'I escaped death today'
By Clayton Barnes
Oudtshoorn's cycling fraternity is reeling after three riders were killed and a fourth badly injured during an early morning training ride on the R62 near the Karoo town.
The Southern Cape Cycling Association says it has lost six members to car accidents since October and is urgently calling for dedicated cycle lanes.
Frank Nel, Jan Eloff and Magda van Lill were killed yesterday at about 6am when a bakkie ploughed into the group they were cycling with. Some were training for Sunday's Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour.
The driver of the bakkie - who told police he had been blinded by the sun and hadn't seen the cyclists while overtaking a truck between Calitzdorp and Oudtshoorn - received minor bruises.
The man, whose name has not been released, was not arrested. Police are investigating a case of culpable homicide.
Police spokeswoman Captain Bernadine Steyn said that if the driver was found negligent, he would be arrested and charged.
Corne Bence, president of Southern Cape Cycling Association, said today that yesterday's horrific accident brought to six the number of members run down and killed while training for the prestigious race.
He said cyclists across the Southern Cape and Karoo were shocked by the deaths of three "outstanding" cyclists.
Bence, who was a close friend of all three victims, said they would be missed.
"This needs to stop here. Cyclists also have the right to be on the road. We need dedicated lanes and boards along the roads warning motorists to look out for cyclists."
Bence said that between October and December, two of the association's members had been killed, one in Oudtshoorn and one in Hartenbos, in the Southern Cape.
He said this had been followed by an incident in January, when another cyclist was hit and killed by a car on the road between George and the Wilderness.
Speaking to the Cape Argus from his hospital bed at the Oudtshoorn Provincial Hospital last night, survivor Walter Langdon explained what he remembered from the horrific crash.
He said the group of seven cyclists - not nine as was initially reported - had been cycling single-file before being hit.
"I was slip-streaming (watching the bicycle's wheel in front of him)... I looked up, saw the bakkie and then it hit me. Everything happened so fast. The next thing, the paramedics woke me up and I heard the doctor telling someone to cover the three bodies with a blanket."
Langdon, 25, has shoulder, leg and arm injuries. He fractured a finger and has scratches all over his face and body.
The young cyclist missed the Cape Argus cycle tour entry cut-off date but was training with the group which included entrants to Sunday's cycle tour.
"And I almost cycled without my helmet this morning," said Langdon.
"Luckily I put it on. I escaped death today."
He said the group of cyclists met each other in the town's main road every morning for their daily cycle to Calitzdorp.
"We were not far when the accident happened," he said.
"The last time I checked my speedometer, we had cycled only 12,5km."
Despite yesterday's tragedy, Langdon said he looked forward to getting back into the saddle.
"I'm very upset that I can't cycle the Argus this year - but there is always next year."
Eloff was a retired farmer and Nel, who was also retired, was a former head of the Oudtshoorn police college.
Van Lill was an estate agent who worked for Pam Golding Properties.
Pam Golding's Marius Zaayman said: "She was a fantastic person and a great property agent. We are all still trying to get over her death. She was a wonderful person and a fantastic mother."
George Fourie, who was also riding with the group and received minor injuries, said he had been one of Van Lill's close friends.
"I'm very sad. This is shocking."
Last night, the families of the dead - some of whom travelled from Cape Town - gathered in Oudtshoorn, but said they preferred not to speak to the media.
Oudtshoorn Hospital's medical superintendent Dr Paul Ruschenbaum, himself a cyclist, said the town's cycling community was shocked by the tragedy.
He said fellow cyclists were "devastated" and that the three would be sorely missed.
"Cyclists here have to get practice, especially if they are training for the Argus Cycle Tour, but there is not a lot of space for cyclists on the roads around here," said Ruschenbaum.