Cameron van der Burgh is going to have to do some work on his hair. It’s too short. It doesn’t bounce. It has a bit of shine, but not the silky, feline bounce you’d expect from a man who is the new face, er, hair of Head & Shoulders, the biggest-selling shampoo in the world.
Van der Burgh needs to flounce into rooms. He needs to be able to push his hand through his hair in one of those post-shower moments that make models whimper in envy and simper in longing. At the announcement of his new partnership with the brand, held at a venue called The Venue in Morningside, Van der Burgh confessed he’d had his hair cut the day before. “The guy cut it too short,” he said. “I told him I just wanted a trim, but he took a little too much off around the sides.”
He looked sleek, though, and, happily, dandruff free. He is the first South African ambassador for the brand. Michael Phelps is the man the shampoo uses in their United States campaigns. Other Head & Shoulders ambassadors include Manny Pacquiao, Mark Cavendish, Lionel Messi, Jenson Button and Shahid Afridi. Expect to see Van der Burgh on a television screen near you soon. It’s deserved recognition for Van der Burgh. Swimmers usually don’t make a good living in South Africa. They struggle from meet to meet, hoping for their federation to be able to raise the funds to send them to events and pay for training. Van der Burgh is not affected by Swimming South Africa’s current financial malaise as he is part of Sascoc’s Opex programme and has his costs met, but making a living from the sport is hard.
Ryk Neethling showed that a swimmer could make money when he returned from the Athens Olympics as a gold medal winner. He became the face for big-name sponsors, invested in swimming clubs and learnt marketing. He is now the agent for Van der Burgh, and the London Olympic gold medallist now has deals with Investec, Audi, Tag Heuer, USN and Arena. What you see is what you get with Van der Burgh. There’s an honesty and openness about him that is endearing. This week, in keeping with Head and Shoulders’ building “confidence” brand message he spoke of how he had lacked confidence as a kid. He had been put on Ritalin for his ADHD, but one day his mother walked into his room and found him staring at the wall. They decided to chuck out the medications and use sport to teach him focus.
It worked. It worked rather well, and now it is paying off. One of the nicest men you will meet is reaping some of the rewards that he is due. But, he’s far from perfect. “Yeah, I’m going to have work on getting some bounce,” he laughed. “My hair needs some BMT.”
The past eight days have been a magnificent time for South African cycling.
From a brave team born at the tip of Africa winning perhaps the greatest one-day road race of them all, to the end of a dramatic, controversial and emotional 10th running of one of the greatest mountain bike races of them all, a race that embodies the essence of this brave, new, young land.
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.”