Alex Brown, an Australian sports journalist and friend, got it spot on this week when he tweeted: “It does not matter what @MClarke23 did before, or will do in the future. This is his finest hour. He is carrying a team, a family, a nation.”
Michael Clarke, devastated at the loss of his close friend Phillip Hughes, is a broken man. But this week he has picked up the shattered pieces of his heart, held them tight against his chest and offered a piece of it to the world of cricket.
Mark Blewett has a dream. It’s an 80s dream, a cycling and music dream in one package. The dream is to have Midge Ure, the former lead singer of 80s band Ultravox, jumping out of a cake, singing “Vienna” as his top-end bike, named the Ultravox in honour of the band, comes on to the stage through a mist of dry ice.
“I was a big Ultravox fan when I was 15,” said Blewett over dinner in Cape Town last week. “I’ve been in contact with (Ure). It was strange and amazing. BikeRadar, the website, did a review of the bike, and I got this e-mail out of the blue and it said, ‘Hey Mark, I saw the Ultravox on Bike Radar. It’s really cool. We now have a race horse and a race bike named after the band.’ I thought it was Neil (Gardiner, head of marketing, communications and wine buying for Swift) taking the piss out of me. I sent an email back, saying, ‘Ja, whatever. Who is this? Who is taking the piss?’ He e-mailed back, saying, ‘This is the real Midge Ure.’ His real name is James Ure. I thought he was going to sue me for plagiarism or something.”
Blewett, a former professional rider, is back in Cape Town, his hometown for part of the year, a break from Xiamen, the Chinese port near Taiwan, where his bike business, Swift Carbon, has its headquarters. Over the last five years or so, Blewett has set about designing and building bikes that have received rave reviews. They are South African bikes designed by a South African, a Dutchman, a German engineer and built in China. Once “Made in China” was a term of some derision, but Xiamen is the epicentre of the world carbon frame manufacturing industry. If you have a high-end European or American bike, chances are high it was built there.
The riders of Team MTN Qhubeka drove down Hindley Street in Delft yesterday, past cycle lanes painted on the pavement that led to the entrance of Blikkiesdorp, the informal, yet formal settlement on the Cape Flats. It is a place of much controversy, called a “dumping ground” for the poor, a temporary relocation settlement as they were moved away from Cape Town ahead of the 2010 World Cup. Here, some of the best professional cyclists in the world got to see what the Qhubeka in their name stood for.
It’s a grey, dusty place, a R30-million collection of one-room corrugated iron shacks that make up Tin Can Town. It’s a hard place to live, a hard place to grow up and even harder to grow food to eat. Yet, some manage to prise life from the dirt, growing plants and vegetables. Marius, who did not want to give his surname, has a lush patch on which spinach, cabbage, tomatoes and other plants grow. He uses these to feed his family. The other plants are taken back to the “treepeneurs” programme run from the Spier wine farm by Lesley Joemat, an employee of the farm. The programme is part of the Wildlands Conversation Trust, an NGO begun in KZN, that rewarded “treepeneurs” for growing saplings and trees from seeds, so they could be returned to the environment.
They swap the plants for vouchers for “food, clothing, agricultural goods, tools, and bicycles – even school and university fees”, says the literature.
The Kuku Penthouse is a place, a nirvana of cycling that costs a little extra, but takes you to a hither undiscovered heaven of freedom and comfort.
The penthouse, situated at the front of the S7 line of Assos cycling shorts is, and I quote, because you don’t want to get this wrong in a family publication: “Another Assos innovation! The front part of the insert features a round pattern insert made of skin contact textile – no foam. Not only does it create a nest in which the male’s genitals are gently cradled, but also keeps this sensitive area cooler. It’s the evolution of Kukudelux.”
Dylan Girdlestone will become the next South African cyclist to take another step on to the international stage after he signed for Drapac, an Australian Pro Continental team.
There is a South African twist to the story as Girdlestone will be riding on a team sponsored by Swift Carbon bikes, a company founded by former South African professional Mark Blewett. His agent is former South African pro, Robbie Hunter, the first South African to win a stage at the Tour de France back in 2007.
“It’s for sure the biggest contract of my career,” said |Girdlestone, who is currently with Team Bonitas.
“I’ll be moving over to Australia to be with the team, meeting up on November 28 for the first camp, which will see us get our kit and new bikes and then again on December 28, which will be a proper training camp. The Australian guys will be preparing for the national champs. It’ll be a hard camp.”
Drapac will mostly be based in Australia, but their Pro Continental licence puts them on the same level as South Africa’s MTN Qhubeka, who rode in the Tour of Spain, a World Tour event, this year.
Their programme will involve races in Asia, Australia and the United States, with aims to take it up another level next year to Europe. Girdlestone’s hopes are to make the line-up for the Tour Down Under, the first World Tour event of the year.
“The Tour Down Under is the first big race I want to race for them. There is also the Herald Sun Tour in Australia, which I’ve raced in before for MTN Qhubeka. Then there is the Tour of California, Utah, USA Pro Challenge, Cadel Evans Challenge, Tour of Korea, races in Oman and Dubai.
“I approached Drapac a few years ago. I’d raced against them in the Sun Tour. They looked like MTN and had the same feel. My dad and my brother live in New Zealand and my brother rides for the Drapac feeder team. He’ll be based in Melbourne, where I will be, although I may look for somewhere cheaper to live. I’ll be riding some races with him.”
Hunter organised Girdlestone a spell with Garmin-Sharp, the team he rode for in his last few years as a professional. It was an |experience that opened the eyes of the young man.
“It was the best thing that could have happened to me. |They were great and helped by sending me to France for two months. I got to race in France, Spain and Austria. I won a race, got a second and third and a King of the Mountains.
“Riding at the level |Garmin-Sharp operate at is a |completely different world. It’s hard in its own way. It’s a different level. Much more tactical and a different kind of hard. It’s smart racing. In South Africa we don’t do tactics as well. Everyone is just going crazy, shooting from the hip. It’s mad from the gun.
“In Europe, it’s an insane level at the end when everyone is |fighting. But you go in more relaxed and smarter because |of that.”
Girdlestone describes himself as more of a “tour rider, I don’t |classify myself as a climber, not at World Tour level. I do well on multi-day races as I have that strength.”
Girdlestone began riding at school after his superbike-riding father broke his legs in an |accident. The doctor suggested cycling as a way of rehab, the bug bit and his father became more competitive. Girdlestone junior joined in. He rode his first race in Sabie on an old Raleigh, then moved to road at 16, rode for MTN Qhubeka for a few years before spending some time at Westvaal BMC (“The best years of my |career, thus far.”) and now Bonitas.