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12 Mar, 2015

Taking on the Pros

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It must be quite scary for a professional, elite cyclist to see an amateur right on your wheel, or even in front of you. But this is what the Complete Cyclist team seem to do on a regular basis. We spoke to Mike Hewan and Franco Ferreira to find out how they do it.

Over the last few months, Complete Cyclist’s Franco Ferreira seems to have dominated the VA category in just about every race.

The flurry of wins started with Franco, who recently turned 31, winning the 2014 Race4Victory. He then caught the bunch completely unaware during the 2014 Tsogo Sun Amashova Durban Classic and beat his nearest category rival by at least a minute.

He then teamed up with Mike Hewan and competed on pretty much even terms with many of South Africa’s top mountain bikers during the 2014 FNB Wines2Whales Race, ending the race in 12th position on general classification.

And then came the victory which means the most to him. He won the VA category of the 2014 Momentum 947 Cycle Challenge in a time of 2:29:20, which is less than eight minutes off the fastest time recorded on the day.

Most recently, he won the VA category at the Gauteng Road Championships held in the Cradle last month. So surely, this run of good form must be aiming at something.

“I think we’d like to get the SA championship jersey. To have that in our team,” commented Franco, ever the team player, “would be great. I think it is going to be a tough race, but I think we’ll be there and thereabouts.”

After that, Franco and the rest of the team will aim for the Tour de Boland.

“From there,” said a confident Mike, “we go and win Argus, and that is another big one that will be quite nice for us to take home.

“Sorry, Cape Town Cycle Tour,” he corrected, with a smile and a wink, “sorry Dave [Bellairs].”

So that’s the plan … But where did it come from?

“Well, I think last year was our first year in VAs,” said Franco, “we did fairly well in the elites, so it was exciting going into the VA. We were then racing against guys who have got a full-time job and sort of train the same hours. It is such a lekker group to ride with, it’s more relaxed and the atmosphere is totally different”.

“It’s a fine balance,” added Mike, “you know the people on the bike. We can race each other broken, chirp each other in the bunch but afterwards we share a Coke and a laugh with each other in our Complete Cyclist gazebo.”

In spite of their successes together out on the road and on the track, Franco and Mike have only known each other for about three years.

“I don’t know how many hours,” quipped Mike, “I haven’t worked that out because we are not married …”

Franco re-joined the humour: “I never liked the Complete Cyclist bunch until I joined them and found out that they are actually a lekker group of guys.”

And that is perhaps the Complete Cyclist’s secret to its success.

“What I like about it is exactly that,” said Mike, perhaps a little more seriously, “we have a bunch of guys and girls, like-minded people who go out and race their bikes. We also meet socially, but we get to do what we love in the same kit. Because cycling is more than a sport, it is a lifestyle. I know tons of people where cycling as a lifestyle has changed their life completely, they meet a whole new group of people.”

Unlike many cycling clubs or teams, both amateur and professional, Complete Cyclist also discourages what Mike terms “cycling widows”.

“When our team members’ wives get taken by the sport, we all smile because they are getting taken by something we love in the same way as we were taken,” he explains.

“Ja,” said Franco, “before we knew it, the wives and girlfriends had their own little group, just like our group, and now they go off riding and organising stuff!”

Both Mike and Franco are quick to point out that the Complete Cyclist team is indeed a team and functions like any other team. And it is this esprit de corps which has resulted in the team winning races, not only for individual performances like that of Franco but also for team performances.

“Sun City was quite fun, we had our entire team in the break. And then, it got to the point two kilometres from the line when the other guys sat up and said ‘well done Complete, you’ve got this one!’ and that is cool,” Mike said, “but then at the Coronation Double Century, affectionately known as the DC, we got second place in the mixed team. So, with a team of 12, you have to cross the line with at least three women and we went across the line with seven people, four guys and three very strong girls.”

Although the Complete Cyclist team seems to concentrate on road events, Franco and Mike have also tackled a few mountain biking events.

“At Sani2C, we had some bad luck,” regales Mike, “I broke my saddle five kilometres into day one. And then stood for the next 70 kilometres. I stopped to try and fix it and, like a good partner, Franco stopped and, while pulling cable ties out of his handlebars, he offered to swap bikes every five kilometres. I declined his offer because I wanted a cool story to tell. And then I punctured on day two. We wanted to get onto the podium there too, but I guess that didn’t happen.”

Perhaps needless to say, Franco and Mike both think the FNB Wines2Whales is “stunning”.

“Mike and Alexa and the team from Stillwater put on a really good event. Specialized is involved in a big way as well, so the event ticks all the boxes. And taking it to the guys at the front like we did during the race was a very nice feeling,” explained Mike. “We can’t keep up with them on some of the climbs, I like the way I said ‘some of the climbs’ … we can’t keep up to them on all the climbs. But we are two roadies trying to go through single track in Cape Town without really training for it properly.”

Ever the team player … again … Franco stressed the importance of choosing the right partner.

“Wines2Whales isn’t a long race, but choosing the right partner is still important. You’re half way there if you’ve got a good partner. You divide the stage up into three sections and the first section, you feeling good. Then the second section, your partner is strong and then the third section, you’re feeling good again.”

The Complete Cyclist team has promised to tackle more mountain bike races in 2015, including the newly renamed Ashburton Series, formerly known as the MTN series.

“If given the opportunity,” said a pragmatic Mike, “we would love to do the Absa Cape Epic. There are, however, massive time and financial commitments. I could really do a lot with the money needed for an Epic entry, but I would like to do my third at some point.”

If Franco and Mike do get the opportunity to do the Absa Cape Epic together, it would be both cyclists’ third, qualifying them for the elusive “Amabubezi” club.

When asked the question ‘What is the ultimate pleasure of your cycling life?’, the Complete Cyclist duo had different responses.

Franco said that being part of something meant a lot to him.

“Being part of a team and competing, that really makes it worthwhile. Obviously as the team achieves things, you can really see the guys are chuffed with themselves,” he answered.

Ever the ‘not-so-serious’ partner, Mike said: “Am I allowed to say making other people hurt?”

After his infectious laugh, Mike added: “No seriously, I love being able to go out there and do what we do. Race. Take that seriously and then afterwards go out for a beer. That is the perfect balance.”

It sure looks as if Franco’s spate of wins will continue for the next few months, but perhaps those wins are a product of the excellent teamwork that Complete Cyclist has built up over the last few years.

But every time you see a Complete Cyclist on a podium, it is important to understand that he or she is just like the rest of us, also with a career and probably even a family. Unlike the pros, who they regularly beat.

Raymond Travers

Raymond Travers

Modern Cyclist Editor |

Editor