In 2001, an 11-year-old with a maroon Raleigh mountain bike accepted a dare by a friend to enter that year’s Cape Town Cycle Tour.
A few months later, while training for the race on the quiet country roads around Burgersdorp in the Eastern Cape, Adriaan Oosthuizen was already well and truly in love with the sport.
That bicycle was eventually stolen and he remembered how disappointed he had been.
“It was worse than teenage breakups.”
The sport runs in the family. His dad, John, rode and he worshipped him.
“He was a great cyclist in his day. It was always such a proud moment to ride with him and think to myself that this guy is the town doctor and the best rider in Burgersdorp.
“That was the definition of a hero to me.”
In small towns you are encouraged to participate in several sports codes to make up for the lack in numbers and therefore he also played rugby, cricket, tennis and golf.
“I only started focusing on cycling when the racing became a bit more serious in the age groups; probably around the time I went to high school,” said the 29-year-old.
His dream of pursuing a career in cycling was fuelled by watching the likes of Lance Armstrong and Jan Ullrich going hammer and tongs at each other in the Tour de France.
“It made me want to become a strong rider and compete at high levels like them,” said the Action Cycles rider.
There were unforgettable memories and experiences as he worked his way up through the ranks.
“When I was at a junior tour in Harrismith, our team shaved our heads. We really looked like a bunch of convicts at the breakfast table, which I think gave us an edge over the others out of fear.
“I’ve also seen some shocking crashes in my time and took a few hard tumbles myself. It taught me that I am somewhat addicted to the sport and made me appreciate my health and privileges a lot more when I was able to ride again.
“The best thing though was travelling throughout South Africa and racing. Nothing came close to exploring the world on your bike.”
Oosthuizen graduated with BSc degrees in genetics and optometry from the University of Free State in 2015, after which he moved to Port Elizabeth.
Although he wished he had continued cycling during his studies, he felt settling for a “small-time” professional contract at the time would have been a mistake.
“I completely stopped riding for quite a few years which set me back a lot. I feel I have missed out on some of my best years, but I also believe it makes me appreciate riding so much more now.
“I think my life went the direction it was meant to go as my paths did cross with the love of my life – Sharlize Potgieter. She is also a great cyclist and we love riding together.”
He said his third place in this year’s Herald Cycle Tour, where he missed the second step of the podium by a second, had been one of his best achievements.
“The race was loaded with some of the best riders in the country and to get on the podium in my hometown’s biggest race was definitely a highlight.”
Should there be more racing this year, the practising optometrist said he wanted to make it count with some more good results. As for next year, the national title in his age category is already a firm goal.
“In the long term, I hope to be in a position to help the Imveli Academy riders acquire better bikes and equipment.
“I also want to help grow cycling in PE. I hear stories of the days when it was at its peak and I want to help restore it.”
He has learnt a lot from his years in the saddle.
“One of the lessons is to keep negative people out of your life. If someone doesn’t want to see you succeed, then they are toxic to your life. It goes the other way as well.
“When age takes over, and all your rides become coffee rides, you need people around you with whom lifelong bonds were formed – even if you were competing against each other in your younger days.
“When it comes to riding itself, I’ve learnt to never ever underestimate yourself and to never give up. Your mind is way stronger than your legs will ever be – so keep positive.”