Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Posted by Velouria Posted on 17:41 | 11 comments

Coronation Double Century 2013

Unseasonal weather, year end functions, flash floods and the turning on of the Christmas lights mean only one thing - it's Coronation Double Century time. Another crazy South African invention, right up there with the Kreepy KraulyDolosse and Pratley Putty, the Coronation Double Century is a 12 man team time trial over 202kms, with over 320 teams participating, that tests everything from fitness and endurance to friendship and one's sense of humour.

Team HotChillee
After the breakout performance in 2012 where Team HotChillee narrowly missed out on a spot on the podium, we came back fitter, stronger, and more determined to leave our mark on this monument of South African long distance road racing. We scrutinized the palmar├Ęs of several cyclists, handpicking riders from various disciplines and specialities that would contribute positively to the team and get us closer to that podium. And then we got the news. HotChillee had secured the services of Team Sky's Ben Swift. Once word got out we were so inundated with CVs that we had to turn riders away. We weren't just looking for guys that could ride bikes - Team HotChillee is about racing hard, but it's also about making friends, having fun, and not taking ourselves too seriously.

Ben Swift, and evidence that pro's do carry saddle bags.
Apart from Ben Swift, this year's team had a unique flavour to it. We had several seasoned campaigners, an iron man, a handful of rouleurs, a few triathletes, some race snakes and a talented youngster by the name of Nicholas Dlamini. Take note of the name, as I'm sure we're just seeing the beginning of something very special. Together, we had a near perfect combination of speed, strength, experience, and eagerness of youth. Unlike other teams that begin their DC preparation in early May with training rides and weekends away, Team HotChillee has a "rock up and ride" approach. We all know what is required and go about our preparation in our individual ways. Our first training ride together is often the ride down to the start line.

Nicholas Dlamini - a super exciting talent on a bike
I was more than aware that I wasn't in the greatest of shape, struggling to find some form after my Australian adventure. Rather than waste my time on some last minute secret training - I spent the week leading up to the DC clearing out my pain cave, making sure it was as comfortable and cosy as possible, as I came to terms that I would be spending a fair amount of time lurking in the shadows at the very back. Once I had made peace with my destiny, a sense of calm washed over me and I was ready to race.

Last minute strategy consultations
Team HotChillee had a 7:09 start time - 3rd last. By the time the top teams are lining up, the carnival atmosphere that hangs in the air for the earlier teams has dissipated, and a sense of quiet determination replaces it. We all know what we're in for, what we've got to do, and how it is going to feel. There is a mutual respect amongst the top teams - bitter competitors on the bike, and mates off the bike - we let the cycling do the talking.

Race line nerves - old hat for the pros.
In retrospect, it was a miracle that Team HotChillee even made the start line. An incident that will forever be referred to as as The Great Sock Mutiny threatened to end our DC without a single pedal stroke. In order to look like a true racing team, Captain Craig had issued each team member with a pair of (second hand) HotChillee socks. The only problem was that these socks barely covered our ankles, and in the age of almost calf high socks this is not acceptable. And to make it worse - our pro was lucky enough to escape the short sock fate that awaited us - something about contracts and obligations. Amidst allegations of Captain Craig being an undercover UCI sock regulator, a compromise was reached - stretch the living daylights out of the short HotChillee socks and next year we'd have UCI legal long HotChillee socks. Crisis averted. Barely.

Team HotChillee's template for next year
After an inspiring introduction by Paul Kaye, Team HotChillee were off, led out under the guidance of Ben - our level headed euro pro with as much talent as the rest of the team combined. We were not going to start too fast, and instead, aim to finish strong - a particular weakness in recent years. By the time we'd left the city limits of Swellendam my vision was already beginning to narrow, my entire consciousness focussed on the wheel ahead of me. All that mattered were the 11 other individual bike riders around me and how we coordinated our efforts together to work as a well oiled machine, slicing through the cold morning air.

I think Ben might be drafting me
The first hour is always the worst - it is the hour when your fears and doubts nag away at you the most. The hour when you haven't quite found your spot in the pain cave and made yourself at home. How much longer can I keep this up? Will I be the first to drop? Are we starting too fast? And just when the team was settling down to business, Halfway Warren broke a spoke. There were unconfirmed eyewitness reports that claimed to see him putting his foot into his spokes, but given the fact that Halfway Warren didn't finish last year's DC and that he had a score to settle, I find this difficult to believe. He tried to ride on valiantly, but a few hundred metres later any dreams of losing his nickname vanished as he punctured. Suddenly, Team HotChillee were down to 11 riders with 170kms to go.

Ben keeping an eye on the Dan the Iron Man
Despite losing Broom Wagon Warren we continued to make good progress, catching and passing several teams ahead of us before the climbing started. Ben, Jarryd and the other mountain goats set a steady pace, which for us bigger guys is still pretty much flat out, as we wound our way up Tradouw Pass. In previous years I've marvelled at the beauty and the scenery, but this year it was all business and hard work. Dan the Iron Man, like a fish out of water, was getting up to things that only a triathlete could, dropping back to rescue dropped teammates that we'd given up on. I half expected to see him come running past me after donating his bike to Broom Wagon Warren.

Captain Craig getting some advice in the picnic zone
From the back of my pain cave I really wasn't noticing much, apart from the wheel in front of me. Ask if I saw the guy riding in the tutu dress, or if I witnessed Captain Craig's bottle dropping harakiri incident and you'll get a blank stare from me. However, ask me to describe the back wheel, cluster and riding style of a member of Team HotChillee and I could spend hours recalling the minutest detail. Alistair looks like he's wrestling an alligator - in the saddle one moment, and out the next. And then there's Nic's restricted junior gearing rear cluster. In order for him to keep up with Ben Swift (with a surname like that, Ben was always destined to be a fast cyclist, or a fighter pilot) he spins his legs at such a cadence that small vortices are visible on either side of his bike. Imagine trying to ride in your 14 sprocket at 82km/h down the other side of Op de Tradouw Pass - that's a cadence of 164.

Not many people can say they've had a Team Sky rider touch their nipples.
Broom Wagon Warren can
With the 3 hour mark approaching, we pulled into the compulsory picnic zone at Ashton, having covered the 115.6km in 2h58. The opportunity to regroup, refuel and revise our strategy was welcomed by all, some a little more than others. The entire team, except for Broom Wagon Warren, was back, and as we waited for Lieuwe to conclude some important business, all thoughts were on the remaining 84kms. We'd been solid this far, but we needed to keep it going. Give as much as you can for the team, and then give a little bit extra. Creep a little further into the cave.

A jubulent Team HotChillee
In what felt like a repeat of previous years, things started going wrong almost as soon as we left the picnic zone. We dropped our backup almost immediately, followed shortly by Hector the Hulk. A sudden surge and Captain Craig found himself staring at a gap that he couldn't close and suddenly we were down to 9 riders with 70kms to go. Doc Dylan was the next to wave goodbye, and I was hanging on by a thread. As we overtook several slower teams and their backup vehicles in a rather harrowing experience, I had a moment of inattention and found myself gapped by my team. I did everything I could to close it, pedalling with muscles I didn't know I had, desperately calling for more power from the engine room. But none was forthcoming. Ben looked over his shoulder and volunteered to come and rescue me - but it would have been futile. I waved him away, resigned to my fate of limping the remaining 55kms home. I watched the 7 remaining Team HotChillee riders winding their way cautiously through the back markers as they headed for the line. It was now up to Ben, Nic, Dan, Jarryd, Lieuwe, Alistair and David to finish what we'd all started.

Post race, pre prize giving chilling
As I slowly emerged from my cave I realised that I still hadn't seen our backup vehicle. I wasn't concerned about my own well being - I would get to the end eventually. I was worried that our race snakes up ahead could find themselves in difficulty without any support. Somewhere behind us in the chaos and congestion, our backup vehicle was stuck, having to fend off attacks from inexperienced drivers and cyclists alike as they tried to weave through the disorder and pandemonium. The only thing I could do was hope that Broom Wagon Warren's earlier sacrifice would be enough to appease the cycling gods and that we'd be spared any additional misfortune. The closer I got to the finish without seeing Team HotChillee on the side of the road, the more I believed we stood a chance.

Medals
As I entered the finishing arena I caught the announcer listing the provisional results. Some team in first, another in second, and then I heard it - Team HotChillee in third. They'd done it. We'd done it. Something us average, everyday guys had been dreaming about for years. Twelve guys who'd never ridden together before as a team, from all over the world, with differing backgrounds, cultures and upbringings had united on race day behind a single goal and achieved it. Each and every member had contributed. And while the result is special, I think the commitment and camaraderie displayed by Team HotChillee will be my enduring memory of this year's Coronation Double Century.

The podium
A big thanks to everyone who made this weekend possible - Sven and HotChillee, Captain Craig, our backup crew of Bonte, Yolanda and Michelle, and everyone else behind the scenes. To our imports - Ben and Dan - it was great riding with you and we hope to see out in South Africa again. And to the rest of the team - thank you and well done. Now lets aim one step higher.

Lieuwe mixing his fake fur


Nicholas playing golf not nearly as well as he cycles

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11 comments :

  1. a great peice of writing, outshadowed only by the fantastic performance and result :)
    Congrats to you & the Hot Chillee team!

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    1. Thanks Az - and a special thanks to you and all the Think Bike guys and girls out on the route. Despite the chaos, you guys did a fantastic job in keeping us all safe.

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  2. Well Done! Awesome piece of reading.

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    1. Thanks Shaun. And well ridden - you guys played the perfect long game. But then again - you're all seasoned pro's at how to ride the DC.

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  3. What an adventure. Hot Chillee goes from strength to strength! Well done from the Repton fans! Next year we will have to be there to watch the defence of the position!

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  4. Brilliant! And congratulations to you all. What a team.

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    1. Thanks Dennis - you're right - what a team.

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  5. HotChillee No 1 Supporter28 November 2013 at 10:48

    Brilliant writing which brought tears to my eyes. I was so excited and proud of the HotChillee team performance who happen to be super guys as well!

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    1. Thanks HotChillee No 1 Supporter. Only 359 days to the next one. I can't wait!

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