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Cape Town – They were there when cars were free to roam the route, picnics sprang up on every open space and each corner carried the threat of a baboon attack.
Thirty-six years later they are still around, getting ready for their 36th Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour.
Known as the “Magnificent 7” – Louis de Waal, Stephen Stefano, Alex Stewart, Neil Bramwell, Neville Yeo, Gareth Holmes and Steph du Toit have taken part in every Cycle Tour since the event’s inception in 1978.
Neil Bramwell, the exclusive club’s oldest member at 75, said it was quite an amazing feat that they had stuck with it for so long.
“Nobody has been sick, or hurt themselves,” he said. “The probability of it working out like this is quite unbelievable.”
Even with 35 rides under his belt, Bramwell is still excited about the event on Sunday.
He said while he could feel himself getting older – on some days more than others – he was confident he would finish before the “generous” cut-off time.
His long history with the event is filled with memorable moments from his first ride, when he wasn’t sure that he would finish, to his best time of two hours and 40 minutes in 1985.
“I thought it would all fizzle out after the first one. I would never have believed it would get this big,” he said. “It’s great that it has.”
De Waal, Bramwell’s junior by just two months, said he kept coming back to the event because it was the only car-free day of the year.
“This is the only time and place where people are told to stock up on milk and baked beans because they aren’t driving anywhere,” he said.
He also admitted that he would go mad without the exercise.
De Waal was the first person to enter the event and remembers proudly wearing the number 1 on his back as he chased around the route.
“People would chant ‘number one, number one’ at me wherever I went because they thought I was a seeded rider,” he said, laughing.
Since then he has fought against Cape Town’s unpredictable weather to make sure he has completed every event. One year, strong winds saw cyclists being blown from their bikes and he said most riders turned around after the first 10km. He is glad that he gritted his teeth and finished.
De Waal said the Cycle Tour had gone from strength to strength, becoming more organised through the years.
He said in 1978 there were just 520 riders on the start line, and this weekend there would be 35 000 setting off from the Cape Town International Convention Centre.
This won’t be the last tour for the Magnificent 7, who still want to chase around the route for a few more years to bag the bragging rights of having done the event 40 times. – Cape Argus