The Pick 'n Pay 94.7 Cycle Challenge is slated to have many cycling personalities for their 2006 race, including South Africa's Robert Hunter. Hunter, a past winner of the event, won't be racing with the pros on November 19 but the Tour de France rider will be taking time off to soak in atmosphere of Joburg's Safest Race with a corporate group (Bond Exchange) in aid of charity.
Hunter has been in the top echelons of the sport in Europe for more than seven years. The former West Rand schoolboy is one of the top sprinters and believes the Cycle Challenge is a tribute to cycling in South Africa. "I still come back to Johannesburg and stand in awe of the event. The racing is, of course, much harder in Europe, but that's what the sport is focussed on over there," said Hunter.
"When I tell people in Europe that 28,000 people line up to ride a bike race over here - and that they are actually timed - they think I'm joking. Fortunately I have a couple of pics on my laptop to prove my point."
Since racing competitively in Europe, Hunter has viewed the Cycle Challenge as an outing, rather than a race. Two years ago he rode tandem with his wife, Claudia, and last year he headed up the Ride for Larry group. The group collected funds for the medical care of sports journalist Larry Lombaard, who is still on the road to recovery following a horrific armed attack on him last year.
"I get more than enough chance to race in Europe, so when I come back it's nice to be on the other side of the fence for a change," Hunter continued. "I love cycling, and I love seeing so many people sharing in my passion. ... I don't think South Africans really understand the uniqueness around the Cycle Challenge and what it takes to get a city to buy into an event in the way that Joburg's management bends over backwards to accommodate cyclists."
Hunter did more racing than usual in South Africa this year after a decision to extend his season. "I've had such a roller coaster year and didn't have an extended period of racing [he crashed heavily, breaking a collarbone in May]. So I came off my European season feeling fresh and still wanted to race consistently for a couple of months."
Hunter will line up as part of the South African team in the Continental Championships in Mauritius next week and that will be his final "race" of the year. Then it will be time for some rest and relaxation before he starts training again in December to take on the new European season as part of Barloworld.
The Cycle Challenge is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and is expected to see more than 28,000 cyclists line up Sunday, November 19.