When Malcolm Lange first encountered Lance Armstrong as a laaitie at the 1992 Olympic Games, he could not have predicted outsprinting him to take line honours a lifetime later.
“Beating Lance last year to defend my third Argus title was definitely the highlight of my career,” says Lange, now 37.
He announced his retirement from professional cycling earlier this year after finishing second in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour behind his Team Bonitas-Medscheme protégé, Tyler Day.
For Lange, who will stay on as team owner and manager, it signalled a changing of the guard. “I probably could have gone on for another two or three years but I’d achieved all I wanted to – I didn’t want to go out being a hacker.”
Perhaps one of the finest cyclists South Africa has ever seen, three-time national road champion Lange also counts three Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge and six Amashova Durban Classic titles among his 409 race wins. He represented the country at both the Olympic and Commonwealth Games.
The sometimes controversial Lange was excluded from the 1996 Olympic squad because of an alleged “attitude problem”. He is particularly outspoken against drug-taking, which he believes to be rife among professionals.
Lange says he is pleased that testing has become more stringent in South Africa even though the constant monitoring is an invasion of privacy – representatives sometimes rang his doorbell at 6am.
“My son would yell, ‘Dad, the pee man’s here!’”
Lange is especially looking forward to getting involved with the scientific side of cycling but will still travel a bit with his riders.
Aside from managing the team, he is also building up his company, Lange Sports, with his wife and business partner Jackie.
“Jackie is absolutely brilliant at what she does in terms of marketing the team. We run it together from home, so we try to create a decent balance.”
The couple first met in 1996 and spent the greater part of four years in Belgium, where Lange was based for the European pro season. He won seven races in his first season and garnered a devoted following of 30 or 40 fans – his winner’s bouquets still adorn the walls of a pub in Antwerp.
Even Jackie’s wedding planning had to fit in around his cycling commitments. “We got married in 2000 between the Rapport Tour and the Giro del Capo,” laughs Lange.
“My wife has been my biggest supporter and I wouldn’t have gotten so far without her,” he says. “I think she needs a massive medal – I can be seriously hard work.”
Without a rigorous training schedule to stick to, Lange now has more time to do the school run with their children, Tyler (7) and Kaylin (5). He admits, however, to feeling guilty about his newfound freedom.
“Sometimes I find myself walking around the shops, wondering ‘what am I doing here?’”
Lange says he has recently taken up running to keep fit and continues to ride with his team when they are in the country.
“I’m getting a bit more into mountain biking – I’m riding the Subaru sani2c and have been sponsored a Pinarello bike,” says Lange. “It’s really good fun when there’s no pressure.”
Never one to rest on his laurels, Lange is also in the process of establishing a mountain bike squad, Team RECM, with two of his riders (Neil MacDonald and Waylon Woolcock) already in training for the Fairbairn Capital/Old Mutual joBerg2c.
“I’m trying to channel my competitive energy into my guys in a positive way,” says Lange. “I know they can’t operate like me – I’m very hard on myself.”
Lange attributes his rigid self-discipline to his father’s influence. “My dad was a legend – very tough, he pressurised me but he was a brilliant rider.”
Lange previously announced his retirement in 2008, but broke his collarbone shortly thereafter. “I just couldn’t go out on an injury.”
After three weeks of rest, he had formulated a new plan – to form his own team. “We’ve had some seriously good results for the sponsors.”
Nowadays, he gets more satisfaction from the success of his nine riders. “Tyler finished third against Robbie McEwen in the Tour de Mumbai – I basically kissed him after the race!”
Lange says there is suddenly an influx of talent into the local cycling scene but has some good advice for up-and-coming riders.
“It’s not easy to get spotted. You’ve got to stick it out – come to the races and get the results.”
Referring to his own life, Lange says cycling has taught him some hard lessons about being streetwise and never giving up. “When I was tempted to drop off the bunch, I found that if I hung in there just a little bit longer and found a new way of suffering, I often went on to win.”
With regard to a possible comeback, Lange is quite adamant. “No. But then again, my own team-mates don’t believe I’ve stopped.”
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