Tuesday 27 November 2012

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:13 | No comments

Double Century 2012

Team Sky might have popularised the term "marginal gains" in cycling circles, but there was no way that our rag-tag team consisting of triathletes, mountain bikers and race snakes had the time or the patience to apply the principal. After the almost year we had last year we opted for the lesser known program of "monumental advancement" and found ourselves two professional bike riders and a top notch sponsor.

The guys, posing as Team HotChillee for the 2012 DC
We're not talking local South African professionals and all the baggage that comes along with them, we're talking real professionals. Professionals who have Cav's phone number on speed dial, who can name the climbs of the Giro d'Italia in order of meters climbed, and have their own Wikipedia pages. Enter the Downing brothers - Dean and Russell. Along with entries like The Critérium International, An Post Rás and the Giro d'Italia on their palmarès, Russell won the Fun Ride World Champs (aka The Argus) in 2005. These were guys that we could use. The rest of the team remained mostly the same - Hector (The Hulk), Chris (The Quiet One), Jarryd (The Kid), Craig (The Captain), Warren (The Village Person), Trevor (The Beast), Andy (The Silver Bullet) and myself. We also welcomed back Zayin (The IT Guy). Apart from the Downing brothers, our only new recruits were Lance (The Legolas Look-alike) and Jason (The Portable Pit Crew).

Let's do this!
To complete the look, Captain Craig had used his connections and got HotChillee on board as the team sponsor. Not only would we ride fast with our pro's, we would look fast as well. And in a last minute surprise, The Beast produced a well stocked packet of PowerBar goodies which the team disseminated like vultures around a carcass. Three monumental advancement tick boxes ticked.

The new secret weapon of death

Aero wine drinking, as Dean hangs his head in shame
The team meeting the night before the race was a chaotic affair. The race strategy got more and more complicated and outlandish as the beer and wine flowed and by the time dinner was finished no one really knew what the plan was. As I understood it, the strategy was to ride as fast as possible to the neutral feed zone at 110kms, have some snacks and a leg stretch, and then ride as fast as possible to the finish. Nothing like a simple plan. I just hoped we had the legs to convert the plan into action.

Red sky in the morning, shepard's warning
Team HotChillee were allocated a 6h58 start time although I don't think many people slept past 5h30. There was a sense of excitement and nervousness filling the air, amongst the various other noxious gasses and smells swirling around the guest house. This was our year, the year we'd show the local racing scene what our unlikely looking team was made of. As we made our way to the start line, I was forced to confront my fear of Andy's time trial helmet - the helmet that had single handedly scarred my psyche so badly and put me in a place I never wanted to find myself in ever again the previous year. And this year there was another helmet of death. Talk about desensitisation therapy.

Last minute scheming and strategising
Standing on the start line, our rag-tag collection each went through their pre-race start line routine - some guys get quiet and introspective, others obsessively check and recheck their equipment, while others spend an inappropriate amount of time inside the porta-loo's. Each of us trying to get into the zone for the sufferfest that lay ahead. As if riding 205kms in a straight stripe huddled over your handlebars at 35km/h for just under 6 hours isn't tough enough, Mother Nature decided to get in on the mix with some of the worst weather the Double Century has ever seen. Gusting winds, rain, and hail - not what you'd expect in summer in the Cape.

The Beast and the Baby Beasts
Lance led us off from the gun and proceeded to put each and every amateur member of Team HotChillee into the hurt box. We were flying along at speeds of 50km/h through the streets of Swellendam, bouncing over speed bumps and slicing around corners. It was around about now that I had my first thought of bailing - the guest house was only a couple of kilometres away. I could be back in bed in 10 minutes. Just as suddenly and as violently as the speed began, so it ended. Lightning Lance went from being on the front one second, to being out the back the next. I only realised that we were down to 11 HotChilleeans about twenty minutes later.

Being fast trumps looking like an alien (or a Village Person wearing a shower cap)
The next hour proceeded rather uneventfully, if riding along at an average of 45km/h can be called uneventful. Dean and Russell were already showing their class and had slotted into our way of doing things, just a little bit better. Where the amateurs were taking one to two minute turns on the front, the Downings would do anything from five to eight minutes on the front, always with a smile, and always at a pace the rest of us could keep up with. As soon as the climbing started we lost Zayin, leaving just 10 riders and 150 kilometres to go. We were starting to look like Team FrostyFresno as I had recollections of last year's race.

Lance gapping the team in the start chute already
The Downing brothers might have raced through some of the most beautiful scenery in Europe, flanked by cycling mad tifosi, but I doubt they've ever ridden up climb as scenic as the Tradouw Pass with only baboons looking on in bemusement. At the top of the pass we took the left turn towards Montegu, and into the howling wind that we'd been dreading for the previous week. We slowly inched our way to the top of Op de Tradouw pass as we huddled together, dodging branches, livestock and compact European cars that were being whipped passed us by the gale force winds. And just when we thought it couldn't get any worse, it started raining. Our rented pro's seemed to be having a ball - it was like a summer's day in the UK for them, but for the rest of us the weather was as terrifying as Captain Craig's moustache.

Team HotChillee reforming in the snack zone
It was around this time that The Beast had his near death experience. I was lurking at the back of our little chain gang going down a particularly fast hill in the pouring rain when I saw a Downing brother quickly shoot out of the line to the right, revealing The Beast in the process of negotiating the biggest speed wobble I have ever seen. It was more like the Earth below The Beast had given up under his power and was wobbling all over the place like a bowl of jelly. The Beast claimed to have the faces of his kids flash before his eyes, and was quite prepared for the monstrous crash we all thought was coming, but somehow he convinced the Earth to return to it's usual orbital rotation and averted the crisis. To be perfectly honest - I think I saw the faces of The Beast's kids - it was that bad. To make matters worse, I think we lost Chris The Quiet Guy in this incident too. He's so quiet that it's difficult to be sure - he could have been missing for half an hour and we'd never have known.

Life giving Coca-Cola
It was another mundane 30kms before Team HotChillee had some excitement again. In the blink of an eye, our pace line disintegrated and there were 6 guys up ahead, and Captain Craig, Warren The Village Person and myself off the back. I wasn't too bothered as it wasn't long and we'd be at the checkpoint where we'd be able to regroup but Warren miscounted and thought there were only 5 riders up ahead. I was rather puzzled when he took it upon himself to cross the gap, donating a kidney in the process. His disappointment on recounting later must have cracked him mentally, when we next saw him at the check point he was a quivering wreck.

And then there were 7
Captian Craig and I rode a steady tempo into the checkpoint and rejoined the team as they grazed on snacks and stretched their legs as Jason, our backup driver, looked on. The Beast was adamant that we have some of his raisins, and given his size, no one refused. The Downing's were looking calm, relaxed and comfortable, while the rest of us were wondering how we were going to survive the next 90kms. Twenty minutes later and Team HotChillee left the feed zone with 11 riders - our next target being the circle at Robertson, and more importantly the welcome tailwind that it would bring.

Echelon riding the Dutch would be proud of
The Downing brothers were champs on this next section - sitting on the front, tapping out a tempo that had the rest of us fighting for wheels, and still had enough energy to give Robbie Hunter a jibe or two as we stormed passed him. I was sitting in 7th wheel in the pace line, revelling in the security of knowing that I was safely nestled in the middle of Team HotChillee. Until I looked over my shoulder and saw nothing. Five minutes after leaving the check point and and we were looking like Team Not-So-HotChillee. I had flashbacks of last year's race where we'd been in a similar promising position until we ran out of riders. We had 70kms to go and just 7 riders, but at least we had a tail wind.

The Beast, calling in the reinforcements
I gave Jarryd The Kid the sign that I was watching him - he was not going to pull a sneaky on me this year. I was starting to take strain with the increased pace, and my calves felt like they were the new residence for a family of mice. I could feel them running up and down under my skin, making nests and burrowing tunnels. My stomach was also acting up - it felt like a witch's cauldron slowly bubbling away, filled with energy bars, gels, coke and The Beast's raisins. With 50kms to go I silently threw in the towel, sat up, and watched the remaining HotChilleeans disappear off up ahead. And then something funny happened, in the 5 minutes that I'd taken it easy for, the mice had packed their bags and left, the cauldron had settled down and I felt quite good. So I chased. And I chased. On my own. Back to my team. With some directeur sportif like encouragement from the team car I got back onto our bunch. I knew the good legs wouldn't last, and so made it my mission the get The Beast of the several small rises that lay ahead, along with Dean and Russell.

That's a bicycle, not a farm gate. Well, not a big farm gate.
The mice did return from their vacation just as we crested the last of the small hills, and although Captain Craig did his best to keep me in touch with the rest of the team, I was done. With 25kms to go I threw out my parachute, waved good bye and called the team car over for some juice. If I thought my legs were in a bad state, seeing Warren hobble and stumble as his legs cramped up gave me a good laugh. And he'd been sitting in the car for 2 hours. I stopped for some life giving coke, had a chat with the water point marshal and set off on my way, wheel sucking a team like my life depended on it. And then it happened again. My legs came back. I waved good bye to my new best friends, and with the wind now firmly behind me flew up the last little climbs like they weren't even speed bumps in my way, finishing 4 minutes behind my team.

Post race pizza, champage and analysis with The Dirty Dozen, the 6th all women's team.
Oh, and a boring rugby game blaring away in the background.
Team HotChillee finished 4th in a time of 5h42, living up to the start line announcer's dark horse tag. The rag-tag collection of riders had beaten several of the more fancied teams and at the same time had fun. Dean and Russell are consummate professionals, and great guys. Our local pro's and pro wannabees could certainly take a leaf out of their book.

While we just missed out on a podium place, there were several prizes that members of Team HotChillee won outright:

  • Fastest average speed in the Swellendam city limits
  • Earliest dropped rider
  • Greatest height difference between the tallest and shortest riders
  • The quietest cyclist in the Western Cape
  • The only guy with a time trial helmet to get into a car
  • A climber who got dropped on the climbs
  • The nicest, strongest, bestest pro's

Hector The Hulk - exhausted after a long day out
As is customary, we finished off the weekend with an easy ride on Sunday, racing up hills, flying down dales and generally just messing about, before enjoying a hearty breakfast and then making the long trip back to reality. You can bet your bottom dollar that we'll be back again next year to give it our all, to have fun, and enjoy the time out on our bikes. Who knows - perhaps that elusive podium place is within our grasp.

Someone call The Style Guy!

I'm the king of the world

Of course it's rideable!

Warren, concerned his dirty shorts will give him a dodgy rash

Lance striking a pose

Wednesday 14 November 2012

Posted by Velouria Posted on 13:10 | 2 comments

Wines2Whales 2012

Team Starsky and Hutch once again reformed for 2012's Wines2Whales in an attempt to actually get from the Wines in Somerset West to the Whales in Hermanus after the now infamous Wines 2 A-Soggy-Cricket-Pitch-in-the-Middle-of-Nowhere 2011 edition. A more juxtaposed team would be hard to find - Red John being a tiny, light weight, short distance, road racing, hill loving cyclist, and me - a gigantic, "big boned", long distance, mountain biking, flat road oaf. Much like Asterix and Obelix, C3PO and R2D2, or Jay and Silent Bob, we made for an unlikely combination.

All ready to roll!
(Jacky McClean / Newsport Media)
The other aspect that makes this race stand out from the various stage races we do is that our wives also team up and take part in the aptly named Team Pinky and The Brain. And unlike the members of Team Starsky and Hutch, no one really knows who Pinky is, and who the Brain is. I suspect they take turns, depending on exhaustion levels, sun exposure, and general well being.

My preparation for the race included rereading my blog entry from last year's race to mentally prepare myself for what riding with Red John entailed. If anything, all I achieved was to relive some memories I'd safely managed to bury deep inside my subconscious - the pain and suffering that such a small guy can dish out on a bicycle is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Stage 1

Like a prisoner on death row, my date with destiny eventually arrived - and on race day morning Red John was looking lean, mean and determined. To make matters worse, we had the likes of Robbie Hunter, Burry Stander, Christoph Sauser and several other serious looking race snakes hanging out in our start chute. The Pain Cave awaited, and I was going spelunking on a solo adventure into uncharted territory.

The dam crossing
The first 30 seconds went well, and then the road started going up. Unlike last year where I gallantly (stupidly?) refused to hang onto Red John's pocket, I quickly swallowed my pride, set aside my principles, and took up what would soon become a regular position of hanging onto Red John's left rear pocket. Just when I thought I couldn't sink any lower, a photographer appeared out of nowhere to capture the moment. My humiliation was complete, but at the same time, this was certainly one of the better ways to ride up a hill.

Post race snacks
We made steady progress while I secretly hoped a Cycling Faerie would deliver a fresh set of legs, and before long we were approaching Water Point 2. After the serious tongue lashing I got last year for stopping at a water point for some coke, Red John had me promise that I would not stop this year - unless it was over 30C. You can imagine how glad I was that not only was it over 30C, but Red John had also dropped a bottle and needed to stop to refill his remaining one. There is something about drinking coke when your vision is blurred, your lungs are on fire, the snot is flowing freely from your face, and your legs feel like bowls of week old custard that makes it taste so good. I could have stayed there all day, but by some miracle Red John was able to coax me away from the happy place I was in and back into my Cave of Pain.

Riding like a pro
With Hans se Kop and Magic Mountain behind us, the portage of Gantouw Pass had me plumbing new depths of patheticness and self pity as I stumbled along, bent over double, pushing, carrying and heaving my bike up and over the endless slope of ankle breaking boulders. And just when I was about to give up - Red John was there to carry my bike (perhaps he is the Cycling Faerie). I didn't mind the photographer now, gamely snapping away at the scene in front of him - my need to survive overriding any feelings of shame.

Smiles all the way
Once back on the bike, there were signs that I was leaving my cave as my legs recovered somewhat. We made good progress up the remaining climbs, over the monstrosity in the Eikenhof dam and onto Oak Valley to finish in just over 4 hours in a rather disappointing 29th place overall and 11th in our category. It had been the toughest day on a bike in a while for me, but as Red John said - a bad day on the bike still beats a good day in the office.

Team GregMinaar.com
While Team Starsky and Hutch were up front "racing", Pinky and The Brain were pulling some seriously hardcore moves of their own, ripping up the single track, bombing down the descents, and in the process impressing none other than Farmer Glen with their bike skills. The newly renamed Team GregMinaar.com finished in just over 7 hours, and more importantly 10th in their category.

Stage 2

This promised to be the fun stage, with gentle climbs, loads of single track, some innovative scaffolding constructions and fantastic riding. The only thing I hadn't counted on was the pace from the gun - once again we were nearing warp speed in the neutral zone and my poor old diesel engine just couldn't keep up. Thankfully I was not alone - there were several partners in the same boat, and I considered reviving the Suffering Epic Partner Union - whereby if there are enough of us weaker partners sticking together, the stronger partners will have no choice but to slow down. Thankfully it wasn't needed, as I eventually found a reasonable set of legs and was barely able to hang onto Red John's wheel.

Another early morning start
Just as we were starting to make good progress disaster struck as Red John collided with a solid branch, flew into the air, did a somersault with a 180 degree twist and came crashing down to earth. On the gymnastics floor it would have been impressive, but throw in a bike, some rocks and branches and it is a dangerous move. He ended up damaging some ribs, and although he didn't say a word at the time, every bump, root, rock and rut had him wincing and groaning. But it didn't slow him down.

Racey Red John
After the disaster of Stage One where everyone passed us, Stage Two was the opposite. We gradually moved up through the field, rather surprisingly doing most of our overtaking on the climbs (and without me hanging onto my favourite left pocket). Red John still did the lion's share of the work on the front as I perfected my aero tuck making myself small enough to get into his slipstream. As a cycling coach, Red John was trying some interesting motivational techniques on me, but I soon had him figured out. He would yell out that we had to get past so-and-so before the next single track, and I would dig deep, donate a kidney and make a move on Red John's designated team. We passed some ladies teams like this, some mixed teams, some vets, some sub-vets, but when Red John told me to hurry for the upcoming piece of single track and I couldn't see anyone either in front of or behind us I was onto him. He'd need some new tricks from then on!

And we're off
We finally hooked up with another team and shared the work well. I even got a chance to contribute for the second time that day, but mostly Red John represented Team Starsky and Hutch on the front. We flew down the single track at Lebanon, through the culvert under the N2 that was designed for dwarves as I had to put my head flat on my handlebars to avoid scraping my head on the roof, and on towards the final Water Point of the day. As is customary, I was told to ride through, but as I saw Red John stopping I couldn't help myself and had to delight in the pleasures of ice cold Coca Cola. We were heading for home, and slowly opening up a gap on the guys behind us. I could hear Red John grunting and groaning over every slight obstacle, but he hung in there and we finished in 2h52, in a much improved 22nd place overall and 9th in our category.

Team Pinky and the Brain - aka GregMinaar.com
Meanwhile, Farmer Glen's new favourite team, the recently renamed Team GregMinaar.com were having a tough time. Not because of the hills, or technical single track, but because of the testosterone hanging thickly in the air. It seems that chivalry is dead at the back of the field (and from an altercation on day 3, possibly at the front too) as slower, less skilled men on bikes would refuse to let the faster, more technically adept ladies through. After several frustrating hours behind unskilled overweight middle aged men, the ladies eventually finished, and despite the hardships of the day were in good spirits. It's not every day that you get personally welcomed home by Farmer  Glen at a bike race.

Our home away from home
Stage 3

I awoke on Sunday morning to a raging chest infection - my post nasal drip had finally capitulated into something vicious. But I couldn't really complain - Red John was sporting the latest in designer corsets, having spent a rather restless night doped up on Myprodol for his aching, strapped up ribs. Standing on the start line, I was quietly confident that we'd have a decent day out. Two minutes after the start that confidence was shattered. There'd been a robbery in my tent, with the perpetrators making off with my legs, one of my lungs, and most of my prefrontal cortex. I was pedalling with spaghetti legs, gasping for air like a stranded sardine and making some really bad bike handling decisions.

Prawns and mousse - the good life
I knew we were in trouble when first the regular crowd we'd been riding with vanished off ahead, and then slowly I was passed by the guys with hairy legs, then the guys with saddle bags, then Camelbaks, and finally the baggy shorts brigade. I'd gone from race snake wannabee to weekend warrior in the space of a few kilometers. And my source of motivation had his own demons to deal with - the Myprodols were wearing off and his ribs were taking a beating. I was truly useless - I rode into obstacles, hooked my handlebars on branches, bashed my head on trees, was always in the wrong gear at the wrong time particularly on the tight uphill hairpin switchbacks, and picking lines through technical sections that didn't exist. On any other day the riding would have been fantastic, but I just wanted it all to end. Suddenly a good day at the office seemed way more appealing.

The quiet before the storm
With the first half of the stage behind us, the hilly second half awaited. We persevered on, Red John once again doing all the work as for the first time that day we started passing people. The baggy shorts brigade, the CamelBacker corp, the saddle bag squadron and finally the hairy legged legion. We were back to racing the ladies and the mixed teams, and Tennis Playing Pete. Red John was offering up his back left pocket with free abandon, ignoring his ribs completely, and I was making full use of the offer each time. I was well aware that I was that guy that everybody hates - the guy getting the free ride while others suffered - and I didn't care.

Red John, in his natural habitat - going up a hill.
(Jacky McClean / Newsport Media)
For the first time this race I announced to Red John that I'd be stopping at the water point for coke, and despite his mild protestations managed to gulp down several cups of the life giving liquid before we hit the trail again. Some fiddly twisty windy single track and a few climbs later and we were at the base of the dreaded Hamailton Russell climb. One last time Red John offered me his pocket and we motored up the climb. From the top of Rotary we could almost smell the finish as I willed an attack of white line fever - I wanted to get this stage over and done with.

Some speedy descents, some flowing single track and a trip across the Onrus beach and lagoon and we were finally finished. After waiting a year we'd gotten to ride the last stage of Wines2Whales, although the sooner I could forget about it the better. Team Starsky and Hutch finished in 26th place after 3 days of racing - a little disappointed but glad to have ridden some of the best mountain biking trails in the Western Cape. Red John was the epitome of Rule 5, and I don't think I've seen a more courageous 75kms on a bike than I witnessed that day. I'd still lying under a bush somewhere in the Overberg if it wasn't for him.
Almost on cue - a whale waited for us at the finish
Team Pinky and the Brain had had another frustrating, testosterone fuelled battle with the riders around them and when I eventually caught sight of them approaching the bridge over the Onrus lagoon I saw a side of my wife that I hope to never see again. She was riding like a woman possessed, driving the pedals hard, with a look of sheer determination in her eyes to get to the finish line before the teams behind her. If I ever see that look from her again and she is not on a bike I'm heading for the hills. Things are about to get nasty. In contrast, Nadine was on the receiving end of the suffer stick, but was hanging on, gritting her teeth and giving it her all to keep up with her partner. And I'm told that at least she still had pride and was able to stick to her principles - she refused the offer of a pocket, determined to ride the whole Wines2Whales unassisted. Another Wakefield honouring Rule 5.

Pinky and The Brain racing for home
All in all, another good weekend was had by all, and Wines2Whales is slowly maturing into another top class South African mountain biking event.

Dirt, blood, and a big smile