February 2014

Lights By Linea Criterium: The Hero Challenge

I’ve written about criterium cycle racing before, in a story about the Lights By Linea night racing in Stellenbosch late last year, and I openly admit that I’m driven to watch and cover events that are different. ‘Edge events’ is what we call the category they fit into, most likely because they are on the edge of sanity and keep us on the edge of our seats. It’s no surprise then that when I heard of a criterium organised by the same people, but this time at the Stellenbosch Airfield, I was immediately drawn to watch and photograph the third race in the 2014 Hero Challenge.

The Hero Challenge is a series of criterium races that are followed by a series of long distance one-day races, which form a winter series, and ends the season off with another group of criterium events in the spring of 2014. Races start with the issuing of coloured jerseys, a la the Tour de France, with yellow for the overall series leader. Green is bestowed upon the leader of the sprint classification and white to the fastest overall young rider. Podium poppies in matching dresses do the honours.

Besides Lights By Linea, the primary sponsor, KIA Motors Diep River has come on board as the official vehicle supplier, whilst Trek Bicycles and Craft Clothing have signed up to be part of a series of racing that will elevate road racing in the Western Cape. Cycling South Africa fully endorses the series and what it will do for the high-performance side of the sport.

Held on Saturday, 22 February, the racing included events for the Youth (U12, U14, U16) in Category 3; Vets, Masters and Women in Category 2; and Elite Men in Category 1. Provision was also made for para-cyclists, who raced with the Category 2 riders. This is a first in South Africa, whereby the para-cyclists compete head-to-head with their able-bodied counterparts, and attracted a number of top-calibre para-athletes.

Ernst van Dyk, the road race gold medallist at the 2008 Beijing Paralympic Games and road race silver medallist at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, lined up with Stuart McCreadie, who represented South Africa at the 2012 London Paralympic Games, and Craig Ridgard, who will represent South Africa at the upcoming 2014 UCI racing season in Italy this May. Roxy Burns, ranked number one for track by the UCI for 2013, was the top Women’s para contender.

Stellenbosch Airfield is a fully working airfield and home to a lot of the aircraft, both fixed wing and helicopters, which forms the backbone of the Western Cape Government’s Working on Fire (WoF) Programme. This initiative was launched in response to the increasing number of veld fires across South Africa over the past several years, of which the Western Cape Province was identified as the country’s most vulnerable region. The programme is designed around the principle of sending the maximum amount of aircraft and ground teams to a fire in its early stages. By gaining control within the first hour of the fire, the possibility of a major incident is minimised. So if a major fire was to break out in the Western Cape while a race was underway, the cycling would have to stop and the aircraft would get right of way.

True to form, and Murphy’s Law, just 10 minutes after the opening Category 2 race, proceedings had to be stopped to allow space and time for three aircraft to take off and attend to a fire. While that’s not the kind of curved ball that any race organiser wants to deal with at an event, everything was very well planned and the planes took off with no drama. The race got underway again just 20 minutes later. Kudos to Lights By Linea and ACSA for some proper planning.

In Category 1, the race was dominated by the series’ leader and yellow-jersey holder Stefan Ihlenfeldt, who held off teammate Hanco Kachelhofer for a photo finish. Young rider Stefan de Bod further enhanced his reputation as an up-and-coming rider to take third.

Multiple SA Champion Maroesjka Matthee did the expected by winning the Women’s race, with Carmen Buchacher in second and Bianca Holtzkampf-Mayer third.

For the last round of the Criterium Championship, on 2 March, the riders will move to the Century City complex for a street circuit around the residential area. The track promises lots of corners and technical riding with a section of cobblestones thrown in for good measure. It’s super spectator friendly, so rock up from 14h00 to check out the action.

Race results – 22 February 2014
Category 1: Elite
1. Stefan Ihlenfeldt (Lights By Linea)
2. Hanco Kachelhoffer (Lights By Linea)
3. Stefan de Bod
4. Philip Buys (Scott)
5. Ruderick Heuer (Flandria)

Category 2: Vets
1. Russel Palm
2. Paul Cooper
3. Faizel Thomas

Category 2: Open
1. Ruddock Geddan
2. Ahmed Khatieb
3. Richard Paxton

Category 2: Ladies
1. Maroesjka Matthee
2. Carmen Buchacher
3. Bianca Holtzkampf-Mayer

Cyclists compete in round 3 of the Lights By Linea, Hero Challenge cycling series Cyclists compete in round 3 of the Lights By Linea, Hero Challenge cycling series Cyclists compete in round 3 of the Lights By Linea, Hero Challenge cycling series Cyclists compete in round 3 of the Lights By Linea, Hero Challenge cycling series Cyclists compete in round 3 of the Lights By Linea, Hero Challenge cycling series

11 Global and African Sprint Cup Triathlon

Athletes compete in the 11 Global and African Sprint Cup Triathlon held at Bloubergstrand, Cape Town, Western Cape, South Africa on 16 February 2014

Cape Town was wearing her best summer dress this morning. It was already 25 degrees C at 6:00am and rising sharply. Perfect weather for a world class triathlon then.

Night of the long ride: Oak Valley 24 hour MTB

I once entered a 24-hour mountain bike race. At the time I didn’t know any better. Granted, I had only started cycling about six weeks prior to the event, after a 20-year lay-off from any physical activity before that. And I suffered, oh how I suffered. I was totally unfit and unprepared, and most importantly I lacked that essential ingredient of any endurance cyclist. A battle hardened, saddle ready bum.

The fact that I did it on a cheapo hardtail bike didn’t help my cause a bit, and the day after that first attempt I did what any sensible person would have done in the first place. I bought a proper dual suspension mountain bike. Obviously it was too little too late in that first year, but it would serve me well in the years to come when I had another few cracks at the ‘24 Hours’ as it is known in mountain biking circles in the Cape.

Twenty-four hours is a long time. Think about it for a minute. Think about sitting where you are right now, comfortably ensconced on a padded chair, reading this article. Imagine not moving from that spot for 24 hours. Now take it one step further and imagine riding a mountain bike for 24 hours. It’s no longer just a case of sitting down for a whole day. It’s a matter of personal survival. Not losing concentration or falling asleep. Not flying off the road and having a major accident. It’s utter madness. But it’s also bucket loads of fun.

The 24 Hours of Oak Valley is held every year in late January or early February at Oak Valley wine estate, nestled in the picturesque valley of Grabouw, in the Western Cape. Oak Valley is the perfect venue for the race, with kilometres of exquisitely crafted and flowing single track, interspersed with enough wide jeep tracks to space the field out and avoid any congestion.

Organised by the now almost legendary Meurant Botha and his merry team from Dirtopia, the race has grown to become a signature event on the Western Cape mountain bike calendar. A perfect leg tester for the Absa Cape Epic in March, the 24 Hours is also a social occasion for those who enter as a team and want to both braai and ride through the night.

Starting at midday on 1 February, the riders first have to run the length of a rugby field to get to their bikes, Le Mans style, before heading off on the route. The serious boys and girls set a pace that would destroy a normal person if they kept it up for just one hour, let alone 24, but they have trained for this. They are conditioned. They are ready. And to my mind, they are also a little crazy.

As I watch them pushing themselves to the limits, hour after hour I can’t help thinking to myself that these are the type of personalities that make war heroes. I know that sounds like a massive overdose of hyperbole, but unless you have done this type of race as a normal person, it is difficult to comprehend what is happening in the minds and bodies of those at the sharp end.

In the week prior to the race, top rider Lance Stephenson was looking for a seconder to help him on race day. The sole criteria for this position was for someone to ‘be mean to me and feed me’. It is no surprise that this position is known colloquially as a ‘Bottle Bitch’. Being mean and bitchy, in this case, equates to being a motivator. At four in the morning, when you have been pushing yourself to the absolute limit for 16 hours, the urge to just crawl into a sleeping bag and die becomes almost overwhelming. That’s when you need someone to be particularly mean to you.

This year’s race saw the emergence of a new winner in Pieter Erwee, who finally unseated multiple champion and 24 Hours’ expert Dane Walsh. Erwee completed 33 laps of the 10 km course. That’s 330 km of non-stop riding. How is that even possible? He beat second-place rider Lance Stephenson by 4 laps, an eternity in endurance racing. Ray van Breda was third and 19 minutes further back.

In the Ladies race, Tracey Lentin and Melinda Griffiths fought it out in a ding-dong battle, with Lentin taking it in the end by 1 lap. Five laps further back, Helena Ferreira claimed third on the podium.

Proving that the race isn’t, as you would expect, the exclusive preserve of the young and foolhardy, fourth-placed rider Philip Erasmus is 66 years old and only missed the podium by 3 laps. He beat Andrew Dietrich, who at 44 is an absolute whippersnapper, by one lap. So it is obvious that using age as an excuse for not exercising is not going to wash with these boys.

Speaking of the young, there were a good few youngsters racing in teams. Parel Vallei High School had four teams entered under the watchful eye of teacher and top endurance mountain biker Hanri Dalton. Hanri is coming back from an injury picked up while training for last year’s Absa Cape Epic, and she was out there circulating with her young charges offering advice, coaching and encouragement. Why weren’t teachers that cool when I was at school?

So if the words foolhardy, a little crazy and fun appeal to you, make sure next year’s 24 Hours is on your calendar.

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