Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Posted by Velouria Posted on 12:17 | No comments

Around the Pot 2018

It's not often that a race comes along that has the ability to fill one with such emotion. Not the "Why-did-I-enter-this-race-I'm-going-to-die" sort of emotion - we'll get to that later - the "I-don't-want-to-tell-anyone-about-this-event-because-it's-amazing" selfishness that filled us after last year's race. This is a bike riding event run by people who get bike riding. Things just work. Everyone is a rock star. And there is a burger and beer at the finish.

Dane the Limpet
The selfishness comes in that with the inevitable growth of an event, the very things that make an event unique are lost as the event scales. So I tried not to tell anyone about The Around The Pot 100 Miler. But someone spoke, breaking the secret pact we'd all sworn to keep and come race day this year, registration was mass of race snakes, weekend warriors, endurance addicts and sufferfest seekers. And their families. And their friends.

My first concern was that there were real bike racers in attendance this year, and it wouldn't be a procession to the podium like the previous year. And then I worried about the things that brought us back. Were there going to be roosterkoek at the halfway point? And choc chip cookies at the water points? And a cool vibe at the finish? We'd find out in the 160kms that lay before us.

Dane the Yo-Yo
As usual, Captain Craig and I rolled up to the start line minutes before the gun went. Not because we were trying to be cool and act all pro-like, but because our time management skills tend to be a little haphazard. We needn't have worried, as the motor-paced session through the neutral zone from the previous year had been replaced with a looking-for-parking cruise down the N2. Slow enough to not warm up, and fast enough for 400 mountain bikers to think they were World Tour roadies riding in a peloton, but with the bike and bunch skills of the Open seeded group at a local PPA race.

Thankfully, it wasn't long before we hit the dirt, and all hell exploded. SchleckChute's being deployed all over the place and before long the front group consisted of just a handful of lean, mean, muscled athletes. And me. I haven't felt so out of place in a long while. Not because I wasn't lean, mean or muscled, but because I was hanging onto wheels like my life depended on it, gasping through my gaping mouth, snot dripping off my face, while it looked like everyone else was still nose breathing. Now I knew exactly what Hector felt like last year.

As I dangled off the back, steam coming out of my ears, Captain Craig had an important job to fulfil. No sitting on the front and pulling everyone along this year. He was on rescue duty - every time the bunch accelerated over a climb, I'd slip off the back, and Captain Craig would have to slowly but surely guide me back on. Only for it to happen again. And again.

Captain Craig on rescue duty
Things eventually settled down when a select bunch rode off the front, and I was finally able to follow the wheels, rather than chase them. I was that guy. The wheelsucker. The limpet. The bike rider who sits in the slip, avoids the front at all costs and offers no help. Not because I didn't want to help. I just couldn't.

I'd like to say that I found a set of legs and that I started to come right and ride a little better, but there was very little change in my riding. Instead, it seemed like the others were starting to fade. Starting to enter my world. Little signs of weakness here and there - a gap opening over the top of a climb, one partner giving the other a gentle push back onto the bunch. Even Captain Craig would disappear for a secret gel at the back of the bunch every now and then. It was these little signs that gave me hope and got me to hang on a little longer. Knowing those around you are suffering too almost makes the suffering bearable.

The pont
With almost a hundred kilometres done we got to the part of this race that makes it so unique. The checkpoint at the Malgas Pont. And this is where prior knowledge comes in handy. The clock stops as you enter the checkpoint, and starts once again once you've crossed the river and checked back in. And since it didn't look like we were going to be able to ride away from the other teams in the group, we were going to have to be sneaky in order to gain time. So we zipped into the checkpoint before the other teams, gaining a handful of seconds. While everyone else was enjoying the ceasefire in hostilities as they filled their water bottles and their bellies, waiting for the pont, Captain Craig and I were hatching a master plan. After crossing the river, we'd hang near the back and give the bunch a handful of seconds headstart. We reckoned 30 seconds would be good enough to defend, and easy enough to close once the race was on again. Except we made one little mistake.

Smiling, moments before telling The Thighs of Thunder our plan
We happened to share our plan with Mike Posthumus - the original Thighs of Thunder, Destroyer of Drivetrains and Crusher of Souls. An ally like that would make our plan almost foolproof. Except we messed up. We changed the plan to accommodate Monster Mike and his ample thighs, and before we knew it, we were giving the bunch 2 minutes and committing ourselves to "just 30 minutes of effort, through and off". And if there is one thing that is guaranteed to make me pop, it's riding through and off.

Mike "Thighs of Thunder" Posthumus
Everything went well for about 15 minutes, as five lonely riders attempted to claw their way back to the bunch that was no longer visible up the road. We each took our turn for the greater good, driving the pace on, urging the legs for more. In my head, warning lights were flashing, sirens were blaring. Meltdown was imminent. There was about to be a reactor breach, followed by a massive explosion. I took one last look at the Thighs of Thunder before finally deploying my SchleckChute in an attempt to minimise the devastation and destruction. And within seconds, Captain Craig had done the same as he embraced his new responsibilities of looking after me. Whether he could have hung onto the Destroyer of Drivetrains' wheel is a debate for another time, but it felt good knowing that I had company.

My Not-So-Happy place

As we backed off, my legs came back to me, and rather surprisingly I found myself repaying Captain Craig's earlier efforts in looking after me. The Cape Cycling Tours Train was back, and we started to make good progress, occasionally picking up a rider or two from the bunch that we'd long since given up on, but never caught sight of any of the other teams that we were racing.

DEPLOY THE SCHLECKCHUTE!
With the finish line looming, I burnt my final match and any hope of salvaging our sneaky plan seemed to vanish completely. I hastily gulped down a gel, hoping for one final miracle before we crossed the line. And it happened! Just as my legs were coming back, we caught sight of the Pure Savage guys ahead of us. Perhaps there was something to race for after all. Something to make the suffering and pain all worth it. With one final push, we drove towards the line, embracing the burn in our legs, hoping beyond all hope that we had done enough.

Yoki the Yeti, looking a little worse for wear. Just like me.
We crossed the line to little fanfare - we were forth on the road, but the time gaps still needed to be calculated. And eventually we got the word - we hadn't made it onto the podium. The fleeting hope we had was quickly replaced with disappointment, and annoyance as our plan had been solid, we'd just messed up the execution of it.

When the final results were published the next day we noticed an anomaly. We weren't on the results. Anywhere (given that I'd ridden in my wife's cycling top by mistake, I even checked the mixed team results). A couple of emails back and forth between the organisers and the timekeepers and they eventually found us - in third place in the men's team competition. A bittersweet reward for a poorly executed masterful plan.

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