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Cycling | General

Morné's Argus win healed many wounds

At 23 years of age Morné Bester achieved his biggest victory in the Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour, but while a few of his friends are etching out a career in Europe, Morné’s time might just be over to make an impact on the tough European racing circuit.

He smashed into a car head-on two years ago in the Irish Milk Race and was robbed of the two most important years of his career - and of the chance to prove himself as an amateur. At the time of the horrific crash he was 21 years old and one of the best all-round riders in South Africa.

"The riding time that the accident took away from me probably ended all hopes of getting into a European pro team,” he concedes. "Ryan Cox and Tiaan Kannemeyer impressed when they rode in the Malaysian Tour last year as well as in the Italian amateur tour. While they were doing the business I wasn’t on my bike. Now I’m too old for the amateurs and it will be very difficult to gain recognition.”

Various European pro teams approached Cox and Kannemeyer after last year’s Giro della Regione, in which Kannemeyer finished fifth and Cox came second in the King of the Mountains competition. Both were at the perfect age for pro teams to show a interest.

Although Morné doesn’t ride for one of South Africa’s big three teams, his capabilities are, to put it mildly, on par with some of the best riders in HSBC, IBM/Lotus and Minolta.

Dries van Heerden, who manages Morné’s Cyclemania outfit, has acknowledged that Morné belongs in one of these teams. His less-than-refined personality and lack of bunch-riding skills have been mentioned as reasons for his omission. There is now a lot of talk though about him joining IBM/Lotus next year.

The fact that he had no help from a big team adds so much value to his Argus victory and with that he finally closed the book on a comeback period of note after the accident in Ireland. He had to fight back from a broken hand and a leg which was shattered in two places.

“After the Argus I went to the fisio that treated me after the accident and he couldn’t believe I was performing on the bike,'' recalls Morné. “He didn’t think I would ever ride again.”

He contends it was simply a strong will and help from above that placed him back in the saddle. “You take a lot of strain at a time like that and even if you’re hell-bent on returning, it becomes hard. That’s why I visited a sports phsycologist in an effort to get myself back to full strength.”

Morné turned many a head at the SA Championships last year in Pretoria when he won the South African time trial title. It was almost – nearly to the exact day - a year after he had the accident in Ireland. “I won the title, but it was only this year that I really started returning to full strength,” he says.

Due to the accident his left leg is somewhat shorter that the right. “My left leg started hurting in the Argus – it happened after I’d been on the road for a while.”

On the road to recovery, Morné learnt to be proud of every little achievement and also to appreciate what it felt like winning South Africa’s biggest one-day event. "I worked hard to be back. The Argus was my first victory in a major single-day event since the accident and it meant the world to me. It is, after all, the race everyone wants to win.”

He and German Alexander Kastenhuber battled it out over the last 10 km and Morné “couldn’t allow” a foreigner to win. "I would never have heard the end of it,” he laughs.

They raced together for more that half of the event after attacking a small breakaway group. “We worked together nicely. I tried to shake him on the last incline, but he stuck like glue.”

Morné says he wasn’t sure of where exactly the finish line was and found himself in the unfortunate position of pacing Kastenhuber. In the end he sprinted from the front and left the German for dead.


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