South Africa is a country of some 40m people but only 5-6m are likely rich enough to be able to afford anything other than clunker bicycles. Of this 5-6m, many are recreational cyclists and 36,000 of them ride in the 109km Cape Argus bike ride. The event is always over-subscribed.
The Cape Argus is Cape Town’s main newspaper. Co-sponsor Pick n Pay is a South African supermarket chain.
What started in 1978 as a critical mass style ride with 525 cyclists publicising the lack of cycle facilities in Cape Town has grown to become the biggest – and arguably the most scenic – one-day timed bike ride in the world.
Half of the entrants come from outside Cape Town, including 1000 international visitors from 40+ countries.
It's one of just eight rides in the global UCI Golden Bike Series of mass-particaption rides.
The ride starts at 6.15am with the tail-end riders not crossing the startline until four hours later. The Cape Argus tour takes over the city for two days, closing highways and with a large part of the CBD – the central business district – gated off to store 36,000 bicycles.
The tour is the biggest annual revenue generator for the city, turning over an estimated £30m, dwarfing similar events such as music festivals. However, because it is perceived as an event for (mostly) middle-class whites, the Tour doesn't get as much government support as events with large numbers of black participants, a chicken-and-egg conundrum that event director Anton Groenewald complained about in the Cape Argus newspaper on Tuesday.
The tour expo takes place at the Good Hope Centre, on the outskirts of the CBD. If you’re taking part in the ride you have to show your registration form at this expo, guaranteeing at least 35, 000 attendees at the show. To get your ankle transponder (which contains a timing chip), race number and goodie bag, riders and hangers-on are corralled through into the show. There’s no escape.
Last year there were 72,000 show visitors, this year the expo organisers are confident they’ll blow through the 80, 000 mark.
UK show organisers take note: you want to get more than 20,000 or 30,000 Brits to your show? Organise a big bike ride. Haymarket tried this with their Heart Foundation linked rides. But the destination was the NEC in Birmingham, not the most inspiring of goals.
With official support for cycling in London now at an all-time high, could the streets of the capital be closed off not just for the Tour de France but for a major, expo-linked bike ride too?
For a videocast preview of the Cape Argus ride, go to http://tinyurl.com/m3tfr
If you’ve got QuickTime installed the vid can be played from your browser. iTunes subscribers can download the videocast for playing in iTunes or on video iPods.