Tuesday 29 November 2016

Posted by Velouria Posted on 23:51 | 2 comments

Double Century 2016

As the race reports start trickling in, the Coronation Double Century seems to have lived up to its reputation as being one of the ultimate tests on a bicycle. From racing teams to weekend warriors, this event pushes everyone to the limit, and sometimes a little beyond. It brings out the best in people, and occasionally the worst, testing fitness, teamwork, endurance, strategy, and one's sense of humour.

The traditional prerace photo
Training starts in earnest for the Double Century in July, when the first teams brave the winter weather (at least in the Cape) and start building the fitness. As summer approaches, more and more teams litter the roads, twelve people working on their strategy. For some that strategy is to win, for others, a target time, and some, just to finish. The final build up is marked with an explosion of social media activity, photos of near perfect pace lines litter the internet, as do pictures of race day kit. It's then that you start panicking about the one ride you missed, or the interval session you took a little too easy.

Team Selfie
Thankfully, Team HotChillee avoids all this stress. We're a one time team. We get together for one ride, and that's it. Race Day. Often, the first time we meet most of our fellow teammates is the night before the action begins. This is not to say that there isn't a rigorous and stringent selection process that newcomers need to pass in order to ride in the HotChillee colours. Potential riders are stalked and analysed on Strava, race results are compared and tabulated, and social media profiles are scrutinised. The final test for any newcomer is what we call the Saturday Night test. For us, the event doesn't finish when you cross the line. The Saturday Night Braai and Sunday Fry Up are as much part of the Double Century weekend as riding bikes for 202 kilometres is.

A roadie, a triathlete and a Paris Roubaix winner all get into a cab...
Once again, HotChillee had entered two teams, a racing team and a mixed team, and we gathered for the traditional pre-race meal at Tridici. Much like a good race strategy, one needs a decent meal strategy when dining at Tridici. Go big on the main course and you're going to fade towards the end of the evening. Much like the race, the secret is to pace yourself, and finish strongly. You want to be there when the legendary chocolate brownies make an appearance. Tridici virgins are easy to spot - those individuals that look longingly at the dessert table with regret in their eyes.

Looks like trouble!
With dinner out of the way, it was time for the team meetings. A chance for everyone to contribute to the plan for the following day. And while we pretty much know what needs to be done, it's a great opportunity for the the new guys to offer some tips and hints. One such new guy was a big Swedish guy by the name of Magnus Backstedt. If Sweden played top flight rugby, he'd have been a lock, but instead he chose to unleash his power on the roads of Northern France, culminating in a famous win at Paris-Roubaix in 2004. He quietly listened to our team strategy and then asked to say a word or two. After the seventh time of mentioning the phrase "just smash it", I think I might have passed out from the fear of what awaited us the following morning!

Magnus, smashing it before we've even hit the timing mats!
Team HotChillee ProAm lined up on the start line for a 7:13 start, a mixture of experience and youth, pros and amateurs. Two riders who have successfully navigated the HotChillee Development Rider Program were back, Nicholas Dlamini and Shameeg Salie, and it's always fantastic to see them grow as professional bike racers. Joining them was Thulasizwe Mxenge, a product of the Velokhaya and HotChillee Development Rider Program, and a talented youngster on a bike. Other new additions to the team that we'd also successfully stalked researched included the two powerhouses - WattBike Rikus and Warren S, and of course, The Big Swede. The remainder of the team consisted of the usual suspects, Jarryd, Captain Craig, Dan the Triathlete, Luke - the Original Wattage Cottage, and myself. Astute readers will notice that there are only 11 names. Unfortunately, Halfway Warren was fighting a late onset of the plague and was bedridden. He is now affectionately known as Nowhere Warren.

You don't ride as much behind Magnus, but rather under him!
As the gun went off, Magnus did indeed "smash it" right from the start. Zero to 45km/h in 15 seconds. Images flashed before my eyes of being dropped by my team within sight of the start banner as I fought to clip my feet into the pedals. And while we have dropped a rider previously before reaching the N2, I was in no way looking to break that record. Thankfully, The Big Swede has an aversion to hills, and I'm sure I was not alone in sighing a deep sigh of relief when gravity reined him in a bit. And heaven help the the rest of us if he saw a team up the road! Too make matters worse, we were being put to the sword by a guy who had been off the bike for two months, having ridden for the first time the week previously, and was riding a brand new bike that he'd received the night before.

All aboard!
It was with mixed emotions that we waved goodbye to Magnus as we hit the bottom of the first climb. Relief that the haze of pain and misery would lift as we settled into a more manageable pace, sadness that he'd completely cooked Warren S, and disappointment that we'd lost our powerhouse and dispenser of peloton justice. No team dared argue when Big Maggie told them to stop wheelsucking us!
I was warned about sharing too many backup secrets!
With nine riders remaining and 70 kilometres to the first stop I'd be lying if said I wasn't a bit perturbed. Had we overdone it a bit? Too fast too early? But I needn't have worried. Our Dimension Data pros stepped up to the challenge, continuing the destruction where Magnus had left off. In the few short years of riding with us they'd gone from promising bike riders to talented bike racers. They took on the lion's share of the pace setting, driving us onward relentlessly, while the rest of us did what we could to contribute to the team cause.

Not often that you get to "recover" while on the front
As we hit the foot of Op de Tradouw pass - Thula pulled up alongside me and asked for a bottle. I still had a full bottle, and thinking he just wanted a sip or two of my juice - I handed my bottle over. And that was the last I saw of both Thula and my bottle. In the many years of riding this race I'd seen some well calculated drops, from Jarryd selling me down the river in 2011 with an expertly timed vanishing manoeuvre, to Nic fading on us in 2014 and leaving two amateurs to punch way above their weight with several seasoned pros. But this one was something special. It wasn't just a well calculated drop, it was a well calculated drop with a masterstroke of artful convincing. And suddenly we were down to 8 riders with 40 kilometres to go, and I had quarter of a bottle left.

Choo Choo!
The great thing about the Double Century is that not only do us amateurs get to ride with some of the best pros out there, we also get to race against them. And while Louis Meintjes might have a Tour de France top 10 under his belt, and pretty much every Strava KOM on the DC route, I recorded a higher top speed than he did. And anyone who has ever seen me descend will know just what a feat that is for me!

Descending like a demon!
We rolled into the neutral section having clocked an average of 40km/h for the first 105 kilometres, and the toll was starting to show on several of the older riders. The thousand yard stares were aplenty as we restocked our supplies and replenished our bodies, our backup crew taking on the roles of miracle workers, psychologists, and trauma counselors. Reality quickly returned when through the masses we caught sight of The Swede. I was quite sure he still had a few "smash it" 's left in his legs, and we were all going to experience them shortly, first hand. Magnus grabbed a quick coke and we set off on the next voyage of misery and torment - 43 kilometres of trying to sit on the pointy end of the saddle for as long as possible. Thula had also made a reappearance, and after he gave my empty bottle back, I made a point of keeping my eye on him. I'm not sure what they're teaching the youngsters at Velokhaya, but Thula has certainly mastered the art of sneakiness!

Thula getting some ninja tips from Maggie
Team HotChillee ProAm quickly collected a wheelsucking mixmatch of teams - teams quite happy to lurk behind us, reap the benefits of our work, and offer nothing in return. And despite our best efforts, there was nothing we could do about it other than to drive the pace on relentlessly. We started to suffer casualties early on, and before long the team was down to a skeleton crew again. The DiData guys, Dan the Triathlete, Jarryd, Thula the Quiet Ninja, and the surprise package of WattBike Rikus (he's named that because he is the only person on this earth who can sit on a Wattbike for 4 hours non stop). As the top 6 rode away from the rest of us, at least we could gain solace from the fact that our stalking research techniques had yielded at least one good result.

A Swede with no "smash it" 's left
For people who love riding bicycles, it's rather ironic how we all looked forward to the opportunity to get off our bikes at the next check point. And if Bonnievale had Uber coverage (here's an idea - Ubers with bike racks in Bonnivale for the last weekend of November) they would have made a killing! But alas, the only way to back to Swellendam was aboard the Swedish DiData express, and we all had tickets. Luke and Warren S however were so engrossed with more life threatening issues that the train left without them.

Hell no, we won't go!
Magnus had one last "smash it" left and used it just to the start of the climbing, before causing absolute chaos and mayhem in the following bunch with the rate at which he got dropped. When you see The Big Swede going backwards you do whatever you can to get out of the way. Captain Craig was next to go as the pace started to lift with the first hints of white line fever kicking in. As the first of the final 3 climbs approached, I pulled a Reverse Thula. I rode up alongside Thula, gave him my full bottle, and wished him luck for the remaining 20 kilometres. This was what the previous 180 kilometres had all been for - the final push to the line. As I watched The Sacred 6 of Team HotChillee ProAm disappear up the road, I could only hope we'd done enough.

The Sacred 6
The rest of us limped home in drips and drabs, eager to see the results of the day's efforts. And finally we heard - 13 seconds separating 2nd, 3rd, and 4th, with Team HotChillee ProAm the unlucky bridesmaids in 4th. Team HotChillee Mixed fared much better, claiming a well earned second place with a strong ride from start to finish. Despite the result that will have us scratching our heads for ages, trying to find those elusive 9 seconds over 202 kilometres, the 2016 edition of the Coronation Double Century definitely lived up to its billing, and will certainly be remembered for years to come.



  1. Yes, if only Sweden played top-flight rugger.

  2. Another great write up and ride! And team Sportsworld almost made it to the finish line before the Hot Chillee Pro Am train with only a measly 1 hour and 6 minute head start. (That was our real team goal for this year's DC) :-)