Tuesday 24 May 2011

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:34 | 1 comment

Panorama Tour 2011

When the Earth was made, each geographical region was given an option to select a special feature that would make it unique. Cape Town chose Table Mountain, Johannesburg went for gold, Bloemfontein forgot to hand in their request, and through a clerical error, the Lowveld's request for a single hill was misinterpreted as a request for hills. All surplus hills were delivered to the Lowveld with the result that you'll be hard pressed to find a flat piece of tar longer than 200m.

It wasn't until after we had entered the 2011 Panorama Tour that we got hold of an atlas and looked up exactly where White River is that we realised just what we were in for. Hills, hills, hills. After getting a wake up call at the Grape Escape when my partner out climbed me I vowed to not let that happen again. The solution was a two pronged approach - a rigorous training program, focusing on hills and time in the saddle, and a diet loosely based on the nutritional habits of the Dwarf Hotot rabbit.
Team 5339.co.uk finishing another stage.
After an epic plane/road trip up from the Cape we arrived in White River, our lungs already gasping in the thin air. The only positive was that we had brought the Cape winter weather with us, and instead of temperatures in the high 30s, we could look forward to sub 20C temperatures and miserable drizzle and rain for the entire event.

The feature that makes the Panorama Tour unique (apart from the over-abundance of hills) is the two-man team concept. Much like the trend set in mountain bike races like The Cape Epic and Sani2C, the team concept adds a new dimension to bike racing. Interesting tactics come into play, but nothing is more important than being stronger than your partner. The benefits include an easier ride up the hills and the chance to look around at the stunning scenery while the only obligations are an encouraging push here and there and doing a bit of work on the front when the situation requires it.
Tastiest Chelsea bun ever!
Stage One's route description was sufficiently vague enough to give the impression that the organisers had miraculously found 113km of slightly undulating road around all the bigs hills of the Lowveld. As we would slowly come to realise, route descriptions were an obvious weakness of the organising committee. I have volunteered my services for future events, and as a start I would like to offer this description for Stage One: A lung busting climb to the hotspot followed by a life threatening downhill. Some legs ripping rollers before an Alpe d'Huez like climb, with a run in to the finish that will have you wondering how you can ride more uphill than downhill on a route that starts and finishes at the same place!
The snacks made everyone forget about the hills!
Team 5339.co.uk were slightly humiliated on the first stage, with several mixed teams leaving us for dead, as well as the social MTN teams of current and former professionals. The only positive being that I had regained the stronger partner title. The girls had a much better time of things, stopping at all the water points making sure they got good value for their money, and made some friends from the East Rand in the form of the Psycle Maniacs.
The Panorama Book of Horror - not for the faint hearted!
According to the aptly renamed Panorama Book of Horror, Stage Two would be a comfortable, fast 80km ride heading out towards Nelspruit with a few gentle hills on the run in back to White River. The reality was slightly different: A blisteringly fast departure from town down a road more suited for mountain biking with potholes the size of small family cars, followed by a leg numbing climb before another speed wobble inducing series of downhills to the outskirts of Nelspruit. From there it is a balls-to-the-wall race up 20km of short sharp climbs to the welcoming sight of the finish.
Kruger snackpack - holds 3 beers perfectly
Team 5339.co.uk had a much better day out, mainly thanks to the lack of hills in the early part of the stage, and finished a handful of minutes behind the leaders. Our egos were restored as we rode several minutes into the mixed teams, and our place on GC looked a bit more respectable. The girls had given up any notions of racing, and instead were enjoying the tour part of the Panorama Tour, stopping at water points and taking in the scenery and making new friends.
An elephant with a fascinator
With the short fast stage behind us we headed off to the Kruger National Park for a rapid game viewing trip. After several false alarms, and boring bird sightings (both mostly Yolanda's fault) we hit the jack pot and saw some elephants and kudu AT THE SAME TIME. With the whole world interested in Princess Beatrice's fascinator, the elephant tried to get in on the action. Looking like strange German tourists in tights we had lunch on top of a rock outside Skukuza, before slowly heading back to civilisation.
Where are the animals?
While the Panorama Book of Horror tried its best to downplay the severity of Stage Three, we had mastered the ability of reading between the lines in order to know what lay in wait for us. The first half of Stage Three was the same as the last half of Stage one, in reverse. All the torturous uphills were now going to be lightning quick downhills, and vice versa, and then we would be faced with the murderous climb of Long Tom Pass. The last section would be the reverse of the first section of Stage Two, so once again we would be dodging swimming pool sized potholes as we tore our legs off up the climbs back into White River. Throw in some pouring rain and thick mist and Stage Three promised to have the adrenalin flowing (I quickly made sure my life insurance was up to date!).
Beer and a tractor certainly beats Game and a bicycle!
By now, Team 5339.co.uk were starting to find their legs, and after a hell raising descent into Sabie in blinding rain and near impenetrable mist we found ourselves (rather suprisingly) with the lead bunch. Riding our own pace up Long Tom Pass in zero visibility we reached the welcoming left turn a couple of minutes behind the leaders and then then tried to motivate a rather lethargic bunch to chase them down. We ended up doing most of the work and paid the price as we ran out of legs on the climb back into White River. Once again, the girls had a good day out, enjoying the pizza and vodka on offer at the last water point and finishing with their new best friends - the Psycle Maniacs.
The ladies in their time trial outfits - made them 7.84 seconds faster!
The Panorama Book of Horror was exceptionally kind about the 20 odd kilometer time trail that lay ahead of us for Stage Four, but we knew better by now. And to make us a little homesick, the weather had once again turned foul. The ladies started quite early on, and had a good solid ride to cap off a great long weekend of racing riding. Team 5339.co.uk set off with the afterburners glowing, and blitzed the first half of the course, my fear of riding downhills temporarily cured by the atrocious conditions of the previous day. Just when I was starting to do some sums about our overall time disaster struck and I punctured. With the precision of a Formula 1 pit crew we had the wheel off, tube out, new tube in, tyre pumped and wheel on in a matter of seconds (probably about 180 to be precise) and the chase was back on. The welcoming Chelsea bun capped off a great weekend's worth of racing.
Tour over - home time!
All that remained of the Panorama Tour was the packing of bikes into boxes, stocking up on avos and macadamia and cashew nuts, and a long drive back to Johannesburg for a plane trip back to the flat roads of Cape Town.