Cycling in South Africa
I'm in Johannesburg, South Africa for a few days on a business trip. Arrived on Friday morning and leave on Monday afternoon. Yesterday I rode with the CycleLab Saturday morning group. If these riders are reflective of what's going on throughout S.A. cycling then I can report that the sport is quite healthy here. I can easily see S.A. becoming a world powerhouse of cycling in the next few years.
And I found a few things different from group rides I've done in the U.S. The first was how many riders showed up. I was told later that there were about 400. And that was a low turn out since it's now winter here and a bit chilly (it was in the mid-30s when we started at 7am). They get around a thousand, and even more, in the summer months. This is partly because S.A. has some of the biggest road races in the world. Three years ago I rode in the Cape Argus race which starts and finishes in Capetown and goes around the Cape of Good Hope. There were 38,000 starters. It's the biggest bike race in the world.
On Saturday I rode with a C+ group of about 30 riders of nicely matched abilities. Each group had a "moderator" (I don't know what they call these people) whose job it appeared to be was to lead the group and keep everything safe and appropriately paced. Each of them wore a reflective vest much as road workers wear so they were obvious to their groups.
There were a lot of juniors and U23 riders including several National and World Champions in road, mountain bike and track racing. Many of the juniors were driven to the ride by parents, some of whom followed the ride "just in case." I spoke with several of the parents and they showed great interest in their son's or daughter's progress as a cyclist. Each also had questions on what they could do to help their child continue to grow as a cyclist. This is the primary reason I think we'll see S.A. establish a formidable place in world cycling competition.
There was no attempt during the 2.5-hour ride for anyone to try to splinter the group. There was no "attacking" which is such a common theme in almost every group I've ever ridden with in the States. I seldom ride with U.S. groups because of the unbridled aggressiveness of the riders. No one in the S.A. ride seemed to have an ego that needed soothing. They rode steadily over a quite rolling course and chatted. There was always a friendly banter going on. For some in the group the ride was a steady aerobic threshold (AeT) effort. Not real hard but hard enough to improve the aerobic system. For others, like me, it was a muscular endurance/tempo effort. Had I wanted an AeT ride I could have gone with a slightly slower group.
Another thing that struck me was the friendliness of all the riders on the road. In the U.S. when I wave at another rider he/she seldom returns it. I'm passed by riders who don't even acknowledge that I'm there. No "hello" or "how are you doing." There, riders going in opposite directions always waved. Remarkable.
Along the same line, manners in the peloton were exceptional. If someone's tire inadvertently flipped a stone and hit another rider there was an immediate "sorry." The same happened when a rider cut off another without looking and quickly realized it and followed up with an apology. I've never seen such good manners on bikes.
The bottom line... The entire ride was a refreshing change of pace from what I see most everywhere else in the U.S. Watch for many of these same young riders to be on podiums around the world in the next few years as they mature. The sport is certainly headed the right direction in South Africa.