Kirsten off the mark in his debut Cape Epic

Gary Kirsten ended Tuesday’s Stage 2 of the Absa Cape Epic on 93 not out – a fitting tribute to the event’s century stage.

“It was an enjoyable day, but when you go up and down mountains it’s a long time to spend in a saddle,” said South Africa’s former opening batsman and coach, who is riding with celebrity doctor Michael Mol in Team Nothing But Grit. Their time for the stage – the 100th stage since the Epic was launched 13 years ago – was a respectable medium-paced 7:17.53.  It took Kirsten only half as long as to complete the stage as record 275 runs against England, which he scored in more than 14 and a half hours.

Kirsten said the day’s stage had been somewhat of a Test, but refused to say which was scarier – the hairy Witzenberg Wagon Trail descent or six Glenn McGrath bouncers. “They are different challenges,” said Kirsten, who played 101 Test matches and 185 One Day Internationals for South Africa.

Kirsten said that after he retired from cricket he became a running enthusiast, completing seven marathons, and then a midlife crisis of sorts saw him asking, what next? The answer, of course, was mountain biking. That was two years ago. “It’s great exercise and a fantastic sport.”

Kirsten said being a pro cricketer hadn’t given him a leading edge on a bike, but when he got his eye in he wasn’t bad on the track. “I’m not that good at technical riding but I can hold my own on the downhills – although Michael has to wait for me.” While Sunday’s prologue was a bit short of a length, Wednesday’s 104km stage from Tulbagh to Wellington will have a few extras.

Kirsten said he hadn’t experienced any sledging in the field – on the contrary, there have been no fool tossers at all. “It’s been terrific, there’s been a great sense of comradery; it’s like being among hundreds of my mates,” he said.

While there are enough rugby players in the field to take on a World XV – John Smit, Joel Stransky, Marius Hurter, John Slade and former Welsh skipper Colin Charvis – Kirsten is the only cricket player turned mountain biker in the event. The only former pro-cricketer to have successfully chased a Cape Epic finisher’s T-shirt is Allan Dawson. Is this because cricketers don’t have the mettle? Kirsten doesn’t get forward defensive about the question but plays it with a straight bat. “I suppose it could be because rugby players are more physically focused than cricketers – although cricketers are lighter so should climb better. Maybe cricketers are just lazier.” Not a silly point at all.

Photo: Gary Kirsten making the climb look easy during stage 2 of the 2016 Absa Cape Epic Mountain Bike stage race from Saronsberg Wine Estate in Tulbagh, South Africa on the 15th March 2016 – Photo by Mark Sampson/Cape Epic/SPORTZPICS