Thursday 25 August 2016

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:33 | No comments

Trans Baviaans 2016

For me, the year is divided into two halves - before Baviaans, and after Baviaans. Before Baviaans is the dark winter of the soul, body and mind - if you're not doing long lonely rides in appalling weather, you're abusing yourself in the garage on the WattBike - an exercise that makes queueing at the post office seem like a pleasurable affair. Before Baviaans is filled with fear, subterfuge and regret. Fear that come race day you're going to be the weakest link. Subterfuge in that the odd white lie about your current form might induce complacency in your partners, and regret in almost everything else. Regret that you entered this race. Regret that you didn't try to keep some of that amazing form from summer. Regret in having that extra helping of dessert. Regret in missing those last fifteen minutes of cooldown on the WattBike.

Captain Craig, myself, and Last Minute Charles's finger

In comparison, after Baviaans is a new beginning. The weight and dread of the event has passed and you're left with mostly positive memories of yet another magical trip through the Baviaanskloof. The legs feel amazing, bike riding is fun again, and it feels like summer is just around the corner. Perhaps this is what keeps us coming back, over and over again.

Spot the Brick Layers
In hindsight, naming ourselves after the worst nuclear disaster ever was probably tempting fate a little, especially since this was my 13th adventure between Willowmore and Jeffreys Bay. Team Warm Fuzzy Kittens would have been more apt, but given our history of riding together, perhaps the name The Chernobyl Brick Layers is quite fitting.

Smiles before the storm
We finally lined up on the start line in Willowmore once again, and for the first time in ages Captain Craig and I were just a two man team, with no backup - our usual accomplices abandoning us like the captain and crew of the Oceanos. Thankfully, Last Minute Charles volunteered to undertake the vital role of dealing with our technical, nutritional, and logistical requirements. Our hopes were that the emotional fragility during the 2015 event would not be an issue, especially since Halfway would not be around to provide any much needed hugs.

Pre-race hydration and stategy session
My sole objective for this year's race was to avoid the nuclear catastrophe I'd had the previous year during the first 100kms. Even the consolatory KOM I got did little to erase the mental scars that I've been carrying around for a whole year. My secondary objective was to not be the weakest link in The Chernobyl Brick Layers. Again, the 8 hours of being the whipping boy in the team the previous year were still fresh in my mind.

Team number 9
After the traditional rendition of the national anthem before the start (and it really was a good rendition this year), 1200 slightly mental ultra endurance mountain bikers set off in search of the coast. The lead bunch quickly formed with the usual faces making an appearance. A noticeable change this year was the number of ladies in the front bunch, with all three mixed teams comfortably holding their own. The first 100kms were rather uneventful, except for the continuous hunting of a non-existent smooth line on the gravel road leading up to the Kloof. The choice was ultimately between loose road debris, corrugations, or dancing with the thorn trees on the side of the road. And being on hard tails, The Chernobyl Brick Layers found the going particularly bone jarring. Captain Craig and I had completely different approaches - he would ride on the front and pick his line, while I would do the same, but right at the back of the bunch, ala The Brick Layer BookEnds (probably a better team name).

Look mom - we're in the lead bunch!
We made Checkpoint 2 in one piece this year, my main objective successfully achieved. Perhaps it was the horrid headwind that kept the bunch honest, or perhaps my legs were hiding some sort of form. From now on though, the real racing started, and the answer to my secondary objective would shortly be known. The next 40 kilometres are key, and more often than not, I somehow manage to fall to pieces up the climbs of Baviaans Back, Fangs and MAC, usually resulting in me leaving a toxic splatter of nuclear waste behind the water tanks at Checkpoint 4. But this year was different. The legs felt good, the stomach was behaving, and Captain Craig was showing the slightest signs of weakness - a truly rare occurrence. And by slightest signs of weakness I mean that I was able to ride at one or two heartbeats below nuclear meltdown zone.

We rolled into Checkpoint 3, having made good progress with our steady pace, catching and passing several teams that either overdid the first 100kms, or underestimated the first of the climbs. While grabbing a coke (or two or three), we couldn't help overhear one of the motorbike marshals commenting about our bikes. Something like "These are the most unique bikes here. Totally old school. And hardcore. Hardtails - crazy. And check those forks. WTF. And look at the roadie cluster. Hahahahaha." We weren't quite sure what to make of all that. I'll give the "Hardtails - crazy" bit, but the rest? The Lauf fork is amazing, although it did come off second best over the corrugations. As for "the roadie cluster" - we both run 3x10 setups, mainly for the speed that the big blade gives us  - Captain Craig has a 46 - and the security that the 22 blade offers should things go pear shaped. Nothing like watching 1x11 guys spinning their legs like a bunch of epileptic hooligans. Certainly not oldschool, since I'd just gone to 3x10 earlier this year ;)

Old school roadie gears;)
Back on the road we were still moving up through the field, having put in a good effort up The Fangs when disaster struck. What started off as a minor technical issue quickly escalated into a full on nuclear disaster. Captain Craig's back wheel lost pressure, so we stopped and bombed it. But that didn't work. There was still a leak. A leak we could hear but couldn't see. We tried to convince our porridge brains to take control of the situation, but they were having nothing of it. We eventually located the hole - a tiny side wall graze, enough to allow the air to slowly ooze out. We should have just bombed it again, and let the wonder of Stan's sealant do its thing. But we didn't. We were treating this minor anomaly as a full on major incident. Our irrational brains decided that the best course of action was to fit a tube. So we popped the tyre off, and readied Captain Craig's tube. A 26 inch tube. For 29er wheelers. Square peg, meet round hole. With all the finesse of a gorilla with a 10 pound hammer, we finally wrestled the tube and tyre back onto the rim and bombed it all once again. While all this mayhem was occurring, team after team came flying past us, rubbing salt into our already raw wounds!

Riding for the Rhinos
After what seemed like an age - 10 minutes in a bike race like this is an age - we were going again, the Mother of all Climbs ahead of us. My last decent climb of that hill was in 2013, ironically when we were reduced to a two man team after Captain Craig broke his frame. We assumed our usual formation, side by side, in silence, as we inched up the climb. On a personal note, I was hoping to end my streak of pukiness, and so when we got to the KOM flags near the top of the climb and I hadn't needed to purge my stomach contents, I took it as a sign that our luck was changing. However, I always forget about the last little run into Checkpoint 4 - a horrible little uphill drag that seems to take an age. To add to the torment, the annoyingly persistent headwind was back, and so too were the first signs of trouble brewing in my belly. If I could just make the checkpoint in one piece, I'd be good enough to make it to the finish.

Yup - those are bar ends! Old school!
We rolled into the checkpoint and chatted with a few of the teams that had past us during Puncturegate. Those sort of chats you have with your neighbour where you try to be friendly, but you're not actually friends (even if you are, this is a race and everyone's the enemy). While Captain Craig nursed his back wheel, I went about nursing my belly. And I don't mean my usual visual burp trick behind the water tanks - Coca Cola! With our lights attached (Captain Craig has a theory - we have backup lights at Checkpoint 3 and proper lights and Checkpoint 4 - perhaps we should be bold enough to have backup lights at Checkpoint 4 and proper lights at Checkpoint 5 - either way, we'd certainly be motivated enough to make Checkpoint 5 in the light!) we set off after the teams in front of us. Our hope was to find a nice little group and share the pace making, particularly given the relentless headwind. But our hopes were dashed. Not only did we not see a single other team for the next 30 kilometres, the wind seemed to have upped its annoyance factor too.

The view up MAC
(Captain Craig wasn't suffering that much!)
Checkpoint 5 was almost upon us when we finally spotted some targets - Maza & Sipho - our nemeses from this year's 36One. While Last Minute Charles took care of our bikes, and I stocked up on some more coke, Craig entered into negotiations with the RMB guys. If we rode together for the next leg, we'd stand a better chance of catching some of the teams ahead. In principle, everyone was on board with the plan and we set off for the Neverender. However, as soon as the road went up, the RMB guys started to ride away from us - our agreement in tatters. Again, our hopes of catching those ahead of us started to fade. But we did have one trump card up our sleeves. Like the safety instruction manual at the Chernobyl nuclear plant, few people actually read the race booklet that we get at registration. Most of the booklet is filled with rather meaningless info about time penalties, food at checkpoints and the correct way to mount your race number. However, hidden amongst all superfluous info, like a diamond in a haystack, is a very important tidbit. Something along the lines of "At the fork in the road, go left". On the surface, it's nothing earth shattering, but miss that one turn and you'll be lucky to ever see civilisation ever again. And, you can bet that some first timer team will accept the challenge of exploring the great unknown. So while The Chernobyl Brick Layers didn't actually catch and pass anyone, we'd moved up 4 or 5 places by the time we got into Checkpoint 6. We'd also ridden our way back across to the the RMB guys, Captain Craig dropping mini nuclear bombs all the way up the Neverender.

The MAC, in pretty decent condition.
With the lights of Jeffery's Bay almost visible on the horizon, we had one last leg to go. Our thoughts now were on how we were going to ditch the RMB guys - the fragile alliance now over. I set a steady pace on the front, trying to make life tough for Team RMB. One particular effort up the Mini Mac showed their team weakness while at the same time hurting Captain Craig. Now I'm not sure if I awoke the sleeping dragon, or if I triggered his desire for vengeance, but as soon as the we crested that final climb, Captain Craig reintroduced us all to his 46 tooth chainring. The RMB guys were bouncing around like hyperactive kids full of E numbers - their legs spinning at impossible revolutions. And still Captain Craig drove us on, The Chenobyl Brick Layers diving into the final single track first. And just as I was about to pop, we got our gap. Time to put on the big boy underpants and harden up. Through the twists and turns we held our advantage, eventually crossing the line in 9:39, and 17th place.

Now this is a bike race
Last Minute Charles met us with warm clothes, some snacks, and more importantly, some cold beer. Although we weren't entirely happy with the result, we were happy to have survived another adventure together. More importantly, we'd made it through lucky number 13 without a complete nuclear meltdown. I'm off to enjoy my After Baviaans - till next year.

Relive 'Baviaans #13'

Tuesday 2 August 2016

Posted by Velouria Posted on 10:29 | 1 comment

France 2016

Say what you like about the French, but when it comes to bikes and cycling, they get it. And I'm not just talking about the skinny lycra-clad pro wannabe cyclists. Anyone on two wheels is treated with respect, from those skinny lycra-clad pro wannabes, to crazy long distance randonneurs, from daily commuters to weekend warriors.

Quiet country roads, and hills!
Solo adventures in the French countryside
It's unnerving at first to have an 18 wheeler truck drive behind you for kilometers on end, grinding away in second gear as the driver waits for an opportunity to overtake. And by overtake, I don't mean the South African definition of give a warning blast on the hooter and then proceed at full speed regardless, passing with millimeters to spare.  The French definition of overtaking is the same for all road users - wait until the oncoming lane is clear, indicate, pull over into the oncoming lane, pass the cyclist/tractor/horse/camper van, indicate, return to lane. While we're begging for passing space legislation of just one metre, the French give 1.5 metres. Which is plenty when you see how narrow some of their roads are.

Emergency water stop
And it's not just about road safety. Cycling is part of their lifestyle, their culture. The easiest way to strike up a conversation with a French person is to do so with your bike nearby. For some reason, a bicycle is like a secret symbol or mystic handshake that opens the doors to an exclusive club. I've had whole conversations about cycling, the Tour de France, bicycles and bike riders with French people while not understanding a single word. These conversations usually involve lots of arm waving, some wild gesticulating at bicycle parts, a random French word here and there, and smiles all round.

TDF - fun for the whole family

Kids, firemen, foreigners
Glamour shot

Where else would an entire village come to a standstill in a carnival atmosphere? Entire communities celebrating the passing of the Tour de France. Kids on jumping castles, families lining the streets, local craft beer flowing.

Dane 0 - Tourmalet 1
The French take a pride in knowing that foreigners have travelled halfway around the world just to come and cycle in their beautiful country, and they've embraced this. Whether you're climbing the legendary climbs of the Tour de France, or just cruising the country lanes, you're a guest in their country and they treat you like one.

A family affair
All you need is a bike