Gary Beneke winning the inaugural edition of the aQuellé Tour Durban in 1993

The big field of thousands of cyclists taking part in the three events that make up the aQuellé Tour Durban on Sunday (29 April) will collectively toast the moment 25 years ago that the seed was sown for the iconic Durban classic race.

The hugely popular 45km Fun Ride makes Tour Durban accessible to riders of all abilities Pics: Supplied / Gameplan Media

In 1992 Mike Staphorst, the former Chairperson of Kings Park Cycling Club, and Treasurer Stan Nadal started talking about the then Cape Argus Cycle Tour, questioning why Durban could not have their own premier cycle race.
At the time the Argus had attracted some 18 000 riders and the two of them saw the potential to promote cycling in their hometown, promote tourism in the region and benefit charities in the Durban area. Determined to make a go of it and with the help of The Rotary Club of Durban, sponsors and a dedicated team from the Kings Park Cycling Club, they launched the first event, titled the Tour D’Urban.
It was held over a distance of 103km on Sunday 2 May 1993 with a cut-off time of 10 hours, and was an overwhelming success with 2224 entrants. Gary Beneke won it in an exciting finish ahead of Douglas Ryder and Leon Olivier while Paula Cound led the ladies home.

The route in the early years started in Masabalala Yengwa Avenue (NMR Avenue) near the Kings Park swimming pool and headed north through Verulam, Tongaat, Umhlali and Salt Rock then back to Durban and included a challenging climb up Mt Edgecombe hill before finishing near the Durban Country Club.

“I was relatively familiar with the route,” Beneke recalls of his victory in the inaugural race. “The hills and the roads were definitely challenging and undulating, taking in all the climbs of Umhlanga, Verulam, Tongaat, Umhlali, Salt Rock and Ballito.

“I had to save my energy for the steep two kilometre hill out of Ballito approximately 30 km from the finish when the critical race winning attacks would take place.

“It was critical to be in front of the bunch in the build up to this hill. In the old days they were very narrow bumpy twisting roads from Salt Rock to Chaka’s Rock and Ballito,” he remembers.

Staphorst was heavily involved with all logistics of the race and remembered the “job” being quite tough and demanding, especially in the days of faxes and no outsourced companies to help carry the load.

“I did almost everything, from entries, to data capturing to seeding,” recounted Staphorst. “But I always made sure I did absolutely nothing on race day, I couldn’t miss cycling the race I helped plan!”

One of the Staphorst’s highlights was the participation of the Mauritian Team. After the Kings Park Cycling Club had visited the sunny island they decided to return the favour and invited the Mauritian Cycling Club to the first ever Tour D’Urban, generating a lot of media stir.

Over the years the route has changed somewhat and no longer stretches as far north as Shaka’s Rock. However road closures in recent years have enabled the aQuellé Tour Durban to recover some of more picturesque routes along the coast.
Throughout the 25 year history of the Tour Durban charity has always been at the heart of the event and the first Tour Durban raised approximately R15 000 for Rotary.

In 2011, with the event numbers dwindling the event was on the brink of being excluded from the road cycling calendar and an informal group of cyclists known as Club Cappuccino, approached Kings Park Cycling Club with the view to taking over the event and trying to revive it.

Again the potential to use the event to benefit charities was a key focus for Club Cappuccino and a new committee was formed to take over the event, with the Domino Foundation as the principle beneficiary.

This non-profit organisation is hugely involved in the local community with soup kitchens, crèches, school intervention, baby home, counselling and business initiatives. There sphere of influence ranges from north of Durban to Amaoti and Phoenix.

With the race now boasting a popular 45km Fun Ride and a 55km cyclocross alternative alongside the 100 km classic, and a free kids ride at the race base at the Moses Mabhida stadium, the event has grown exponentially since Mike Staphorst’s bold vision of the race in 1993.