Written for Legends of the Pedal
At 51 years old, Wayne Pheiffer may be the “baby” of the Legends of the Pedal bunch.
But a world championship gold medal, more than 50 national titles and 15 Springbok caps have certainly earned him his place among the elders.
Although, if his parents had had their way, the Port Elizabeth rider would never have gotten on a bicycle in the first place.
“I was never allowed to have a bicycle in town. My parents grew up in the Karoo and thought it would be too dangerous.”
It took until his Standard Seven (Grade Nine) year to finally wear them down. “They eventually caved and bought me a bicycle to go to school with.”
Taking to riding like the proverbial duck to water, Wayne’s thoughts soon turned to racing.
“I wanted to go to a beginners’ race at the Scribante track, so I asked my dad if I could go and he said, ‘Not a chance!'”
Being a teenage boy, he promptly found another way.
“So I went to play at a friend’s house that Saturday and ended up at the racing with him. I took part and won!”
After the elation subsided, the panic began to set in as he contemplated how he would explain the trophy and R60 prize money to his father.
“But, when I walked away from the rostrum, he was standing right there. He knew I would disobey him and where I would be!
“From then on he supported me flat-out throughout my career.”
With Wayne’s younger brother Roger (35) and sons Brent (21) and Shane (19) all going on to represent their country on the track, the Pheiffer family is now synonymous with the sport.
“I didn’t want my sons to get involved too young because I saw what happened with Roger. He started on his little bicycle at age six or seven and by the time he was 19 he’d had enough.”
But his sons’ passion and talent won through, with both competing at the world junior track championships in Moscow.
The two now race for the Intellibus pro track team and, at the time of writing, were preparing for the national championships in Cape Town.
“I sent them messages this morning saying I’m getting stressed, I don’t see or hear about the training that should be happening. They said, ‘Relax, Dad!'”
Wayne’s passion for the speed and power of track clearly remains undiminished since first obtaining junior national colours in 1979. He says the highlight of his own career was undoubtedly being crowned world masters sprint champion in Manchester in 1996.
“Winning a world title overseas and seeing your South African flag go up does bring a bit of a lump to your throat,” he says.
It was a far cry from the isolation years of the early ’80s, when he and his countrymen had to hide their nationality when competing abroad.
“We raced undercover in those days; as Zuid-Afrika with a ‘Z’ and in black clothing with just a little Springbok head.”
To attend a 1982 meeting in Belgium against Holland, Hungary, Italy and France, they had to fly to London and then catch a bus, a train and a jetfoil to get across the channel and into Belgium via the backdoor.
“You cringed every time you gave your passport in at border control.”
Despite the odds stacked against them, the team won that meet and came second in 1984.
“We were good. We set up a lap record at the velodrome in Ghent that stood for a number of years.”
The year 1983 was personally a standout one for Wayne, who rode the Rapport Tour, finished second to Mark Beneke in the national road champs and claimed gold, silver and bronze medals at the SA Games.
He capped his haul with the prestigious State President’s Award, which was given to a sportsman who excelled consistently over the course of the year.
“That was something special. I was doing my national service in Voortrekkerhoogte and my brigadier nominated me.
“The defence force didn’t yet have an official team, so I was riding for Northern Transvaal.”
As his postings changed, so did his provincial teams. “I have Western Province, Northern and Southern Transvaal and Eastern Province titles. It was great to be able to race all over the place.”
He took shifting allegiances one step further when he found himself competing as an invitational German rider against his own countrymen in a test in Durban.
“We had too many riders and they were one short. My surname sounded close enough to German, so they opted me in.”
Regrettably, Wayne proved too good and went on to win the keirin.
“The bigger problem was that I was working for, and sponsored by, Minolta – and the German team was sponsored by Panasonic,” he laughs.
“So there I was riding the national circuit as a ‘traitor’ not only to my country but also my sponsors!”
Riding the legendary Hansom bikes as a sponsored cyclist, Wayne continued to take gold on the track in the summer and compete on the road in winter.
In 1988, he was forced to withdraw from his second Rapport Tour after his wife Julie was involved in a horrific car accident that put her in hospital for two months.
“Julie had done a lot of my training with me. I would train after work and she would follow me in the car till 10 o’clock at night, just so that I could get the mileage in to be able to ride those tours.
“When we were dating, she stayed out at Seaview on the outskirts of PE. All my mileage was done at top speed in that direction. That’s probably why I stayed a sprinter – always in a hurry to get out there!”
As a well-known TV presenter on Graffiti and Video 2, Julie’s coaching also proved invaluable when Wayne was called in to do on and off the bike commentary during the Allied Tour.
“She was very strict about the speed I had to speak at and the tone I had to maintain.”
To get a feel for the action, the film crew would drop him on top of a hill so that he could ride the descent in the bunch.
“Those days you didn’t have a Go-Pro, you had this big camera strapped under your bike. It wasn’t exactly comfortable to ride with . . .”
Unfortunately, Julie’s accident was not the only medical setback the couple has faced over the years.
“I’ve broken my collarbone five times, my neck, my wrist and ribs. It sounds like a lot of breaks but that’s spread over almost 40 years of racing,” he says philosophically.
But the real test came when Wayne was diagnosed with cancer of the left kidney 10 years ago.
“That was huge,” he admits. “There were also lymph nodes involved.”
After surgery and “a lot of prayer”, Wayne believes he received a miracle.
“I’ve been clear since then and to this day the doctors can’t explain why the cancer disappeared from the lymph nodes.
“I’ve since toned down the riding to protect the other kidney. I don’t do long-distance races or tours where you are continuously hammering your body anymore.”
However, he still clocks about 60km every morning before opening his eponymous shop, which he took over from another local institution, John Webb.
“John was here for 37 years but ran a very small, tight ship. He taught me everything I know.
“We’ve grown the shop tremendously and it’s still exciting for him to come in and see the developments. Nowhere else can you get five Springbok cyclists giving you personal attention.”
The only downside to taking over the well-known store was giving up his lifelong membership of PE Cycling Club, which is also the country’s oldest.
“The shop sponsors Walmer Cycling Club, so we took over that responsibility when we bought it seven years ago. It was rough because I’d been a loyal member all those years.”
It is that innate sense of loyalty and staying power that has served Wayne well through life’s ups and downs.
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