The Epic’s Stairway to Heaven can also be pure hell


I didn’t like it much when I rode the prologue of Absa Cape Epic in 2012. Neither did Elana Meyer, the Olympic medallist who was part of our media/celeb Team Absa group.

Spectators cheer you as you go up. They mean well, but I’ve never much liked crowds. Meyer faltered and had to get off, and push her bike around a few of those specially constructed switchbacks that novices should be able to handle. Meyer was and is swift of foot. When I faltered and pushed, I was not half as quick.

I’ve been asked many times this week if I would ride the Epic again. I have strong memories of 2012. Of my mum calling me up to say I had been on TV during the prologue. “Yes, they showed you being passed by the leading women as you pushed your bike up a hill.” Thanks, mum.

Memories of a 40km/h crash on the second stage that broke my helmet and destroyed a top. Of trying to hide behind Marius Hurter, the former Bok prop, as we rode into a 30km/h headwind, and even his big legs struggled. Of the rain on stage five, when I fell over sideways in the mud just before the finish in Oak Valley, and my partner, the kind and wise Jack Stroucken of Absa, later told me he knew I was okay because my cursing was, as always, loud, foul and strident. Memories of tears on the last day when Jack told me the climbing was done for the day and we had a 5km cruise to the finish. Would I do it all again with those memories spinning around? I doubt it. For others, the Epic is a race, for me, survival.

It was a race for Karl Platt and Urs Huber, who won on Sunday, having ridden up Stairway to Heaven knowing they would not have to get off and push as they were not novices. Platt took his fifth title on Sunday, Huber his first. I would have liked to have been there to see them do that. Perhaps next year.

My friend Adrian English, the former journalist and PR, now retired and found mostly at Giles or the Rosebank Bowls Club Pub and Grill, demanded a right of reply to a column I wrote a few weeks back. I said Adrian didn’t get cycling.

He told me I wrote too much about the sport. He is probably right, you know, but even though I paid for the beers at Giles last Monday, he has sent me a little tale of his cycling history.

Dear Kevin, Amazingly I do get cycling, just not the sort that you indulge in however. As a schoolboy in Nottingham, my bicycle – a splendid blue Raleigh with a three speed Sturmey Archer gear shift mounted on the handlebar – a gift from my Nan for passing the 11-plus exams, was a lifeline and, in many ways, an extension of myself.

It transported me to school and back every day come rain or shine and at weekends it was my chariot to the River Trent where I fished my heart out. I like to think that because of all that exercise as a youngster I am still around today. I customised it a bit by turning the handlebars upside down; I could fix a broken chain and when I got a puncture my trusty repair kit soon sorted that out. I loved that bicycle and it was a wrench leaving it behind when my Dad decided that we were going to Africa.

Now that to me was what cycling was about. Not these carbon fibre jobs that you and the Tour de Franceokes ride. I mean the price for a start is ridiculous.

Upwards of 20 grand, and that’s just for the frame! And, you tell me, those pro bikes I watched with you on TV cost in the region of 200 grand, do me a favour! I could buy a Gibson Les Paul guitar plus a Marshall amplifier and speakers and still come away with a huge chunk of change, for that. See you for a beer one of these days.

Cheers, Adrian.

The Star

Original source: The Epic’s Stairway to Heaven can also be pure hell