HISTORY OF THE AMASHOVA CLASSIC – 1986 to 2022
‘OLDEST CLASSIC CYCLE RACE IN SOUTH AFRICA’
The history of this, the oldest ‘classic’ cycle race in the country, is one of dogged determination to succeed in spite of the odds. The idea of having a bicycle race on the route of the world famous Comrades Marathon, between Pietermaritzburg and Durban, was the dream of veteran Springbok cyclist Dave Wiseman and his friend Tony McMillan. Realising that they needed media support to make the venture fly; they enlisted the help of Fred Forge at the Natal Mercury. Forge assured the duo that he would give the race publicity if they went ahead, and with that assurance they approached Pick n Pay who agreed to sponsor the event.
The relevant authorities, however, did not share the enthusiasm of this visionary group. The NPA felt one “day long” event was enough and wouldn’t budge. Finally, a local politician, who saw the value to Durban of hosting such a race, forced the traffic authorities’ hand. So, reluctantly, permission was granted for the first race to take place in 1986. The race was called ‘The Natal Mercury/Pick n Pay National Classic.’ The traffic authority gave permission for only 150 riders to participate.
In the years that followed, the traffic authority gradually increased the allowable participation from this small group to 350, then 500, then 550 and so forth. In addition, these cyclists would have to qualify for the race by doing other events at a fairly high average speed. Only 4 hours was given for all to finish. The impression created by these restrictions was that this was a race for only the most serious cyclists.
The bitter resistance by the traffic authorities toward the race continued until 1998. At that time, just over 800 riders were doing the event. The growth of the race was slow when compared with what was happening in cycling throughout the rest of the country. An approach was made to the new local government to relax the restrictive conditions to the race. The race organiser showed the revenue generation potential to tourism in the city to Durban’s Mayor, Councilor Obed Mlaba. The mayor immediately endorsed the event, and the profile of the race changed completely. The route changed from the unexciting Walter Gilbert Road to right outside the City Hall in West Street. In order to accommodate this dramatic finish, the Western Freeway had to be closed down. KwaZulu Natal’s Transport Minister, Sbu Ndebele was quick to see that this happened. The culmination of this lobbying and planning has produced one of the finest finishes in South African road racing! With these changes, numbers and interest in the race grew dramatically. In addition, the introduction of one of the country’s top sponsors went a long way to making the Shova, as it is fondly known as KZN’s biggest cycling race and the only cycle race with the City’s endorsement giving it full road closure.
The very first event left the City Hall in Pietermaritzburg in fierce heat on a Saturday afternoon, and followed, for the most part, the Comrades Marathon route. The deviation occurred in Westville where the cyclists followed the nagging climbs of Blair Athol Road, and then came down through Reservoir Hills, over the Connaught Bridge, into Riverside Road and finished outside the Pick ‘n Pay’s Hypermarket-By-The-Sea in Durban North. The total distance was approximately 95 kilometres. This route remained much the same until 1993.
In order to try and make the race as close to 100 kilometres as possible, a course change was necessary. The route bypassed the famous Polly Shorts hill and instead the challenging 14km Alexander Road climb was introduced up Fox Hill to Thornville.
Pick n Pay and the Natal Mercury newspaper were the early sponsors. This relationship lead to some rather amusing naming right problems. In 1993 the race was called ‘The Natal Mercury/Hyper by the Sea Pietermaritzburg to Durban National Classic.’
The sponsorship ended in 1996, and in the following year the event was sponsored by Trafalgar Properties. Vodacom were sponsors in 1998 and in 1999.
After giving their verbal commitment to back the race in 2000, Vodacom inexplicably withdrew their sponsorship a few weeks before the entry forms were printed. This plunged the organisers into a tough decision. Right on the Night Events are totally committed to the future of the race and have a real passion for the event. Realizing that if they cancelled the race it would spell the end of it in terms of the race being taken seriously by future sponsors, Right on the Night Events headed by the very positive Annie Batchelder, decided to do the race at risk. Pick n Pay were approached again and they threw their weight behind the event for a further 8 years, a relationship that assisted with the growth of the event and it’s becoming a household name in the cycling industry.
NEW IMAGE – 1999
The organisers wanted to build the race with its own identity and went out to create one. The race takes place in the beautiful KwaZulu-Natal, a strong tie to the province, its people and culture, which would be important in building the identity of the race. Numerous marketing minded consultants were briefed to find a name that would encapsulate what this race is all about. The word ‘Amashovashova’ was put forward. The word ‘Amashovashova’ is a Zulu word that describes the pedaling or pushing/shoving motion. ‘Ama’ denotes everybody doing it together. The name took a little getting used to, and a bit of practice to say, but it has taken root and the brand was born.
With this change came the change to the finish venue at the newly built Suncoast. This created the opportunity for more events to be added to the Amashova package. The race could now boast being a cycling event for the whole family as children events were introduced and MTB events an optional extra.
In 2010 the race finish found a new home at the iconic Moses Mabhida Stadium, the beautiful stadium built for the soccer world cup and the race finished at MMS until 2013.
NEW SPONSOR – 2014
The Amashova did not have a title sponsor for 3 years from 2011 to 2013. Inspite of this, the number of cyclists kept climbing and in 2013 a 65km half challenge from Cato Ridge was introduced. This was a perfect race for cyclists who were not keen on the 106km but still wanted a challenge.
In 2014 Tsogo Sun became the new naming rights sponsor. With this amazing new sponsor behind the event many exciting changes were made. The race registration and finish went back to the beautiful Suncoast and an expo was held at Suncoast during registration.
2016 – 2017
The registration was moved to Garden Court Marine Parade due to construction at the Suncoast property. We enjoyed 2 years at Garden Court Marine Parade as our registration venue.
2018 – 2019
The registration and brand new exhibition was held at Southern Sun Elangeni and Maharani Hotel.
The physical Amashova event was cancelled due to Covid 19 restrictions. A virtual event was held and all cyclists that took part received a virtual goodie bag. All cyclists that had their times recorded via Strava had an extra year added to their green number log and also have the opportunity to ride in the “Friends of the Amashova” batch in 2021.
The Amashova was a little different in 2021. Due to construction on the R103 and N3 a decision was taken to not start the race in Pietermaritzburg. Instead the Amashova was shortened – it started and finished under the MMS Bridge in Durban. There was an 80km that cycled to Shongweni Bridge and back and a 38km that started at Shongweni Bridge and finished in Durban. Due to covid19 restrictions there was no post race hospitality nor any spectators allowed.
We were so excited to have the Shova start in Pietermaritzburg again. The 106km from PMB City Hall, the 65km from Cato Ridge and the 38km from Shongweni Bridge were back! The number collection and lifestyle exhibition were held inside the Suncoast Globe. Post race festivities and prize giving was also held inside the Suncoast Globe.