In violent ambushes on the same notorious stretch of road two cyclists – one an Ironman triathlon champion training for next week’s event in Port Elizabeth – were attacked by road mugging gangs yesterday.
The attack on 2015 Ironman South Africa champion and 2013 Ironman world champion Frederik van Lierde of Belgium has cast a shadow on the metro’s hosting of next year’s Ironman World Championships.
Van Lierde was mugged and robbed of his cellphone along Walmer’s crime hotspot, Victoria Drive, during a practice session.
Just hours earlier, 57-year-old recreational cyclist and newcomer to Port Elizabeth Leon Killian was also mugged by a group of men on the same stretch of road.
Four unidentified thugs blocked Van Lierde, who was practising for the April 2 event in Port Elizabeth.
Ironman communications specialist Michael Flanagan said: “The suspects slowed him down by standing in front of him and he was pushed to one side of the road. They hit him on the head with sticks, but fortunately he was wearing a helmet.”
The thugs made off with Van Lierde’s iPhone7 and his sunglasses.
An eye-witness immediately contacted race organisers to alert them.
Police spokesman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the attack had happened at 3.40pm when Van Lierde, 37, was cycling in preparation for the Ironman.
He was taken to hospital by ambulance.
Ironman managing director Keith Bowler said it was highly disappointing.
“The event is there to promote Nelson Mandela Bay. This is not good for the 2018 world championships,” he said.
Earlier in the day, agricultural researcher and self-employed stock market investor Killian was attacked by five young men while cycling on Victoria Drive.
It is not known whether the incidents are linked.
Killian’s attackers made off with his cellphone and a rucksack which contained gym clothes and his wallet containing bank cards and other items.
“I had been warned about Victoria Drive, but I had seen cyclists there before and it was during the day so I thought it would be safe.
“I was cycling to Schoenmakerskop. Just as I passed the bend where the shacks are right next to the road, these guys came from behind and grabbed my rucksack, pulling me off the bike,” he said.
“They pushed me to the ground and started hitting and kicking me. I fought back and held onto my bike, which they were trying to pull away from me.
“I was shouting for help and some people came out of the shacks and just looked at me. None of them helped me.
“A woman driving past saw what had happened and she stopped and helped me. She took me to the police station, where I reported the attack and managed to freeze my bank cards,” Killian said.
His legs were hurt in the attack. He said after reporting the incident to the police he had accompanied officers back to the scene, where they made an unsuccessful attempt to locate the suspects who, according to Killian, were known to locals in the area.
“There was a man at the place where I was attacked. He said he knew one or more of the suspects who were known to hang out at the rubbish dump [Arlington tip]. He was too afraid to help me though. He was scared as he knew some of the suspects and was afraid they would harm him,” Killian said.
Flanagan said Van Lierde was treated at the St George’s Hospital where tests were conducted.
“He was in good spirits after he was discharged,” Flanagan said.
“Every effort is being made by city officials, the police and the organisers to apprehend the perpetrators. We plan to have visible metro policing on the routes during training sessions of the Ironman.”
Naidu said officials had been deployed where the attacks occurred.