Friday 30 November 2018

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:54 | No comments

The Double Century 2018

Few things elicit more excitement in the South African cycling community than the Double Century. Sure, there's Epic or The Argus, but they are not in the same league as the DC. Somehow, this event has captured the imagination of all road cyclists as the must-do event on the calendar. Twelve like minded race snakes undertaking a 202 kilometre adventure through the majestic hills of the Overberg.

Team Cape Cycle Tours
The Double Century is a super serious event. Every team is busy with DC prep for ages. Team members are selected months in advance through a rigorous selection process that includes PPA seeding and Strava performances. Special kit is designed and made by seamstresses in Italy. Compulsory training camps happen all over the country in secluded towns. Formation riding is finetuned. Strategy sessions with copious amounts of coconut water are held in dark rooms away from prying eyes. Scenarios are laid out to cover every possible permutation of what can happen on race day.

Except for us. We are a cobbled together collection of bike riding strangers. Our team members are not so much selected, but rather accepted. We exploit personal friendships in the hunt for riders. We scour the Bike Hub for potential candidates. We spam the Double Century notice boards with promises of glory and fame in the hope of just getting a response. After some committed Strava stalking and RaceTec corroboration, tentative invites are sent out and our team slowly starts to take shape.

An idea for an app - Tinder for DC riders
With the trauma of 2017 still fresh in our minds, and the face of Nic Dlamini still haunting our dreams, we opted to enter a mixed team. While this meant an easier shot at fame and glory, it also presented us with the rather large challenge of finding some racing ladies. There are probably better odds on finding that missing Malaysian airliner than there are on rocking up on the start line with four ladies. While the rules state that you need three ladies in your team to be considered a mixed team, we like to play it safe and have a reserve. Guys are expendable, ladies are not! Needless to say, we only managed to find 3 fast ladies (and that airliner is still missing).

Our three very fast ladies, and their beautiful kit
At the best of times, Captain Craig and I hover very close to the edge of chaos. Occasionally we dip our toes into the puddle of pandemonium, and other times we dive headfirst into the dam of disorder. And that's just the two of us. There is a very real risk when building a team of 12 strangers that our Double Century aspirations will be over before we even cross the start line. Only 9 people rock up on race day. The backup vehicle leaves without our snacks and replenishments in it. We drop our first person two kilometres from the start on the climb out of Swellendam. Four riders ride off the front and we don't see them again. We race each other up the climbs in a show of testosterone and ego, shelling riders everywhere. We do a mixture of a rolling paceline and a single file through and off, achieving nothing. We have more people in the backup vehicle than we have out on the road. And lastly, we lose the ability to count to six and cross the line with just five riders. (All true stories)

But we needn't have worried about repeating those mistakes. We had Lloyd with two l's. Not only did he manage to recruit nearly every decent rider in Joburg into our team, but he also took over the responsibility of thinking about everything. And I mean EVERYTHING.

What formation should we ride in (with emoji art):

Where to put your timing chip:

Who the competition might be (and the author of the post that broke the internet):

Scenarios we need to consider:

A key event in the run-up to the Double Century is the pre-race dinner. It's the first opportunity we get to suss each other out and the last opportunity we have to fine-tune Lloyd's various strategies, formations, and tactics. It's also a good opportunity to gauge the seriousness of the team, indicated by the amount of red wine consumed. I have a theory - there is a relationship between the amount of wine consumed and the performance on race day, obviously to an upper limit on wine consumption. The teams that I've ridden in that didn't talk about the race beforehand over a glass of wine also didn't talk to each other during the race, let alone afterwards.

Race day dawned, and after the customary team photo, we had our first team ride - down the hill to the start line. This was not before eagle-eyed Robyn, our silent poker playing assassin spotted a fineable offence - a tear in my front tyre and the tube peeking out. There is nothing like a bit of performance anxiety when it comes to changing a tyre in front of the entire team, especially given my habit of usually butchering the entire operation. But, as would later become a theme for the whole team, my nerves held, and with a bit of luck I had a brand new front tyre fitted in record time (an old-school 23mm wire bead Gatorskin from Andy, but beggars can't be choosers).

"One of the favourites in the mixed competition"
As Team Cape Cycle Tours approached the start line, with Andy already starting to exhibit a slight sheen of sweat, we began to get a hint of the calibre of riders we had. Obviously, our racing ladies stole the show with seemingly everyone knowing them, their funky cycling kit only adding to the spectacle. The upcountry imports didn't seem out of place either - the usual up and down looks being exchanged all over the place (look at the legs, look at the belly, look at the bike, look at the legs again, look at the face - and then give the nod of "I see you've been doing some training").

Any thoughts that we'd managed to slip under the radar quickly vanished when, with moments to go before our start, the announcer introduced us as one of the favourites in the mixed team category. Nothing like a bit of last-minute pressure. But we needn't have worried for we had Mike. Cool-headed Mike. You can discuss strategy as much as you like but in the oxygen-starved environment that is a racing paceline, if you don't have someone to reign in the egos and correct any minor infringements, chaos will ensue. Mike was our guy - a quiet bit of encouragement here, a hushed scolding there, keeping us all focused on the goal ahead of us.

The Ginger wheelsucking the ladies
The hardest part about riding in a mixed team is, as a male, having to engage your brain rather than just riding on pure testosterone. You have to constantly be aware of where the ladies are, and where possible, selflessly ride to keep them safe and sheltered. You need to develop skills to figure out how they're doing and how they're feeling (kind of like any relationship I guess). It's like an epic poker game - you learn to read body language, looking for the telltale signs of suffering. "I'm fine" Robyn is the master of suffering inside and giving nothing away. On the other end of the spectrum, you have Lise who'll tell you in no uncertain terms what and how she is feeling, and what you can do about it! And somewhere in the middle, we had "The Other One" - Lara, who, as the ride got longer just seemed to get stronger and stronger.

We made the first stop in good time and in good spirits, unaware that we were currently one minute up the other mixed teams. A quick snack, some liquid replenishments, a toilet stop and a hissy fit about a missing cooler bag later we were back on the road - Gary the backup catering to all our needs, including the missing cooler box.

By this point, we'd mostly figured each other out to the point that the ladies were starting to dish out nicknames. Andy was carrying about 3 kilograms of salt encrusted on his shirt, and was aptly named Salty. Stiaan, the man mountain who missed a calling to play lock for the Springboks was feeling the Cape heat and had earned the nickname Sweaty. Lloyd, still eager to do well, was continuously riding off the front of our group causing the speed to fluctuate wildly, was Surgy. And Mike was still marshalling the troops, maintaining the focus and keeping us in order. Gluey.

The second leg was mostly uneventful, except for the realisation that a rather nasty block headwind would be keeping us company all the way back into Swellendam. We needed to make time, but we also needed to make sure we didn't over do things on this leg. With only the wind for company, Team Cape Cycle Tours made good progress, and before long we were enjoying the delicacies that our coolerboxes had to offer. And we still had a minute lead - if only we'd known. We were ready for the last leg.

Except for Stiaan. The man mountain was going no further. The beginnings of a mini-uprising were playing out before our eyes, with the risk that the rebellion would spread. I could see The Ginger was trying to decide where his allegiances lay. Captain Craig stepped up and in his best "Have you had a Gu" voice tried to coax Sweaty back from the edge. Promises were made. Threats were exchanged. The end result being that Stiaan would continue on his bike. But looking at the scene unfold I could tell we'd lost him to our cause a long long time ago.

The final leg is what we'd all been waiting for. The leg where we'd all do whatever we could to get our ladies to the finish line as fast as possible. As Mike's sense of humour was failing, he summarised the plan like this:

If you're not blocking the wind or pushing a lady, you're not contributing. F*** off to the back
And Surgy slowly slunk off to the back.

Job done
The last 30 kilometres are a time for tough decisions. Do you push hard and shell riders out the back? Do you wait for the Jarrett as he danglings off the back in the hope that he can contribute later? Lara had her own life or death decision to make - endure the discomfort of being pushed by the small of her back, or hang onto one of Andy's salt-encrusted pockets and have to disinfect her hand once we crossed the finish line?

The biggest and smallest team members are missing
The Three Sisters flew by in slow motion, a haze of suffering disconnecting us from the real world. Pushing. Pulling. Sheltering. Blocking. Driving on the front. One pedal stroke at a time. One pedal stroke closer to the finish. And then we turned up the final climb to the finish line. One last effort. And just like that, it was all over. The joy of crossing the line. The sadness that the adventure was partly over (there was still the fines meeting). The anxious moments while we waited to see where we'd come.

Sweaty, Salty, Jarrett the Kid, The Ginger, Pokerface Robyn, Lara the Other One, Lise, Alex, me, Surgy, Captain Craig, Gluey
And then we heard - second place - 66 seconds down on first. And while we could spend months analysing where we lost those 66 seconds (and I'm sure Lloyd is doing that right now), it didn't really matter. We'd given it a decent go. We'd ridden hard. But we'd had fun along the way. And I don't think I'd swop that for anything. We'd started out as twelve strangers, and finished as twelve (almost) victorious friends. And that's exactly why I ride bikes.

* I haven't forgotten about Alex, but, just like the fines meeting where he wasn't fined once, I cannot recall a particular incident that he was involved in. He was just there, doing what needed to be done. The perfect teammate.


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