In Cape Town this week, they’re casting a wary eye up towards the north of South Africa after the organisers of Johannesburg’s Pick ’n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge announced that they would be opening online entries on March 9, 2005.

The Cape Argus Pick ’n Pay Cycle Tour may still be the biggest timed cycling event on the planet, but the Cycle Challenge, the second-largest in the world, is catching up rather quickly and is expecting to attract some 30 000 entries this year. The organisers believe that their steady if rapid growth from 4500 riders at the first Cycle Challenge in 1997 to 26 500 in 2004 has been because they have continued to offer every participant value for money and have never stopped asking cyclists what they can do better.

“We want every cyclist to finish the ride knowing that he has had value for money and a good day out,” said race organiser Tanya Harford. “Every year we try to make things better for the cyclist, from ensuring that there is total road closure to expo before the race and the beer garden afterwards. It’s the safest race in Johannesburg, but we also take pride that it is still a tough race with enough of a challenge.

“Our philosophy behind the Cycle Challenge has been ‘Crawl, walk, then run’. Although our ambition is to build the event into the largest cycling race in the country and the world, we are deliberately growing the race cautiously. However, we predict that the entry figure will reach over 35 000 in the next few years.

“The Cycle Challenge has received recognition from the UCI, the International Governing Body of Cycling, as a model to the cycling world. World-famous cycling commentator Phil Liggett and respected journalist Jeff Quenet said that the Cycle Challenge is the best-organised event in Africa, and that leading cycling nations could learn from what is achieved in Johannesburg.”

One change that will be made to the race, which takes place on November 20 this year is in the ever-increasing and highly competitive veterans category. There will be six specific veterans start groups, with each split into five-year age categories to make the bunches more manageable and, again, safe. The start at Woodmead Drive has proved popular with cyclists for the last couple of years and the race office was inundated with praise for the superb parking and shuttle facilities that were made available.

The Children’s Cycle Challenge, which takes place on Saturday November 19, 2005, has grown almost as quick as the Sunday race and the organisers have had to add extra age groups to cope with demand.

The route, which includes the freedom of the four lanes of the M1 South highway, will remain the same this year, and will once again take in the Nelson Mandela Bridge, which is becoming a Johannesburg icon. In its eight years the Cycle Challenge has become a celebration of Johannesburg, with the city fathers buying into the race to such an extent that they consider it to be a vital part of their marketing strategy for the city.

The Cycle Challenge was also the first South African race to offer the professional riders a longer route - 180km - in line with European standards, which pleased many of the teams. It also gave the amateur riders a chance to see their heroes in action as it meant they finished later.

The Cycle Challenge team will be at the Lifecycle Expo at the Good Hope Centre from March 9 to March 12 to take early entries or answer questions on the race. All entries received before the end of March will qualify to win a R30000 Bianchi bicycle. Cyclists may also enter online at or call for more details.