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From dreams to reality South Africa first saw competitive cycling in 1881 which led to our love affair with massed start races after World War II


ycling as a highly competitive sport has since the late 1970s enjoyed a tremendous revival in South Africa, with the advent of the annual Cycle Tour held in Cape Town. Yet competitive cycling was already a popular pastime before the South African War, with first-rate tracks in some major centers countrywide. The first cycling club in the country – the Port Elizabeth Bicycle Club – was founded in 1881 while the South African Cyclists’ Union and the Transvaal Cyclists’ Union were respectively founded in 1892 and 1897. The first national cycling championships took place in 1893, in Johannesburg; consequently South Africa established a reputation for road cycling and distance events, which allowed its Springbok team to compete overseas. Enthusiasm for road events increased considerably during the late 1920s and early

Left: The City Cycling Club, 16th May 1891

The world’s greatest Cycle Tour



1930s with the first national road racing title event -- according to the official South African Cycling Federation (SACF) -- held in 1930 in the form of a 100 mile trial. However, this annual event and several provincial championships held in Natal and Western Province ceased in South Africa for the duration of World War II. Nevertheless, a new enthusiasm for ‘massed start’ road racing took root in South Africa in the immediate postWorld War II era. During the 1950s many South Africans competed abroad in amateur world road races, followed by the rapid growth of similar massed start road races throughout South Africa during the Sixties, although the end of that decade proved to be South African cycling’s darkest period. This was due to racial segregation in the country and culminated in the subsequent exclusion from any of the Olympics competitions. Albeit, the


The world’s greatest Cycle Tour

Right: The City Cycling Club, 16th May 1891


Right: Tramway Shield Dec 1931 1st: L. Haupt (City Cycling Club) 2nd: H. Bairstow (Paarl) 3rd: A. Paitaki (City Cycling Club) 4th: E. Clayton (City Cycling Club) Time 2min 29.8 sec

fight to reinstate South African cycle sport continued unabated it had to involve changing the sporting policies to be non-racial. During the apartheid years (1948 – 1994) SACF and individual cyclists circumvented the international sports boycott so they could participate at that level. Had it not been for the boycott many local cyclists could have had the possibility to participate in the prestigious Tour de France and Giro d’ Italia races, as Alan van Heerden did. Wimpie van der Merwe, a former multiple world cycling champion and record holder, was fortunate enough to participate in Europe several times (with the Springbok Team) and eventually brought back a world championship title. This was lead to him being blacklisted for visa purposes due to the exclusion of South Africa from world road races. Despite the rapid growth of competitive cycling the wider South African society was

torn apart by escalating internal racial conflict coupled with international sanctions, impacted negatively on all spheres of life. On the whole, the sporting isolation created a hunger to compete. However, no one wanted to compete or even participate with South Africa. The late Mr. Raoul de Villiers, aka ‘Mr. Rapport Tour’, put an event together that would grip the imagination of the population for 2 weeks every year. This was especially true in the rural parts of the country. This the first non-racial event that the whole community could really support, grew the national awareness of the sport. Direct radio reports were broadcast from throughout the course and with the arrival of TV in 1975 people could actually see their sporting heroes in action. This relationship created a love for cycling as a sport, especially motivating youngsters to explore cycling alongside rugby The world’s greatest Cycle Tour



and cricket. However, not everyone could participate in cycling events. When the Cycle Tour was realised it was like a release valve being opened and cyclists across the country could pit themselves against the ‘best’ the sport had to offer. The Cycle Tour was not endorsed by the SACF for years. Several cyclists who supported the Cycle Tour by entering were suspended from cycling for weeks. Once the SA Cycling Federation accepted the fact that the Cycle Tour was here to stay, they accepted the Western Province Pedal Association as a legitimate part of the South African cycling fraternity. It was only in the early 1990s, with the demise of the apartheid state, that South African cycle sport finally became fully racially integrated and was readmitted into international cycling circles. But no history of cycling in South Africa would be complete without paying tribute


The world’s greatest Cycle Tour

to two friends and fellow urban cyclists, Bill Mylrea and John Stegmann. Both men shared a vision to develop a network of cycle paths for Cape Town, comparable to Britain, America, Holland and Germany. The urban cycle paths they envisioned would embrace the scenic splendour of Cape Town’s picturesque surroundings and become a world attraction. While initial proposals and public petitions to initiate their plans failed to sway municipal authorities, Mylrea and Stegmann remained steadfast and organised a mass demonstration in a bid to galvanise the authorities to take notice of their appeal. On a separate occasion Mylrea staged a rally under the auspices of the WPPA with cyclists meeting at the Grand Parade and rolling down Adderly Street to the Foreshore. This event – the Big Ride-In -- stimulated massive support for urban cycling and reached many thousands

Left: 1934, British Empire Games Left to right. R. Coupland - Canada R. McLeod - Canada F. Grase - New Zealand H. Pethybridge - Australia G.L. Turner - Canada W.M. McKenzie - Rhodesia W. Gray - Australia E. Clayton - South Africa


Right: 1/4 Mile final 4th January 1958 1st M. Lampe 2nd K. Williams

more who were sympathetic to the cause. Finally Mylrea and Stegmann were optimistic that their goal to encourage a meaningful cycling and to develop separate cycle facilities was a real possibility. The obvious high spirits exclaimed by cyclists and spectators alike give birth to the idea of planning repeat events, at least on an annual basis. However, the idea of a round-trip circuit starting and ending at the Castle via Cape Point and extending the tour to the inland mountain region did not sit well with the authorities nor did the proposed route around the Peninsula from central city to Camps Bay get their stamp of approval. But nothing was going to deter these two friends from realizing their objective. Part of Mylrea’s reasoning contended that cycle paths could be utilised for an alternative means of mobility, for instance powered cycles and basic pedal cycles. He stated that

the establishment of a network of cycle paths would promote cycling as an efficient mode of transport because of the lack of public transport to take people to and from their place of work. He maintained that most European nations were serious about cycling as urban transportation. Perhaps more South African’s can learn from their peers abroad about the many benefits of cycling as a means of transportation; cycling is fun, healthy, economical, ecologically and environmentally sound. While some may argue that our urban roads sometimes don’t allow enough space to comfortably accommodate cyclists, others are biased towards adopting cycling as a means of transport for adults and instead perceive it only as a child’s activity, purely recreational or as a sport. Mylrea and Stegmann recognized that while cycling to and from destinations was common enough among school children, The world’s greatest Cycle Tour



adults generally seemed pedal-shy. To the amusement of passersby, Stegmann – an architect – cycled to work fully togged in a suit, on a natty fold-up bike. At weekends he and Mylrea rode together, often in the quiet of the morning. “At that stage my daughter wouldn’t acknowledge me when I rode past on a bicycle. People used to drive by and little kids would be laughing at us through the back window because we looked so strange; two adult men riding bicycles,” Mylrea affirmed. Thanks to the single-minded persistence of the WPPA, the Peninsula Cycle Marathon was made public. The risk of cycling a demanding 250km to 300km route of the region well beyond the environs of Cape Town demanded that precautionary measures be implemented, particularly to safeguard young riders. Myrlea set a benchmark for both amateur and professional cyclists that called for a two


The world’s greatest Cycle Tour

month training program in preparation of the event. WPPA members offered valuable advice to cyclists on bicycle selection, riding gear and medical precautions, as well as what to look for when choosing a bike. Bear in mind this event took place more than three decades ago when a super machine cost no more than R500 or a standard 10-speed cycle with drop handlebars would set you back R100; in those days you could buy a good second hand bicycle for R75 or less. Cyclists today are sure to scoff at the comparison of ‘the good old days’ and the current value of high-quality professional bicycles. Contemporary cyclists recognise the advantage of the strength-to-weight ratio to improve aerodynamic efficiency, and the role of state of the art chrono technology that enables the construction of super-clean cable routing, heavily integrated brake systems and a focus on every drag point on the bike.

Left: Western Province winning Junior Pursuit Team at South African Championships 1957 Left to right: S. Bynes R.Peacock H.Bairstow E. Kriel M. Lampe

Twgct; from dreams to reality  
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