Wednesday 25 November 2015

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:53 | 2 comments

Double Century 2015

It was never going to be easy to beat the year we had in 2014, but Team HotChillee were up for the challenge. Would we be able to crack the podium for the third year running at the Coronation Double Century?

Team HotChillee Mixed
Captain Craig, our fearless leader, spent many months scrutinising team lists and shuffling riders around to create the perfect balance of power, speed, endurance, and above all, team comradery. Our eventual line up consisted of a handful of diesel engines, several work horses, a couple of youngsters, a few wise heads, and 3 rather talented young ladies. We were a rather diverse collection of people, united with a common cause - we were going after the mixed title!

Hector The Protector and our amazing backup crew
One straight stripe
As per usual, the first time we met up as a team was the night before for the traditional pre-race dinner and drinks at Tredici in Swellendam, followed by a quick team briefing. In hindsight, we couldn't have been more wrong with our race day tactics, but more about that later.

Bird's eye view
Joining our team for the first time was Lucky Luke, aka The Wattage Cottage. A laid back guy off the bike, but a monster on it. Our challenge was to harness that monster for the greater good. We also had a pair of twins join us - Corne and Rico, two youngsters whom I still cannot tell apart. Finally, there were the ladies, and the VIPs of our team. We'd recruited the services of Carmen Buchacher, an exceptionally quick Capetonian with a string of results that most of us can only dream of. Our final team members were two young, exceptionally talented young ladies with experience of racing overseas. Kyara Stijns of Team Liv-Plantur was our foreign import, accompanied by her friend and rising local star, Catherine Colyn.

A helping hand
While the prospect of 202 kilometers in a twelve man team can be rather daunting, Team HotChillee was rather more concerned with the weather, as was every other team for the week leading up to the event. The forecast alternated from most certainly miserable, to decidedly despicable. It was going to be cold. It was going to be windy. And it was going to be wet. Welcome to summer in The Cape. But, it was going to be the same for everyone.


With our customary pre-race photo done, we rolled down to the start. This effectively being the first time the team had ridden together. And as we stood around waiting for our start time, the guys on Team HotChillee Mixed got a glimpse at how different it is to be a woman cyclist. As is often the case, pre-race nerves dictate that your bladder incessantly demands to be emptied. For a guy, this is no problem. You simply lean your bike somewhere, hop over a railing, and find the nearest tree/fence/lamppost. Two minutes tops! Ladies on the other hand have to locate the rows of porta loos, stand in the queue and hope that the next one available is "clean". Once in the porta loo, without going into details, they somehow get the required kit off and then on again in the confines of said "clean" porta loo without touching too many surfaces. The whole process can take in excess of 10 minutes. Much like destroying the Death Star, you pretty much only get one shot before the start gun goes.

Another beautiful bike
Urinary issues aside, Team HotChillee Mixed lined up on the start line to the cheers of a handful of supporters who were bold enough to brave the weather. And then we were off. Captain Craig took it upon himself to lead us out of town at a Goldilocks pace - not too fast, not too slow, just right. Almost immediately we realised that our male-centric race strategy was not going to work, and that instead of riding on pure testosterone, the guys in the team would have to engage their brains as well. Which is often easier said than done. Our ladies were our VICs (Very Important Cyclists), our number one priority, and we had to do everything to look after them. And to our credit we quickly got the hang of things, hiding the ladies from the wind, keeping the pace steady, and offering a helping nudge here and there up the climbs.

▮ ▮ ▮ 
And the brain work didn't end there. Our race tactics were in a constant state of flux too, and sensing that a spot on the podium was slipping away, Captain Craig made the bold call to ▮▮▮▮ ▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮, ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮, ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮  ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ (text redacted so as not to give away Team secrets - Captain Craig). And boy was it a good plan, putting us right back into contention, while at the same time giving our ladies a chance to recover as we rolled into the first checkpoint.

Final checkpoint strategy session

As has become the norm, our backup crew did a fine job, not only in attending to our nutritional needs, but also massaging our egos and offering gentle words of encouragement. A quick head count revealed that we'd lost one of the twins (I'm still not sure which one) due to illness. I hadn't even noticed, as the remaining twin had silently assumed his brother's responsibilities and it indeed felt like they were both still there. Our ladies were still in fine spirits, but if anyone thinks they were having a free ride, one look at the commitment and determination on their faces would reveal the effort they were putting in. Without a single complaint or utterance.

And the rain came down
If you're a person with a fragile ego, then a mixed team is not the place for you. If you can't handle being dropped (twice) by ladies on a downhill, or you can't deal with being pushed uphill by a female pro, rather stick to an all men's team, or Scrabble or something. Luckily, Team HotChillee Mixed had no such problems, our single objective uniting us.

A total team effort
Back on the road, Hector set about correcting a nightmare that has been haunting for two years when he got dropped out of the feed zone in 2013. To make amends, he almost single handedly towed the 10 remaining members of Team HotChillee Mixed into Robertson. From there, Captain Craig and I had a quick chat and set about implementing part two of our sneaky plan, only to hear Dr Dylan whinge for the next 10 kilometres about it being too soon. Our plan consisted of  ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ (redacted again, more Team secrets - Captain Craig). And it worked!

The pusher getting pushed
As we rolled into the second stop, so to did the weather. The heavens opened with ice cold rain, prompting us to cut our stop short to get going as soon as possible. Most of the team hunkered down, grimacing behind their sunglasses, focussing on the objective, except for our Dutch import Kyara, who seemed to flourish in the miserable conditions. The worse the weather got, the stronger she rode, culminating in her taking a few turns to push her male teammates (here's looking at you Dr David).

The birthday girl
Just as we were making good progress, disaster struck - Catherine's gears gave up the ghost, leaving her stuck in the biggest gear at the back. While the modern trend of high cadence, "Chris Froome" style cycling is all the rage, no amount of cadence was going to keep Catherine in the bunch. Enter Hector the Protector and his magic pockets. Through sheer willpower, the team pushed and pulled and nursed our VIC up and down the remaining hills, finally crossing the line 5h39.

All for one and one for all
While it wasn't enough for the top step of the podium, Team HotChillee Mixed secured 3rd place, and in doing so, kept our hot streak of podium places going. We now had two reasons to celebrate, the second being Catherine's birthday, complete with cake and all.

Happy Birthday Catherine

Post race chill out zone
The dust has barely settled on another successful Coronation Double Century, but we're already looking forward to next year. In the meantime, it's back to the drawing board for another year of scheming and planning.

Third place

Wednesday 19 August 2015

Posted by Velouria Posted on 23:55 | 7 comments

TransBaviaans 2015

For the twelfth year in a row, I made my way to the little town of Willowmore in the Eastern Cape for a bike race. And not just any bike race. A race that started my obsession with ultra endurance mountain biking. A roller coaster ride of camaraderie, suffering, elation, and exquisite beauty. A lot of things have changed in those twelve years, and a lot of things have stayed the same.

My first Baviaans, in 2004
Back in the day, we all rode 26 inch mountain bikes with bar ends and a whopping 60mm of front suspension. Tubeless tyres didn't yet exist, and the best lights money could buy lasted 3 hours, weighed a tonne, and produced a measly puddle of golden yellow light. Thankfully, they're all a thing of the past, unlike Wikus's PA system, the sosaties at check point 3, and the usual pre-race banter about the condition on the kloof.

Although we were on different teams at the time, the current team members are all visible in this photo from 2011
After the slightly disappointing result of 2014, The Quixotic Hill Engines were back to set things right. Captain Craig had spent a week training on the brutal gradients of the Pyrenees, while Halfway Robertson had indulged in several days of race simulation in the Italian Alps. My preparation was not as exotic, but included some upper body weight training (lifting a toddler is hard work!), several brutal sessions on the evil Wattbike, and the usual work and back commute. While not up to the standard of my jet-setting teammates, I thought I was in pretty decent shape. Strava even said so.

The Quixotic Hill Engines, presented by HotChillee
Race day morning dawned and we were once again quietly confident of a good showing. Conditions were perfect - warm with a generous tailwind, and everything felt good. After the usual mumbled race briefing from Wikus, and a tentative rendition of our national anthem, we were sent on our way to the enthusiastic cheering of the small gaggle of remaining spectators.

Warm, with a welcome tail wind
Our race plan is always simple - do just enough to stick with the front bunch, avoid pushing too hard, and try to get into a rhythm as soon as possible. We also like to do a quick head count, see who's who and to gauge where we stand in the pecking order. On a side note, I do the same thing with my teammates to determine the internal team pecking order. My initial assessment had Captain Craig on top, me in the middle, and Halfway in third. Perfect - it's never nice being the weakest link.

Our worldly possessions in two boxes
As we dropped into the Kloof we got our first signs that things weren't going according to plan. While everything felt good, a quick team consensus revealed that we were all riding at very high heart rates. We put it down to nerves and adrenalin and continued onwards at speeds more fitting of road racing, hoping that everything would settle down as we hid in the bunch for the next two hours.

But our hopes were quickly dashed, when, in a follow up team meeting we unanimously agreed that we could not continue at this pace and expect to live till nightfall. With wise and mature heads not often associated with our team, we dropped off the bunch, preferring to ride at a more consistent pace than endure the lung and leg busting surges that were happening up front. We took stock, reassessed the plan, and rolled along at a decent pace, holding the lead group in our sight as we each took turns to set the pace on the front.

Halfway practising his aero tuck
And yet, despite our level headed approach, I still wasn't recovering. My turns on the front got fewer and I got more and more accustomed to the view from the caboose of the HotChillee Train. I was still convinced it was just a bad patch, and that I'd ride myself through it. Until the cramps started. They started off as distant tweaks - my legs trying to mumble something to me - and slowly got worse and worse. By now Captain Craig and Halfway were doing all the work on the front, and occasionally I'd have to request a drop in pace, particularly over small rises as I was struggling to hang onto the wheel in front of me.

How many grown men does it take to figure out how to attach a timing chip to a helmet?
The first compulsory stop could not have come at a better time. I hoped the break would be enough to restore my karma as we went through the usual check point rituals, from eating and drinking, restocking the pockets to lubing the chain. But I knew something wasn't right. I was so desperate to rediscover my form that I even asked Halfway for a hug. And while quietly sobbing into his shoulder offered momentary relief from the slowly escalating catastrophe, it did nothing to revitalise my body.

Is this aero?
I still clung to the fading hope that I'd find some legs, but as we started climbing, so too did my heart rate. And with the increased heart rate came the cramps. Each surge a little more severe than the last. Any glimmer of a recovery quickly vanished as I settled into a physical and mental state that I hoped would see me to the end. The phrase "pain cave" gets thrown about a lot these days, describing anything from the burn felt while doing 2 minute intervals to the discomfort encountered when riding into the howling South Easter. I was not in the pain cave. I had gone into the pain cave and laughed at its patheticness. In comparison to the pit of despair that I found myself falling into, the pain cave is a mod con packed, luxury bachelor pad with fluffy duvets, deep pile carpets and an endless supply of beer. I was entering Dante's Inferno.

All smiles before the start
Occasionally, both Halfway and Captain Craig would descend towards my pit of misery, only to recover and escape its deathly clutches. By the time we rolled into the next check point I was starting to contemplate throwing in the towel. Despite covering the first 124km in 4h30, we had the hillier second half of the race ahead of us, and I wasn't sure I had the legs to go uphill.

My fancy new Lauf fork
Two thoughts go through your mind when you have a bad day like this. The first is about survival. Will I be able to make it to the end, or am I going to end up either in the back of an ambulance, or huddled under a bush wishing it would all end? The second is about letting the team down. Despite the reassurances and sympathy from my teammates, it's never cool to be the "if only" guy. It always feels bad explaining to others that we would have had a fantastic race, if only I hadn't had such a bad day.
Fifeteen kilometres in and already we were showing signs of weakness

On a hill I have ridden 11 times in a row, I found myself having to stop, get off my bike, fight the now ever present cramps, and push my bike. And this was a hill that doesn't even feature on the profile. This didn't bode well for the big climb of the day that lay ahead, aptly named The Mother of All Climbs. The MAC has claimed my scalp several times over the years, and in recent years is the one climb in South Africa that is most guaranteed to make me vomit. And 2015 was no different.

The HotChillee Express
Sometimes, when suffering, it's nice to have the company of your teammates around you, like a reassuring favourite blanket when you're young. With them nearby, despite how atrocious things are, you're going to be okay. At other times, it's better to suffer alone, in your own little world, at your own crawling pace. Whether intentional or not, Captain Craig and Halfway left me to my own devices up The MAC, as I slowly limped up the climb, pedal stroke after pedal stroke, stopping for the occasional stomach emptying, or a particularly bad wave of cramps. I finally reached the top of The MAC, and with some very generous pushing from both my teammates (at the same time!) we eventually rolled into the next check point. I think I still have their hand prints on my lower back!

As tough as it was, it still beats work
While my guardian angels ran around after me, refilling my bottles, unpacking my supplies and lubing my chain, I gulped down two cups of the now legendary Check Point 4 soup. This is the same soup that in the past has settled my stomach, given me super human powers, and solved world hunger. I'm quite sure the recipe was handed down from the cycling gods themselves. All I needed from the soup this year was a warm and fuzzy feeling that everything was going to be alright. A sign that somehow, between my supportive teammates' efforts and my flappy wobbly legs, we were going to make it to the finish in Jeffreys Bay.

Must. Have. More. Coke.
As we left the comfort of the check point and the life giving soup, Captain Craig took on a fatherly role in our team dynamic, while Halfway sat on the front to set the pace. Captain Craig would shepherd me with gentle nudges and expert prods back onto Halfway's wheel, keeping me sheltered and protected from the wind, and help ease me over the climbs. On the odd occasion that I'd venture out from behind Halfway's bum for a change of scenery, Captain Craig would sternly reprimand me and tell me to rejoin the safety of our formation. Our technique worked so well that we actually caught and passed a few teams which helped lift my morale. For several hours we'd been the ones being passed, and no matter what sort of day you're having, it's never a pleasant feeling.

Trouble, as Captain Craig drives the pace on the front and I go out the back
The soup had done wonders for my soul and my spirit, but my legs were still a mayhem of demon cramps. Pedalling caused cramps. Not pedalling caused cramps. Thinking about pedalling caused cramps. The only thing I could do to control the cramps was move them around. Give all the various muscles in my legs a turn to contort and twist themselves into tennis ball-sized blobs of pain. Unlike previous years, the slower pace gave us opportunity to chat. Amongst other things we discussed the beers we'd have at the finish, what sport I should take up instead of mountain biking (stand up paddle boarding, or darts), and the state of the chafe of Halfway's nether regions. I also had a very public conversation with my legs, and I have to say - Jens Voigt is wrong - legs don't respond to reason, commands or threats.

We'd joked about this beforehand, and I even accepted the title. I didn't think it would be this bad!
We rolled into the second last check point in daylight, which, despite the day we were having, was something that many teams can only dream of. We were welcomed by our able backup - Jason the Barefoot Runner. At this point we were no longer interested in positions or times, and for the first time in many years we got to enjoy the offerings of the check points without Captain Craig rushing us along. Halfway had been suffering from a killer headache for several hours, and foolishly asked the medics for some tablets. After a full medical examination, DNA testing, blood work and a CAT scan he was given two tablets and sent on his way. With that in mind, there was no chance I was going anywhere near the medics for any medicinal relief!

Four broken spokes for Halfway
Back on the road, while I was fighting the demons in my legs, my teammates were having their own private battles - mostly mechanical. Captain Craig had punctured, and had another light malfunction, with Halfway slowly but surely breaking one spoke after the other in his rear wheel. My teammates would send me on ahead as they attended to their mechanical issues, and each time I secretly hoped that my legs would come back and that they wouldn't be able to catch me. And each time that wouldn't happen and they'd quickly reel me in.
We inched our way up The NeverEnder, and for the first time in ages it really was never ending. Like Chinese water torture it wore us down, but it didn't matter. We were in no rush. Up until now, Halfway had already broken 3 spokes in his rear wheel (no fat jokes please - he is a sensitive soul), and so between nursing me and his bike we eventually conquered The NeverEnder, rolling into the final check point.
Halfway attended to his failing wheel while Captain Craig and I enjoyed the jaffles on offer and got dressed a little warmer for the final push to the finish. And talking of pushing, I am proud to say that I made the final leg without a single push. My teammates had either given up on me, or they too were finally feeling the strain of nursing my sorry body for 180kms. As the lights of Jeffreys Bay got brighter, so too did our mood. We'd survived a character testing ordeal, and although I'm sure to be carrying the mental baggage of this event for years to come, we'd emerged stronger for it. When a bad day is finishing 43rd, in 10h31, almost nine hours ahead of the last team, there really isn't too much to complain about.

Halfway completed his fifth TransBaviaans.

Thursday 23 April 2015

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:52 | No comments

The 36One 2015

The 36One

As we crossed the finish line of The 36One a year ago, Captain Craig and I vowed to never ever ever ever do this event again, and yet, when entries opened for this year's event, we were there, the pain and suffering a distant memory.

Everything about The 36One is just crazy. The person who came up with the idea had to be crazy. The people who turned the idea into an event must be crazy. And the people paying good money to ride such an event are definitely crazy. It doesn't stop there. As if 361 kilometres isn't crazy enough, the ride only starts at sunset. Why in the world would any one willingly want to do such an event, and yet here we were. Again.

A welcome stop at the pie shop
Team HotChillee's build up didn't really go according to plan. Captain Craig got sick with a month to go, followed shortly by me. Man flu is quite a debilitating disease at the best of times - imagine how grumpy we were as we moped about, sick and unable to ride our bikes. As the months of training and preparation slowly seeped from our bodies, desperation started to set in. It's okay to be weak and slow, it's just not okay to be weaker and slower than your partner. Despite several frantic emails to The Coach, and some last minute training program changes, the realisation dawned on me that I was probably going to die at The 36One when I popped spectacularly on a 3 hour training ride. Here is the email exchange I had with The Coach:

My tempo ride seemed to start out ok (Strava said I rode some good solid segments), but my legs felt tender, and after 2 hours I popped. I had to stop for a coke and chocolate just to get home. And then, while lying on the couch, watching TV, I had the worst cramps I have had in years. Every muscle in both legs ganged up on me.
We've changed our objectives from a podium to just not dying. I suspect I might have to get my money's worth and spend a bit more time than usual at the water points ;)
Our bad luck bogey didn't end with the man flu. With an hour to go to race time, Captain Craig discovered that his lights weren't working. But never fear - in a rare moment of sheer brilliance, he'd borrowed a backup set. Which didn't work either. And in all the light fitting and refitting pandemonium, we'd missed the deadline to hand in our boxes of supplies, spares and extra kit. So there we were with one working light, and potentially no supplies for 361 kilometres. And just like that, Captain Craig had a new name - Captain Chaos - a name his wife also fully endorses. Thankfully, after a little begging and pleading, the amazing people at Dryland came up with a plan to get our boxes to where they needed to be, although we never did solve the light issue.
It's difficult to describe the attraction of The 36One. On paper there is nothing appealing about it. It's 361 kilometres of dirt road riding, in the dark, on your own. And while it might be the Karoo, it's certainly not flat with over 5000 metres of climbing. The weather can be unpredictable and the terrain quite brutal on body and bike. And yet, over 500 undeterred cyclists entered this crazy crazy event with something to prove. For some, it's the thrill of the race, the planning and preparation, the control of mind over body. For others it's the challenge, the next big thing. Pushing the limits to near breaking point just to see what happens. Having the courage to stand on the start line and contemplate the unknown that awaits them.

A lot of kit for just one ride
With the sun setting behind the Swartberg mountains, months and months of preparation culminated as we were sent on our way - the great unknown ahead of us. Being the roadies that we are, Captain Chaos and I immediately hooked a tandem and set out way too fast. While I tried to convince myself that this was a good idea, my brain was frantically calculating where exactly we'd be when I'd pop after 2 hours, and whether there would be any coke nearby. I concluded that we'd probably be miles from civilization, and that I'd probably end up dying out there, with just Captain Chaos for company. Luckily, the road started to go up, and the tandem went backwards, and all of a sudden we were in control of our own destiny. Until the solo race snakes caught us.

What do we put in these?
Captain Chaos and I could have entered as solo race snakes, but there is something cool about being forced to ride with someone else, particularly in a race like this. Being able to share a moment, having a shoulder to cry on in the early hours of the morning, an extra brain to help with decision making conundrums like whether to have another date ball or switch to the koeksisters, and just a person with which to get through the occasional dark patch (in our case, Captain Chaos's extremely long literal dark patch from sunset to sunrise).

My trusty stead
On the topic of darkness, Captain Chaos was like the shadow behind me that I couldn't see. This presence I knew was there but couldn't always locate. Occasionally I'd lose him completely, only to hear his desperate cries for help as he careened off the road towards the great unknown. Not only did he ride the entire night time route without a light, he also didn't complain once. Together, we managed to somehow navigate the ups and downs on one light without incident, although I now know what it feels like to be a seeing eye dog. So cemented was our race formation that even once the sun had risen, we rarely changed our line up - me on the front with Captain Chaos close behind, the occasional buzz of his freebody the only indicator I had that he was still there.

As the race snakes dished out the pain to each other, a couple of the teams and a few of the more sensible solo riders sat up and let them go. We soon found ourselves in the esteemed company of Jeannie and Martin Dreyer, as well as some of the top endurance riders in South Africa. I've always been a fan of the tortoise approach to long distance riding, and having that reinforced by the riders around us gave me hope that I might make the first checkpoint before the wheels fell off. Given the list of achievements the Dreyers share between them, it was rather odd that they took a wrong turn and vanished from our sight for the next 10 hours. We weren't sure what was worse - trying to chase them down, or being chased down by them. It did however give us a renewed urgency at the water and check points. I usually ignore Captain Chaos's harassment and take my time, making sure I'm thoroughly refuelled and ready to go. This year our stops were up there with Formula One race cars!

Frantic light replacement
The greatest pity about this race is that we ride in some of the most scenic surroundings in the complete darkness. If it isn't in the small puddle of light in front of you, it doesn't exist. Sometimes you can smell it, and sometimes you can hear it, but that is the only hint you have that a world exists outside of the light. Occasionally we'd be treated to some visitors - we saw a few rabbits, a mouse or two, and Captain Chaos encountered a snake which he expertly bunny hopped. And sometimes we'd see things that weren't really there at all - stars and cell phone masts looked like riders way above us at the top of figmental climbs, road signs varied from oncoming traffic to giant wild animals, and I greeted more than one fence post that I thought looked like a spectator or marshal.

Spot the roadies wheelsucking the tandem
This race can never be won in the first 200 kilometres, but it certainly can be lost. While conservative riding, a proven nutritional plan, and some mental fortitude will get you quite far, sometimes you need a little luck too. As we left the first check point, Captain Craig broke a chain. Trying to fix a chain at the best of times is a rather fiddly hit and miss operation, and with cold fingers and minimal light is as tedious as watching the South African cricket team mount a run chase. Fortunately, we had our mechanical within sight of the check point, and were able to fix the chain in the blink of an eye, thanks to the light of a nearby Toyota Hilux's headlights. Thanksfully, that was the sum total of our bad luck.
You'd think that in 361 kilometres Captain Chaos and I would be able to solve the world's problems, but the reality is that we barely talk to each other. A cursory "How you doing?", a curt "Can we back it off?" or a quick "What do you need at the water point?" typically sum up our verbal interactions. Occasionally I'd get advice on how to ride through the muddy patches, or I'd request a wee stop. We're so good at non-verbal communication that at one point we said nothing to each other for 20 kilometres, which completely freaked out the rider that was riding with us. So much so that we're convinced he dropped off because he thought we were having a marriage row. But we understand each other all of the time - one look and we can tell how the other is feeling, how strong he is riding, or whether he is having a bad patch, and we can adjust accordingly. That's not to say I don't have conversations, I do, but mostly in my head. With myself. About all sorts of things that I can never remember afterwards. Cycling induced amnesia.
The main physical challenge of The 36One is a little hill called Rooiberg. A 7 kilometre climb with 500 metres ascent. Nothing too hectic. Except it comes after 250 kilometres. When it comes to any team race, you don't have to be the fastest, you just have to be faster than your partner, and this year it was Captain Chaos's turn to suffer up the climb. And even then, when you think you're suffering, there is always someone worse off. As we inched our way up the climb we caught a solo rider standing next to his bicycle, motionless. We asked if he was okay, and he replied with a rejected "I just need some time to gather myself". We've all be there, and given the state he was in, I suspect he spent quite a while gathering himself on the slopes of Rooiberg.
Before we knew it, we had crested the climb and were flying down the other side in our familiar formation, sharing the light whilst trying to carry some speed. A long and cold descent later we hit the valley floor with the lights of Calitzdorp glimmering in the distance. Sunrise was threatening to make an appearance in the lead looking sky and with it the promise of some warmth. As we rolled into the checkpoint in the pre-dawn light we were greeted with an oasis of snacks and supplies. The only thing worse than a porridge brain is an indecisive porridge brain. Captain Chaos and I breathlessly sampled the goodies on hand before being jolted back to reality by the appearance of the Dreyers. We had 80 kilometres of looking over our shoulders ahead of us, and we needed all the head start we could get.

The numbers
The final stage of The 36One can only be described as barbaric. A mere 51 kilometres as the crow flies to the finish, but a sadistic and brutal 80 kilometres with over a thousand metres of climbing awaited us. This was where our race began. Where the previous 12 hours effort would either make or break us. We knew what lay in store for us, and we knew just how deep we'd need to dig. With those thoughts filling our minds there was no need to talk. No wonder our companion felt a little uneasy.

Still mates after another crazy adventure
Few things in cycling are as depressing and soul destroying as slogging it out on a climb, going to a very dark place for a very long time, and as you crest the climb to feelings of elation and accomplishment with a beautiful downhill in front of you, only to see the road climbing out of the valley up another impossibly steep hill. How more cyclists at The 36One haven't suffered mental breakdowns is a testament to the toughness and single bloody mindedness of those that enter this unique event.
Top step of the podium for Team HotChillee
As we crested the last of the mind destroying hills we still could not see the Dreyers, and we began to believe that we might just be able to hold them off. My white line fever once again kicked in from 35 kilometres out, but Captain Chaos had the wisdom this year to speak up and curb my enthusiasm before he imploded like a poorly made soufflé. We ticked off the final kilometres in a metronomic fashion, crossing the line in 16:03, to be told we'd finished in second place. Our hearts sank as our minds tried to make sense of the news we were hearing. How could that be? Where did they pass us? Who was this team we'd missed entirely? And then the good news - there was no other team. Captain Chaos and I had won the team category, knocking 45 minutes off our previous time, and climbing up on a step on the podium.

We might have won our category, but as usual, the real champions in an event like this are not those at the pointy end of the race, instead the real champions are those for which The 36One isn't just a bike race, but rather a life changing obsession. To those men and women, you have my utmost admiration and respect. You are the true heroes. The real champions. And I know many will be back next year. Captain Chaos and I have already vowed to never ever ever do this event again, but as I write this race report I'm already thinking about next year, and the allurement that this crazy crazy race has over each and every one of us.

Another one for the collection