9 December 2002
South African cycling is enjoying a boom period, and the sport is fast gaining supporters, participants and sponsors. With big events such as the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour and the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge to the fore, South Africa is showing the world the way in the massed events.
Phil Liggett, known worldwide as the Voice of Cycling, says: “No one in the world can hold a candle to the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour and the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge, and the rest of the cycling world – including the UCI (world cycling’s governing body) – is sitting up and taking note of what South Africa has achieved.’
A resounding thumbs-up from the cycling world’s number one commentator. Liggett, who has a holiday home in Gordon’s Bay, confesses his love for South Africa, saying he enjoys everything about the country and that the huge cycle events are something to behold.
The Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour has already gained international recognition from the UCI, becoming the opening event of the Golden Bike Series, made up of 10 races held in Canada, Switzerland, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Germany, France and South Africa. Many people regard it as the jewel in the crown of the prestigious series.
Such is the popularity of the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour that entries for the 2003 race, restricted to 35 000, were completed and closed within a single month – with 10 000 entries received within the opening 75 hours.
International entries include riders from Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Russia, China, the US, Australia, Canada, Germany, Denmark, Great Britain and numerous African countries. There are entrants from 44 countries for the 2003 event.
Not far behind the size of the Argus is the relatively new Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge, recently held in Johannesburg for the sixth time. The race attracted 4 000 cyclists in its first year, but has already climbed to 22 000 competitors in the 2002 event.
For the first time, the 2002 race route enjoyed full closure from traffic, suggesting that there is room for considerable growth and that this fact will continue to attract more and more entrants. Cycle Challenge director Tanya Harford is aiming high and says: “Joburg is determined to make it the biggest event in the country.’
Considering that the Argus is the biggest event and that South Africa leads the world in these mass participation races, that is quite a statement.
Both events, in Johannesburg and Cape Town, involve more than the race alone. Cycle expos form an important part of the overall package, giving cyclists the opportunity to learn about the latest developments in the sport, and manufacturers a stage on which to display their wares. It’s all about a total cycling experience, and it is obviously working.
Why have these events in South Africa succeeded in such a big way?
Organisers of the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour say the event has grown rapidly for a number of reasons. They believe that the ethos of the event – volunteerism, commitment, charity and development – has been a very important factor in the booming success the race has become. In fact, the Rotary Club of Claremont, an organisation working for charity, has played an integral role in the smooth running of the event over the years.
Organisers add that the Cycle Tour has always been aimed at all cyclists and not favoured any specific categories of athlete. They say the Tour aims to draw people that lead an active and healthy lifestyle and those who enjoy challenges.
There is much more to the event that the race itself, and that too makes it the leader in its field. The Cycle Tour provides many benefits of a sporting, social, economic, environmental and recreational nature, say the organisers, and it all happens in some of the most beautiful settings to be found anywhere in the world.
The organisers of the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge believe the sport itself has been undergoing a boom and, along with a greater focus on healthy living, this has greatly contributed to the growth of the Johannesburg race. Having a popular regional radio station as a sponsor has also helped immeasurably to create awareness of the event.
So, just how big can these two hugely successful cycle events become?
Cape Argus organisers say that they will not increase the size of their field beyond the present 35 000, citing a number of sensible reasons for this: safety, road capacity, support crews – involving medical personnel, marshals, traffic and police – are most effective and efficient catering for a field of 35 000.
The Cycle Challenge is aiming for a field of 25 000 (an increase of 3 000) in 2003, but the event planners believe the race could host up to 40 000 competitors. They hope to achieve that figure as soon as 2006.
However, they insist that putting on a quality event is of the utmost importance, rather than compromising standards simply to increase numbers. Safety is a primary concern, as well as the benefits that the race brings to the city of Johannesburg.
More than a race
Although the Cycle Tour has settled on a maximum entry of 35 000, organisers believe the event will continue to grow because of the associate events that take place during Life Cycle Week in the lead-up to the main race. These include the Junior and Tricycle Tour, the Mountain Bike Challenge, the Lifecycle Expo, the Giro del Capo (international stage race), the Tri Nations Track Challenge and the many smaller entertainment functions associated with the event.
The Life Cycle Week has become an integral part of the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour, with cyclists increasingly planning holidays around the week. The most important function of the Lifecycle Expo is undoubtedly registration, and this too applies to the Expo for the newer Cycle Challenge race in Johannesburg.
Organisers proudly point out that in three short years the Cycle Challenge Expo has become the biggest cycling and health-related expo in Gauteng, and they expect it to keep growing.
So, are the organisers of overseas events sitting up and taking notes? Have they been in touch with the organisers of these two powerhouse South African events, trying to learn the secrets of their success?
Cape Argus organisers say they have worked with overseas events, both to teach them and to learn from them. They cite one of the keys to the success of the Cape Town race as their continued efforts to improve the event.
The six-year old Cycle Challenge has not become involved with overseas events, but as they say that is “not yet’.
Having Phil Liggett as a fan of the Cycle Tour has certainly helped the event gain international recognition, but, insist the organisers, the event speaks for itself, and the ever-increasing number of overseas competitors testifies to its quality.
Cycle Challenge organisers say Liggett brings a vital ingredient to the success of the event: credibility. In fact, Liggett has been quoted as calling it “the best organised event in Africa’.
There is an impressive international entry for the 2003 Cycle Tour, partially as a result of the organisers actively marketing the event abroad, in conjunction with the City of Cape Town. There are frequent return competitors, and word-of-mouth is certainly one of the best marketing forms, they say.
Although the Cycle Challenge is beginning to draw a good overseas entry, they aim to start actively marketing the event abroad in two year’s time only.
The advent of the Internet has played a big role in processing entries: witness the Cycle Tour, in which 32 000 entries were made online for the 2003 race. The organisers say this has helped them become far more efficient in administrative affairs, leading to less inconvenience and hassle for all involved. Reaching cyclists, no matter where they live, is no longer a problem.
Tanya Hardford, director of the Cycle Challenge, doesn’t feel the online registration process has helped boost entries, but concedes that 87% of entries for the November 2002 race took place online.
While the older Cycle Tour, first held in 1978, has had a few routes over the years, it has had longer to work with the authorities to ensure a safe event for all competitors, and that includes road closure to other traffic.
The Cycle Challenge, on the other hand, had to wait until its sixth event, in November 2002, before it was able to ensure complete road closure for the event. The organisers were thrilled by this big step forward. They believe it will encourage many more cyclists to participate, adding that the response from competitors in the 2002 race has been very positive.
With wonderful weather, great routes, superb spirit and races that operate like well-oiled machines, the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour and the Pick ‘n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge show an ever-increasing popularity.
One wonders whether South Africa might soon become the first country in the world to host two Golden Bike Series events; given the size of the Cycle Challenge, its wonderful organisation, and the way the city of Johannesburg has bought into the race, it’s a real possibility that South Africa will be rewarded for leading the way.