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Tiffany Keep leads the pack at the top of the top of Suikerbossie on the Cape Town Cycle Tour. Picture: CHRIS HITCHCOCK
Tiffany Keep leads the pack at the top of the top of Suikerbossie on the Cape Town Cycle Tour. Picture: CHRIS HITCHCOCK

If there was ever a case of a sportsperson simply keeping her chin up and putting her head down in the face of adversity it was Tiffany Keep’s debut Cape Town Cycle Tour victory last week.

The KwaZulu-Natal born youngster, who rode her first competitive race at the age of 10, turned 23 late last year but started 2024 in anything but a healthy head space having lost her grandmother mid-January.

“I was also going through a difficult time in a relationship, and which has since ended on good terms, but there was so much stress and uncertainty in both my brain and body,” Keep says.

“The first race of the year was national road champs which didn’t go well and I was emotionally drained, falling short of my goals and I knew the sheer stress was holding me back.”

Keep refuses to be bowed, though.  

“One of my biggest takeaways from the ups and downs of my personal relationship was that sport is so demanding that if something is even slightly off kilter it can have a massive effect when we have to give 100%.”

So Keep knuckled down, threw herself into training, surrounded by her loyal group of friends at her Stellenbosch base where she has lived for two years, and focused on getting back to racing.

“On the Monday of race week I found a quote — “the words you speak, become the house you live in” — that stuck with me and on race day I just had one of those days where I got to the point that I could race to my sense of potential and I was absolutely elated.”

The person whose has had the most influence on her career is her dad, Tim. “Both my parents were amazing ... but it was always up to me to excel. My dad is the most influential person in my career. He can watch me racing anywhere in the world on television and read my body language and say if I’m having a good or bad day or not. He’s always been my teacher and mentor.”

Speaking of her Cape Town Cycle Tour, where the Das Hutchinson-Brother UK rider edged out S’annara Grove in a time of 2hr 12min 1sec for the 78km haul, she said: 

“I woke up and I was fired up from the get-go. Some people were taken aback by my confidence but this time I knew from the start it was a good day. My legs felt good, I was staying relaxed and was in control all day. I planned on going hard on Chappies (Chapman’s Peak) at a certain point when the racing was relaxed ... but when I launched I was still shocked to see only national road champion Carla Oberholzer staying with me.

Tiffany Keep savours her victory in the Cape Town Cycle Tour with her competitors. Picture: CHRIS HITCHCOCK
Tiffany Keep savours her victory in the Cape Town Cycle Tour with her competitors. Picture: CHRIS HITCHCOCK

“I attacked again going up Suikerbossie (the tough 2km final climb of the race) and coming up to the finish I was in the front of the bunch and not the ideal place to be, but when S’annara came around me with a lot of speed, I had to put in a big kick to get around her and this little voice said to me, ‘this is your day, go and finish it off.’

“I’m so pleased that I showed a lot of my true potential this time and believed in myself. In areas where I used to be dropped, on the climbs, it was me putting on pressure and I felt so in tune with myself. In fact, not once in the whole race did I second-guess myself or doubt my ability.”

That’s something that makes her coach, Barry Austin, one of the country’s most experienced bike coaches, a happy man.

“I’ve been coaching Tiff since late 2020 in all disciplines, but slowly shifting towards road where I can see her really grow. With her huge ‘engine’ the road is a big possibility and future for her. The biggest thing holding her back until now has been her self-belief.”

He puts that down to the SA racing scene. “Often the individual doesn’t develop out of the team shadow and here I think her two six-month stints in Europe have done her the world of good.

“Also, it’s not about how many watts of power you’re capable of pushing out, it’s a question of how you use those watts that you have at your disposal. On Sunday (Cape Town Cycle Tour race day) her understanding of both her mental and physical capacity were used so well.”

Austin is firmly of the opinion that Keep’s best is yet to come. “She’s got the potential to be the next big thing in SA cycling, not like Ashleigh [Moolman Pasio] as a general classification rider, but more of a top sprinter or classics rider.”

Almost a week after her race, Keep is still on cloud nine. “It’s one of my biggest wins, because historically the Cape Town Cycle Tour has been around for years and it’s huge exposure for any cyclist.”

Of course the decent wad of prize money is very welcome. “I’m off to go and race in the UK and Europe for the next six months so that will be a big help. I’ve worked out there are probably going to be about 50 race days in that period so I’m looking at getting my name out there properly.”

Like any elite cyclist she has a few injury keepsakes. “Probably the most scariest situations in my biking career was when I broke my collar bone, earning my cycling rite of passage, eight years ago this month. It was an under-16 road race in Mpumalanga, very hot, and I was racing up with the boys and hanging onto them. But I didn’t drink enough which ended up with me not remembering a three-hour section of my life.

“I apparently rode into the side of a car and then ricocheted off the side of the road and ended up with a broken collarbone. I went from riding in a group to sitting up in a hospital with my arm in a sling.”

She opted to let the bone heal naturally, which saw her sidelined for eight weeks, but the wait was worthwhile and she won four national titles that year.

Elite cycling is not for the faint of heart and Keep is quick. “The fastest speed I’ve ever hit on my bike was 105km/h at a training camp and it was quite scary; in fact, to this day I don’t even think I’ve told my mom just how fast I went but I guess she’ll find out now,” she laughs.

Out of the saddle, Keep has a keenly creative side and loves dabbling with photography and also keeps a regular journal of her life on and off the bike. She also reveals her first lifestyle activity was ballet before bike. “I did mainly ballet for the first few years of my childhood life.”

Sticking with the B-word she reveals that there’s one fruit that is a bee in her bonnet. “I love banana bread, I’ll drink a smoothie with a banana in it but do not give me a simple banana to eat — it’s not going to happen.”

B is also for bag, in her case her go-to fashion accessory. “You’ll always find me with my Sealand moon bag, it’s an extension of my body. My overseas teammates see me arriving with my dark glasses and moon bag and often say I look like I’m going to a rave and not a race.

“But it’s a reminder of home, they’re a Cape Town-based company and their logo is Table Mountain, so what’s not to love about it.”

Getting back to her lifetime mentor, father Tim says from an early age his mentoring mantra was fun.

“It was all about having fun, and keeping it fun, with both our kids, no matter if it was training or racing. As long as I see a smile on her dial after she’s ridden her bike it’s great. From an early age I punted that the kids must play team sports and different sports and not focus purely on one thing.

Running a busy bakery in Gillitts, KwaZulu-Natal, nothing pleased Tim more than seeing his daughter rise from the ashes last weekend.

“To see how she rode at the weekend was to see the way I know she can ride. The change from early February to now is fantastic. And such an important part of that is her friend base. She has about 10 different people who ride with her at different times and having good people around her makes all the difference.

“She definitely wears her heart on her sleeve, and when she’s a little irritated but also focused, like at the weekend, is when the fireworks happen.”

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