Friday 28 November 2014

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:01 | 6 comments

Coronation Double Century 2014

Once a year, the forth oldest town in South Africa is transformed from a destination better known for its fine dining and agricultural shows, to the capital of endurance road cycling. The Coronation Double Century attracts bike riders from all over the country, eager to measure themselves against the 202 kilometres in and around the picturesque town of Swellendam. Now in its 22 year, the DC, as it is affectionately known, continues to innovate and adapt, and this is what makes it part of our unique cycling culture. Why else would 200 twelve man (and woman) teams subject themselves to the months of relentless training, the emotional anguish and the physical suffering?

Team HotChillee
Under the careful craftsmanship of Captain Craig, HotChillee had assembled two very powerful teams, both with aspirations of podium level greatness. After many meticulous months spent planning the intricate composition of the teams, like an artisan creating a masterpiece, Captain Craig presented two finely balanced teams, with equal parts of professionalism and comicality, that both honoured the spirit of the Coronation Double Century, and hopefully armed us with an opportunity to climb a little higher up the podium.

The official unofficial team photo
Team Sky's track standing champ and super speedster, Ben Swift, had returned to give us that experienced edge, as well as our resident Iron Man, Dan Halksworth. And this year Dan had some company - no longer the sole victim of countless triathlete jibes - in the form of James Cunnama. On the youthful side of the spectrum we had the 19 year old duo of Nicholas Dlamini and Shameeg Sallie, the former still recovering from the jubilation of signing with MTN-Qhubeka's feeder team, and the latter coming off a win at the recent One Tonner. Naas ticked the steam train check box, and the doctor threesome of David, Dylan and Doc provided us with some solid workhorses. Finally, we had mountain biking pro and Rocky Mountain rider Jarryd Haley to keep a suspicious eye on us roadies.

Detailed race tactics strategy meeting
As is the norm, Team HotChillee only meet up the night before the event. No silly training rides through the long dark winter. No team strategy meetings and motivational outings. Instead, we congregate at Tredici, home to the finest chocolate brownies in the country, for a pre race pasta meal and a few glasses of red wine, followed by chocolate brownies - obviously. This provides the opportunity to catch up on the happenings of the preceding year, and more notably, confirm the fitness levels of our team mates that we'd spent months scrutinising on Strava, analysing each and every ride, knowing that your team mates were doing the exact same thing to you.

Our highly proficient backup crew
With the wine flowing and the chocolate brownies tasting like the tiny slices of heaven, Ben gave us our first and only pre race talk. After successfully adopting several of Team Sky's Marginal Gains ideas on our way to 3rd place the previous year, we were eager to see what other tricks he had in store for us. With tips from the covert Incremental Gains program, and some concepts from the secretive Monumental Gains system, we discussed things like riding formation, momentum conservation, code words and secret handshakes, water point optimisation, race strategy, and how to look like a pro. The seasoned professionals on our team seemed to be soaking this up, while the amateurs started to feel increasingly uncomfortable. Like inmates on death row we were filled with regret. Regret of missed training rides and short cuts. Of one too many slices of cake (and Tredici chocolate brownies). And anguish. Anguish about the pain and suffering that awaited us. Anguish about the intimacy with which we'd get acquainted to The Man with The Hammer. Anguish about our contribution to the team's cause. I suspect, that as we drifted off to sleep that night, more than one of us made a desperate plea to the leg fairy to look favourably upon us, and deliver a pair of legs worthy of the challenge that awaited us.

The HotChillee Racing formation
Racing the Coronation Double Century at the pointy end of the race has several advantages. First on my list is that we get to start at a respectable time. None of this waking up with before the witching hour. Another perk is that by the time we start, we don't need to be wearing all the kit we own in the desperate attempt to conserve some body heat. As we each finalised our pre-race routine, checking tyre pressures and lubing chains, applying bum cream and smearing on sun tan lotion, we nervously brushed up on the details of the previous night's strategies. By the time we rolled down to the start chutes after the traditional official unofficial pre race photo, the field was like a deserted waste land. There was no sign that 192 teams had already departed on their odyssey, apart from a few evil-smelling porta-loos and the odd discarded energy bar wrapper.

Full steam ahead
With moments to go before the start of such an event, a calm typically descends on the start line. Be it quiet introspection, or mental visualisation of the assignment awaiting us, each rider has their own way of dealing with the nerves and uncertainty that slowly bubbles just beneath the surface. And just like that, we were on our way, our date with destiny having finally arrived. For a moment, I allowed myself to bask in the limelight, listening the the crowds cheering, the flutter of photographers capturing the moment, and the encouragement from our backup crew. I was rudely yanked back to reality by the diminutive figure of Ben swiftly vanishing up the street ahead. Time to ride bikes!

Bird's eye view of the action
Our plan was to take the first hour quite conservatively, if averaging close to 38km/h can be called conservative for us amateurs. Like a single sentient being, we quickly formed up into our racing formation, the sum of the parts greater than the parts alone. As we raced along, we explored our fitness and sussed out our form. Just how good were the legs, and was everything working in unison? The answers to these questions would determine our individual race strategies for the remainder of the day. How long would our turns be on the front? Who were we going to ride behind? Where did we expect hit the wall?

The lesser know racing skein formation
With an hour of racing behind us he hit the first of the climbs, and almost immediately we lost our first rider. While the pros did not seem too concerned, those of us in the amateur ranks took cognisance of this. The position you never want to find yourself in, whether it's team time trialling like the DC, or two man stage racing like the Epic, is that of the weakest link. A world of torment and hardship awaits, for as long as you can fend of The Man with The Hammer, or as long as you can remain camped at the very back of the pain cave, your mind a blank slate, save for the suffering and the single minded determination to give your team every last ounce that your body can muster. And now we were all one spot closer to being the weakest link.

An impromptu strategy meeting
As we crested the second of the two long climbs Team HotChillee was down to nine riders. Not ideal, but with 50 kilometres to the neutral zone, it was manageable. Any thoughts of recovering on the downhill were dashed when I realised we were flying along at 84km/h. As I loitered on the back of the HotChillee Express, gripping my handlebars like my life depended on it, I got to witness Ben pulling off his best Peter Sagan super aero tuck impression as he dodged back markers and drove the pace forward. Luckily, I had some company dangling off the back, as one or two triathletes, manhandling their bikes like diesel mechanics playing tiddlywinks, seemed to share my complete and utter lack of descending ability.

No caption required
Carrying our momentum, we raced for the neutral zone, dodging the slower teams ahead of us, and avoiding the traffic mayhem around us. One by one we dropped riders, all part of a sneaky plan hatched by our pros the night before. Get to within striking distance of the neutral zone and then launch an all out assault on the clock. Every opportunity to make up time could make a difference in the overall standings. We'd either pull it off and make up minutes, or implode spectacularly and limp home. So far, the plan was working, and we stopped the clock at a respectable 2h54 for 115kms. Time for us to meet up with our backup crew, to restock the energy supplies, and regroup as a team, before doing it all over again. We'd put in a solid effort, but the rumour running around the neutral zone was that we weren't even in the top five. Fortunately, we had 85 kilometres to turn things around. Eighty five kilometres that stood between us and a spot on the podium. Time to lay it all on the line.

The hills taking their toll
We rolled out of the neutral zone with 11 riders, and quickly got back up to racing speed. No time for small talk or taking in the beauty of the surrounding scenery. We had a task to do. As the pace quickened, the toll began to show, as one by one we started to lose riders. For 12 months I'd visualised making the steel bridge at 145 kilomteres with the team, donating whatever organs I had left before kicking in the clutch and limping to the next water point on my own. So you can imagine my surprise and sheer terror to discover that as we crossed the bridge with 25 kilometres to go to the neutral zone, I was one of the six. Months of mental preparation and training counted for nothing. I was in uncharted territory with a select handful of very talented bike riders. But I wasn't alone. Doctor Dylan too found himself unexpectedly in the wrong place. At least we had each other for inspiration and commiseration.

One little push and the photographer just happens to be there
As we crossed the mats into the final neutral zone we knew we'd just put in our race defining ride. Our backup crew did another fine job of replenishing our bodies and motivating our minds, as we waited for the rest of the team to regroup. We had one final push, 40kms of torturous rolling hills, ahead of us, and needed all the manpower we could muster. Team HotChillee rolled out of the final water point with 9 riders, each focussed on getting the team to the line in the quickest possible time. As our super domestiques, Captain Craig and the doctor duo of David and Doc, peeled off one after the other, each putting in a super human effort, lungs screaming and bodies battered, it was once again down to the final 6 to get us home. To make the sacrifices made by so many to count for something. By now, our pros were coming into their own, taking massive turns on the front and quietly encouraging each one of us to hang tough. With gentle encouragement and careful pacing we inched our way towards the dreaded Three Sisters - three rather average hills that assume Alpine Pass-like status after 180 kilometres in the saddle.

Driving for home
In my mind I could hear Paul Sherwin's commentary as we dug deep into our suitcases of courage one last time, cresting the final climb. A fast and furious dash to the fine was all that remained, and while no one dared to mention it, we wondered if we’d done enough to climb onto the podium, and this spurred us on one last time, up the finishing climb and across the line in a spectacular time of 5h09. All we could do now was wait.

Shut up legs
While Team HotChillee 2 briefly occupied the top step of the podium, the team was eventually bumped down into second, a tantalising 7 minutes behind the leaders, and a nerve-wracking 11 seconds ahead of third. Despite the celebrations and high fives all round, there was a sense that we could have done better. And as long as the team has that hunger, you can bet that we’ll be back, in better shape, and with an improved strategy, in the pursuit of those 7 minutes.

Stop the clock - 5h09
A complete team effort
The Coronation Double Century had once again lived up to its reputation as being one of the premier endurance events on the South African calendar, with its fair share of drama, heartache, euphoria and camaraderie. It was an absolute privilege to share the road with some of the most professional pro athletes in the world, as well as some of the most courageous and committed amateurs. Bring on 2015.
Mixed emotions - equal parts elation and exhaustion
HotChillee on the podium



  1. Congratuwelldone! Great result and an awesome report :)

    1. Always good to see you out on the road Az - thanks again for all the support.

  2. Amazing ride guys, and what a cute baby in an awesome baby grow ;-)

  3. Dane, as always, what a great read!
    And congrats on a super ride
    Regards, JP

  4. As always, a deadly combination of cyclist and raconteur. Well written!

    1. Thank Jason. It was such an amazing event this year, and everything just worked!