Barry van Jaarsveld interview

Barry van Jaarsveld is a South African chiropractor now living in the Netherlands, which is possibly the most bicycle friendly country in the world. He also was an elite level triathlete in South Africa during the late 80s and early 90s who competed with triathlon and later surfskiing icon Keith Anderson.

(Side Note: Keith was probably one of the greatest sportsman in South Africa, on par with other legends of that era such as Bruce Fordyce, Oscar Chalupsky and John Martin. Here was a guy who won the Unregistered category in the Argus Cycle Tour, jumped on a plane to Johannesburg and won the SA Triathlon Championships in a sprint finish the following day.)

CRANK recently caught up with Barry who talked about his tri days back in Cape Town, gave us a few Keith Anderson yarns as well as providing an insight into everyday Netherlands cycling culture.

CRANK: You have quite a pedigree as a triathlete in South Africa during the late 1980’s to mid 1990’s. Could you tell us how you got started in the sport?

BvJ: I was in the Navy Diving School with Keith Anderson when he started training for the first time in1985. I had just come from a competitive swimming background with my mother as coach. I thought triathlon, pretty silly to train yourself to pieces again. I did some swimming with him at diving school during lunchtime. That was it. Then I saw a school friend Allen Louis (came 6th place Ohlssons Ironman) training while spending my last 6 months at Durban diving school. I bought a Le Turbo bicycle for R300 and off I went. I placed 8th in first race, the Wild Coast Triathlon, won by Durbanite Manfred Fuchs.

CRANK: Triathlon in South Africa, particularly in the Western Province, had great sponsorship of events and teams, most notably the Longmile Triathlon Team. Being a part of that squad, could you tell us a bit about what the sponsorship entailed for the athletes.

BvJ: I became a Longmile team member thanks to Keith Anderson in 1989. Those were great days with Nic van den Berg taking good care off us. We went to races all over the country at the expense of Longmile. I remember Tim Stewart and I flying to Port Elizabeth once for a smaller race in preparation for Interprovincials. We were flying first class. Tim and I thought that if this was the life of a professional triathlete then we were in for the job. Longmile paid traveling costs, expenses, race entries, fuel and gave us good equipment.

CRANK: Who were the team members and could you tell us a bit about them?

BvJ: Keith Anderson and Tim Stewart – a medical doctor and enormously talented athlete, bonsai trees was his love of life. Tim also raced for Great Britain later on in his career. Tim is a friendly, supporting and motivating personality. I remember he used to catch me on the bike and shout: “C’mon lets go!” Once he only caught me on the run as he had crashed on the bike. I was doing the “Barry Shuffle” (when I blew on the run I would run like a fashion model walking on the ramp). Tim shouted at me to get going and I believe I had the race of my life. (Editor’s note: Tim was also known for his “nocturnal” running training – he would often go running at 9pm or do his long run from 7pm on a Saturday.)

Brian Mellville was the country’s top junior for many years and later a good elite triathlete. The wetsuit kind of ruined it for Brian and later Kevin Richards. These guys were phenomenal open water swimmers. I believe their advantage of two to three minutes after the swim was cut down to one minute.

Kevin Richards from Port Elizabeth – I knew him from my swimming days. He was a superb swimmer. SA champ in backstroke, freestyle and IM. Not many people know that he had Springbok colours in swimming, lifesaving and triathlon. A great guy. I spent a while training with him in PE. I have never met a more humble person.

Bruce Neill and Gary Neill were two great athletes – I hear Gary is still at it.

Deon Steyn, school friend and co Navy diver we called the “Oros Man” because he was so fat at school. He played waterpolo. After my first Ironman he told me that he was going to do triathlons. I thought to myself, that’s nice. Deon was the one guy that was in the Bok squad every year. A couple of new faces each year but Deon remained. Mr. consistency and very humble.

Trevor Meyer and Gary van Wyk from KZN – I raced with them couple of times per year.

A couple of years later Trevor Seinen and Chad Gordon joined Longmile. “The Beast” (Trevor) and I shared a flat in Stellenbosch during our student years. I was a guy of the more miles the better. We would organise a trip around the four passes from Stellenbosch on Saturday morning with the Cape Town boys. Trevor would come home from partying at 4:00am and be on his bike at 8:00 am shouting, “ Cmon guys stop procrastinating!”

Then race up Hellshoogte, Franshoek Pass like a man possessed. I would always give running, non-stop commentary on Franschoek Pass as if I was Phil Liggett and we were riding the TDF. Stuff like, “ Five km to go and its straight up, the beast is having a bad one today, look at him swaying from side to side. He is losing his momentum for sure, its going to be a long day for the Beast”.  This would piss the Beast off to such an extent that later in the ride when we were dehydrated and irritated he would start taking swings at me. Thank God he never hit me! Actually we trained together quite often and did long Wednesday rides to Betty’s Bay, winter and summer. I remember those beautiful winter days riding over the hills away from Gordon’s Bay towards Betty’s Bay. We did some serious rides sometimes and then run afterwards into the mountains of Stellenbosch.

1989 SA Tri Team: (l-r) Simon Lessing, Tim Stewart, Mandy Dean, Nic vd Bergh (sponsor), Keith Anderson, Deon Steyn, Bill Green (manager)

Chad joined us as well in Stellenbosch. He was quick in the swim, bike and run. He would always come out of the water with me and for some frustrating reason have 30 seconds on me after the transition. Still have not figured that one out. Chad was a good cyclist. I always thought he could have been a pro cyclist.

CRANK: You were in the Navy and competed with the great Keith Anderson – what made him so good? Would you say that he was ahead of his time?

BvJ: Ahead of his time, no. I think he and Manfred Fuchs were great talents that went to the USA and came back stronger than any of us in South Africa. The experience of racing in the ‘States brings you to a different level.

I was lucky enough to race as elite triathlete after my studies in the Gatorade Series in Georgia and Florida in 1997.

Keith really ruled the scene in 1987 and 1988. He had a great V02 max and was as strong as he was big. He had just returned to SA after racing the Hawaii Ironman. It was a time when triathlon got a lot of press coverage and he was “the man”.  Don’t forget that Manfred Fuchs raced him stride for stride in the 1987 Ohllsons Ironman.

Tim Stewart in Cape Town and Deon Steyn from Bloemfontein nationally caught up with him in 1989. I believe Tim and Keith avoided racing against each other until the bigger races of the year. So who was the better athlete would be hard to say.

I was lucky enough to train with some great athletes like, Keith, Tim, Deon Steyn, Kevin Richards, Chad Gordon and Trevor Seinen – Keith and Deon always went hard. I could do one, two days with them and then I had to back off. They had no easy days. They had to average 40km per hour on the bike in training. It was incredible to see. They were tough guys.

In my last race in SA, a double Olympic distance, I was cruising through Kleinmond at 40km per hour on the bike – as far as I was concerned, having a good one. Within two minutes I was passed by two youngsters: Conrad Stoltz and Raynard Tissink. It looked like I was doing reverse parking. It was the beginning of a new era.

CRANK: Keith was certainly well known for his sporting prowess, but also as a great character – could you share any humorous stories involving him?

BvJ: We met one morning for a bike ride (Argus route) at his home in February of 1989: the funny thing was that Tim Stewart lived 200 meters up the road but they never trained together. He jumped on his bike which was in the 53X12 and only twice geared back down to 42X12  over Chapmans and Suikerbossie. He was flying, grinding away. At Cape Point I dropped him because he refused to change gears. Five minutes later he again came flying past, still 53X12. I got dropped on the way to Kommetjie. Once I arrived at the shop in Kommetjie, pretty pissed off with him, he stuffed a coke in my hand and said: “We are leaving right away, there some training to be done”. Really dehydrated and irritated I asked him what the hell the idea was of all this. He replied: “You tell that friend of ours in Bloemfontein that SA Champs is mine“. Keith out-sprinted Deon (Steyn) in the final 400m to win SA Champs two months later.

While we were in the Navy we were testing some new diving equipement in Langebaan. (Those who believe there are no sharks at Club Mykonos are dreaming, I still rate Simonstown to be safer). We were diving at 30m with almost zero visibility and before surfacing we dropped a expensive communication receiver the diameter of a swimming cap. As our deep dive time for the day was over Keith asked if he could go down without air (free diving) and fetch it. The guys who developed the communication system chuckled and said no way that’s possible. They were pretty upset and hoped that we would find it the next day.

In the meantime Keith had disappeared and reached the bottom with almost zero visibility, found the comm. receiver and surfaced with it two and a half minutes later. Try and hold your breath for two and a half minutes and remember it costs you air and energy to free dive.

We also did VO2 tests in the Navy for diving school and the medical people had never seen such a high value as with Keith. He had an incredible lung capacity and that he used to make that large body of his fly. Keith was already a bit of a legend at South African Navy Diving School.

CRANK: Could you talk about the “rebel” tours by visiting French and US teams to SA in 1988 and 1989?

BvJ: I missed the French tour due to knee problems and was a member of the SA Invitation side that raced against the Americans in 1989. Rob Bistodeau was their top guy and just managed to outsprint me in Gordon’s Bay in the Prestige Race or “2nd test”. I placed 6th. The Yanks were way of the pace of the winners.

CRANK: Simon Lessing spent his formative years competing for Kwa-Zulu Natal before moving overseas and becoming an international icon in the sport. Did you guys have much interaction with him then and when he came back here during the off season?

BvJ: Sure we had some contact but not much. He was 17 when he raced for the ‘Boks in 1989. I have a picture of myself running ahead of Simon in the Prestige Race in Gordon’s Bay in 1989. That’s my favourite picture of course.

During his off season training camps in Cape Town we hung around a little and cycled together a couple of times from Stellenbosch to Betty’s Bay. The standard and pace he had was just awesome. By the way we were in the midst of our season and he was doing winter training. He was an awesome athlete.

CRANK: You now reside in the Netherlands – could you tell us why it is such a cycling friendly country? Is bicycle commuting commonplace?

BvJ: I live with my Dutch wife and son of 11 years in Zeist next to Utrecht. I commute to work 60km once a week. That’s possible in summer and winter. The bike lanes are superb, smooth and clean. (The problem in my area is that we have only one hill of 1km. It looks like a ski lift with cyclists going up and down.) Cycling to work you hardly have to consider any cars. Cycling is a big part of everyday life. On the bike lanes you will find groups of 20 kids cycling to school, race cyclists and my favourite “brommers”. These are little mopeds that go 45km ahour so it’s super easy drafting if you are on your way to work and lazy.

Most cyclists commute 10 to 20 km one way. Bicycles are seen as a way of transport. That is so important. Not for recreation, but transport. You can put your bike on the train, travel 50km and continue cycling. There are mothers with ex.  a 3 year old behind them, a sixth month old on top of the handlebars, both in specially designed seats with seatbelts cycling around. Then they have their groceries in specially designed bags next to their back wheels. Pretty cool to see the first time. Now its pretty normal to me but a family member visiting will always look at it flabbergasted.
The weather does not change a thing. Rain or shine, wind, snow, they always ride. Cyclists have the right of way, one thing you do not want to do is hit a cyclist over here.

I even ride on Sundays for four hours when it is minus one outside. Actually come to think of it it’s pretty silly I guess.

I try to ride three times a week. Once to work and back (60km), once  on a trainer and once in the weekend. In the weekends I ride 4 hour rides with a group. We are off to race in the Alps in June for four days, including a ITT up Alpe D Huez. Quite a challenge as we have one hill (1 km ) to train on.

CRANK: Do you do any other sports?

BvJ: I am a chiropractor, so that is very physical. At the end of the day I feel like I
did an sprint distance triathlon. I still like to swim but only on holidays in Greece. I do open water swims of about 1km. I love that. I ve stopped running and do a lot of walking. Getting older and wiser!

I got dropped on the way to Kommetjie. Once I arrived at the shop in Kommetjie, pretty pissed off with him, he stuffed a coke in my hand and said: “We are leaving right away, there some training to be done”

Interview courtesy Jason Bailey