Linus van Onselen, a Modest Legend
by Tony Pushman
The 35th Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour was an event to remember. Argus fever spread over the Cape. Some entrants hadn’t ridden a bike since last year's Argus, some had been in serious training for weeks if not months. The local road racing season had all but finished only the "Big One" with 35,000 participants remained.
Recent Saturday and Sunday mornings had seen Suikkerbossie and Chappies heaving with cyclists in training for this year’s Argus which took place on Sunday 11th March 2012.
The following is a little something about a man who can tell a few tales more than most about the Cape’s most famous race.
It was just before Christmas 2010. My wife and I were staying in Stellenbosch for a few days.
Normally the town is buzzing with student life, Stellenbosch being a major university town of the Western Cape. Now the students had departed for the Christmas vacation and it seemed like the town was drawing a deep breath - like grandparents when their beloved grandchildren eventually take their leave.
There was little evidence that Christmas was just round the corner, refreshingly low key compared to the glitzy, brash commercialism of Europe and the US. In fact the Christmas lights were switched on only on Christmas Eve for a get together and concert in the town park and then promptly switched off again, presumably to keep the rate payers from footing any unnecessary electricity bills.
I had found my way to a local bike shop, as one does – Flandria Cycles (www.flandria.co.za) . Idling around the not insubstantial bike shop which as is common in SA also has a locksmiths division, and perhaps less commonly a bottled gas department – I asked if there were any local rides happening.
Linus van Onselen
“Hey, Linus…” calls across the shop assistant to a diminutive chap, face slightly wrinkled with the sun, but not quite in the Sid James class, “you riding tomorrow morning?”. “Yeah sure, 6.00am from the Engen garage”.
Now a thing that one has to get used to in SA is the timing of the average club ride. It is early. One thing because of the heat and also the wind which tends to pick up later in the day, and also of course the traffic – the latter which warrants an article all on its own and which will follow in due course, if I live long enough to write it!
So out of bed at 5.30, it is still dark and I make my way to the meeting point. I am first to arrive and slowly one by one various cyclists arrive, in various shapes and sizes but none of whom appeared to be slouches.
Off we go – up what I now know is the R304 - heading northwards out of town.
“This is pretty brisk” I soon find myself thinking. It is becoming a little hard just to hang on. Up the road, we stop, turn around and come back. “Unusual sort of club run” I think, but for these guys it was just a bit of a weekday canter before work.
On the return trip a few games are played, someone on a mountain bike kicks off and the gauntlet is thrown down. Off we go – the chase is on. He is caught amidst a lot of Afrikaans banter and laughter.
Back in town the group disperses to head for their day jobs. I say to the older guy “That was a good pace….” “Lekker. Lekker pace” he replies.
[“Lekker” is an Afrikaans word meaning “nice”. Depending on one’s accent it may be pronounced as it is spelt, but if one is from further north it seems to be pronounced more like “lacquer”. It can also be used as “lekker verjaar,” meaning happy birthday].
Oh so that was a “lekker” pace…. OK – I hope I don’t have to endure a quick pace…
The next day it is drizzling. There is only me and the guy who yesterday was on the mountain bike, today he is on his road bike. We wait until the appointed hour and a bit more. “They won’t come out in the rain” he says. “Rain? Call this smirr rain? I’ll show you rain” I think to myself.
“Lets go” he says, so the two of us set off. “It’s Wednesday and we normally go over Helshoogte” “OK” – said I – not being any the wiser.
Helshoogte Pass is a climb heading eastwards out of town. There is also an Ou Helshoogte (meaning Old Helshoogte) which is the first climb in Die Burger, the last seeding event for the Cape Argus which takes place in December, which winds a more scenic route up through the trees, as opposed to the main road (R310) which we were taking, and which pops out near the top of the climb. Unfortunately it is only opened occasionally and requires sweeping to clear debris before it can be used by road bikes.
As I toil up Helsghoogte trying to hold my companion’s wheel, who by now I have discovered is an ex SA Paratrooper and Springbok rugby player now running his own burglar alarm business (big business out here by the way I can tell you…), a couple fly past as if I wasn’t moving – which to all intents and purposes I wasn’t. The female of the two shouts something which sounded friendly, if unintelligible.
That was Jennie Stenerhag, my companion tells me – she’s a Swede who trains in Stellenbosch during the northern hemisphere winter (but now lives here in SA and has been adopted by the locals as one of their own). But Jennie warrants a further article dedicated to her own achievements – which will follow in due course.
Our conversation turns to the previous days ride. “The old boy yesterday….?” I enquire. The one who thinks flat out is –“lekker”. “Oh, that’s Linus – he’s a bit of a legend round these parts…won the Vets category in Die Burger a couple of weeks ago. He’s 57." “Oh, really?”
On return to our rented apartment opposite the rather popular Stellenbosch student hang out the Java Café in Church Street, I started doing some Googling
Linus van Onselen:
2011 1st in age group, 4th Vet - 2 hours 51min
2010 1st in age group, 1st Vet
2009 6th Vet (the horrendously windy year) – 3 hours 10 min
2008 1st in age group - 2 hours 40 min
2010 1st in age group, 14 overall
2009 1st in age group
Cape Epic (MTB)
2006 1st Master and 9th overall
In 2009 Linus (then aged 56) teamed up with ex Springbok Breyton Paulse for the Cape Epic. However he suffered a serious crash, was unconscious for 30 minutes after which he was taken by ambulance to Somerset West hospital.
Linus and Breyton Paulse
Another SA rugby star, Braam van Straaten commented “we trained really hard, but I believe no amount of training can fully prepare you for this race. It’s by far the toughest human experience I’ve ever had”.
In another report of a 2005 MTB series the writer commented “Linus van Onselen should take note that it is not considered polite for a Master to ride this fast”.
Linus and another Master, Cobus Slabbert, had accumulated, at that point, almost double the points of any of the remaining 250 odd Masters taking part in the series, despite other excellent performances. “Linus is a world class act”.
Linus’ cycling career started in 1967 and was the reigning SA Veteran and Masters champion from 1995 to 2007, silver medallist at the Master World MTB championships in 2006 and breaking the SA record for the 40km track race in 1973. Bit of a legend indeed!
The next day it wasn’t raining and the usual complement of riders appear at the garage at 6.00am. We rode the usual R304 out and back. At the end I said to Linus, “I am sorry Linus, I did not realise the esteemed company in which I had been riding….Argus winner, Epic veteran, celebrity rider….” “Ek”, the gentle, mild mannered man said, “it’s nothing…”
He later told me that he was the first and only person to ride 21 consecutive Cape Arguses – all sub 3 hours…. A run only spoilt by the unbelievably windy year of 2009 when portaloos were blown down the road, reportedly with the occupants still inside them…
For those who have ridden the Cape Argus, they will appreciate that this achievement is truly something. Linus finished 2nd in the Vets category in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour 2012.
Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour
- 11/03/2012 - Cape Town
Rating: 89.6% based on 3 reviews - See Previous Ratings
Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour
- 11/03/2013 - Cape Town
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