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South African cyclist Malcolm Lange, one of the most prolific road race winners in the country, will hang up his racing bike for good after the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour in Cape Town on Sunday.
The 37-year-old, who is set to defend the title he won last year, said he was “tired” after a lengthy professional career, but would nonetheless be gunning for his fourth Argus win.
He said he would then divert his focus towards Team Bonitas Medscheme, a South African-based squad which he owns, and a team and sports management business, Lange Sports, which he co-owns with his wife Jackie.
“It's the right time. I can just feel it,” Lange said.
“A number of factors have influenced my decision. Although physically I am still capable of winning races at professional level, I'm really getting a lot of satisfaction from helping young riders on my team develop into race winners.
“I'm also tired. I'm not recovering as well as I should for this high level of performance because I squeeze in regular work around my training.”
Lange burst onto the road racing scene in 1991 as a 17-year-old, outsprinting seasoned professionals Willie Engelbrecht and Andrew McLean to win the Pietermaritzburg-to-Durban National Classic.
In 1992, in his final year of school, Lange represented South Africa in the road race and on the track at the Olympic Games in Barcelona.
He then spent four years racing in Europe at a time when South African cyclists, freshly liberated from a two-and-a-half decade international sporting ban, were reduced to foraging for support from smallish regional teams, usually in Belgium.
Lange returned to South Africa after struggling to break through the ranks in a sport shrouded by doping scandals.
“It was in 1996, my first year as a professional in a Belgian squad, that I realised that in Europe at that time, no matter how much talent or natural desire you had for success, if you didn't find a good doctor, you were unlikely to find a podium,” Lange said.
“Some may think this is an excuse for not making it big in Europe, but it's true and it's being revealed more and more in the media these days.
“I opted to rather race honestly in South Africa than dishonestly there.”
Apart from his three Argus victories, Lange also secured multiple titles in South Africa's other elite races, including the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge (three wins) and the MTN Amashova Pietermaritzburg-to-Durban Classic (six wins).
He also bagged numerous national titles on the track and three South African elite road-racing titles.
Lange has amassed a staggering 409 road race wins in his career, at least three times more than any other South African over the past two decades.
He intended to retire at the end of 2007, but a crash sustained when his chain snapped during a finishing sprint, in what should have been one of his last races, forced him to postpone the inevitable.
The crash left him with a broken collarbone, prompting him to continue racing in order to end his career on a higher, happier note.
“I thought about retiring after last year's (Argus) Cycle Tour, which was undoubtedly the best edition of that race with the increased media and public attention created by (Lance) Armstrong's presence,” Lange said.
“Winning it was definitely one of the highlights of my career and would have been the perfect time to retire, but I felt I still had too many commitments to my sponsors as a rider and needed a more solid succession plan for the team, which is now finally in place.”
Lange said he believed, with increased focus on team management, he could help grow his team into a respected international outfit, and also produce a new crop of star South African riders.
“We really have a lot of young talent in this country,” he said.
“I want to help identify and nurture that talent so that we can produce Olympic, World and Tour de France champions.
“I never had this kind of infrastructure when I was a young racer and I'm very pleased to be able to offer it to young riders now, with the support of my sponsors.
“I've had my time to win races. Sure, it was a longer career than most, but now it's time to pass on the baton to the next generation. Now is the right time.” – Sapa