The boy was so skinny that they called him “Ribs”. Born in 1868 at Aberdeen in the Karoo, young Laurens Meintjes had a talent he had yet to discover. When he went to Johannesburg in 1890, he rode a bike to work. A friend persuaded him to try cycle racing at the Wanderers track.

Laurens turned up with a pair of newfangled pneumatic tyres and won three events. He even set a new South African record for the mile! And his cycling career was launched.

In 1893, the Wanderers sent him to the first world cycling championships in Chicago in the US. He went via Belgium and London, breaking records all the way.

In Chicago on August 7, he exhausted all the other competitors – then accelerated and burnt up the track in a solo effort that set a new world record for 50 miles or 81 kilometres – two hours, 11 minutes and six seconds. After breaking a few more US records, he sailed back to a frenzied welcome and an official dinner.

South Africa’s first and only world champ then went into the cycle trade. He rode his last race in 1894.

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