under the radar: South Africa’s apartheid era
in the pelotons of European road cycling
1970 South Africa has been a cycling excommunicate because
‘not only the African countries, but also those of East
Europe, are absolutely solid for this position.’ Those words
within inverted commas are the words of Adriano Rodoni, president of
the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and of the Federation
Internationale Amateur de Cyclisme (FIAC). This definitive declaration
was made in March this year (1976). The accuracy of its quotation is
John Burns, ‘Personally Speaking’. South
… Where Now? 1976. No
don’t need me to tell you that South Africa is still
persona non grata in world cycling. But that doesn’t mean you
can’t include a few races in a trip to Europe. Let me tell
you how … As Alan van Heerden discovered,
it’s … not so hard to get a foreign
license in Europe … although you have to pick your country
carefully … it can be done in Belgium and is pretty easy in
France and Britain … And once you’ve got it, you
can race almost wherever you choose.
Les Woodland, ‘Viewpoint’. South
October 1978, Vol.3, No.12, p.1.
It is common knowledge in modern cycling circles that numerous foreign
cyclists defied the international boycott and competed in road races in
apartheid South Africa during the 1970s and 1980s. Less well known is
the fact that, at the same time, a number of white South African
cyclists participated in road races in Europe despite the international
ban on them from doing so. Both their presence in Europe and how they
circumvented this ban were cloaked in secrecy at the time. Their
exploits were poorly documented back then and have since been largely
forgotten, leaving a significant gap in the historical record of the
sport and of South African cycling in particular.
This is the untold story of these South African ‘ghost
riders’ in Europe: who they were, where they raced, who they
raced against, what they achieved, and why they ultimately disappeared.
First, an outline of the cycling scene which existed at that time is
presented to highlight the circumstances which led to their emergence.
Origins: How the
‘ghost riders’ emerged
The South African Rapport Toer
multistage amateur road race was the
major stimulus for the emergence of South African ‘ghost
riders’ in Europe. Held annually every October from 1973
onwards between the cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg over two weeks
and some 2,000km, the race included both foreign riders and South
Africans. The riders were grouped into small shadow
‘national’ teams. However, each team rode in the
colours of a commercial sponsor. The foreign riders involved
in various editions of the event included American, Belgian, British,
Canadian, French, German, Irish, Italian, Portuguese, Rhodesian and
Swiss nationals, all of whom had accepted invitations from the race
From its inception, the Rapport
Toer was a ‘rebel
race’. It was staged in defiance of both the UCI (Union
Cycliste Internationale) and the IOC (International Olympic Committee)
which had banned South African cycling from international competition
in the 1960s for practicing racial discrimination in the sport. Foreign
riders who participated in the Rapport
Toer thus risked being
sanctioned both by their own national associations and by these
international sporting bodies. Many were subsequently duly penalised,
although the severity of their punishments - usually in the form of
periods of suspension from competition - varied considerably.
The majority of South Africans who participated in the Rapport
were white riders affiliated to the SACF (South African Cycling
Federation) which administered segregated white competitive cycling in
the country at the time. In addition, a separate team of black African
riders belonging to the SAAA&CA (South African Amateur Athletic
and Cycling Association) featured annually in the event from the
outset. Segregated black African cycle sport was concentrated on South
Africa’s gold and platinum mines, many of which had on-site
recreational facilities which included purpose-built cycle tracks for
the use of their black migrant workers who were housed in mine hostels.
Notably absent from the Rapport
Toer in the 1970s were South
Coloured cyclists who were affiliated to SACA (South African Cycling
Association). This body disassociated itself from the SACF on the
grounds that, apart from in the Rapport Toer, the SACF continued to
practice apartheid in the sport.
The Rapport Toers of the
Having the financial backing of the Afrikaans-language Sunday national
ensured that from the outset the eponymous race
received widespread publicity in the media. However, it came as a shock
to the local cycling community when, from the first event in 1973
onwards, foreign riders continued to dominate the race. They
demonstrated superior abilities, tactics and teamwork to outmanoeuvre
the South Africans. Foreign riders won the event in the first four
years of its existence from 1973 to 1976 (3). The only local
rider to seriously challenge the foreigners was Alan van Heerden, who
won numerous individual stages of the race in successive years to take
the sprint points title every year from 1973 to 1978.
After winning the 1974 Rapport
Toer at the age of 36, the
British ex-Tour de France rider, Arthur Metcalfe, commented:
"It was a very good race, comparatively flat overall but hard fought
with a high standard of competition. I had written off my chances, but
with three days to go with two stage wins I took over the yellow
jersey. Of the South Africans I was particularly impressed with van
Heerden, who finished fifth overall but was particularly strong on the
Metcalfe was subsequently suspended by the British cycling authorities
for participating in the race.
of the first issue of the South African Cyclist, October 1975,
Alan van Heerden is the
rider in the photograph. The double silhouetted
cyclist is Arthur Metcalfe, the British ex-Tour de France rider who won
the second Rapport Toer in 1974.
Faced with the repeated failure of South African riders to win the race
outright, the view formed that local riders would continue to be
overshadowed by foreigners in the Rapport Toer until such time as they
were able to gain experience by racing in premier road events in
Europe. The problem was that the international ban prevented this from
occurring. Was there any solution?
In July 1975, the Tour de France was won by the Peugeot
Cycles-sponsored French rider, Bernard Thévenet. In winning
the Tour, Thévenet had defeated the reigning world
professional champion and Belgian superstar, Eddy Merckx.
In October 1975, Thévenet arrived in South Africa and
followed that year’s Rapport
Toer as an honoured guest of the
race organisers, appearing at the daily stage prize presentations. His
presence at the race was hardly fortuitous. At the time
Thévenet’s French sponsor, Peugeot Cycles, was
linked to the manufacture of Peugeot bicycles locally. These were being
produced under licence to the parent company and Peugeot South Africa
was involved in regularly sponsoring SACF cycling, including local
teams in the Rapport Toer.
Also at this time, the cycling division of the Parisian sports club,
the ‘Athletic Club de Boulogne-Billancourt’,
generally abbreviated to ‘ACBB’, was sponsored by
Peugeot Cycles France. Historically, this club had nurtured many top
cyclists in their amateur days including André Darrigade,
Jean Stablinski, Shay Elliott (Ireland) (6) and later Bernard
Thévenet himself. The club’s new policy, adopted
in the 1970s, of accepting promising foreign amateur riders as members
led to an influx of English-speaking riders into the club from
Australia, Britain and Ireland. This ACBB ‘foreign
legion’, resplendent in the iconic white and black
checkerboard strip of the Peugeot
<i>marque</i>, was soon dominating amateur
road racing in Europe. Their ranks included many who went on to become
leading professional roadmen: Stephen Roche (Ireland), Phil Anderson
(Australia) and, from the UK, Robert Millar, Graham Jones and Paul
in South African Cyclist, December 1975, Vol.1, No.1.
Then, at the beginning of 1978, the ACBB club acquired a new foreign
member. This was none other than the leading white South African
cyclist of the decade, Alan van Heerden. Quite how this was achieved
despite the international ban on South African cyclists remains a
mystery to this day. However, the evidence of the close ties forged
between the SACF’s Rapport Toer, Peugeot Cycles in both
France and South Africa, Bernard Thévenet and the ACBB
suggests that it was the direct result of an arrangement to which they
were all privy.
big Continental breakthrough and its
Initially, after having joined up with the ACBB in Paris in early 1978,
van Heerden kept a low profile. If questions were asked, it was
suggested that he was either an American or from Britain. Then he
enjoyed successes in several French amateur semi-classic road races. He
won a stage of the Tour d’Ille-de-France and triumphed in
both the Paris-Varennes and the Paris-Orléans one day races.
Van Heerden finally hit the headlines in the French cycling press in
June 1978 when he finished third in the prestigious amateur version of
the Paris-Roubaix classic race riding in ACBB colours. He was a member
of a four-man breakaway in the final stages of the 200km race over the
infamous cobbled roads of the ‘Hell of the North’.
His other breakaway companions were all Belgians. Fearful of van
Heerden’s by now well-known strong finishing sprint, the
three Belgians engineered the late escape of their top rider, Fons de
Wolf (7), who went on to win in 4 hours 38 minutes, 1:34 ahead
of Ronny Claes with van Heerden third. This result attracted widespread
attention in European cycling circles and prompted serious questions
about van Heerden’s national identity.
van Heerden in ‘Pepsi’ colours riding an
Italian Zini bike. (Paolo Zini participated in the Italian team in the
first Rapport Toer and later returned as the team’s manager.
Machines bearing his name were manufactured in Italy and imported into
South Africa where they were ridden by top local riders. Later they
were produced locally under licence for a short period).
The July 1978 edition of the South
African Cyclist carried the
following report under the headline. ‘French Federation bans
"Three South African amateurs have been banned from racing in France.
The French Federation announced its decision following Alan van
Heerden’s third place in the Paris-Roubaix classic four days
earlier. The other two concerned are Johnny Warne and Alan Dipple, who
rode but did not finish." (8)
Despite this ban, van Heerden continued to race in France for a while,
finishing ninth in the Paris-Montargis race in late June, 1978.
However, faced with total exclusion from European amateur races, Van
Heerden returned to South Africa and in August 1978 he won the national
road championship held in Pretoria over 177km in a time of 4:45.4. He
was clearly preparing to challenge for final victory in the Rapport
Toer in October 1978. However, the overall winner of the event proved
to be the Portuguese rider, Marco Chagas, with van Heerden taking the
points title for the sixth time.
Nevertheless, van Heerden’s European amateur successes had
attracted the attention of professional cycling teams and he signed a
two year contract with the French professional Peugeot team whose
members included Bernard Thévenet. (9)
It was reported
that the Peugeot pro squad would pay van Heerden the equivalent of
ZAR600 per month and ZAR80 for every event he completed. (10)
The scene was thus set for van Heerden to embark on a career as a
professional road cyclist in Europe during the 1979 season.
Heerden’s years as a Peugeot professional in France
The Belgian superstar, Eddy Merckx had dominated world professional
cycling from the mid-1960s through to the mid-1970s. On the cusp of
1980, a new generation of pro cyclists appeared on the European scene.
Thévenet had won his second Tour de France in 1977 but was
rapidly succeeded by the new French star, Bernard Hinault, who claimed
the overall race yellow jersey in 1978 and 1979 and then again in
1981,1982 and 1985. In the one day classics, the Dutch riders of the TI
Raleigh squad were dominant, challenged by the Belgian Freddy Maertens
and the Italian Francesco Moser.
Alan van Heerden (11) joined the Peugeot professional team at the
start of the 1979 European road season. As an ACBB amateur in 1978, he
had impressed as a rider with a ‘big engine’ and a
good finishing sprint. The Peugeot pro team’s plan for 1979
was to use van Heerden as a domestique, serving as both a squad
workhorse and a lead-out man for their top sprinter, Michel Laurent.
Van Heerden achieved several good placings in the early season events
in the South of France. Riding as a member of the Peugeot team in the
Giro d’Italia in May 1979, van Heerden escaped with a small
group of riders on the Giro’s seventh stage – at
252km the longest in the race - and won the stage in the final sprint.
Finally he had achieved a victory in a premier European pro
Little was reported back in South Africa of van
Heerden’s European racing during the remainder of the year
but for the first time in its history he did not compete in the Rapport
Returning to Europe for the 1980 racing season, van Heerden began to
contribute a regular column to the South
African Cyclist on his
European racing experiences. He reported that the Peugeot pro squad for
1980 had nineteen riders. Fourteen were French while there were three
other English-speakers: Phil Anderson (Australian) and the Britons
Graeham Jones and Robert Millar. The team leaders were the Dutchman,
Hennie Kuiper (1975 world pro road champion) and the French
roadman-sprinter, Michel Laurent. In recent years, the Peugeot squad
had been overshadowed by Hinault’s Renault team and planned
to make amends in 1980.
The Peugeot team riders were active in the 1980 early season races in
the South of France. Van Heerden finished eleventh in the 120km Grand
Prix St Raphaël contested by 140 riders and he had stage
placings in the Tour of the Mediterranean. This race was won overall by
the Dutch TI Raleigh rider and 1978 world road champion, Gerrie
Knetemann. In the first major stage race of the year, Paris-Nice, the
Peugeot team triumphed, with team leader Gilbert Duclos-Lassalle
winning the event. However, in his May 1980 column in the South
Cyclist van Heerden reported
that because he was a South African
national he was continuing to experience problems in obtaining a UCI
professional racing licence. Only intervention by the Peugeot
management served to resolve the problem for the remainder of 1980.
Van Heerden competed in the early season classics with mixed results.
In the Het Volk he finished 28th and, together with Robbie McIntosh, he
started in the 265km Ghent-Wevelgem classic but fell badly and was
taken to hospital. He started in the Paris-Roubaix but retired after
168km. Francesco Moser of Italy won the race while Peugeot’s
Duclos-Lassalle finished second. The 1980 Liege-Bastogne-Liege was held
in a snow storm and van Heerden retired along with 120 of the 192
starters. Bernard Hinault won the event from van Heerden’s
team mate, Hennie Kuiper.
In his June, 1980, column in the South
African Cyclist, (13)
"First of all I would like to explain why I don’t finish some
of these races, as I think a lot of the readers do not understand what
my job is once the race starts. I have to follow all breaks and if I
get away, ride as hard as possible with the bunch that breaks, this
makes the big ‘boys’ in the Peleton also ride hard
to bring us back, tires them and so that at the end it’s much
easier for riders like Kuiper, Laurent of Peugeot to attack. I also do
a lot of pushing up the hills and pass wheels if a top rider in our
team punctures and our team car is not near. Of course, I get my chance
in smaller races – the classics are hell –
250-270kms long at average speeds of 40/45kph. Lots of wind –
small road falls – bad weather – punctures
– so I can assure you all that after a race one feels
The Het Volk was 265km and 6 cobble climbs, most of these on foot, as
it is impossible to ride up unless you hit the hill in the first five,
because there is nearly always a fall at the bottom of the hills and
what a sight it is to see 30 or so riders on top of one another. This
event was won by Michael Pollentier followed by Moser and Jan Raas. I
was placed 28th out of a field of 230 starters, which I think is a
Van Heerden obviously found the European professional road racing scene
to be entirely different to anything he had experienced in amateur road
racing as it then existed in South Africa. In one of his columns he
I am still trying to get used to the sprint finishes, pushing, pulling
and switching all the time, and coming off at 65kph is no joke!! (14)
Moreover, it is clear that he remained a domestique in the 1980 Peugeot
squad despite his achievements in 1979. Realistically, there was little
value to the Peugeot brand in Europe at that time in having a South
African as a team leader of their squad. Nevertheless, back in 1979
when he first signed for Peugeot van Heerden had been promised that he
would succeed the aging Michel Laurent as the team’s leading
In 1980 van Heerden also raced in Britain for, as he wrote in his
regular monthly column in the South African Cyclist:
We went to England to ride the longest single day race in Europe
– the London to Bradford 408km [250 miles]. Fifty-two riders
started at 5:30am and included in the field were teams from La Redoute,
Peugeot, Fangio, Daf Trucks and all the top British pros, including
Barry Hoban, Sid Barras and Keith Lambert. The race started at an easy
tempo until the 150km mark and from then we raced hard as there were 12
Primes every 20 to 40km … The Peugeot and La Redoute riders
joined forces and between them won R8,000 of the R12,000 prize list.
Jean Michael of La Redoute won from Graham Jones Peugeot and Dick
Heirweg Daf Trucks. I finished ninth and was very pleased with my
performance. The race took 11 hours and the weather was ideal.
Van Heerden’s two-year professional contract with the Peugeot
Europe team extended until the end of 1980 but was not renewed,
apparently by mutual agreement. He received several European pro
contract offers for 1981, including one from Herman van
Springel’s Safir squad, but he decided to return permanently
to South Africa.
By the time van Heerden arrived back in his homeland towards the end of
1980, he was a widely travelled 27 year-old who had become an
established European pro roadman with impressive palmarès.
But he was not the only South African cyclist to ride in the European
pelotons at this time.
McIntosh’s time as both an amateur and professional
cyclist in Belgium
In 1977, the Rapport Toer produced its first home-grown winner in the
form of Robbie McIntosh. He was a white English-speaking cyclist from
the predominantly English-speaking province of Natal. Without roots in
the white Afrikaner community which strongly identified with the event,
from the Rapport Toer sponsors’ point of view McIntosh may
not have been the ideal first local winner, but at least they had the
consolation that he was a South African cyclist.(16)
McIntosh after winning the 1977 Rapport Toer, as he appeared on
the cover of the book by Lappe Laubscher (1977), ‘n Droom van
‘n Geel Trui.
McIntosh subsequently competed in Europe as both an amateur and a
professional although the route he took is far from clear. During 1978,
McIntosh’s name disappeared for a period from the results of
races in South Africa. He was apparently racing as an amateur in
Belgium, participating in events staged by the Belgian WAOD (Wielerbond
Aangesloten Openbare Diensten), which was a cycling organisation not
affiliated to the UCI but rather to the ICF (International Cycling
Federation). WAOD and the ICF confined their activities to organising
races for amateurs and veterans, with both organisations having strong
connections to the Flemish-speaking part of Belgium. McIntosh returned
to South Africa for the 1978 Rapport Tour but was forced to retire
during the race due to injury. In mid-1979 he once again enjoyed
amateur racing in Belgium. Finally, in 1980 McIntosh signed a two-year
contract with the Belgian Fangio professional team, thus joining van
Heerden on the European professional circuit.
McIntosh in a South African road race
The Fangio team concentrated on contesting the busy summer-long
programme of events on the Belgian kermesse circuit as well as the
early season northern one-day classics: Ghent-Wevelgem, Het Volk,
Fleche Wallone, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Tour of Flanders and Amstel Gold.
It was mainly in these classics that McIntosh and his Fangio team mates
(who for a time included both the black British cyclist, Maurice
Burton, and the New Zealander, Wayne Hildred) encountered the leading
Continental pro teams and riders of the day consisting of Renault
(Hinault), Peugeot (Kuiper), GIS (Moser), Flandria (Maertens) and TI
Raleigh ( Zoetemelk, Raas and Knetemann). Writing of the 1981 Amstel
Gold event, McIntosh observed:
I raced against Hinault in the Holland Amstel Gold race over 244kms and
I could not believe how fast he climbs hills. Two or three kicks and
he’s away off the front. (17)
Traditionally, the local Belgian pro teams which contest the Flemish
kermesses are small. Team members tend to race as individuals and to
form alliances and ‘combines’ – some
cutting across team loyalties – which are fluid,
often changing from race to race. As McIntosh notes about one such 1981
On 7 June in the 199km race at Ganshoren Etienne de Wilde (Splendor)
won a sprint finish from Planckaert (Splendor) and Freddy Maertens
(Boule d’Or). I was in the finishing sprint and was placed
8th. Van der Perre who won the previous event was 24th. There were 101
starters. Although I felt very good in this event, I was told
‘not to win’, so was quite content to sprint with
the others. A lot of this kind of ‘fixing’ takes
place in Pro races over here. (18)
In similar vein later in the year he wrote:
My performances over the last few weeks have been good, but I have had
to drop a race or two after ‘pay offs’ by the top
riders. A ‘pay off’ of 48,000 Belgium Francs is
While not figuring in the Grand Tours, teams like Fangio often
participated in smaller stage races both in Belgium and elsewhere. In
1981 the Fangio team raced in a small (unidentified) Spanish stage
race. McIntosh, who finished fourth overall in the event, wrote of this:
My ride in the Spanish tour pleased me and I believe I could have won
it, when I was away with 8 others, including a team mate, and I only
needed one minute. It seemed possible until my manager came up in his
car and told me to slow down. I asked ‘Why’ but did
not receive an answer. (20)
At the end of the 1981 European road season, McIntosh returned to South
Africa to once again participate in the Rapport Toer. Apparently he had
originally intended to head a Fangio team in the race but this did not
materialise. Instead he participated as a member of the
‘Aticon Construction’ team which included Alan van
Heerden who had as yet never won the Rapport Toer. As matters turned
out, McIntosh won the event overall for the second time, with van
Heerden finishing second. He triumphed amidst rumours of rivalry and
dissention within the Aticon team between McIntosh and van Heerden.
McIntosh returned to Belgium and the Fangio team in 1982 but at some
point during the year he decided to return permanently to South Africa.
The period during which van Heerden and McIntosh raced as members of
professional teams in Europe was over. However, there were other South
African cyclists who were either already seeking to emulate them or
planning to do so shortly.
Alternative routes into
European cycling in the 1970s
Ernst ‘Ertjies’ Bezuidenhout was a promising young
South African roadman of the 1970s who first sprang to prominence by
winning the King of the Mountains title in the 1978 Rapport Toer. In
1979 he succeeded in racing in France as an amateur but his route to
getting there was very different to that taken previously by Alan van
Heerden. After the ‘van Heerden affair’ of 1978,
the French cycling authorities were on the alert for South African
cyclists attempting to circumvent the international ban.
Aided by contacts he had established with British cyclists during the
1978 Rapport Toer, Bezuidenhout first joined a London club under the
assumed name of ‘Ernest Bessenden’ and obtained an
international racing license from the BCF (British Cycling Federation).
He then joined a cycling club in a French provincial town and began
competing in French amateur road races.
While enjoying the intense competition of the French amateur races,
Bezuidenhout ultimately found the combination of living alone in a
foreign country, competing under an assumed name, bouts of illness and
not being fluent in French all too much to bear. He returned to South
Africa after five months in France. Nevertheless, the experience
obviously bore fruit in that he again won the Rapport Toer King of the
Mountains title later in the year. (21)
Bezuidenhout riding in
Peugeot colours in South Africa in 1982.
At the time, other leading South African cyclists were equally keen to
follow in the wake of van Heerden, McIntosh and Bezuidenhout and try
their luck in the European pelotons.
Two other South African cyclists who settled in Europe as amateurs were
Robbie de Villiers who went to Portugal and Mark Beneke who travelled
De Villiers was a teenage fan befriended by the Portuguese team at the
1978 Rapport Toer. In January 1979 he moved to Portugal where he joined
a junior club and subsequently raced in amateur junior and senior races
in both Portugal and Spain with considerable success. He adopted the
name ‘Robbie Danielle’ and rode in the Springbok
amateur team under this name in the 1982 Rapport Toer, finishing in the
top ten overall. ‘Cycling SA’ lists Robbie de
Villiers as having been awarded national Springbok colours for
participating in the Rapport Toer in 1982, 1983 and 1984.
In March 1980, the South African Cyclist carried an article entitled
‘Mark Beneke to join growing band of South Africans in
Europe’, stating that:
He will try and make a name for himself with a view to obtaining a pro
contract. He speaks Italian well and has many friends among the Italian
In 1979, Beneke had unsuccessfully challenged Alan Dipple for victory
in the Rapport Toer, ending second overall. In 1980 he rode the event
as a member of the Italian ‘Mum for Men’ sponsored
team and was accused by locals of being unpatriotic. Beneke was to
remain in Italy for three years before returning to South Africa and
winning the Rapport Toer in both 1985 and 1991.
Flying racing visits of
cyclists to Europe
In addition to these, there were those South African cyclists who went
on brief racing trips to Europe. They were of several different types:
• Selected SACF amateur teams
that travelled to Belgium and invariably raced in WAOD events which
were independent of the FIAC/UCI.
• Individuals with ancestral
claims to citizenship in a European country who raced there while
holidaying with relatives.
• Members of the South African
Veteran Cycling Association who regularly participated in the annual
Veterans’ World Championships held annually in St. Johann,
All three of these kept an extremely low profile during their racing
trips and little was reported on them in the cycling media back home.
These variations of little-known and rarely reported on brief racing
visits to Europe continued on into the 1990s.
In some further instances, riders emigrated permanently and assumed
other nationalities. After doing so, several achieved high
international honours in the sport, having first developed their
cycling talents in South Africa. They literally quietly disappeared
from the South African cycling scene.
South African-based professional competitive cycling in the 1980s
When Alan van Heerden returned permanently to South Africa at the end
of 1980 he found the sport there to be still strictly amateur. He
immediately applied to be reinstated as an amateur by the SACF.
However, his request was refused. At best he was offered an arrangement
whereby he would be debarred from the sport for a full year and only
thereafter be eligible to apply for reinstatement as an SACF amateur.
At the time, the international boycott of South African cycling
remained firmly in place. As a result, South African amateur cyclists
were excluded from competing in both the UCI world championships and
the Olympic Games as well as from events sanctioned by these
international sporting bodies. But the SACF had a plan in mind. With
the UCI administratively divided into the amateur FIAC and the
professional FICP, it was noted that FICP rules permitted nations with
six or more professional cyclists to affiliate to this international
body. Once affiliated, a nation’s professional cyclists were
eligible to participate in the annual UCI/FICP world championships and
other professional events sanctioned by the FICP. In the light of this,
the SACF sanctioned ‘pro-am’ racing in South Africa
from the beginning of 1981. In so doing, it actively encouraged its
cyclists to take out professional licences with the SACF. Alan van
Heerden did so immediately and was soon followed by others. This marked
a new chapter in the attempt by South African cycling authorities to
circumvent the international boycott which had been in existence for
more than a decade.
Initially in 1981, van Heerden rode in South African pro-am events in
Peugeot colours. He soon changed to Deale & Huth colours, a
leading local lightweight dealer, and was joined there by another pro,
Tony Impey (father of Darryl Impey, who in 2013 became the first South
African to wear the Tour de France yellow jersey, riding for the Orica
Greenedge squad). By the time of the 1981 Rapport Toer van Heerden
headed a small contingent of professionals in the Aticon Construction
team. In the 1981 Rapport Toer, Ertjies Bezuidenhout was leader of the
rival Peugeot team of local professionals. South Africa now had the six
professional cyclists required to register with the FICP.
Rapport Toer 1986.Robbie McIntosh leads Gary Beneke, Antonio
Pinto (Portugal) and Alan van Heerden. McIntosh won the event for the
third time in his career (1977, 1981 and 1986).
The acid test of this new initiative came in 1982. The SACF obtained an
invitation to send a team of its home-based professionals to race in
several European events. Headlines in the July 1982 issue of the South
African Cyclist read: ‘South African Professional Team to
Compete in Europe’. According to the report, a five man team
of South African-based professionals would participate in several
European one-day events and then in a stage race in West Germany.
However, the October 1982 issue of the South African Cyclist recounted
a very different tale. The team had arrived in Europe but had been
refused racing licences by the UCI/FICP, whose officials declined to
discuss the matter further:
South African cycling chief, Mr. Raoul de Villiers, has stated that
legal action will be taken against the International authorities, who
prevent South African cyclists from competing abroad. Mr. de Villiers
who is president of the S.A. Cycling Federation which governs
professional and amateur cycling, said that it has become more
difficult over the past three years. It is obvious that the Union
Cycliste International have gone out of their way to block our every
move … This had all come to a head by the recent refusal by
Mr. Jekiel (UCI General Secretary) to issue licences to a group of
South African professionals who were invited to compete in the Tour of
Germany … The five professional riders were considerably out
of pocket and are threatening to sue the SACF for their expenses. (23)
‘TV4-Panasonic’pro team 1987. Left to right:
Neil Crosthwaite, Jannie van den Berg, Robbie McIntosh, Gary Beneke,
The SACF’s attempt to circumvent the international boycott by
introducing a class of professional cyclists in South Africa had thus
ultimately ended in failure. South Africa now had a small group of
local professional cyclists eligible to ride only in local pro-am
races. This was the situation that prevailed in the sport until the
ending of apartheid in the early 1990s. Shortly thereafter both the UCI
and the IOC abandoned the amateur/professional distinction. In the
post-apartheid era, with racial discrimination in sport officially
scrapped, South African cycling was readmitted to international
competition. This finally brought to an end a deeply troubled era
spanning more than twenty years in the history of South African cycle
Today, the South African ‘ghost riders’ in the
European pelotons of the 1970s and 1980s are but distant memories. Both
Alan van Heerden and Ertjies Bezuidenhout subsequently died in tragic
circumstances – Alan in a 2009 motor accident; Ertjies in
2012 after competing in a cycle race for the first time in 20 years.
Others from that era are now in their ‘fifties and
‘sixties. Together they constitute South African
cycling’s ‘lost generation’.
(1) The sponsors varied down the years but included amongst
others: Aticon, Bank of Lisbon, Datsun, Highway Electrical, Holiday
Inn, King Rat, Milo, Mum for Men, Nyala, OK Bazaars, Pep Stores,
Peugeot, Raleigh, Redex, Sustagen, TAP, Trek.
(2) Appendix A contains details of the results of the Rapport
(3) The winners were: 1973 J-P. L. Tagliavini (Italy); 1974 A.
Metcalfe (UK); 1975 F. Mendes (Portugal); 1976 V. Fernandes (Portugal).
(4) Cycling, 26 October 1974.
(5) The Peugeot South Africa industrial plant was located in
Babelegi, an apartheid era industrial area located in a
‘Bantu homeland’ outside Pretoria. To
attract investment, these ‘border industry’ zones
offered industrialists major tax concessions along with a source of
cheap labour. In contrast, the Raleigh South Africa plant by virtue of
being located in the Johannesburg conurbation enjoyed neither of these
advantages. Peugeot SA was presided over by a former cyclist and
leading SACF official. Both the Raleigh and Peugeot cycle-manufacturing
plants no longer exist in South Africa.
(6) Darrigade and Stablinski became top French professionals in
the 1950s and both won the UCI pro world road championship. Shay
Elliott was a contemporary who held the Tour de France yellow jersey
for three days in 1963.
(7)After turning professional, de Wolf won the Tour of Lombardy
in 1980 and the Milan-San Remo in 1981.
(8)Report by Les Woodland. South African Cyclist. July 1978.
Vol.3, No.9, p.1. Both Warne and Dipple were top South African roadmen
of the time. How they came to be in the race is unknown. Dipple was to
win the Rapport Toer in 1979. He later emigrated to Australia and
successfully raced there.
(9)At that time the world cycling governing body, the UCI, was
divided into the FIAC which dealt with amateur cycling and the FICP
which was concerned only with professional cycling. The two were de
facto largely independent of one another. Thus hypothetically a rider
rejected by the FIAC could be accepted by the FICP. The UCI absorbed
both the FIAC and the FICP in the 1990s.
(10) South African Cyclist.
October 1978.Vol.3, No.12, p.3.
(11) Alan van Heerden (1953-2009) died in a motor accident in
Johannesburg aged 56.
(12) The 1979 Giro d’Italia was won overall by Giuseppe
Saronni of Italy.
(13) South African Cyclist.
June 1980. Vol.5, No.7. p.3.(All
quotes are verbatim).
(14)South African Cyclist.
April 1980. Vol.5, No.5. p.2.
(15)South African Cyclist.
July 1980. Vol.5, No.8. p.3.
(16) The August, 1978, edition of the South
included an article by the Rapport
sport journalist, Lappa Laubscher
entitled ‘Robbie Suid-Africa se Eddy Merckx?’ In
this article Laubscher claimed that unnamed local cycling pundits
believed that McIntosh had only won the 1977 Rapport
Toer because there
were no Portuguese riders in the event.
(17) South African Cyclist.
July 1981. Vol.6, No.8. p.4. Bernard
Hinault won the 1981 Amstel Gold race in 5:57.49 with Roger de
Vlaeminck second and Fons de Wolf third.
(18) South African Cyclist.
July 1981. Vol.6, No.8. p.4.
(19) South African Cyclist.
October, 1981. Vol.6, No.11. p. 3.
(20) South African Cyclist.
July 1981. Vol.6, No.8. p.4.
(21) Source: ‘The Legend of Ertjies’
www.bicycling.co.za/news-people/.../ (Accessed 3 March 2014).
Bezuidenhout finally won the Rapport
Toer overall in 1984. He also
the Cape Argus Tour in 1984 and 1986. Bezuidenhout died suddenly in
2012, aged 56, following a racing comeback 20 years after retiring from
(22) South African Cyclist.
March 1980 Vol.5, No.4, p.7.
(23) South African Cyclist.
October 1982. p.1 (no Vol. or No.
The primary source used to compile this article is the South
Cyclist magazine. This was
produced on a monthly basis and distributed
to all SACF members. All monthly issues of the magazine from its first
issue in October1975 up until April 1987 were examined for the article.
The founding editor of the South
African Cyclist was Walter
continued to edit it up until his death in 1983. He was a leading
figure in the SACF for decades, serving on its executive for many
years. Following Jowett’s death, the editorship was taken
over by another leading SACF figure, Arthur Rice, assisted by his
daughter, Lynn Rice. They continued to edit the magazine until 1987. It
was discontinued thereafter.
Burns, John. South
Africa … Where Now?
26 October 1974.
Jowett, Walter. 1981. Centenary:
100 years of organised South African
cycle racing. Pietermaritzburg:
I am indebted to Barbara Huckett, wife and lifelong tandem partner of
the late Dave Huckett, for allowing me access to Dave’s
complete set of the South
African Cyclist magazine on
article is based. Originally a member of the Lowestoft Wheelers in the
UK, Dave was a leading member of Kings Park Cycling Club in Durban,
South Africa for many years. He passed away in 2013.