What is it about the sport of cycling that we love so much? Is it the fact that you get to see and explore places you never knew existed, while maintaining a healthy lifestyle? Is it the cool cutting edge technology you can spend endless amounts of money and time on, or is it the opportunity you have to test your legs in a race to see just how good you really are?
We all have our reasons and each is as valid as the next. In my case, it’s a combination of the above three.
Having cycled on and off for most of my life, I got to university and discovered beer. I soon found out that I quite liked the person I became after a few pints of the said beverage. A few years later, I somehow left Stellenbosch with a degree and a larger waistline. Having always considered myself a reasonably fit individual, I was perturbed that I could no longer fit into my favourite pair of jeans. This called for some drastic action and the old Cannondale road bike was hauled out and dusted off. Although this was a beautiful machine in it’s day, it was approaching 15 years of age. Not that this was an issue – in fact on the contrary. I found myself tearing down Helshoogte and Franschhoek Pass, having more fun than I had ever had before. This was fast becoming a lifestyle and in the words of ex pro Michael Sowerby “the bug had bitten”.
It wasn’t long before I got to a point where I considered myself quite the cyclist and as a result, I felt the need to test myself in a race or two. Ever mindful of the fact that there is a certain look that accompanies mean-looking racers, the legs were shaved, a new bike purchased and I was set. After a few PPA races in the various seeding groups, I found myself with a decent enough seeding to race in the Elite category. How much harder could it be? My very first Elite race took place in Joburg and I found myself lining up next to Malcolm Lange. Despite looking and acting confident, I was secretly asking myself what the hell I was doing. A few kilometres later, I asked myself the same question except “hell” was replaced with a stronger four-letter word.
Many years and races later, I am still amazed at the opportunities this sport has given me. I have been privileged enough to race against the likes of Lance Armstrong, Andre Griepel and Christof Sauser to name a few. Riding the 2010 Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour, we got to Simonstown when one of my teammates whispered under his breath that I should look to my right. Cycling next to me was Armstrong. I asked him some pathetic question; he answered then went on to tear the race apart. Here was a guy who had achieved all there was to achieve in his sport and we were able to share a competitive arena for a few hours. Unlike in most other sports, if you can get to a certain level, cycling affords you opportunities such as these and for that I am grateful.
After a frantic racing season spanning from September to April, it has been great kicking back and enduring one too many coffee rides (the coffee break is longer than the ride itself). My wife Nix and I head to Europe at the end of June where we’ll be doing some riding in Italy, followed by the Tour de France and plenty of riding thereafter.
You’ll next hear from me from Italy.
Mark Nel is an elite-level road racer (and some-time mountainbiker) who’s completed a Giro Del Capo, two Tours de Boland and two Absa Cape Epics. He recently left his corporate job to pursue a career in the cycling industry and started Alpine Sports South Africa.