Former international tennis player and French Open doubles titleholder Tanya Harford has been the driving force behind the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge since its inception 15 years ago.
Cyclingnews correspondent Coetzee Gouws asked the race director 20 questions to gain an insider’s perspective on the event and its evolvement into one of the country’s biggest cycling success stories.
Q: Was the idea behind the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge to create an “Argus” on the Highveld?
A: In 1997, 94.7 Highveld Stereo and Midrand Country Cyclists joined forces to organise a cycle race for Gauteng.
The idea was to create a world-class mass-participation event that would touch the heart of Joburg and capture the city's competitive temperament.
About 4 500 cyclists participated, making it the biggest event in Gauteng.
Q: Which was the most controversial edition?
A: The year we switched the route and managed to get full road closures and the use of the M1 south and N14. I think it was 2002.
Q: Which edition gave you grey hairs?
A: They are all like giving birth. Each one has a life of its own and its own unique identity and set of issues.
Q: What was the biggest behind-the-scenes challenge?
A: Well, we try to cover every eventuality in our planning. With risk assessment and disaster management we mitigate those sorts of catastrophes.
Q: When you first approached the metro with the idea of full road closures, what were the officials’ first words?
A: “You want us to what?” But they were open to lateral thinking and when we showed them the upside we were given permission for a “test” year. The rest is history.
Q: Tell us about the challenges and logistics of keeping vehicles off the Joburg highways.
A: The first partial road closure was in 2000 and full closures followed two years later.
There will always be areas where residents have no alternative routes, but even they are now prepared to stay home until we have finished in their area.
The test is to fully prepare all the role-players who are involved in closing the roads and keeping them closed. Many, many meetings, route drives and preparation of maps and documents form part of the planning.
Q: Does the public embrace the event or do they curse you because they can’t get out of their driveways?
A: We pull out all the stops to ensure the public is aware of the road closures and that we offer alternate routes to get around on the day.
Through our extensive campaigns over the years – as well as the growth in popularity of the race – most affected residents now embrace the event and make plans to capitalise on their proximity to the route.
Q: Where did the Ride for a Purpose idea come from? Tell us a bit about the concept, beneficiaries and funds raised.
A: In 2009, Momentum took over the title sponsorship and soon realised that the race provides a huge platform for charities to raise funds and awareness.
Former Springbok rugby captain Francois Pienaar is a sponsorship consultant for the company. It was his idea to formalise this platform into a campaign and Ride for a Purpose was born.
The concept is simple: it encourages participants to give their ride additional meaning by doing it for something or someone. The focus is not only on raising money, but could be as simple as riding in memory of a loved one.
The race has instituted a special red jersey for the individual who collects the most money. Last year’s winner, CHOC “cow” Simon Durdey, raised over R300 000.
Q: What was the most outlandish costume you’ve ever seen anyone ride the race in?
A: A topless woman! And the CHOC cows with the ice cream bikes – to pull that almost 100 kilometres . . .
Q: Which winner stands out for you?
A: Nic White, who won the very first race and finished off his professional career with another win last year.
Q: Where does the event fit in on the racing calendar in terms of its prize purse?
A: It is one of the most prestigious on the local calendar and the final big race of the year. It is definitely a desirable one to win and therefore the prize money is less important than the title in this case.
Q: Is the field limited to a certain number of entries for logistical reasons?
A: The event has grown to approximately 25 000 cyclists. This number is pretty stable now, which we believe is a function of the number of cyclists in the Highveld area and those willing to travel to ride in events.
We have had to re-work our start procedure to ensure all riders get going before the heat of the day sets in. We do not cap entries, as the numbers seem to self-regulate.
Q: Which year had the most entries?
A: In 2007 we attracted 28 000, which was our biggest field yet.
Q: If you had a visitors’ book, how would a typical positive note read?
A: “What a vibe! The energy of the cyclists, the support on the route and the smooth operation from entry through registration to the main event make the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge a world-class event.”
Q: What would a typical negative comment be?
A: Usually the negative feedback is related to non-cyclists who were not prepared for the road closures.
Cyclists remark that it is a hard route – tougher than the Cycle Tour – and that the N14 is hard and unforgiving.
The heat can be overbearing. This year we have increased start group sizes to shave an hour off the last start time.
Hopefully we’ll have everyone “home” by 3.30pm.
Q: What is the foreign interest like in the race?
A: The Cycle Challenge has received recognition from cycling’s international governing body, the UCI, as a model to the cycling world.
World-famous commentator Phil Liggett, who is part of the race each year, and respected journalist Jeff Quenet have both remarked that it is the best-organised event in Africa.
Momentum is bringing out four international professionals to experience the race and this may pave the way for more overseas riders to participate in future editions.
Q: Any changes to this year’s route or start/finish areas?
A: Waterfall Country Estate, the home of the Cycle Challenge, is constantly evolving as the infrastructure expands. As such, the finish area gets better each year.
This year’s sub-events – the Momentum 94.7 Children’s Challenge and the Momentum 94.7 Mountain Bike Challenge – are both taking place the weekend before the main event at the neighbouring Waterfall Country Village. It’s a brand new location with stunning views of a dam.
Q: Who are the biggest local celebrities taking part in this year’s event?
A: This year, 94.7 Highveld Stereo Breakfast Xpress presenter Samantha Cowen will be cycling for the second time. Sister station 94.5 Kfm’s Elana Afrika will be taking part on a tandem.
We have a bunch of comedians, including Jon Vlismas and Nik Rabinowitz, who will be cycling in a relay against fellow funnyman Chris Forrest.
Former Springboks Joel Stransky (who will do two laps) and Ashwin Willemse will take part alongside current Bok Schalk Burger.
Q: Are there any secrets you can reveal about this year’s event or future plans?
A: Watch out for the Twitter ride on Saturday, November 19, and look out for 2012 when Momentum and 94.7 have a new event and rollout planned as part of the Cycle Challenge week.
Q: Have you ridden the race yourself?
A: No, my role is planning and execution, which makes for a yearlong job with a 20-hour execution on the day!
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