Chef David Higgs is bringing his love of food and cycling even closer by partnering with a top female team for this year’s Absa Cape Epic. Together with his business partner Gary Kyriacou, their “Pazzo Italian” restaurant in Sandton has announced it will support top female cyclists, Nicky Giliomee and Cherise Willeit, for their 2020 Absa Cape Epic race.

“I’ve always had a massive love of cycling this is the first time as a restaurant group that we are able to support cycling a little more – especially women’s cycling. Which is pretty exciting!” says David. “Gary and I thought it would be great to be involved with likeminded people – people who are competitive and have fun with what they do. It definitely aligns with our Saint brand.”

Nicky Giliomee in the Saint colours. Photo Supplied.

Alongside a confession to being good at eating pizza and drinking wine, both Nicky and Cherise are incredibly pedigreed cyclists with a strong set of performance stats.

Nicky is a three-time finisher of the Cape Epic, and 2018 winner in the mixed category. In 2016, she won the Cape Pioneer Trek in the ladies’ solo category. In 2019 she and Cherise finished third in the Cape Pioneer Trek, and she won both the Karoo 2 Coast and Dr Evil Classic. She has also been selected four times as a member of the Student World University team (2015, 2016, 2017 & 2018). Cherise, an Olympian; has finished the Cape Epic twice, won the Cape Town Cycle Tour four times and is a SA Marathon Champ and SA Road Champ.

Cherise Willeit in the Saint colours. Photo Supplied.

“This partnership gets us to the start line and gives Cherise and I the possibility to do this amazing race together as a team,” says Nicky. “We’re very alike in our skills and strengths, and we’re great at staying calm under pressure. We enjoy racing together because one of us is always making a joke or lightening the mood with a chirp or a song when the going gets tough.”

The women’s team will be wearing custom-designed Saint cycling kit for the event, and they will be riding Specialized Epics. The bikes will be looked after by the technicians from Specialized Stellenbosch. There is also a men’s team made up of, the Chef himself, David Higgs and Stuart Johnston. They will also don the kit for the annual race. The partnership will further extend to previous members of the Diepsloot Mountain Biking Academy who now work at Saint and Marble restaurants. This includes the likes of Method, Tshepo and Richard who have already ridden a number of races with David.

For many cyclists participating in the Epic, the sense of camaraderie, friendship and family is what they place highly as the smaller races – where there are fields of only 200-250 participants. For both Nicky and Cherise who met through cycling, participating in high-profile races is an opportunity to show that it is possible to have a normal lifestyle – work a full time job, be a mom and not be a professional cyclist to do the Epic.

Cherise with her husband, Benno, and their eldest son, Thomas, after she and Nicky finished third in the 2019 Momentum Health Cape Pioneer Trek, presented by Biogen. Photo by ZCMC.

“Cherise and I have become very close friends and I have bikes to thank for that. She is the most incredible mom, wife, friend and role model and I learn more and more from her every day. To share this experience with her is a dream come true. I have no doubt we will have fun and laugh every single day. To have a partnership like that where you really understand each other is incredibly rare and so special. We can’t wait to share our journey with you,” says Nicky.

For Cherise, getting to the finish line will always be in memory of her late husband, Burry Stander.

“I always remember Burry and think of how proud he will be of me riding the Epic and getting to the finish line. The Epic is such a reminder for me of the life Burry lived and everything he achieved and seeing how tough his racing really was. Having done it twice, I finally understand how hard he raced and how tough it really was. It really is just a great reminder for me of the legacy Burry left behind and the life he lived. I am excited to share this special experience with Nicky.”

For the men’s team riding Canyon Lux bikes, “We’re just hoping to finish,” laughs David. “Hopefully there be some pizza and wine for all of us at the end of the race.”