Nearly two months after I left Australia, I have finally managed to secure my own vehicle: A second-hand Giant XTC3 mountain bike, complete with hydraulic disc brakes, aluminium brake fittings, Rock Shocks suspension, and Shimano everything. Sweet.
I decided to break myself in slowly with an 11km ride to work on Friday, and all I can say is that in two months you lose an awful lot of cycling fitness. The ride took me a lengthy 45 minutes, and left me fairly breathless. I even had to stop and rest on the way home. I also had to contend with Swazi roads. Bicycle and/or foot paths are fictional entities, and no matter how assertively you ride, you can be guaranteed that kombis drive more assertively… at very close proximity….and at very fast speeds. So, between the partial coronary, and the terrorist traffic, my Swazi cycling career was not looking promising.
The whole reason of getting the bike, though, was to make some local friends and join some of the Swaziland Cycling Association’s events. So it was with great excitement that I headed to the Mafutseni Cycling Classic on Saturday. What I expected was a close-knit group of about 50 amateur cyclists, doing their best to run a race using what little resources and rusty bikes they could find.
What I got was a sponsored International event, with 300 people from Swaziland, South Africa and Mozambique; TV coverage; road blockages with police escort; merchandise and food stalls; DJ; and enough lycra and carbon bling to make you think you’re at the Tour Down Under. My jaw dropped further when I found out they use RFID tags, incorporated into stickers for your helmet, to automatically calculate finishing times and placings. Who would have thought Swaziland would be a techie, cyclist’s dream?
After I composed myself, I registered for the 20km “Hoggett & fun ride” event, foregoing the more respectable 50km and 100km challenges on account of my pathetic cycling attempt the previous day. To make me feel even more pathetic, they classified me as sub-veteran, being 31 and all.
So there I was, the “sub-veteran” and about 50 juniors battling it out to the end. Okay, so there were a few other adults in my race, too. Despite stopping to chat with some marshals on the way, and missing the turnaround point by a few hundred metres, I won! My first, and most probably my last, cycling victory ever. To top it off, once I’ve finished the race, I still had energy left, so did the circuit again. I received a medal for my efforts (actually, everyone received a medal), plus 100 Rand prize money. Yep, I was feeling pretty chuffed with myself.
That was until someone pointed out that I had trampled on the junior participants’ chance of victory, probably crushing their hopes and dreams in the process. Admittedly, second and third place went to kids under 13, and sixth place (only a couple of minutes behind me) went to a 6 year old! However, to say that I didn’t deserve it, I believe would diminish the efforts of those kids, with their itty, bitty legs spinning at 100 revolutions a minute, and the determination on those cherub faces. I also know that in a few years time, when I’m a “veteran” (or heaven forbid, a “Master”), those young things won’t think twice about leaving me in their dust.
So, after my first week of Swazi cycling, I learnt a few very important lessons:
1. Never underestimate 6 -13 year olds.
2. Never underestimate Swaziland
3. Never, ever underestimate the lust of cycling. No matter where you are, rich country or poor, cycling has a way of seeping in under your skin and travelling up your veins, to give your heart a kick in the endorphin butt.