x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Abu Dhabi mountain biker takes on Cape Epic challenge for charity

Tom Millard will compete in Cape Epic, an eight-day mountain bike race that covers 700 kilometres of rough terrain in South Africa, raising funds for charity.

Abu Dhabi resident Tom Millward is fundraising for the Make-A-Wish foundation at Yas track. Fatima Al Marzooqi/ The National
Abu Dhabi resident Tom Millward is fundraising for the Make-A-Wish foundation at Yas track. Fatima Al Marzooqi/ The National

ABU DHABI // Tom Millard is training for the ride of his life.

The 50-year-old Abu Dhabi resident is signed up and in training for what has been dubbed the “Tour de France of mountain biking” – and he’s raising money for a local charity along the way.

“I’m excited on one hand, and feel pretty stupid on the other,” said the South African, who will be taking part in Cape Epic, an eight-day mountain-bike stage race covering more than 700km of rugged, mountainous off-roading terrain in Western Cape at the end of March.

“It’s a really tough challenge, the toughest I’ve ever had,” said Mr Millard, who will average a distance of just under 100km a day and climb 14,850 metres of unforgiving territory in the south-western province of South Africa.

Mr Millard’s love of mountain biking began more than two decades ago, when the activity first began to appear in South Africa.

He used his bike not only as a hobby but also as a means of transport, riding 10km to work everyday.

But he took his love for the sport even further when he and his family first moved to Oman in 2008.

“After my wife got offered a job in Muscat we agreed I would become the house dad and look after our two kids.”

With more free time, the former mechanic and farmer focused on biking more around Muscat.

“With more time on my hands I decided to do some good with my activity.”

He began riding for charities and his greatest achievement was a 3,700km ride from Muscat to the Oman-Yemen border and back again.

Mr Millard this time has teamed up with Make-A-Wish UAE, an organisation which grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions.

“I raised close to Dh80,000 for a charity supporting children with Down syndrome and autism biking in Oman.”

His family moved again when his wife gained employment in Abu Dhabi in 2012.

“It was more difficult to find trails here and I had to travel to Fujairah and Hatta to find good terrain for mountain biking.”

He rides year-round in Abu Dhabi and the Northern Emirates.

“In the summer you have to begin as early as 4am to avoid the heat, which becomes unbearable around 10am.”

Mr Millard had his wife to thank for his entry into the famous Cape Epic.

“It has always been an ambition of mine but it is a difficult race to get into,” he said.

Registration for the annual competition begins a few weeks after the conclusion of the prior year’s race, with the majority of spots disappearing within hours after opening online to the public.

Mr Millard’s wife encouraged him to apply for the few lottery openings left last summer.

“I said no way am I getting in as millions of people probably sign up.”

But Mr Millard was destined to race when his name came up a few weeks later.

He now rides up to 450km a week and has since joined Al Raha Cycling group.

“Training was going well until Christmas. Visitors, a couple of root canals, and a flu set me back.”

But Mr Millard remains determined and is set to begin training with his riding partner in South Africa in a few weeks’ time.

“All the money I raise will go to the foundation which is a huge incentive to keep going.”

Make-A-Wish has helped the avid mountain-biker set up a tent for fundraising at Yas Marina Circuit on Tuesdays when the F1 track is open to the public.

“My dad is probably the kindest most generous person I know,” said his daughter Sarah, 18, who takes care of the fundraising while her dad cycles on the racetrack.

“He’s always doing things for others and he’s an inspiring person to grow up with.

“I’m really proud of him.”