Shower (a real one). Beer (a big one). Food (a lot). My own couch, house and bed. The more my body realises the pressure is off, the more it feels as if it wants to implode.
I’m done riding the 2016 Absa Cape Epic, which I finished triumphantly today, but alone. I’ve missed my friend and racing partner Aaron over the last three days.
Alone I rode fast, as fast as I possibly could, all the while wondering how he and I would have fared together. Would we have gone faster? Slower? Had more fun? Crashed?
Regardless, it would have been better together. I had this conversation in the start chute with Conway Oliver. He had entered the Epic with Donovan le Cok, a great friend of ours. Don banged his spine on a rock two days back, and with seized muscles and tingly legs, the medic strongly advised him not to continue.
As Conway said, it’s good fun racing alone, but being in a team is better: whether it improves or downsizes your result, it feels as if you are racing for something much bigger.
Be that as it may, Conway, myself and many others began Stage 7 alone this morning. Some took it easy, some carried on killing themselves as if they were still in the running.
From Boschendal, we skirted the Simonsberg conservancy through some fun climbs and descents, some on singletrack and some on farm tracks.
Heading north across the N1, we headed into the dry, desolate, boring, windy, corrugated, sometimes sandy stretches of the Swartland. What we needed was a disciplined bunch of riders, travelling in a tight group, each taking their turn at the front as we rode 45km into headwind in a mind-numbingly ugly and boring landscape.
Instead, I got a bunch of lazy sods who only went fast when myself, a nice guy called Alistair or another solid chap called Barry rode at the front. When we got tired and went back into the group, the crowd all but ground to a halt.
I got angry and tried to ride away from them, three or four times, but in such a wind, that’s like lathering yourself in gravy and dancing around naked in the wilderness at night. The hyenas will always come for you.
Arriving at a horrendously steep climb at the back of the Hoogekraal hill, just outside Durbanville, was like arriving at the gates of heaven. I can climb, you see. Finally back in my element, I took control, nipped up the mountain, raced down the singletrack, nipped up another hill and down some sweet berms and jumps into the grassy finish chute at Meerendal.
Approaching the finish line, to the cheers of kind strangers and family, I took my hands off my bars, leaned back in the saddle and pedalled slowly, relieved.
Thanks for the adventure Aaron; I see more looming on the horizon.
Boschendal: I’m seven days into the Absa Cape Epic. Tired. My partner (no longer, sadly) Aaron Borrill and I have been covering it on GQ’s website. Read up on our adventures here, from Sunday’s Prologue through to Thursday’s Stage 4.
But the good staff at GQ have knocked off for the weekend, so let’s continue our tale here, with yesterday’s disappointment and today’s frivolities. Tomorrow’s finish for me – Inshallah – will also be posted here.
Friday March 18: Stage 5
The mighty Aaron Borrill has fallen. I am alone out here.
The bug came for him in the night, like it did so many other Absa Cape Epic riders. So many dreams dashed; months of determined preparation; lots of money; pressure on families; sleepless nights.
It is not clear if the bug picks the riders at random, or if it targets the weak. Aaron was very strong on the bike yesterday, and he was chirpy at supper. There was no sign of weakness.
We were both a little paranoid of falling ill. That would not have helped.
Maybe it found him in the dirty stream we plunged through just outside yesterday’s finish line in Wellington. Maybe he shook hands with a sick person. Maybe it was something in the food.
I arrived at the Stage 5 start line without him, feeling unsure of myself and how I should ride. The route took us from a campsite in Wellington to Boschendal between Stellenbosch and Franschhoek. For 93km, it carved up and down the Du Toit’s Kloof mountains, racking up a considerable 2500m of elevation, earning it the title of “Queen Stage” — the hardest.
Aaron and my plan had been to ride it very easily. Time to recoup and spare our equipment a little.
I held back a little at first, but as we got into the big climbs, I felt increasingly confident and reckless. I’m sure steam gushed from my ears and I grunted and shouted like an injured, vengeful Leonardo DiCaprio hauling himself through the snow to kill a man, for no practical purpose.
I tore across the valleys and mountains of Wellington, Paarl and Boschendal, racing every person in front of and behind me — for nothing.
I don’t mind. I always race for nothing. I spend hours training to be the best athlete I can be, and as a 36 year old with a demanding job and not quite exceptional talent, my best puts me somewhere between the fast people and the slow people. Nothing that anyone but myself cares about.
Now that I am without a partner, my time is no longer measured against the teams who are still in the game. So there is nothing to win, no one to beat. Except for everyone in front of and behind me.
Without Aaron, so with nothing to lose, I gave it everything and had a grand old day on my bike.
To Aaron: Thank you for inviting me to join you at this circus, and thank you for pouring everything you had into this. You were just unlucky, but you have become an amazingly strong bike rider and a stronger friend.
I’ve enjoyed the ride with you and will do my best to keep rolling all the way to Meerendal on Sunday. There I intend to get you motivated for the next race and the next trail day, somewhere fun.
A friendship forged in war.
Saturday March 19: Stage 6
Another day on the rivet. Another day of awesome trails and steep climbs — these ones more awesome and steeper than usual. Another afternoon with a sore back. Another big smile.
There is a Groundhog Day quality to the Cape Epic. This is how it goes.
4:55am Riders wake unnecessarily early, cough, fart, sneeze, bang porta-loo doors and stomp noisily past my blue tent which, thanks to the enormous flood lights on the field, has looked like a day-lit sky since I closed my eyes. I check my phone. It’s too early.
5:15am A man playing bagpipes marches up and down the rows of hundreds of blue tents. It’s still too early. I have never seen this man because I refuse to open my tent door then. I lie there wondering at the cadence of his medley of tunes. “Auld Lang Syne” and one or two others I recognise. It sounds really random, underpinned by a long wheeze. Is he a professional musician? Is it supposed to sound like this?
5:20am My alarm goes off. I hit snooze.
5:25am Hit snooze.
5.30am Okay ffs, I’m up. Need to pee desperately. Need to drink immediately. Need to brush my teeth before I suffocate on my own breath. Contradicting requirements, all needing urgent attention. It’s like my day job.
5:45am In the breakfast tent. I want to eat nothing. Sweet tea is tolerable. Okay a yoghurt. Force down a pastry and cardboard cereal with almonds — my only real morning nutrition. Tomorrow I’ll drink some Cadence Marathon for breakfast. Maybe that’ll work.
6am Coffee is too difficult to acquire, thus I am not quite regular. I queue, block my nose, enter the porta-loo and do my best. The toilet details might seem unnecessary, but they form a critical part of the routine.
6.15am Butt cream, sun cream, dirty damp cycling kit. Into my pockets go tools, spares, gels and Cadence CarboFuel Energy bars — truly the only thing I enjoy eating from breakfast to … Actually I’m not enjoying eating anything else. Okay, naartjies are good.
6.50am Start chute. Sitting on the saddle is like sitting on a moving cheese grater.
7.13am At this exact moment, every single f****** day, they play the same song. It has a good bass line at least. I wish they had used a guitar not a synth for that riff though.
7.15am Suffering starts. Skip water point one. Lube and fill bottle at water point 2. Wave at people. Lube and bottles at water point 3.
±12pm Suffering ends. Man hands me a wet towel for my face. Man hands me a pack of Woolworths food. I head for my mechanics, Bike Mob, in the supporter’s village. The supporter’s village is a place of exile, far, far, far away. Bike Mob owner Neville Cragg is nice to me. Mechanic Lance Stephenson is rude to me. Shop clown Sean Stack fills my ears with homo erotic humour, hands me a hot dog. It’s not vegetarian. I eat. Sean hands me beer. Sean abuses the resident physios: “You should wipe off that tomato sauce before one of us licks it off.” Sean shows me a video of himself doing something repulsive. Shows physios. I slouch in a “Mob Boss” chair and eat my Woolies food. On par with the riding, this is the best part of my day.
Remainder of afternoon: Walk many many kilometres from mechanic to shower to laundry to Woolies for more food to media centre. Bash out some words for this blog, dig up some photos from the Epic’s mega pro photog team. Once again no photos of Aaron or myself (when there was an Aaron). Sigh. Try to rest before dinner.
6.30pm Walk many many kilometres to the dinner tent. Endure the noise, the smell and the food.
8.30pm Bed time… but the lights are so bright.
You won’t believe me, but I am having so much fun. Seriously. This has been my most fun stage race ever. Tomorrow, it all ends. Hope I make it to cheers from family, friends and Aaron.
By Craig McKune
In December, I popped into CycleLab Tokai to get my bike serviced. After a month of hard racing, its various thingies were trashed.
Dylan Victor, the shop owner, some-time mechanic, big mouth and resident reprobate took in my bike with a naughty gleam in his left eye.
When I got the bike back, he had replaced a few parts, including the frame. A charcoal, dual-suspension Bianchi Methanol 29 FS with celeste-coloured lines, a celeste seat and a celeste bottle cage had been attached to my old components.
I’d like to introduce you.
It’s a Mafioso! My friends have called this “your Italian mistress”, and they said something about a whip. But they are wrong. This one’s a boy, and his name is Vito, as in The Godfather, Don Corleone.
After my first few weeks of riding this Methanol, The Don’s character has emerged distinctly:
“Vito prides himself on being careful and reasonable, but does not completely forsake violence…
“When movie mogul Jack Woltz refuses to cast Fontane in a film role that could revitalize his waning career, Vito has Woltz’s champion race horse killed and the horse’s severed head placed in Woltz’s bed as a warning.
“When Vito offers to reason with someone, it should be taken as a warning — and if that warning goes unheeded, the person is likely to pay with his life.”
Pay close attention Donovan le Cok and Aaron Borrill…
#PassioneCeleste It really is about the bike, Lance. At least in large part.
Once, I loved a Giant Trance, but in 2013, I traded him in for a more aggressive 29er a Specialized Epic, a loyal chunk of red metal that I rode for three years and more than 20 000km. His name was Rooikat.
Rooikat’s first big expedition was the Old Mutual JoBurg2c 2013, a nine-day race from Heidelberg to Scottburgh. I nursed him through the Absa Cape Epic 2014 and Trans Baviaans 2015. He rolled tough on stage races in Zambia, Mpumalanga, Tankwa Karoo, the Helderberg mountains and the Garden Route; marathons across South Africa; XCO races; and hours of trail fun with friends. I learned to race fast, survive blown, climb, smash trails, jump, cruise and tour slowly. I loved the rides.
But I never loved Rooikat.
Rooikat did the job, but his suspension system was awkward, his lines were not beautiful, he was heavy and he was always slightly off balance.
Like a person with a fiercely loyal but unattractive partner, I would cast furtive looks around bike shops and in race start chutes, fantasising about others’ machines.
Uppermost in my guilty dreams was a Bianchi Methanol.
La bici dopata — the doped bike This bike is so good looking, smooth and fast, it should be banned.
I fell in love with mine when it was still unbuilt and hanging awkwardly on the wall at CycleLab Tokai. Its geometry sleek and attractive, its suspension design simple, a matt-black finish, with delicate touches of celeste.
Bike porn aside, when I took Dylan’s Methanol out for a test ride on Table Mountain, I can only describe the experience as unbridled infidelity.
With my first few kicks on the pedals, the bike and I felt in tune. It responded immediately, thrusting up hill. Balanced, light and rigid with perfectly plush suspension, when I threw it down the trails it felt more like surfing through loose gravel, rock gardens and hard-packed trails.
Colour matching… … is not really my thing, but there is something about Bianchi’s celeste green that brings out one’s inner colour kook.
It kind of started when my girlfriend Jo, brought home a foxy little 650b Bianchi Ethanol more than a year ago, also matt black with celeste lines.
Somewhere between sky blue and minty green, Bianchi’s celeste colour is said to have changed slightly over the years.
The urge to match with Jo’s bike was irresistible.
As Dylan put the finishing touches on mine, we pondered whether or not I would need a seat post-mounted bottle cage. His good friend Dino Lloyd sat drinking a beer in the corner of CycleLab. He piped up: “You can get another celeste cage like this one, get Dylan to drill two holes here and here and then you can use a…” he paused, sucked in through his teeth and licked his lips to creepy effect, “… a celeste cable tie to hold the bottle tight.”
So it is with Bianchi’s bikes, that I sat in the office the other day and commented on my colleague’s shoes: “Cool shoes.”
“Thanks! Matches my personality,” she said.
“And my bike!” I returned.
She lost interest – I stared at her shoes for the rest of the day.
Italy Bianchi, founded in Italy in the late 1800s. Pomodoro tomotoes. Coffee. Napoletana. Pizza. Pasta. Espresso. Mediterranean lovers’ brawls. Olive oil. Red wine. The Godfather. Coffee. Mediterranean scrub, like fynbos. Capers. Vineyards. Romance. Vivid sonatas. Mediterranean weather, like Cape Town. Coffee.
The whole scene just resonates with me, so much so that I drank an espresso, much of a bottle of red wine, a bowl of pasta and sat down to write this silly blog.
Making my dad jealous On or about the year of my birth, 1980, my dad was in the garage building bicycles.
In later years, when I mishandled one of them up and down the neighbourhood streets, his temples would throb and he would sternly inform me that he had “sweated blood”, fitting, filing, welding, airbrushing, truing, spec’ing and branding the bikes.
For my mom, he built a pink racer, but for himself he created a much larger, light green one, both boldly branded “PAT MCKUNE” on the down tube.
He is a perfectionist, and the bikes were perfect — the kind of quality he could never have afforded. What I did not know until I recently brought home this Methanol was that, at the time, he yearned deeply for a Bianchi. The kind of perfection he aspired to.
When a celeste bike would wheel past — a rare occasion in South Africa in the 80s — it would draw his lustful gaze. And I bet — he did not answer when I asked — that when he sprayed his hand-built PAT MCKUNE light green, he had chosen the closest colour he could find to celeste.
Now Jo and I get that envious look when we ride out of his driveway.
Shooting the breeze at my favourite bike shop Dylan, if you are lucky enough to pin him down, doesn’t shut up, and he ploughs you with coffee from his shop’s beloved espresso machine. Long hours talking bikes, drinking coffee, eating pizza and wasting time at CycleLab Tokai, after closing, are why bike shops are better than online retail.
Angry bees After some trouble with my old wheel set and more trouble sourcing parts for new wheels, Dylan called me up last week with a settlement offer: “I’ve got some loan wheels for you. If you like them, you can take these ones instead.”
I collected the bike from CycleLab later that day and found two beautiful blue hubs gleaming like jewels from the centres of the wheels.
I picked up the bike and spun and turned the crank: “BzzzzzzzzZZZZZzzzzzzzz…”.
This was the first I learned of Chris King Hubs (my head in the sand, apparently). Hand crafted in Oregon. Gorgeous. Said to be nearly indestructible. With 72 engagement points, the patented hub design jams the wheel forward the instant you put down power – immediate response. And the sound, like a swarm of angry bees, is so enigmatic that there’s a Chris King “Angry Bees” ringtone for your phone.
I actually find myself riding slower now, because whenever the climbs ease up, I start backpedaling furiously just so I can hear the bees.
Dear Dylan: You are not getting these back. Please extend payment terms.
Preliminary dates are out for the Western Province XCO Cup Series — see the press release reproduced below.
If you don’t know — and I didn’t until recently — XCO is “cross country”. It’s a mountain bike race format where you race four or five laps on track for about 90 minutes. The climbs are usually steep and the descents are usually quite technical. Your heart rate should pretty much max out for the entire race, or until you blow.
It’s really hard but also some of the most fun I had on a bike last year. Hope to see you at the start line in 2016.
The election of the executive committee of the WPMTB Commission for the 2016 calendar year was done at the AGM held on 15 October 2015. There are still many things that need to be finalised; including next year’s calendar, the venues and courses required to challenge you, but still meet the variety of age groups that make up WPMTB constituents.
The committee is hard at work to finalise the list of recipients that qualify for Western Province and Western Cape Marathon Colours. The list of recipients will be released soonest and unfortunately, due to various factors beyond our control, we cannot provide an exact date. We will have a Marathon Colours ceremony in January 2016.
Preliminary dates are:
Cross Country (XCO) – WP Cup Series
23 January 2016 13 February 2016 20 February 2016 9 April 2016
13 February 2016 – WP Cup Series 28 February 2016 – WP and SA Cup Series 10 April 2016 – WP Cup Series 1 May 2016 – WP and SA Cup Series
Preliminary date for the WC Champs for XCO and DHI is:
28 May 2016 – XCO; 29 May 2016 – DHI
Date for the second SA Cup race in Cape Town for XCO:
27 February 2016
Our drive for 2016 is bridging the gap between the Spur schools series and other XCO riders to participate in the WP Cup series and an improvement in the marketing of our events. Key to this is the message that because it says Western Province or Western Cape, it does not preclude anyone from entering or participating (and supporting) these events. Even though XCO and DHI are demanding disciplines, it does not mean that you need any specific experience other than to turn up on the day to participate.
Next year we would encourage as many schools to participate as is feasibly possible. As a committee we understand the traditional sporting pressures from schools and respect obligations in this regard. Mountain biking is the second fastest growing sport in the country and whilst we realise the barrier to entry can appear high, all you need is a bike, helmet and some courage to come and take part.
The commission is a passionate bunch of mostly MTB parents. Over the past four years it has grown into an efficient MTB machine, and in 2015 delivered a number of very successful events across the Western Cape including the WP Cup Series, the WC Champs and the SA National Champs in Stellenbosch. We also introduced the Nissan Trailseeker series to the Western Province to fill a vitally required marathon series.
In the next year we plan to maintain the high standards we have set in 2015, but also to promote and increase participation at all levels as well as providing education regarding the rules and regulations that govern the sport of mountain biking.
In the next few weeks and months we will be providing:
The list of recipients that qualify for Western Province and Western Cape Marathon Colours The final (sanctioned) calendar for 2016 Marathon colours ceremony date Some clarity as to how the regions and provinces work How colours work and are awarded
The two-day Pennypinchers Origin of Trails, which angles itself as the “MTB party of the year”, is an event that pays homage to the world-class mountain biking hub of the winelands of Stellenbosch and surrounds. Being at the end of the year, it’s a celebratory culmination of the MTB season. But it’s also a unique event with a social and chilled atmosphere where wine is on offer at the waterpoints.
As the name suggests, its focus is more about the technical singletrail riding and less about the gravel road riding that marks typical South African marathons.
I had been told that this is an event where the pro’s are known to symbolically don their baggies, stop to swim in dams and generally socialise along the course.
Collecting my race pack at the historic Hofmeyr Hall in Stellenbosch I heard a replay of the race briefing by Alexa from Stillwater Sports, emphasising: “This is not a race”. Standing beneath the classic columns and pediment of the hall, I contemplated the unusually relaxed vibe of the cyclists.
Just as well, I thought, because I was absolutely shattered from the last several weekends of racing, had barely moved my legs since the Coronation Double Century, and thus even if I had the will would not have been able to summon my legs from the dead.
However, that’s not to say that there weren’t other enthusiastic racing snakes and pro’s who were still taking the race very seriously, including defending champion Stefan Sahm; the Swiss marathon star who has made Stellenbosch his home.
Under the shade of three-hundred year old oak trees and to the sound of a brass band playing classic hymns, riders made their way into the start chute on Church Street. The start chute faces the “moederkerk”, an iconic neo-Gothic Dutch-Reformed church, and the surroundings instill a sense of heritage and community.
Winding our way through the Eikestad (literally “city of oaks”) we were hit by a wall of wind before making a turn towards Jonkershoek.
As I went skidding on my knee across the fine gravel and dust about twenty minutes into the race after a failed cornering attempt, I reminded myself to tap it down a bit and enjoy myself.
A photo posted by James Gerber (@chasingjamesgerber) on
Hauling myself up the long contour path into very strong headwinds left me broken, but the trails that followed left me reeling. The tracks that had been destroyed in the devastating February fires have been rebuilt and our descent on the Red Trail was eight minutes (for me) of technical downhill singletrack bliss. (I did however almost get blown off the side of the mountain in those strong winds).
A photo posted by Hanno Lategan (@hannolategan) on
Tucking in behind a guy who offered to be my wind shield, we wound our way along a switchback climb up the southern side of the Jonkershoek valley, passing Olympic hopeful Cherie Vale posing for photographers along the way.
Around about the middle of the route I spotted a water point with wine and decided to investigate it. My bike was kindly wheeled away by a gentleman at the stop, and I was handed a glass of white wine.
We were then taken through Coetzenberg, G-Spot and Eden Forest, and the trails that followed must have been a challenge for the more novice riders. There was a great mix of rocky, smooth and twisty trails; there were bridges and drop-offs; there was even a wall-ride. The new singletrail descent into Mont Marie was a superb round-off to the days riding.
I heard that the long route on day two was tough, and I can think of at least two riders who’ll admit to having a complete sense of humour failure that day.
But all accounts agree that the heartbreaking climb up Botmaskop was made alright by the long descent, Bartinney’s Skyfall, into the remote and wild Banhoek valley and along the new Boschendal Estate singletrails; tracks made available to riders exclusively for Origin.
We made our way down dusty, flowing singletrack through the plantations on the slopes of Botmaskop, and then rode back into town and along the Eerste River and made our way back to sample some different trails on Coetzenberg, G-spot and Eden Forest.
Some lucky riders were even treated to an impromptu jump skills clinic on G-Spot with local Joanna Dobinson:
More than two centuries ago, European settlers travelling from Cape Town to Caledon had to traverse the Gantouw Pass, a narrow, nearly sheer passage between the cliffs looming over Somerset West.
Every year, thousands of heaving oxen would slowly drag settlers’ wagons up and over Gantouw. They cut deep ruts into the sandstone, which can still be seen today.
Ask Donovan le Cok. He had a very long time to study them while he waited for me to slowly drag my bike up and over the pass.
This was during Stage One of the recent FNB Wines 2 Whales MTB Race, a three-day race from Somerset West to the Onrus, entered by teams of two mountain bikers.
I last rode Wines 2 Whales in 2009. It was my first ever stage race, entered by just 71 teams. We camped on a school field in Elgin, and every night we gathered around a small braai to drink beer, eat and discuss the day’s journey.
I recall interviewing one of the organisers, who told tales of how he had traced old porcupine tracks along the banks of the Bot River to cut a trail that mountain bikers could use to traverse the plains to the finish line, then in Hermanus.
He explained how many bikers were looking for a relaxed stage race — something cheaper and shorter than the Absa Cape Epic and not as harsh to ride. He thought Wines 2 Whales would fill a niche.
Boy was he right. Today, demand for Wines 2 Whales entries is enormous. So much so that it is held in three iterations every year: the “Adventure” on the first weekend of November; followed by the “Ride” from Monday to Wednesday; and finally the “Race” the following weekend. Each of the three is quickly sold out to around 700 teams each.
With strong corporate support, the three-phased event ranks alongside the Cape Epic and Sani2c as one of South Africa’s most successful stage races — a long way from 2009’s little get together.
Donovan invited me to ride with him, just two weeks before the race was due to start. Before accepting, I sought to manage his high expectations by warning him of a glaring performance differential between us. “If I start as fast as you like to,” I warned him, “I will grind to a halt with debilitating cramps.”
His response: “Ja, ja, whatever. So let’s make sure we get to the top of the first climb before everyone else.”
It’s not easy to identify the fine line between realism and negativity, so I did not labour the point, but I tried to get him used to the idea that he would have to go a bit slower than usual.
On the Friday morning, we stood in the start chute with a very Olympic looking A Batch. The hooter blasted and off we went, chasing all the pros to the top of the first climb.
We did a rather fast job of it.
“There’s Gavin and Brett, let’s catch them,” Donovan egged me on.
I know very well that I should not try and go faster than Gavin in the first half of a race. Doing so is a straw in the wind for me.
“Okay, there’s John and Mike. Let’s pass them.”
“Are you mad?! Mike is a monster, I thought” (We didn’t).
My Garmin was all but exploding, red lights were flashing, alarms were sounding, but no enthusiasm was curbed and we tore on.
We were going far too fast in comparison to the rest of this very fast group.
Even so, we soon found ourselves caught behind a clonker on the first singletrack. He wove drunken lines between the rocks and trees.
Trailing behind him, our rhythm was thrown and we battled to draw good lines. Being something of a clonker myself, my left pedal struck a rock and broke in two.
My left foot could no longer clip in and my shoe clattered, banged and slipped on what remained. Rocky sections were dangerous, climbs were awkward.
My mental focus vanished, my power drained; my confidence evaporated. Like my pedal, I broke to pieces.
Much later, we crawled over the finish line at Oak Valley, just outside Grabouw.
I’m told the trails were great that day. I don’t remember.
Nestled among apple orchards, the Wines 2 Whales race village was a far cry from 2009, when there were a few tents on a school rugby field, a bar and a braai.
These days, the finish chute is wall-to-wall corporate bunting. Branded tents stand in orderly rows. Scores of physiotherapists and students rub down aching legs, while comatose bodies laze about an air-conditioned corporate lounge. Golf carts whisk cyclists to and from the mechanics’ camp, several hundred metres away. Hundreds of clean bicycles are jammed into a secured bike park.
For Stage 2, Team InFocus Racing — that’s us — had been demoted to the B batch.
Sporting new pedals, freshly collected from CycleLab in Tokai and kindly delivered by Jo, I shoved Donovan firmly behind me and said: “Stay there.” He dutifully complied as I carefully measured my pace up every hill. He looked a bit bored…
The route traced its way through the mountain bike trails of Oak Valley, Paul Cluver and surrounds, a fun, fairly harmless stage.
As we wheeled into the first water point, we heard a loud wail, screeching, singing, chanting and possibly barking. I’m not sure if the blue pom-poms came out there or later on the track, but my main memories of that day involve blue pom-poms. This was the most important part of Team In Focus Racing — our very own cheerleaders: Donovan’s dad Darryl, sister Lisa, wife Charmaine, brother-in-law Justin and puppy-in-law Skyla.
The family chased us along the route for every one of the three days. At every single place part of the route that a vehicle could access, they were there cheering — loudly. Very loudly.
In my darkest moments — at Donovan’s pace, there were many — they lifted our spirits.
At every water point, our very own bottles were lined up.
When my rear hub started packing up three quarters of the way through Stage 2, Darryl handed me a spare at a water point — he also very gently removed the bust one from my hands before I could angrily hurl it into the forest.
Anger. This is something I recall learning at Wines 2 Whales 2009: If my bike breaks and I get angry in the second half of the race, I go much, much faster.
Having placed a disappointing 86 the day before, Stage 2 was a bit better at around 68.
Still a bit average though, and we were keen to outrun our batch at the start of Stage 3 to avoid becoming entangled in a crash on one of the early downhills.
Off Donovan hauled with me maintaining a firm anchor where needed. We soon left the B Batch behind and were confident that every time the track became tricky or fast, we were putting timing into them (ahem: In our opinion they were a clumsy lot).
The route ran through pine forest and down through a river valley, spilled out onto the plains of Bot River, beelined for the Hemel-en-Aarde valley behind Hermanus before finishing on the beach at Onrus. The trails that day were awesome.
We rode it almost entirely alone in what I think was my best performance on a bike to date – I think Donovan even broke a sweat – finishing the day in 40th (and 59th for the three days combined). So I jumped into the sea for a swim.
My alarm went off at 4:10 am to the sound of heavy rainfall on the roof of our hotel in the historic town of Swellendam.
Dragging ourselves out of bed, tired and groggy, we started getting dressed and preparing for the day. “Hmm, will I want a sandwich at compulsory stop 1 or 2? Or do I rather want the sweet potatoes at the 1st stop? Should I rather carry this protein bar in my pocket?” Ila and I had never done the 202 km Coronation Double Century before, so we had no clue.
Forcing down whatever breakfast I could, I did a last check on my bike and made my way to the lobby where the rest of the ladies from the Velocity Sports Lab 2 team were waiting. The rain had luckily stopped now, and we made our way down the road to the start chute.
It was cold, and as we proceeded to the start line we reluctantly handed our warm jackets to our team manager.
As several (eight) of us hadn’t done the CDC before, we were seeded quite poorly. No problem though – overtaking is always a great boost to the ego!
We made our way up a very empty and quiet N2 at a steady pace; watching our Garmin’s for average speed and trying to match what we had discussed during our race strategy meetings. We were doing well.
By the time we were climbing up the first proper hill of the day – Tradouw’s Pass – we had passed many teams (and damaged uncountable male ego’s!). My voice was starting to get hoarse from shouting “passing on the right!” so many times. We maintained a steady pace, but two of our riders dropped off the back at this point. In meetings we had discussed that we wouldn’t push riders during the first half of the race so as to conserve our energy. We were hoping that they would catch us again on the downhill, but this didn’t happen.
The vegetation changed markedly from green, lush fynbos into Karoo scrub as we made a left turn from the bottom of Tradouw’s Pass straight into a very strong headwind onto the R62. We made our way steadily up the gradual climb towards the second big hill of the day – Op de Tradouw Pass, adding to our list of damaged ego’s along the way.
By the time we reached the top we had lost our youngest rider, just 18, and being as petite as she is, and the fact that there weren’t many other teams in sight at this point, we weren’t sure that she would be able to catch up on the downhill and long windy flats that followed.
And windy they were! We had passed all 94 teams that started in front of us by this point, and after losing another rider along the flats, we were down to eight. We rotated our turns in the front and tried different strategies. Personally, I felt like that road was never going to end!
We finally reached Montagu and decided to sprint, through the rain, to our first compulsory stop in Ashton to try and shave a few seconds off our time.
As we made our way past all the support vehicles we were cheered on, and we felt amazing. I’m sure that noone was expecting that the first team to pass through would be an all-ladies team! Reaching the first stop was such a great mental accomplishment – we were more than halfway through the race now. Rummaging through the cooler box I realised that I had put my food in the wrong box. There were plenty of extra snacks there though and we stuffed down what we could before heading out of the support area without getting a time penalty.
Back into the headwind.
Also, I was struggling to get into my big ring at the front, which meant I was spending a lot of time riding at a higher cadence than I would have liked.
As we made our way down the Ashton road we felt pretty cool because we were the first team and therefore had the traffic department vehicle riding in front of us!
There was some relief from the wind when we turned at the Robertson circle and headed towards Bonnievale. It was also exquisite with rows of purple jacarandas, white and pink roses and red cannas, which definitely added some inspiration to the dreary weather conditions.
After almost getting disqualified for riding over the white line, we reached the 2nd compulsory stop; arriving to more cheers and dropping jaws. We ourselves were quite gobsmacked that no other teams had caught up with us and passed us by this point. I think it gave us some extra determination!
Leaving the 2nd compulsory stop to do the final 40km leg of the race, bad luck struck as Marianne got a flat. We were in two minds about whether to stop or not, but just bit our lips and decided to risk the last leg with just seven riders.
This last part was very hard. The weather was getting worse by the second, it was super windy and my mind was plagued by the “three sisters” climbs (or, as we were calling them, “three bitches!”) which were coming up ahead.
Starting the climbs, Karla set a stiff pace I could feel that I was about the blow and start cramping in my calves. I was sure that we were going to be passed any moment. Our “work horse” on the flats and downhills, Robynne, was still with us at this point and she clasped onto Jenna’s pocket for a pull.
Somehow I made it up the first two climbs (I think the camera crew riding next to us filming might have given me some encouragement), and I tucked as tight as I could on the descents as my gearing was so limited.
I then completely blew on the last climb. Luckily, Ila had had a second wind and gave me slingshots all the way up the hill! (Just one awesome thing about being petite). Leorine, who was clearly feeling very strong still, gave Anneke a couple of pushes.
We dug deep up the hill approaching the finish line, and managed to stay at the front of the race and be the first team of the day to cross the finish line. What a feeling! I was literally quivering (though in retrospect I think I was in carbohydrate deficit).
Our ecstatic team manager, Lulu, came to greet us on the line and take pictures, until we had to make way for the overall winning team of the day, MTN-Qhubeka, who came flying over the finish line.