The “focal point” of track cycling in the Cape, the iconic Paarl Boxing Day track cycling event, brings with it exciting new aspects and carries years of history and stories of past riders. As always, the much-celebrated event will take place this year at the Faure Street Stadium in Paarl on Saturday 26 December.
Remembering back to stories of previous Paarl Boxing Days is former Cycling South Africa President, Pehr Gotthard Bernhard (Gotty) Hansen. 81-year-old Hansen is one of the country’s greatest cycling Legends of the Pedal and continues to spread the good news about the development around track cycling in South Africa.
“The feeling of going to Paarl Boxing Day was almost, if not greater, than going to Worlds. It was definitely the focal point of Track cycling in the Cape,” he said.
Hansen, who has won the iconic 25 Mile race twice, come second once and come third once, recalls the feeling that accompanied the title. “To win at Boxing Day is awesome. I began cycling at the age of 18 and had became a life member of the Bellville Cycling Club in the 80's. It was an incredible club and one of the strongest in the country. When a Bellville rider won the 25 we would stop at the Klapmuts Hotel, fill the trophy and celebrate.”
In the early days, Hansen mentioned the pacers, who would be allowed to come on to the track to assist riders who had broken away in an effort to lap the field. "One of the most famous winners of these was Bennie Gelderblom - a young Paarl rider - who had also broken away like this. The Paarl public went Ballistic!" he said.
"It was much more difficult then,” said Hansen. “We were seeing fields of 25-60 riders at a time on the track, and the top guys would then have a lot of stop-starting to endure. But often riders can misjudge their ability on the track – it’s not an easy sport. I think the limit used to be 75 people and no matter how many starters there were, we’d be lucky if we got 10 finishers,” he added.
Hansen mentioned the effects of the weather as well: “Doing well also had a lot to do with knowing the track. It gets hot in Paarl, boy does it get hot! There have been times in the past where you’re about to start, and you can just see the guy’s tyre in front of you sinking into the tar before your very eyes.
“We’ve had all of the extremes. One year, halfway through the race, there was so much rain that everybody threw their sunglasses off so that they could see where they were going. I kept one had on the handlebars and the other I used as a windscreen wiper for my glasses. There was so much water that you couldn’t even see where the track started. I remember being stuck on the inside, and just went for it. Down I went into the water, and rode my heart out – still managing to lead.
“Crowd appeal was a very big thing,” continued Hansen. “You always wanted to perform better because of the amount of supporters. The atmosphere there is a wonderful thing, unlike anywhere else. There were many times when you as a rider couldn’t even hear yourself think because of the noise from the crowd. It was one of the only days where we’d see cycling and athletics events in one day, so you’d have the masses supporting both disciplines,” he said.
“It’s very seldom that you see somebody who has won the year before come back and take the title again, which is why I am so happy for Nolan (Hoffman) who has managed to win five times,” he concluded.
Current Cycling South Africa President, William Newman, shared some of his memories about Paarl Boxing Day: “I have mixed emotions about Boxing Day as, due to the apartheid era, we could not compete at the event and I could never do so while at the peak of my career. I do however remember the event as an iconic event while growing up as my brothers and uncles (all champion cyclists themselves) before me were in the same boat of being deprived of the opportunity to compete there, but it was an event we were very aware of.”
While in the prime of his career, Newman could not compete and was only able to do so with the dawn of the country’s new democracy in the 90s. “I was a veteran cyclist at that time and won the trophy for the best veteran three years in succession. As a 41-year-old veteran I finished fifth in the iconic 25 Mile, sprinting to the line with the likes of Garth Thomas and Dean Edwards, where Garth recorded the first of his four 25 Mile wins,” he said.
He mentioned that the Paarl crowd is most knowledgeable when it comes to track cycling, creating a very unique atmosphere. “The race is steeped in history with this year being its 118 th edition. It must be one of the longest running sporting events in the world,” he added.
“Having a big new sponsor on board this year injects added interest into the event and I would like to thank Alpha Bodyworks for the support they are giving to the event. I also want to congratulate the Paarl Cycling Club on continuously hosting this iconic event. Well done to all!
“With Cycling South Africa working hard to have track cycling included on the 2022 Commonwealth Games cycling programme, this Boxing Day event plays a significant role in promoting the awareness and popularity of track cycling in the country, thereby strengthening our case for inclusion in the 2022 Commonwealth Games programme,” Newman concluded.
The 2015 Paarl Boxing Day Track cycling event takes place on Saturday 26 December. For riders wanting to be part of the action, click here to enter: http://www.cyclingsa.com/s/20151121_PAARL-BOXING-ENTRY-FORM-2015.pdf