More than 30 years ago, former South African cyclist Alan Dipple achieved something few of his contemporaries could even have dreamed of at the time – home ground success on two continents.
The adopted Australian left our shores in the early eighties at age 25, having conquered the big two on road and track – the Rapport Tour and the Paarl Boxing Day 25-mile race.
Just a few short years later he would go on to become the Aussie 50km point score champion on the track and the 200km road champion.
“I believe I always had a good finishing sprint on both track and road,” says Dipple.
“I was able to read a race very well and would always ride good positions in a bunch.”
Those are just some of the skills that saw him pip competitor Mark Beneke by 15 seconds for the Rapport Tour title in 1979.
“That was a great win for me, being that we had a number of international teams competing and especially since I still considered myself a track rider.”
Three years later he’d go on to set a new Paarl Boxing Day record (55:38.9) before another Beneke brother, Gary, rewrote the record books.
“At that time, it was a huge event that attracted many great riders and massive crowds,” he recalls.
“I think I can say that it was as great a feeling as winning a national title.”
Like any South African youngster, Dipple grew up riding his bicycle around the Johannesburg suburb where he was born and raised.
“I enjoyed this and somehow ended up joining a club – and I guess the rest is history.”
That history included being awarded Springbok track colours at the age of 18 against a combined international team and touring Belgium two years later in 1977 where he developed a hunger for international competition.
“I was always a track cyclist but in those early years, there seemed to be more happening on the road with races like the Rapport Tour and I started riding the road a little bit more seriously.
“Seeing that we were banned from competing in world tour races and world championships, there was no point in specialising in one or the other so I enjoyed both, while still always considering myself a track rider.”
Dipple says one of the lowlights of his career was the frustration of sharing the stage with so many talented local riders who were not allowed to compete among the world’s best.
“We had riders like Alan van Heerden, Ertjies Bezuidenhout, Robbie McIntosh, Jack Lester, Mark Beneke, Willie Engelbrecht, Chris Willemse, Butch Webber and Tony Impey, to name a few. There were many others – we had enormous talent at that time.”
In 1982, Dipple captained the SA track team to a commanding 3-0 test series victory over the Swiss in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town and it proved to be the decisive moment for the young rider.
“I don’t believe that I had reached the heights of my career at that stage but had a strong desire to compete overseas again, as I had achieved as much as I could locally,” says Dipple.
With South Africans banned from competing internationally, emigration seemed the only way to further what was clearly a promising career. The opportunity came while racing under an assumed name in Belgium later that year.
“I’d met up with a few Australian cyclists who invited me to come and have a holiday in Australia during that summer. This holiday became an extended holiday and I eventually applied for residency, which led to citizenship.”
The road to Aus was not without its bumps however.
“When I arrived, I was unable to race as it had been discovered that I’d competed in Belgium under a false name and licence.”
After many battles, Dipple was finally given a licence but was only allowed to compete for the Australian title once he gained his citizenship and relinquished his South African passport.
“I went on to win four national titles and numerous Victoria state titles.”
And then, just when he seemed ready to conquer the world at last, fate dealt him an unexpected blow.
“By the time I was selected to represent Australia at the worlds, I found out that I had thyroid cancer. I had to have an operation and, by the time I started training again, I’d lost all fitness and withdrew from the team.”
Despite these setbacks, Dipple went on to build a happy and successful life Down Under with his Australian wife Sally and two sons, Josh and Kyle.
Today, the 57-year-old is a national account manager for Pilot Pens and looks after some big brand accounts.
After 22 years off the bike, the Sydney resident finally started riding again two years ago.
“I no longer race. I try to get out most weekends to keep a little bit fit and really enjoy my rides.”
Which is perhaps an apt conclusion to the story of a small Jo’burg boy loved riding his bicycle and became a legend on both sides of the Indian Ocean.
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