It’s a sad and thankfully ignored fact that the first Africa-born rider to win a stage and wear yellow at the Tour de France was a doped-up, bare-faced liar. Richard Virenque, who won a record seven King of the Mountain competitions, wore yellow for two days (in 1994 and 2003) and won seven stages was born in Morocco.
He was the sobbing face of the Festina affair of 1998, initially denying he had been part of the doping programme before finally admitting, with Zuma-like logic, that he had done so “willingly but without knowing”. In 2002 when asked if he would dope to win the Tour if he was sure he wouldn’t be caught, he said “yes”.
There were tears, nerves, relief, celebration, generosity, thanks, praise, disappointment, gender equality and PR spin on the finish line of the Absa Cape Epic in Lourensford yesterday. The finish line of the Epic is a place of much emotion. It’s a mad strip of land, where the sigh of relief offinishing eight days of rolling toughness slowly gives way to the warmth of accomplishment.
The 11th running of the race ended with a show of team spirit that had Matthys Beukes of Scott Factory Racing sobbing after the world champion, Nino Schurter, and his Scott racing partner, Phil Buys, the South African champion, gave Beukes and Gert Heyns the win yesterday. The four riders, all on Scott 27.5 Sparks, made up a train that ran away from the rest of the field. Schurter was the engine that pulled the others to the line.
On a lovely spring Saturday afternoon in 2007, Ashwin Willemse wanted a picture with Thabo Mbeki at the pre-World Cup shindig for the Springboks at the Presidential Guesthouse in Pretoria. A few of the Springboks did. Mbeki was smiling, turning, posing, arm around the closest player who wanted a happy snap. These were the days before the selfie, before twitter and Instagram turned everyone into a one-handed, pouting, cock-necked loon. Willemse gave me his digital camera – remember those? – and asked me to take a pic of him with the prez. I ordered the leader of the nation around: “Oi! President! Over here! Smile.” Snap.
Earlier, under the influence of that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes when speaking to a team that could win the World Cup, Mbeki had told the Springboks to focus on playing rather than politics: “While you are away forget all of these controversies that we always raise as politicians, don’t worry about those ones, just play the rugby,” said Mbeki. This was in response to Butana Komphela, then chairman of the parliamentary portfolio committee on sport, who suggested he would withdraw the passports of the Springboks ahead of the World Cup because the team was not representative of the country.
Kevin Evans has a new tattoo. SA Hardcore Tattoos in Parkhurst inked it a few months ago; it depicts his skin having been ripped open to reveal a cog, chain, piston and other mechanical inserts alongside blood-red muscles. It’s a bionic arm for one of the iron men of the South African mountain biking, a comment on how tough you have to be to ride in the hardest of sports.
Evans had the tattoo done before the Absa Cape Epic, a race he hopes to win this week for his FedGroup-Itec team, riding with fellow South African Max Knox. The intricate inking would have taken thousands and thousands of needle pricks and a fair amount of discomfort for a result that is striking and intense.
Less than two months from now will be the 10-year anniversary of the day South Africa was named as the host of the 2010 World Cup.
A frail Nelson Mandela stood up on a stage at the World Trade Centre in Zurich on May 15, 2004, holding the tournament trophy as photographers, who had not been briefed about his sensitive eyesight, lit him up with a machine gun stream of strobe-light flashes.