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Why every participant is timed, or ‘Back to the Cycle Tour’s roots’

Why every participant is timed, or ‘Back to the Cycle Tour’s roots’

The present discussions around whether or not all participants in the Pick n Pay Cape Argus Cycletour should register with CSA has prompted me think back to the very first event when we wrestled with this very same issue. My memory may well be a bit rusty, but fortunately I still have copies of the monthly newsletters from those days to draw on. (There’s much more to be said and I must get on with the book I’ve been meaning to write . . .) – By John Stegmann

WPPPA was founded in March 1977 after many months of background work. It recognised that clubs and organisations for competitive cycling had been in existence here for close on a century, and was thus founded to cater for recreational, commuter and touring cyclists countrywide. I was the founding Chairman and very much involved with the drawing up of the constitution.

Because very few cyclists were to be seen in those days, WPPPA’s first demonstration, later that year, was the Big Ride In to show the City Fathers that recreational and commuter cyclists existed. That was a good start, but Bill Mylrea saw the need for an event with far more of a challenge than riding down and up Adderley Street. His 250km idea shrunk to 100km as we thought of the difficulties and I volunteered to head a sub-committee to plan the new event. There would be a floating trophy for the winner, and other smaller awards, but no prize money. The essence of the exercise was to show that given beautiful car-free roads cyclists would appear, and this would justify the provision of bicycle paths.

Bill, Louis de Waal and I had given a lot of thought to that ‘network of bicycle paths‘ and we needed a big turnout for the Peninsula Marathon, as the Argus Cycle Tour was then called. Remember that apartheid rules applied to sport in those days and opening it to everyone was controversial. (SATV refused to cover it.)


At that time I was intrigued by experiments in California. Fluid-dynamics professor Chester R Kyle and aeronautical engineer Jack Lambie had formed the International Human Powered Vehicle Association 1974 to research the design of bicycles such as those prescribed by UCI rules for racing. Of course UCI racing rules are intended to create standard conditions in order to find the best rider – not to find the best machine. IHPVA’s objective was to improve the vehicle, and inventors soon bettered, or could better, every UCI record. I was fascinated by the idea that the bicycle, already crowned by Scientific American as the most efficient machine, could be improved upon and I wanted South Africans to get involved in this new field of scientific endeavour. I therefore wrote the rules for our event to conform to the IHPVA philosophy that did not prescribe the machine but simply restricted power to human power.


I reasoned that we needed the registered riders to participate so that the event would be open to all and I wanted them to give our budding inventors a good idea of the performance they’d have to beat. Hugh Dale was adamant that SACF (as CSA was then known) rules prohibited its members from competing in events with non-registered riders. He would not accept the suggestion that all other riders acquire a blanket one day membership. After thinking about the problem I returned and had him agree to there being two separate groups riding the same course on the same day, starting 30 minutes apart.

Realising that if we let the registered riders go first we’d never see any of them again, I arranged for us go first. Some of us were passed before UCT and others probably held out to near the top of Edinbrough Drive. The Argus Cycle Tour was the first, and for decades thereafter the only, event in the world to successfully combine UCI and IHPVA rules.


Whereas the SACF would put a number of stopwatches on 1st, 2nd and 3rd (everyone after that was an also-ran), we needed a method to establish the overall winner. To encourage novice riders to at least get to Simonstown, we hit on the idea of each rider having four tear-off tickets. Riders were to hand in one ticket at Simonstown, one at the top of Smitswinkel, one at Kommetjie and one at the finish in Camps Bay.     Rondebosch Rotarians would write a time on each ticket and we’d somehow sort things out later. In this way we fetched up giving everyone a time and a place – and unwittingly created one of the best-liked features of the event.


 WPPPA newsletter #10, 20th January 1978, reminded members of the WPPPA objectives, to:-

  • Provide a representative body for the furtherance of the interests of the cycling public.
  • Improve conditions for recreational and commuter cycling. Promote cycling.
  • Disseminate technical, touring, trade and topical information.
  • Assist club members in arranging cycle tours and outings.
  • Establish contact with similar organisations, or to affiliate with organisations of similar or like interests and objects.

As it happened, the registered riders thoroughly enjoyed the first Argus Cycle Tour and were keen to participate in the next event. Also, a fair number of amateurs were proud of their own fast times. In this way volunteers interested in competitive cycling gradually rose to positions of influence in the WPPPA. WPPPA forged ties with foreign racing clubs rather than institutions such as Sustrans in UK, which was founded at the same time as WPPPA and with very similar objectives.

After a couple of years, the WPPPA constitution was spruced up. The new version looked pretty similar to the original, with the same string of objectives. After another lapse of time I became aware that the string of objectives now included ‘the sport’, which was certainly never part of the original mission. With such a string of objectives and little hope of giving equal attention each, the volunteers doing the work naturally focused on aspects that appealed to them most. I had left the committee in 1979 to work on bicycle planning, after which I had to concentrate on earning a living.


The constitution made no specific mention of bicycle planning so the Network of Bicycle Paths that was approved by Council in 1979 was neglected by WPPPA and by the City Engineer’s Department whose attention was on the 1982 Metropolitan Transport Plan for motor vehicles. The R330,000 funding set aside each year for three years was forfeited – an agonising loss personally, but more so for the City.


The registered riders were moved to pole position at the start of the second and subsequent Argus Cycle Tours. While the UCI+IHPVA rules remained, unconventional machines were considered problematic and started last. They became most problematic in 1984 when a young amateur rode a solo race from start to finish on a streamlined recumbent and crossed the line a little after registered rider Theuns Mulder, whom The Argus took to be the winner. Only later, when all the times were in, did we learn that Theuns had been beaten by two amateur tandems and was placed fifth as the overall winner, more than ten minutes faster than Theuns, was the young amateur! But instead of jubilation, amazement and interest in the machine and its rider for this historic achievement, there was trouble.

The registered riders ridiculed the youngster’s performance, claiming it was due to the machine and was cheating. Unless the rules were changed, they would no longer participate in the Argus Cycle Tour. Fortunately for them their wishes were given a sympathetic hearing by WPPPA. The riders of unconventional machines would be restricted to a single award, while more importance would henceforth be given to the winner under UCI rules for which a new big shield was acquired and prize money increased.

I served again on the committee to promote the concept of a bicycle path around Table Mountain. This project upset the chairman who said it was riding on the back of W3PA and that the Association would need to distance itself from it. To my mind this was exactly the kind of project WPPPA should tackle. While I am greatly impressed by the power and skill of professional cyclists, I would certainly not expect WPPPA to have anything to do with an event such as the Giro del Capo. I ended up by handing back the honorary life membership I’d been given and have promoted touring, recreational and commuter cycling elsewhere.

In recent times the PPA has returned to its original objectives of making the roads safe for ordinary cyclists and I was therefore happy to tackle the Cycletour again this year. My overwhelming impression of the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour is that it gives an enormous amount of pleasure to thousands of people, be they spectators, helpers or participants of every description – no matter who wins. As such it will hopefully continue doing what it does so well for decades to come.

 I’d like to see PPA and CSA accept that individuals are free to participate in any or all of the many different kinds of cycling as they choose. I’d like to see CSA say a big ‘thank you’ to PPA for all that it has done for ‘the sport’ over many years and find a way for its members to participate in the Pick ‘n Pay Cape Argus Cycle Tour, should they so wish, like everyone else, without imposing their peculiar requirements on others. – John Stegmann