A chicken tried to cross the road near the Saronsberg Wine Estate yesterday, but it didn’t, so that joke was ended before it began.
It was two chickens, roosters, I think, but they ran back quickly as we rushed back to the finish line to watch the end of the second stage of the Absa Cape Epic on Monday, chickening out or suddenly realising that they didn’t know why they needed to cross the road in the first place.
From the heat of the Western Cape to the snow of Italy yesterday, the future and hope of South African cycling experienced very different St Patrick Day’s. For Songezo Jim, the MTN-Qhubeka rider, the day was one of weather so foul during the Milan-SanRemo, that parts of the race were neutralised and mechanics struggled to fix bikes whose cables had frozen in their housings, and experienced riders climbed into the back of buses, their mettle tested and pushed too far.
For Sipho Madolo, the prologue of the Absa Cape Epic yesterday was |another step in the journey of a mountain biker who only started the sport four years ago and who, along with partner Azukile Simayile, finished just over 11 minutes behind the stage winners, Christoph Sauser and Jaroslav Kulhavy, the former a past world champion and three-time winner of the Epic, and the other the current Olympic champion.
Eight years ago, Jim did not know how to ride a bike, and is now on the biggest stage of them all. “It’s a Hollywood story,” said Dr Jeroen Swart, who works at the Sports Science Institute in Cape Town and was coaching Burry Stander, among others. “Here’s this guy who was born in the Eastern Cape, and whose parents died. He moved to the Western Cape to live with his aunt and who watched the Argus go by. He decided he wanted to ride then. Now he’s the first black African to take part in the World Tour, and it’s no fluke. He has worked so hard, and has so much natural talent, but it’s his drive to succeed that makes him stand out. He came out through the Life Cycling Academy.”
Luthanda Kaka (now of Team Bonitas) was the big star then and was going to ride for a Danish team, and at the farewell function held to bid farewell to him in Khayelitsha Swart notice a kid sitting in the front row. “He was about 16 then. I saw his eyes were glazed over and he wasn’t really focused on what we were talking about. You could see he was thinking about where Luthanda was going, and how he was going to race in the top European races, and he was thinking about the future and imagining himself in it. I said to the guys, ‘that chap there, you can see that he’s thinking’. They told me he was Songezo Jim and was a talented youngster who would do amazing things.
“Back then he set his vision on getting to Europe and nothing would get in his way. Three years ago he had nothing. He was at my house with a bike that had one shifter that didn’t work, no brake pads and worn-out tyres. We scraped together money to replace all of his parts. He didn’t have a team and so we paid for his entry fees. And now he’s starting Milan-SanRemo.”
Four years ago, Madolo, who is part of the songo.info project in Kayamandi, Stellenbosch, started mountain biking to lose weight. “Ja. I was very fat. I weighed 70kg at that time,” said Madolo, who is around five foot five. “It was 2009 and I was only 18 years old. Then I started to think about doing sport. I was a soccer player. I saw the BMX at Songo and I asked him if I could join the mountain bike. He told me to start running before I could get on a mountain bike. I ran for three months. I ran almost 10km a day, every day, in the morning and afternoon. I really wanted to do it. But Songo (Fipaza, the director of the songo.info project) was a little bit difficult. He made me run a lot.”
Fipaza said yesterday that it had obviously helped Madolo, and “made him strong”. He now leads the Exxaro development category at the Absa Cape Epic, a title he won last year. He is just 22, has passed matric and is ready to take his riding to the next level.
“It was a hard year last year. I was busy with books, training and time, but I was mentally strong even if I was just a bit unfit,” said Madolo. “I spoke with Christoph (Sauser, the Epic winner) about training, and he let me train with him in December. He’s a machine, but he is a real man. He made a real difference in Kayamandi. He changed many lives. He’s friendly and easy to talk to, and he gives great advice. Last year he taught me how to train, before I was just riding. We even trained on Christmas.”
At the “Unofficial World Cup” in Kayamandi this week, which featured the burst mountain bikers in the world, including many of the teams in the top 10, Madolo had planned to ride just two laps and then retire. But he couldn’t.
“The people were shouting my name, ‘Come on Sipho. Come on Sipho’. I thought, this is the beginning for me. Because if the little children shouting for me and watching, I just knew this was not only for today. This was for tomorrow, and when they saw me on the street they would say, ‘Hi, Sipho’. So I did four laps for the little kids. I wasn’t doing it for me. I was doing it for them.”
Madolo wants to be a professional mountain biker. Jim wanted to be a professional rider in Europe. Dreams happen.
From: @GaryGoldrugbyiq (Gary Gold wonders at the behaviour of some of the Italian players during Ireland’s match)
Sent: 16 Mar 2013 5:50pm
Cannot believe I just saw Catrogiovanni texting while he is on the bench for Italy? Maybe I am Old school but that's bloody shocking!!
From: @BakkiesBotha4 (Bakkies is a tennis fan. Who knew?)
Sent: 11 Mar 2013 8:42pm
Ons tennis speler Anderson speel nie sleg op die ATP World Tour nie.
From: @JayRThomson (MTN-Qhubeka rider on the snow-affected Milan-SanRemo)
Sent: 17 Mar 2013 2:40pm
I dont think ive ever been so cold in my life..Couldnt even think..thank goodness they stopped us to transfer to warmer weather..#MSRsnowday
Zee Ismail, manager of the Protea hotel at the Breakwater Lodge beside the V&A Waterfront, has seen many strange things around Absa Cape Epic time. Many of the top teams and amateur riders who ride in the Tour de France of world mountain biking, stay here.
“One year, some of the mechanics set up a two-man tent outside the front door,” said Ismail this week. “I asked them why. They told me they were getting used to putting the tent up and down for the Epic. They were giving it a procedural run-through. Someone didn’t tell them that the Epic organisers provide tents. They’d gone and bought their own. But there it was, this tent pitched outside the front door of my hotel. The other guests were a tad confused.”
Ismail would not say if the mechanics were German, for they can tend to be a little bit different, shall we say. He’s a discreet hotel manager. The Breakwater Lodge could lay claim to being the home of world mountain biking this week, with seven top teams staying there as they prepare for the Absa Cape Epic, which starts on Sunday. Team Bulls have three teams here, with four-time Epic winner Karl Platt, three-time winner Stefan Sahm, as well as Tim Boehme, who won the Nashua Grape Escape a few weeks ago and is highly favoured to be pushing at the sharp end of the race next week.
The Cannondale Factory Team pair of Manuel Fumic and Marco Fontana arrived a few days ago. Fumic took bronze in the Olympic mountain bike race here last year, while Fontana was seventh. As Jaroslav Kulhavy (Specialized) and Nino Schurter (Scott-Swisspower) are also racing the Epic, this means the entire podium from London is here, as well as the fourth-placed rider, Spain’s Jose Hermida (Multivan Merida). The late Burry Stander was fifth in London last year.
Fumic and Fontana are the only racers who wear baggy shorts at the World Cup series. They both believe the shorts are closer to the real ethos of mountain biking. The two aren’t expecting too much from the Epic this year, they joked with Ismail this week, telling him that it was “very long”.
Ismail will be riding the Absa Cape Epic for the first time himself this year. He’s a cycling fanatic. In his office stands a Trek Madone 6.9 SSL that he bought from the Radioshack team when they sold off their bikes. His mountain bike is a Specialized Epic S-works, the same bike that Stander, who often stayed at the Breakwater Lodge and became a good friend. “I’m riding in the colours of the Jag Foundation, but I’ll be riding in memory of Burry,” said Ismail. “He was a legend on and off the bike, one of the most wonderful people I have ever met. Cycling has allowed me to meet some great people.”
On Wynberg Hill, the first serious bump on the route of the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour, a young kid riddled out the chant that has become one of the most well-known sayings for cyclists around the country. “Hou, bene, hou!” The basic translation is “Hold, legs, hold!” but it is more than that. It is a musical mantra for riders, a beat to keep pedalling to.
And so the young boy banged it out. And then I rode past, in the path of a man from Austria in a hand-powered cycle. I was drafting a cripple, a man whose legs did not work so lekker, as a friend of mine who is as subtle as a slap in the testicles said. “Hou, bene, hou! Hou, bene…Jissus!” He saw the legs that did not work so lekker and he stopped. He checked it out for five seconds. “Hou, arms, hou!” That, right there, is the magic of the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour, a race that I believe just may be the greatest event in Africa, if not the world.
Of course this is something I have said before about other events, I think, but after 13 lucky years of riding in this event, I do believe it to be a race that attempts to cure, partially and in its own way, the ills of our nation and society, while bringing them to the forefront at the same time. It’s the people who ride the race, you see. The fat and skinny, the old and young, the black and (mostly) white, the elite and development riders, the debutants and those who have ridden each of the 36 that have been held. It is a truly South African binge of love, hardship, rich and poor, weak and strong.
Yesterday, through the fuzz of a carbo-loading session that began at the Vasco da Gama bar in Green point (which, sadly, will move to another venue soon), where the Castle draught was cold and the chicken livers so overcooked that they crumbled apart instead of yielding with knife slice. Three beers later, I felt I should continue my Cycle Tour tradition of visiting the Fireman’s Arms, a wonderful bar with extravagant beer prices to match, R30 for a Hansa is quite silly. I would stay one beer, I told myself in the way that those drinking alone do. Five beers and a lucky win for the Stormers later, and I made my way back to the Cullinan Hotel. But wait, I told myself, there was another game to come, and so I bought a bottle of wine from Lourensford from the hotel bar and reposed to my room.
The alarm went off at 4am. It wasn’t welcome. But I arrived at the start with my bike and was given a tracking device from, well, Tracker. They said it was to check on me along the route for logistics purposes. They also gave one to Sir Richard Branson, who was riding for Virgin Active-Unite. I was supposed to, but I’ve never been able to forgive him for Tubular Bells. I rode in Virgin Active kit, though; because there’s always a chance they’d mistake me for him.
No chance. I was rubbish. I started in “M” and was passed by two groups before the top of the first highway section, where a man in a hand cycle powered up beside me. It was Ernst van Dyk, the multiple Paralympic world champion. I shouted a howzit. “Kevin McCallum! They gave you a bigger introduction than me at the start,” he laughed. It’s hell being a legend I told him. “Come ride with us,” he said. I tried, but he rode me off, powering away, eventually winning in a sprint finish in 3.28. I sent him a BBM afterwards: “Legend.” He was.
It took 50km before the hangover had been forced out of me. The drinking and the utter lack of training will do that to you. Around Simonstown my legs woke up. The, er, strength returned. The will to find pain was there, and I dug a little deeper. I still went backwards on the climbs, but I’m a flat-track bully on the flats and powered through when I could. Chappies was smooth, although a man begged me to stop and help him with a puncture. I was glad to, but then he broke my new, uber-cool and not cheap Lezyne C02 adapter. I spun up Chappies, ground up Suikerbossie and then ripped the hell out of the descent into Green Point. I’m great on the rolling roads.
I pushed on in, finishing in a shade under four hours. A kid, a development rider, kicked hard at the end to help me get across. He had started 30 minutes behind me. His legs had held just fine.
Cape Town has bicycle lanes. Cape Town also has cars parked in these lanes in the CBD, with police cars, taxis and shoppers taking a chance. They have construction that has spilled over into the bike lanes. The bike lanes are a wonderful thing, but they are abused in the Cape TownCBD. Out towards Tableview, there are kilometres of cycle lanes, as myself and Gareth Edewards of the eNCA channel found out yesterday when we rode from The Cullinan hotel on the foreshore to Ntida wine farm in Durbanville.
Being a cyclist in South Africa is not easy. It is not easy in any city in the world. Two years ago Casey Neistat, a film director in New York, shot a short film about how he got a ticket for NOT riding in a bike lane. I watched it again yesterday, the 6 140 290th person to do so (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bzE-IMaegzQ). Neistat crashes into taxis, trucks, bins, ladders and memorably at the end, a police car. He does this on purpose to prove a point. It’s a hell of a way to make a point, but the simple matter is that cyclists are not safe.
Many cyclists do not help themselves. They do not stop at lights and stop streets, and ride across the road, blocking the entire lane. This must change. If we want to be treated the same we must act the same as other vehicles…well, most vehicles, not the five scooters and cars I saw jump lights on my ride to Camps Bay on Saturday. But pointing fingers is stupid. We need laws that work. We need the Burry Gap, the 1.5-metre distance that is the safe passing distance between a car and a cyclist. We need awareness from all.
Karl Platt rides for Team Bulls. He has won the Absa Cape Epic four times. He rode the Cape Rouleur this week, a five day tour of the Western Cape, with rolling road closures thanks to the marshalls from Think Bike. He was peeved on Wednesday night after the last hard stage, and over a glass of red wine spoke about how dangerous it is to ride in South Africa. There is a lack of respect from cyclists. He never has to fear in Germany. He posted a picture of the Bulls team riding two abreast on Twitter. That got a negative reaction from those who look for reasons to shout “single file” at cyclists. It is the law, but the law is an ass, said Platt.
Riding two abreast makes motorists slow down and think, and then forces them to drive around and not past cyclists. A six-man long single file string is vulnerable when a car flies by at 100km/h, not aware of how many riders there are to pass. Sometimes those cars turn in early and sometimes riders die. They die. That is the point. That must always be the point. No motorist dies because they have been hit by a cyclist. Remember that.