricket. Pity about day 2. #justtalkingsmack.”
Steyn, a naturally fun chap, was naturally fun: “Haha! That’s brilliant. I’ll remember that for when I’m at fine leg 2moro! All good, glad you Njoyed!”
So, if you were awake at 2am this morning for day four of the first Test in Brisbane, and spent some time watching Steyn standing down at fine leg, then you might have seen him turn to the crowd behind him and say “flog”. Then he might have laughed.
He certainly gave any sledgers behind him in the crowd a good flogging with his celebrations after he took a quick-witted catch to dismiss Rob Quiney off Morné Morkel. If only the Channel 9 cameraman had been as quick.The channel missed the catch live, which was a great pity, for we would have been able to gasp as Steyn took the initial catch, realised he was going to step over the rope, threw the ball back into the air then caught it again. We only knew it was a good catch because Pommie Mbangwa went positively potty.
Steyn’s celebrations included a fist pump and a pointed finger into the air. Imran Tahir’s five-minute post-wicket sprints aside, no one celebrates a stick with quite the beautiful brutality of Steyn.
It’s a muscle-straining, fist-pumping, vein-popping display, and he stands still as his teammates rush to him, standing all of a tremble as they rub his hair, pat his bum, hug and share the love. To watch Steyn bowl is to love him. Even the Australians love him.
No matter that the secret dossier is probably fake, possibly the worst bit of planted evidence since the SAPS’s alleged recent nonsense, the words are spot on: “STRENGTHS: There is not a huge amount that has not already been said. He is all quality and has ability to go up a gear up when he needs to. He has great control, he swings the ball and has got genuine pace.” Gosh, what a secret. “VULNERABILITY: It is almost impossible to pinpoint an area of weakness but he doesn’t bowl as well to left-handers. Not sure why. Our left-handers should certainly be looking to score against him.”
If it was a plant, it wasn’t a very clever one. Mickey Arthur was reported as saying something similar last week, before correcting himself ever so slightly: “Let me just rephrase that. He’s bowled a lot better to right-handers than to left-handers.”
The left-handed David Warner may not share his coach’s views after that, neither will right-hander Ricky Ponting. Steyn seemed to do just fine against both of them.
The joy of watching Steyn is that you sense that seething under that ready smile and happy, off-field banter is a volcano. He does well to hold on to his emotions, but when they bubble over, as they do on the odd occasion, they tend to burn. He was fined 100percent of his match for spitting in the direction of Sulieman Benn in Barbados in 2010; he’s had a mid-pitch argument with Yuvraj Singh; he’s sledged Sachin Tendulkar; and he’s hung a pair of my underpants on the railings of the change-rooms at the Feroz Shah Kotla ground in Delhi (admittedly, it was my mistake to leave them in the new cricket boots I had brought to last year’s World Cup for him).
Yesterday he was hit on the shoulder by Ben Hilfenhaus, who, with Peter Siddle, had bounced him. Hilfenhaus knows that he will probably be peppered when he comes in to bat.
“We may as well get in first,” said Hilfenhaus.
Today Steyn may get his chan-ce to flog Hilfenhaus and Siddle. @OutsideSledge would approve.
After I finished the Absa Cape Epic this year, with the sweat, dust, muck and tears still thick upon me, I walked into one of the sponsor’s VIP tents and heard someone call my name. It was Kevin Evans, one of South Africa’s top mountain bikers, and someone who has become a good friend over the years.
He stood up to shake my hand, but before he could, David George, his Nedbank 360Life teammate with whom he had finished second in the Epic, came around the table and extended his: “There’s only one word I want to say to you,” said George. “Chapeau. That’s incredible.”I thanked him, turned to Evans, and grinned like a loon. “Well done, mate. You’re an Epic rider. No one can take that away from you.”
I think I just kept on grinning and burbled something about how I’d cried at the 5km-to-go mark, when my Team Absa partner, the wonderful and patient Jack Stroucken, began telling me how much he had enjoyed riding with me. It was a magical moment.
Evans had offered a constant stream of advice and encouragement before and during the Epic. I still have some of the messages he sent me on Whatsapp during the race.
I’m terrible at cleaning out inboxes and the messages were special. I went for a shower after a few drinks at the VIP tent, and bumped into Evans again. He was with his wife, Kari, and their daughter Ruby, who was sitting on his shoulders. Evans told me that he and George had had a bet on whether I would finish the Epic. He’d bet R100 that I would, George had said I wouldn’t.
I’ve known David George for over more than a decade, first meeting him at the Giro del Capo, the stage race in the Western Cape. I’ve watched him race in the Olympics in Beijing and then win silver at the Commonwealth Games in 2006. There had always been an undercurrent of talk about George and doping in the professional peloton and team managers, and why he hadn’t cut it at US Postal.
My failure as a journalist was that I never asked him about those rumours. I was, I suppose, frightened of what the answer would be. I probably knew what he would say: there would be a flat denial and then I’d be cut out, both by him and some others in the bunch.
I wish I’d been braver. I wish I’d been stronger. Kevin Evans, who spoke to me briefly about the devastation, hurt and confusion at George’s positive test for EPO this week, deserved better from me. He deserved me to push and question George until he confessed or become aware that the spotlight was on him. He deserved me to do my job. It’s what a good friend would have done.
It took a 152km/h serve by Serena Williams to the despairing out-stretched right arm of her sister, Venus, to end an enjoyable hour or so of exhibition tennis at the Ellis Park Arena yesterday afternoon.
The aim, though, is that their brief visit to South Africa will be the impetus of something special for tennis in the country and the continent.
The South African Sport Confederations and Olympic Committee sent out two press releases this week, both late in the day. The first release, sent at 10.12pm on Tuesday night, announced the names of the athletes chosen for the Rio Olympics Operation Excellence programme.
The second arrived on Wednesday evening at 6.24pm, announcing the candidates for the positions on the Sascoc board. If the timing of the first announcement was bizarre, the second was inconvenient.