Tuesday 12 March 2013

Posted by Velouria Posted on 20:25 | 3 comments

The Cape Rouleur 2013

I was lucky enough to have wangled an invite to HotChillee's African adventure - The Cape Rouleur, and for once, instead of riding bikes, I'd traded in my lycra and cycling equipment for a black HotChillee crew T-shirt and a race radio. As a rider, my natural inclination had always been that those who can't ride, crew. What a rude awaking I was in for.

My only previous experience of working at a bicycle event happened 18 years ago. I was given a red flag, a bottle of water and a high viz vest and dropped off in the middle of nowhere at the quietest intersection in South Africa with explicit instructions to control the traffic. While I like to think I did a great job of simultaneously waving my flag and looking for motorists, the truth is I'm quite sure that intersection would have been fine without me. I can't even recall actually seeing a car other than the one that came to collect me several hours later. With this in mind, I was a little nervous about crossing over to the "other" side again.
Look closely - a chain ring grease mark on the leg of a pro.
Glad to see that they're human too ;)
A certain cycling magazine editor out the back of the bunch - evidence that the Cape Rouleur isn't just plain sailing.

The Cape Rouleur attracts riders from all over the world, about 120 people from differing backgrounds, fitness levels and experience. To ensure that things run (mostly) like clockwork there are in excess of 40 crew members on hand, and they are ably directed by the "separated at birth" twins of Hazel and Jane - often from the dark recesses of the Bedouin tent. Every aspect of the cyclists' well being is considered, both on and off the bikes. There is always a plan A, at least a plan B, and often a plan C, D and E. What often appears to be random chaos is in fact a finely choreographed stage production, each person doing their bit to make The Cape Rouleur a memorable event for all the participants.
My view into the peloton for 4 days
It doesn't get better than this

A crew member's day begins in much the same way as a cyclist's does - at the crack of dawn with an early breakfast and the promise of a daunting day ahead. Instead of pulling on tight, figure hugging Lycra we don our black shirts and baggy shorts and go into crew mode. As a crew member you never really have one particular role apart from the well being of the cyclists - one minute you could be erecting branding banners and the next you're emptying rubbish bins or mixing energy drink. And wearing the black shirt isn't without it's occupational hazards - I encountered things that nothing in my 17 years of bike riding had prepared me for - rose thorns in my fingers, a sunburnt left arm, and various other aches and pains from carrying, lifting, pulling, pushing and hoisting objects from one place to the next.
Me - on a mission, with my radio
Me - unpacking musettes, with my radio
Me - watering some cyclists, feeling rather lost without my radio

My appreciation for the amount of planning, self sacrifice and dedication that goes on behind the scenes was growing with every minute. I'm the first to admit that I'm a selfish cyclist - things must happen as I decree, and I've always expected race organizers, marshals and volunteers to jump to my every whim and desire. And they often do. As cyclists, we believe the crew members can solve any problem, conjure any required accessory into existence or know the answer to any question. We expect it.
My office and officemate (Vincent) for 4 days

To add to the complexity of the organizational effort behind The Cape Rouleur, the Cape summer had offered up some exceptionally fantastic weather. If you were on a beach. Under an umbrella. In an ice suit. With temperatures in excess of 40C and not a hint of the Cape's notorious South Wester blowing, a large contingent of riders who just a few days previously had been training in sub zero temperatures were going to need some extra special attention. They say the next World War will be fought over water, and judging by the riders clamouring to ensure their water bottles got refilled before our stock ran out, the first skirmishes might already have been fought.
The amazing ThinkBike marshals

Apart from my new found appreciation for the people who organise and manage events, I now have the utmost respect and admiration for the ThinkBike motorbike marshals that escort us riders during road race events. Previously, I'd always considered them to be bullies, patrolling the white line like vicious guard dogs with no understanding of the dynamics involved in racing bicycles. Working with them to ensure the safety of the cyclists opened my eyes to the role they perform, and the professionalism with which they do it. And while they might look like big scary bikers on big scary bikes, off the bikes they're a fantastic bunch of people with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to managing and anticipating the sheer random nature of motorists on South African roads - all in the name of safety for us cyclists. It takes guts to stand in front of an irate motorist at an intersection who will be inconvenienced in her Sunday morning shopping quest. It took quite an adjustment on my drive home to actually have to think about the traffic around me - such was the job that they did.
The annual BlackShirt convention
While I am glad I got the opportunity to see the other side, it's not a place for everybody. My only hope is that my fellow BlackShirts and I did indeed make the Cape Rouleur a memorable event for all those who participated, and I look forward to seeing many of them back in sunny (and preferably not as hot) South Africa next year.  I will take away a new sense of appreciation for the dark art of event planning, and I promise to always say please and thank you to the crew members and bike marshals who go out of their way for my enjoyment of the event.