Saturday, November 17, 2007

Much more than just a Cycle Challenge - Wynand de Villiers << Back
Saturday, November 17, 2007

From its very recent beginnings in 1997 when 4 000 cyclists decided to take on the challenge of ‘Joburg’s toughest race’ (back then), more than 25 000 cyclists will take to Joburg’s streets this weekend in the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge.

In its brief history, the race has played a major role in positioning Johannesburg as the continent’s major sports and business destination. The City of Johannesburg’s slogan is ‘A world-class African city’ and after 11 years there can be no doubt that the Cycle Challenge represents this slogan in every way.

Throughout its history, the safety of the cyclists has always come first and the race will once again go all out to prove that it really is ‘Joburg’s Safest Race’.

More than 25 000 cyclists will take part in the Cycle Challenge road race on Sunday, 18 November, while 2 500 mountain-bikers have entered the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Mountain Bike Challenge, presented by Energade, which takes place on Saturday, 17 November.

Add the 3 000 kids that will take part in the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Children’s Cycle Challenge, presented by Spur Steak Ranches, also on Saturday, and the weekend adds up to a cycling extravaganza of worldwide significance.

Among the field, for the first time this year, will be the world’s greatest-ever road cyclist, Eddy Merckx. Known as ‘The Cannibal’ in his racing career - which spanned a period of 16 years from 1961-1977 - Merckx is taking part in the event as part of a five-day social visit to South Africa.

The great Belgian has close personal friends in Tshwane and is a regular visitor to South Africa. For the first time his trip coincides with the Cycle Challenge, which he will ride with the Tshwane-based Queens Club.

Merckx won the Tour de France five times and rode to victory in the Tour of Italy on five occasions. He also boasts a victory in the Tour of Spain and he became the world road race champion an amazing four times during his illustrious career.

While Merckx will be using the opportunity to enjoy the stunning scenery and great atmosphere, South Africa’s cycling press will be mulling over the question of who will lead the field across the finish line at Waterfall Equestrian Estate.

The miraculous comeback from injury by South African champion Malcolm Lange (MTN/Microsoft) has thrown the cat amongst the pigeons in the elite race.

A steel plate has been inserted into Lange’s shoulder to keep the collarbone in place following his crash in the PowerAde Dome2Dome Cycling Spectacular in September. Against all odds the ‘Man of Steel’ has been up and riding for the past month and there is every chance that he will ride away with the victory on Sunday.

Lange’s nickname hails from the fact that he now boasts steel plates in both his shoulders as a result of crashes on the road.

With the riders of Barloworld not going to race the Cycle Challenge competitively, the table is set for a huge battle in the men’s race between the teams of MTN/Microsoft, Neotel and Konica-Minolta.

The Colorpress Cyclingnews team are the dark horse following the victory of their sprinter, Arran Brown, in the Bakwena Post Office Classic this past Sunday.

The Cycle Challenge professional race showcases the veritable who’s who of South African cycling and besides the dangerous Lange, his MTN Microsoft team-mate Darryl Impey is also a hot favourite to win the event.

Impey has battled somewhat without Lange at his side for the past two months, but Lange’s presence certainly makes them the most dangerous sprinting duo in the event.

Chris Froome, the Kenyan riding for Konica-Minolta, is another rider to watch. Froome was Konica-Minolta’s best rider in the recent Tour of Britain and he was Africa’s most consistent rider in International Nations Cup Series in Europe. He also won a stage in the Giro del Capo.

Ironically if Froome or Impey win the Cycle Challenge it can be claimed as a victory for Barloworld as both young riders have signed up for Barloworld for next year.

Looking at the results of the year’s local races it will be a surprise if a rider from MTN/Microsoft doesn’t win the Cycle Challenge. The boys in yellow have won more than 80% of the races they competed in this year.

Hanco Kachelhoffer (Harmony), who finished second in last year’s Cycle Challenge and third in the year before, says the race is notorious for foiling team tactics.

“Just look at what happened last year. I got away in a break with four riders from Barloworld, four from MTN/Microsoft, two from Exel and one from Konica-Minolta.

“Martin Velits, the only rider from Konica Minolta in the move, won the race and I finished second.

“The secret to having a good ride in the Cycle Challenge is to be very attentive and to take your opportunities when they arise.”

Kachelhoffer predicts that apart from Impey and Froome, the other riders to watch will be Nolan Hoffman and Jaco Venter (Neotel), Tiaan Kannemeyer and Christoff van Heerden (Konica-Minolta)

In the women’s race defending champion, Yolandi du Toit (Konica-Minolta), is the in-form rider.

The way in which she won last year’s Cycle Challenge will always be remembered as one of the most heroic rides by a South African woman. She attacked and rode away on her own for nearly 50km to hold on for the win.

“The Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge is one of the most exciting races in South Africa. I love the event,” said an excited Du Toit this week. “It’s really tough. If you are not riding uphill you’re going down, which means it’s a race where any rider with guts can win by riding aggressively. And that’s how I am going to race again on Sunday.”

Du Toit regards the Proline team as her main opposition. Proline consists of Anriëtte Schoeman, Marissa van der Merwe and Robin de Groot. “Lynette Burger (Cycle Lab) is also always a factor,” Du Toit added.

The biggest threat to her title might well come from her team-mate Cherise Taylor. “But I obviously won’t mind if she wins,” Du Toit smiled.

While the elite racing is set to attract a lot of interest, there are so many other aspects to look out for on the day, such as Tour de France stage winners Robert Hunter and Mauricio Soler (both Barloworld) in their charity ride.

Soler and Hunter had the South African sporting public on the edge of their seats during the month of July when they raced against the best and beat them during the Tour de France. Now, thanks to an initiative from the Cycle Challenge organisers, many entrants are riding with the duo in their charity group.

Hunter and co are riding for the Homeless Talk Pre School. It’s the official Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge charity and R1800 will be donated to the school for every cyclist riding in the Hunter group.

This year’s Cycle Challenge also sees a group of Zimbabweans riding to highlight the desperate circumstances in their country, and to raise much-needed funds for various charities in Zimbabwe.

The group of 18 Zimbabweans representing the Miracle Missions Trust have set themselves the goal to collectively beat 57 hours on Cycle Challenge Sunday.

Miracle Missions raises funds for nine selected charities and last year they raised R75 000 with their efforts in the Cycle Challenge.

One thing is certain in South African cycling: wherever there is a challenge, you’ll find television personality Andrew McLean (Cycle Lab).

At the age of 43, when many of his contemporaries are starting to take it easy, McLean is still racing at full tilt and enjoying every moment.

So it should come as no surprise that he is one of the 630 riders who are competing in both the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Mountain Bike Challenge on Saturday and the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge on Sunday.

‘Mighty Mouse’, as McLean is known in local cycling, has taken part in every Cycle Challenge since its inception 11 years ago, with the exception of last year’s race. “Last year was the first time that I didn’t compete. I had to do television commentary, but this year I’m back,” said McLean.

“I am going to race with the professionals. I like the challenge of testing myself against the best,” the past Rapport Tour and four-time Giro del Capo winner explained.

Another rider who is doing the double and has every chance of winning both events is John Paul Pearton (Mazda/Merida).

After winning the mountain-bike race last year he surprised everybody the following day when he got away in final selection with nine riders in the road race. He managed to stay with them for 70km.

“I astonished myself over that weekend because I didn’t really train for the Cycle Challenge races at all. After the Colorpress Crater Cruise I took a break,” says Pearton.

“But this time I did things differently. I kept training and competing in road races after the Crater Cruise.

“The Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Mountain-bike Challenge over 40km is perfectly suited to my ability. It is not too hard but it’s got a lot of single track sections which I really enjoy. The distance is also perfect for the end of the year. You don’t need to be super fit to be able to finish well, even as a fun rider.

“On that subject; the 20km fun ride is an event that anybody can complete. It is actually just a nice ride on dirt roads.”

Cyclists competing in both the Cycle Challenge and its sister mountain bike event will be honoured with a special medal commemorating their participation in both events.

The Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge affords Joburg residents a wonderful opportunity to share in a day of celebration of all that is good about Joburg. The race is so successful because of the overwhelming support it receives each year, not only from the cycling fraternity, but from the city’s residents too.

It remains ‘Joburg’s Safest Race’ due to the full road closure it enjoys. Permission has been granted by the Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department for the event, which has also been sanctioned by Johannesburg executive mayor, councillor Amos Masondo.

In fact this year, councillor Masondo and Johannesburg city manager, Mavela Dlamini, will be officially starting the race.

The City of Joburg – a world-class African City – hosts the 2007 Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge. This year the City has also come on board as a co-broadcast sponsor of the event’s live transmission, which takes place on Cycle Challenge Sunday on SuperSport 1.

This has further entrenched the partnership between the City of Joburg and the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge, which showcases the city’s ability to stage sporting events of this stature.

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