Thursday, 2 July 2015

Team MTN-Qhubeka: African Cycling Destiny

Relentless pursuit of excellence

Who would have thought that an African team would start Le Tour de France?

Not me, that is for sure.

Nineteen-ninety-five. The year that South Africa lifted the William Web Ellis Trophy as Rugby World Cup Champions. Most local fans remember where they were at the time of the Springboks victory against the All Blacks. At a braai, in a crowded pub, at Ellis Park. Wherever.

The Tour de France was a near mythical event, reserved for late night TV viewing for pay station subscribers.

South African professional cyclists were not exactly dime a dozen, with names like Willie or McIntosh long having retired, Andrew McClean competing as a freelance rider in Europe and newer faces dividing their time between national team duty, riding for cycle shops and/or guesting for tiny squads in backwaters like Portugal.

Monday, 29 June 2015

Spontaneity on a Shoestring

For the love of sport

With Le Tour around the corner all eyes will no doubt be focussed on the roads of France. The usual racing hypothesis, analysis and politics will no doubt dominate many a conversation, be it in group rides and in coffee shops.

In tandem with the actual racing will see many a tour group following Grand Boucle. Cycling tour packages have become a popular concept, where organised tours varying in length and cost afford the cycling fan to see the racing up close combined with some serious mileage in and around the more spectacular regions of the Continent.

Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Consistent Shaun Meiklejohn

Pacing, longevity and one year at a time

On Sunday 31 May at a shade past one o’ clock, Shaun Meiklejohn crossed the finish line of the 2015 Comrades Marathon. First master and sixty-fifth overall in 6:39, the Orion Athletic Club athlete had completed his twenty-seventh voyage between Durban and Pietermaritzurg. Twenty seven Comrades finishes: the mind boggles at the sheer thought. Closer inspection of Meiklejohn’s palmares, though, is even more staggering.

Ten consecutive gold medals, including overall victory in 1995, are sandwiched between seventeen silvers, his first being way back in 1982 as a raw twenty year-old. Such a track record is perhaps unrivalled and Meiklejohn’s consistency could possibly be one the most underrated achievements in Comrades Marathon history.

Monday, 8 June 2015

Training versus Enjoyment

Be Curious

So says Andrew MacNaugton, a name unlikely to be familiar with triathletes and followers of the sport in the modern day.

With a professional palmares impressive in both quality and quantity, the Canadian was recently guest on Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns’ latest health and fitness venture, The Primal Endurance Podcast. Andrew and Brad go back a long way, starting out on the pro triathlon circuit way back in the mid-eighties. Both are in extremely good health to this day and, in MacNaughton’s case, still competitive in the realm of endurance sport.

The podcast is a great listen, especially for old-time triathletes, but the take-home message applies to athletes of all ability levels and eras, that is: trusting one’s mood, instinct and gut feel and focus on loving the activity.

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Mike Creed and Team SmartStop

The Essence of Pro Cycling

Not many mainstream cycling fans would have heard of Team SmartStop.

That is understandable given the average pro cycling fan being more focused on the big teams which dominate the daily news websites and forums. Team SKY’s Richie Porte sleeping in a camper van or Etixx-Quickstep’s Mark Cavendish’s latest venal outburst are stories that captivate the public’s imagination, which is pretty normal as far as most big league sports go. Amid the big fish swimming in the large pond of professional cycling though, are the smaller fries; those upstarts that effectively make the sport what it is.

AcroVelo’s latest documentary captures the spirit of the smaller teams going up against the big boys like few others can. In short, this is cycling reality TV at its best: a look behind the scenes of a domestic outfit’s quest for glory in the recent AMGEN Tour of California.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Natural High

Sand, Sea and the Activity

I watched a great video today. Featuring professional and soul surfer Rob Machado, this production centres on an individual’s “natural high,” that is, an activity which a person relishes, loves or cherishes. Something simple and in Machado’s case, it is riding waves big or small.

The love of an activity; a notion that is sometimes lost in the quest for great results and personal bucket lists. I recently had an email exchange with a top local athlete, a brief chat focussing on a future blog profile around a major upcoming triathlon. Now in his mid-forties, this guy alluded to his possible retiring from the elite ranks. Time to give the youngsters a chance, he mused tongue-in-cheek, although reading in between lines revealed a deep passion for competing at the top level for the sheer fun of it. My reply was something along the lines of why quit if you still enjoy it so much? We as athletes should keep doing what we love, right? His concurrence included his seeing his top-level competing as giving back to the sport, i.e. not making it easy for the up-and-comers and supporting the youth coming through.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Wostmann Walking

Strolling for Faster Running

Caroline Wostmann walking to Comrades domination?

Not quite (but almost!) although the Nedbank Green Team athlete might be on to something that is not really all that new. The sight of the exuberant Gauteng athlete walking through the aid stations en route to an emphatic Comrades victory had some TV commentators shaking their heads in disbelief. Comments like "Our hearts just missed a beat" or "Caroline looks like she is in her rhythm after another walk break" were dime a dozen. But there is perhaps more to Wostmann's "walk breaks" than many observers may deduce at face value.

Die-hard traditionalists have long dismissed walking in a distance running race as a sign of weakness. Sure, this interpretation does have significance and substance when the walking is involuntary. The sight of any athlete falling apart a slowing to a walk has long signalled the relinquishing of a race lead or the death knell of pursuing a personal record.