Tragedy mars Bay cycle tour

Yoliswa Sobuwa

THE Herald VW Cycle Tour was marred by tragedy when a Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University (NMMU) professor collapsed off his mountain bike and died at the side of a gravel road in Addo just a kilometre before the finishing line.

Professor Kobus van Wyk, 58, who was participating in the 30km mountain bike race on Saturday, should have been welcoming first-year built environment students to a human development settlement degree today that has taken him almost two decades to develop.

His wife, Alta, 57, and a group of friends were waiting at the finishing line for him after seeing him off at the start at 5.30am at the Addo Polo Club.

Van Wyk was found by other competitors at about 11am. They immediately called for help.

Paramedics tried to resuscitate him, but it was too late.

"It is tragic that Professor Van Wyk lost his life, although we are heartened to hear that he was doing what he loved most when he died," The Herald editor Heather Robertson said last night.

"Our condolences to his family. His death is a loss to not only NMMU, but the Nelson Mandela Bay community.

"Professor Van Wyk's spirit lived on during the event in which competitors displayed a fine example of camaraderie and sportsmanship that was exhibited during a weekend of great cycling.

"There was a marked increase in participation compared with previous years.

"We were also encouraged by the number of families and development teams that competed. We hope more and more people will get involved with the event in future. It is a fantastic platform on which to promote sport and the Eastern Cape," Robertson said.

Alta said: "We had camped in Addo with a couple of friends on Friday night.

"Kobus was his jolly self and looking forward to the race.

"I was waiting for him at the finishing line. I started to panic when he did not show up."

She then heard there was a problem with one of the cyclists. "I knew it was my Kobus," the distraught woman said.

She rushed to where her husband was after receiving a call from one of the organisers, but it was too late. "The paramedics told me he had a heart attack. He has never had a heart problem before.

"I know he was taking medication for high blood pressure, but he seemed fine [before the race]," she said.

Van Wyk, who had been cycling for a couple of years, started preparing for the race two months ago.

NMMU spokeswoman Debbie Derry said: "He was the guy behind the human development settlement degree, the development of which had been his quest for 20 years.

"It was launched last year by minister Tokyo Sexwale. We are the first university offering this degree."

Derry said it was sad Van Wyk had not lived to see the first students start today but that the new discipline of human settlement development would be part of his legacy.

Mountain bike race director Brad Jackson said: "No one saw what happened. This is a very unfortunate incident and our sympathy goes to the family."

Van Wyk is survived by his wife and four daughters. The burial arrangements have not been finalised.

He was among 3200 cyclists from all over South Africa who took part in the cycle tour, which saw mountain bike events on Saturday in Addo and the main road race through the Bay, starting at Hobie Beach at 6am yesterday.

Thousands of spectators lined the streets to cheer them on.

The wind was a bit of a challenge at the beginning of the 106km race yesterday which took place in temperatures of between 20°C and 26°C.

"Everything started smoothly with no shoving and pushing, and luckily no cyclists fell at the start," Bay councillor Nomamerika Magopeni, who fired the starter's gun, said.

Former Port Elizabeth mayor Charles Garai, 72, was among the participants.

By 8.43am, Nolan Hoffman, 29, from team Abantu, crossed the finish line to register his third win in the event.

The Johannesburg-based Hoffman is originally from Cape Town. "The wind was a major factor. A lot of guys missed out in the wind. "I am glad that I won for the third time," Hoffman said.

Jayde Julius, 20, of Cape Town, was second and Hendrik Kruger, 22, of Pretoria, was third. Both are from Team Bonita.

Port Elizabeth cycling queen Anriette Schoeman, 36, took the women's title for the 15th time.

"I am so happy that I won. The Herald VW Cycle tour is always a special race to me and it means so much.

"PE people are also very supportive," Schoeman said.

"The race was not easy because I was a bit tired, but it was good exercise as I am preparing for the national championships which will be held in Durban in the coming weeks."

Schoeman was followed home by Port Elizabeth's Monique Gerber, 17, in second place, and Candice Neethling, 21, of Cape Town, in third.

Neethling also took the women's title in the 80km mountain bike race. The first man home was her boyfriend, James Reid, 21, also from Cape Town.

The pair also won the Ultimate Quest event, a combination of the 80km Extreme mountain bike ride and the 106km Classic road race.

Road race manager Julie Briggs said there were no major injuries, bar a few bumps and scrapes.

Another highlight of the day was when the donation of R19282 was handed over to Reach for a Dream Foundation from the proceeds of the event.

VWSA chief executive David Powels said the company was proud to be part of the event.

"We have been supporting this event for 10 years and it keeps growing every year. We are satisfied with how the event went."