A big challenge, but all for a good cause

By Time of article published Mar 4, 2013

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TOP BILLING presenter Janez Vermeiren is set to test his mountain biking mettle for the first time in the 10th Absa Cape Epic, but not before he’s the face of Pick n Pay LikeBike+ campaign during the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour on Sunday.

Vermeiren is no stranger to road races or being spontaneous. Last year, he took part in the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour, and finished in 3h25m.

The first time he did the race was in 2010, in what he describes as “the windiest year ever”. He had bought his bike the day before the race, but managed to finish in 4h25m.

But this year his focus won’t be trying to better his time. As the face of the Facebook campaign, Vermeiren will join cyclists from the Velokhaya Life Cycle Academy in Khayelitsha, who will be riding in a peloton during the Cycle Tour.

“I’ll be riding with a group of the kids, and it will be very chilled,” he says.

Vermeiren visited the academy, and says it represents a safe zone for the children, in an area often fraught with violence.

“They are mingling with children their age, they’re talking about positive things. Hopefully the public will support this,” says Vermeiren.

This year supporters will be able to raise money for the academy in a variety of ways. The game can be played on Pick n Pay’s Facebook page, and virtual currency “Velos” can be earned. The Velos will be converted into a cash donation to Velokhaya. Customers can also donate via their smart shopper card at the kiosk and through signing up to wear a LikeBike+ badge during the race.

Last year, Pick n Pay donated 20 bikes to the academy. This year the wish list includes new BMX bikes, maintenance costs, and items such as helmets.

The academy’s programme aims to give children and young people from disadvantaged communities the skills they need to make a success of their lives. Through offering them the chance to get involved with cycling, children are encouraged to get off the streets and on to a bike, to spend their afternoon at the BMX track, or to hang out with friends and do their homework.

For the Absa Cape Epic, Vermeiren will partner with engineer Clayton Duckworth in Team Absa, joining 1 200 cyclists on their mountain bikes on the gruelling 689km ride and 15 650m climb. The mountain bike race takes place from March 17 to 24, and will start at Meerendal wine estate in Durbanville, finishing at the Lourensford wine estate in Somerset West.

Vermeiren will take on the race for the first time.

“I’ve never done anything remotely close to this. I’ll be

completely out of my comfort zone,” he says.

While he does keep fit by running and playing tennis – pretty intense in its own right, he feels – Vermeiren admits that he is a bit

nervous.

As for his diet, Vermeiren, who has spoken previously about his love for food and eating, has been keeping his red meat to a minimum, and making the ultimate sacrifice: saying no to the extra cold beer after a long day.  But preparation is not all bad. Ahead of a big training session or race, his favourite carbo-loading meals are pasta and pizza.

He has spent 12 to 14 hours a week cycling in preparation for this feat, but it hasn’t been without its setbacks.

The presenter injured his Achilles tendon, which was aggravated by a recent race. He’s also been knocked out of action for 10 days by the flu.

“My individual race strength is climbing. I love the challenge of conquering hills. My plan is to pace myself throughout the eight-stage race, and not go out too hard initially,” he says.

Vermeiren and Duckworth will be riding the Epic on behalf of the Cancer Association of South Africa. The modelling agency owner has been active with charities like Cansa and the Reach for a Dream Foundation because of his personal relationship with cancer, and the family members he’s lost to the illness. When he was about 12 years old, his mother and her sister were diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time. Vermeiren recalls that he was sent to live with family friends in Windhoek, while his father – Belgian-born artist Jan Vermeiren – stayed behind to take care of his mother. They didn’t want the children to see her suffer, he says.

His mother fought off the disease and survived. Her sister, however, relapsed and died.

“It runs in my family, so I’ve always been conscious about it. I’m all for supporting research and awareness,” he says.

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