Shameeg Salie’s morning started at 5am as he left Grassy Park and headed through Simon’s Town and past Cape Point to a tiny gem of a coffee shop located at the BP garage about 10km from the foot of Chapman’s Peak.
My day started a lot later. It involved loading my bicycle into the back of my hatchback to park in Camps Bay.
From there I’d ride to the Noordhoek coffee shop, called the Station Blend, via Suikerbossie through Hout Bay and over Chapman’s Peak, to meet Shameeg.
That is the difference between this young shining star of South African cycling and me.
I had flame-grilled tikka chicken the night before. Shameeg had chicken breasts that were either boiled or steamed.
The 21-year-old is aiming to win the 2017 Cape Town Cycle Tour – the 40th edition of this iconic event. If I break five hours, I’ll retire from cycling and declare it a personal best.
Shameeg was to give my brother Jamiel and me a master class in navigating one of the most feared sections of the Cycle Tour route for those of my limited ability – the climbs up Chapman’s Peak and Suikerbossie.
To put matters into perspective: it takes Shameeg just four minutes to race up Suikerbossie. I’m happy if I can do it in 20 minutes without getting off my bike.
There are more stark differences between us as he downs his flat white with no sugar. I had just dumped two sachets of sugar in mine.
Shameeg started riding the Cycle Tour when he was just 15. It was always his dream to win the coveted title growing up as he watched his uncles enthusing about the event and chasing personal bests in the quest for that elusive sub-3.
After his first attempt, it was apparent he was a special talent. At 19, he entered the Cape Rouleur as a development rider and won the first stage. By 20, he was part of the Qhubeka Dimension Data under-23 development team and representing South Africa.
Last year, he spent nine months abroad participating in UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale, the International Cycling Union) cycling events on the pro circuit.
But for the last few months Shameeg has been home and preparing for the event that first captured his imagination and inspired him to become a professional cyclist – the Cape Town Cycle Tour.
Grassy Park can be a rough neighbourhood. This morning Shameeg had to take a detour via Heathfield to reach Simon’s Town because his sponsored R140 000 Cervelo bicycle makes him an easy target for bikejackers down Prince George’s Drive.
“Growing up in Grassy Park wasn’t easy. Leaving on the bike at 5am and finding guys standing on the corner you ask yourself: ‘Who wakes up this time if you’re not riding a bike?’
“Your cellphone is in your pocket and there’s the fear of being robbed. You’re always aware of your surroundings.
“Growing up you have to choose your friends wisely. I had naughty friends, the smokers and drinkers who would peer-pressure you. I thank my parents for the way they brought me up and taught me right from wrong.
“Today the guys who are on the wrong path are look at me and say: ‘I wish I did what you did.’ I tell them it’s never too late to change.”
Shameeg started riding with Muhammadeyah Cycling Club before moving to Cape Town Giants. While there, he got his big break when * HotChillee, a development platform for young riders, offered the club four entries to the Cape Rouleur in 2015.
The rookie made back-page headlines when he won the first stage.
“I knew it was my window of opportunity. You get exposure at the Cape Rouleur. My dad always said he didn’t get the opportunities we have today. That drove me to push hard.
“HotChillee has been amazing. They’re based in the UK and gave me a bike. It’s really great to be part of a system like this.”
But apart from the threat of being robbed there are other perils. Shameeg lives close to Bona Fast Foods – one of the best eateries on the Cape Flats. It’s hard when his friends are feasting on viennas and chips or gatsbies and Shameeg has to settle for a salad.
“Knowing the competition is doing it, you have to do everything right. There’s no cheat eating. If you win, you’ll know all the hard work paid off.
“Fast food doesn’t help because of how it’s prepared. Hot chips are out. Potatoes are okay, but it depends on how they’re prepared. I steam or boil mine, so it’s much healthier.
“But I have definitely had a Bona gatsby. It’s the best!”
Shameeg is a modest and generous guy. He tells me how he missed celebrating his 21st birthday with friends and family last August because he was abroad. But he was grateful that it gave his twin sister, Shameega, the chance to enjoy the attention that is usually trained on him.
That’s big for a 21-year-old.
But he is not your average 21-year-old. Shameeg has ambitions of taking his cycling from Grassy Park to the Giro D’Italia and the Tour de France.
I realise at once that this ride – a recovery ride for Shameeg – may be his most frustrating yet. It may be my quickest effort up the ascents of the Cycle Tour I fear most.
He has already put in 17 hours on the bike this week.
“This week I have a 23-hour week of riding and time on the bike. There are different types of training. You’ll do sprinting then mix it up with a longer effort. On Monday I did five hours, Tuesday it was three hours… but it is targeted.
“You do climbing, flat riding, then sprinting. Today is a six-hour ride. I start early, but the last hour is this hard effort because the end of the race is when everybody needs energy and draws on the motivation within.”
Do I have what it takes to conquer Chapman’s Peak and Suikerbossie and finish under five hours? By now I know Shameeg is far too kind in his assessment of my ability.
But for the first time, as we head up Chappies, I feel I have the measure of this peak.
The rhythm is good and I’m surprisingly not out of breath. I’m cramping Shameeg’s style, though, and he is holding back. He smiles and says he is enjoying the banter and not having to compete for once.
There are loads of great tips along the way.
“I think the beginning of the ride is the most important part, when you’re feeding your body. A lot of people are not hungry and they don’t eat. But actually, even if you’re not hungry, you have to eat in the beginning of the ride so that you don’t bomb out later.
“A lot of people come to the bottom of Chapman’s Peak and they don’t feel good, their legs are sore. Had they eaten in the first 45 minutes they wouldn’t feel that. You have to load up in the beginning, but not too much – not a whole protein bar. Just eat a piece every 10 minutes so when you come here, you’re fresh.
“The wind is always going to be a factor so always slipstream and stay out of the wind to conserve energy. The person in front will be putting in 100% effort and you’ll only be giving 40%. So when we get here, they’ll only have 40% left and you’ll still be in it.
“The beginning of the race is where you play it smart and the last part – Chapman’s Peak and Suikerbossie – is when you start looking at your watch, 20km to go, there’s an adrenalin rush and the spectators are fantastic in Hout Bay. And the music… the latest 2017 music… will be there to pull you through.”
We get to the top of Chapman’s Peak and I’m still in surprisingly good shape as we pose for a picture or two as if I’d just conquered Everest.
These climbs are easy for Shameeg when you consider how tough it is for a pro-cyclist to navigate the costs of travelling the world to compete with the best.
This year he is sponsored by local auto repair shop Alfa Bodyworks and has the full support of HotChillee.
“It’s very important to have a sponsor. Races have become very expensive and travelling and living abroad is also expensive. In 2015 I lived abroad for the first time for a month but last year it was nine months, which was really long to be away from family and friends and being on your own.
“You learn a lot about yourself and what kind of person you actually are. Are you a stingy person or a caring person? Travelling with the under-23 team you’d get six South Africans from different religions and I was the only Muslim. Different cultures come together and share everything.
“In terms of racing, it was just on another level compared to South Africa because the amount of training and races they do there are incredible. Over six days, it is four hours of racing a day and 160km on average per stage – nothing less. Here at home it’s often only 100km of racing per stage, so it’s a massive difference.”
I forget about my Chappies conquest fairly quickly as we zip through Hout Bay.
But I know my personal hell lies in wait: Suikerbossie.
“Suikerbossie wil jou hê,” my brother, Jamiel, starts singing as we approach my nemesis.
“Just keep spinning and chatting,” says Shameeg with a smile.
I start asking Shameeg a few frivolous questions to lighten the mood.
How do you deal with helmet hair? “I’m not worried about that. It doesn’t faze me.”
Why do you shave your legs? “It kind of makes you faster, it looks neater and if cyclists fall, the wound gets infected if there’s sweat that goes into it. If there’s no hair, it’s out of the way and it’s easier to treat.”
How do you drag yourself out of bed at 5am? “It’s the goal you’ve set yourself and the motivation by family who want you to do well all the time. Those small things make a huge difference.”
Does cycling make you a better driver? “I don’t own a car because I ride a Cervelo…” he laughs. “I’d really like a Land Rover Evoque – white with black wheels. I’d say cycling makes you a better driver because you’re always aware of your surroundings and what is happening.”
My quads are ready to pop out of my legs. There was no time to look up and take in the breathtaking scenery. I’m in excruciating pain. But I’ve resisted getting off the bike. Soon I see the horizon just above Llandudno and relief in sight.
That was my fastest time up Suikerbossie. But in the context of the Cycle Tour, I will only tackle the climb after some 80km that went before.
Can I do the unthinkable and break five hours?
Shameeg’s verdict: “To break five hours, you will need consistency. Maybe do adjustments to your saddle and your handlebar to make it more aerodynamic.
“Going up Suikerbossie is always a mission because it’s after a few hours, the body is in fatigue mode, so it’s a lot of strain on your body. Whatever you do in the beginning of the race will pay off in the end.
“You have to get the mindset, spirit and the motivation into line.”
Back in Camps Bay, I load my bike in the back of my car and wave to Shameeg as he sets off for another three hours of riding to complete his training for the day. But that’s the difference between a sub-three and five hours, isn’t it?
* HotChillee is an international cycling events company best known for the London-Paris multistage cycling event, which is now in its 14th edition. The development rider programme in the Western Cape was established alongside the first edition of the Cape Rouleur in 2012.
The objective has been to assist in identifying young talent, providing an exposure platform and helping them bridge the difficult gap of making it into the pro peloton in Europe. For those that don’t make it, the objective is creating a future via cycling-led contacts and business eco systems.
The HotChillee programme teamed up with Paris-Roubaix legend Magnus Backstedt’s academy at the end of 2016, ensuring greater scaling and access. Partners include Wattbike, Velokhaya, Cape Town Giants, Pedal Power Association, Department of Cultural Affairs and Sport, Cycling SA and Oryx Steel. Nich Dlamini, now riding for Team Dimension Data Continental in Italy, is one of the early successes of the programme.