Friday 16 December 2022

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:53 | No comments

The Double Century 2022

A well-known journalist once told me that it's the bicycle adventures that don't go according to plan that make for the best stories. And he's 100% correct. No one wants to read a race report where the highlight of 7 hours of racing is the tough decision between a vanilla or berry energy gel. And so, when SportsWorld Dennis invited me to join his rag-tag collection of bike riders for the 2022 Double Century, I jumped at the offer. This team had all the ingredients for an epic bike adventure!

Team Oryx

At the best of times, the Double Century is always a bit of a gamble, and rightly so. There is so much that can happen both in the build-up to the event, as well as during the 202 kilometres around Swellendam. Usually, the biggest challenge in the months and weeks before the event is trying to figure out at what level you need to be at, come race day. And it's usually quite easy to do this. Riding with Ben Swift means that you need to take a month off work, rent a cabin high up on the slopes of some remote peak in the Cedarberg, and get in as many high-altitude kilometres as one possibly can. Going for the Mixed win? You're going to need to convince the coach to give you loads of steady power intervals, some upper-body strength work for when the pushing needs to happen (and this isn't to push the ladies, this is to push the guys that the ladies have destroyed!), and some mental training in learning how to leave your ego at home, particularly when it's a lady pushing you up a hill.

James the Noob with the OGs

Like any team event, you don't need to be the fastest, but you certainly don't want to be the slowest, and this is where that athlete stalker tool called Strava comes in handy. Strava stalking your teammates gives you a good idea of where you fit into the hierarchy of the team. By and large, this is quite a simple exercise, but over the years I've learnt a few things to look out for. The teammates who upload everything to Strava aren't the real concern. They're an open book, and it's quite easy to see their fitness levels. It's those people who upload sporadically. Or upload rides without all the data. (Here's looking at you JP). What are these people hiding? What end of the fitness spectrum are they actually on? What mental games are they playing?

Team Oryx strategy discussions

Having the tough conversations

And then there are those people whose whole training strategy for the Double Century is basically just wishful thinking, and the hope that others have factored in some upper-body strength training. Sometimes it's work and family commitments that keep people off the bike, and sometimes it's illness. And then once in a blue moon, it's a broken hip while cycling at 10 km/h in a bike lane on a cycling holiday in Slovenia.

Google Translate of a Slovenian news article


Throw in a couple of other factors, like 2 teammates doing their first-ever Double Century (for comparison, Captain-Craig-of-the-broken-hip and I have over 40 Double Century events between us), the team never having ridden together before, and a forecast for some dodgy weather, and I was quite sure that Team Oryx were going to have an amazing adventure, and that this race report would just write itself.

It's just 202kms, right?

While I'm always a fan of adventure (the reason I ride with Captain-Craig-of-the-broken-hip so much), I did have another reason for wanting to ride with this team. Bike racing is about pushing yourself, setting ambitious goals, seeing how close you get to achieving them, and watching the progression over the years. It starts off with just wanting to enter the Double Century, to be ready to ride something like this. And shortly after that it's wanting to finish your first Double Century. And then it's wanting to finish in the top half of the field, and then under 7 hours, and then under 6 hours, and then get a top 20 result, a top 10 result, challenge for a podium position, improve on your podium position, and finally, go for a win. And yet, despite all the success we've had at the Double Century, there's been one achievement that's eluded us - the Charles Milner Medal. A medal that is awarded to each team that completes the 202 kilometres together as a team of 12. It sounds like everyone should have one of these medals, but this was the one medal that Captain-Craig-of-the-broken-hip and I have yet to add to our collection.

It's all about objectives

Race weekend snuck up on us, and before we knew it, the race strategy conversation had begun. This is the next area where things can go horribly pear-shaped very quickly. Having a strategy that works for everyone is challenging, but again, some advice I got years and years ago still rings true. I was lucky enough to get an entry for the 2007 Cape Epic, and while the race was tougher than anything we'd done before, many teams didn't make the finish not because they were incapable physically, but because somewhere between Knysna and Somerset West on a dusty patch of dirt in the middle of nowhere, two teammates had had a bust-up over something stupid. Maybe it was spending too much time at a water point, maybe it was riding a little too fast up a hill, or a little too slowly down a hill, but tempers had frayed and that was the end of the dream. Not only did teams not finish, but friendships were wrecked. And that's where Erica Green's advice came in - set objectives for the team. Not where you want to come or how well you want to do, but what sort of team you want to be afterwards. Do you still want to be on speaking terms with your partner? Do you still want to be friends? With that figured, everything else follows, including the good results.

Three kilometres in and the team is still together! (And smiling)

The Charles Milner medal captures that team strategy. We need to ride at the pace of the slowest guy. We need to look after the guy with the dodgy hip. We need to support and encourage the first-timers. We need to ride this race as a team. Twelve people aligned around a single objective.

Up, up, and away

Race day finally dawned on us, and no matter how many times you've lined up on a start line, there is always a nervous excitement in the air. Different riders express this in different ways. Some get quiet and contemplative, running through everything in their minds one last time. Some just soak up the atmosphere and revel in the challenge that lies ahead. And some just spend an inordinate amount of time visiting and revisiting the porta loos. Each to their own.

When the gun finally goes, everything just melts away, and it's time to get down to business. The first hour is usually spent just sussing out the team. Finding your place in the hierarchy, and figuring out what normal feels like. What pace are we riding at? How long are we spending on the front? Who is the best person to ride behind? That last one is crucial to a good ride. Pick a guy who forgot his deodorant and you're in for an unpleasant ride. Same applies to the guy with cycling shorts that have seen better days - no one wants to stare at see-through cycling shorts for 7 hours. And my worst - ending up behind the guy who's 3 feet tall and offers absolutely zero drafting benefit.

Always be a team player!

Just as Team Oryx had figured this all out, we hit the first climb. Nothing like a climb to expose those whose lack of Strava uploads had nothing to do with secret training, but in fact, just represented a lack of bicycle riding. We cruised up the climb as a team, the stronger riders diligently riding at the pace of those slower riders. As we crested the climb, I took my turn on the front, a little 15-kilometre pull to the bottom of the next climb. And in those 15 kilometres, the physical state of the team had changed quite a bit. It was here, at the bottom of the climb that The Hand of God made its first appearance. This isn't a sinister cheater move performed by a short South American, but rather a kind, caring, supportive hand resting on a rider's lower back, gently pushing that rider up the hill. Nothing signifies teamwork quite like stronger riders pushing weaker riders uphill. The Hand of God does however have a sinister cousin - The Vicegrip of Death - when a rider reaches out and grabs the pocket of another rider. While it looks very similar to The Hand of God, it feels like that rider isn't just holding onto your pocket, but has in fact climbed into your pocket, and you're now trying to cycle while carrying the weight of the rider on your back. And, with The Hand of God, you're in control - you can stop pushing whenever you want to catch your breath, stand out of the saddle, or change skinny cycling arms, while with The Vicegrip of Death you're completely at the mercy of the guy in your pocket, and sometimes it requires some very harsh words to get the rider to climb out of your pocket again.

Today's the day the teddy bears have their picnic!

With the second climb behind us, I took another 32-kilometre turn on the front as we headed towards Montagu, and the first water point of the day. I think the team was having a good time, but whatever fun they were having behind me wasn't filtering up to the front. Nor were there a lot of offers from others to take a turn, which was ok. At least this way, I didn't have to endure deodorant failure or seethrough shorts, although it was like riding behind a 3-foot midget with no drafting benefit.

Like a Kirstenbosch Concert, but without the grass, or the concert

We rolled into the water point, and then something strange happened. Something that I've never seen in my 18 years of riding this race. People got off their bikes and SAT DOWN. Like we were on a picnic ride. Just without the picnic blanket, the pâté, and the MCC. Instead, we had Coca Cola and a secret stash of cramp tablets that got passed around. The cracks were starting to appear in Team Oryx's tough facade. Fortunately, the organisers give each team 30 minutes at the water point, and it was quite clear that we were going to use every second of those 30 minutes. I was just hoping that Captain-Craig-of-the-broken-hip was paying attention and would give me more leeway next time we sped through a water point at Trans Baviaans.

I've still got 4 minutes and 27 seconds of sitting to do

With 118 kilometres in the bag, we set off for the next stop. Fortunately, I had a couple of companions help out on my next 45km turn on the front, from a Captain-Craig-of-the-broken-hip, to Too-many-watts-Kris and Enthusiastic-Jack-Russell-JP. This section is all about keeping it together, and I've learned this lesson the hard way over the years, pulling an Eskom multiple times as my lights went out. I didn't want our newbies to experience that on their first Double Century - we have to save some action for next year.

When sitting in the dirt is more comfortable than a bike saddle

I usually start thinking about how to write my race report during the event, taking note of all the action. But as we cruised towards the next water point, I was starting to get worried. I didn't have anything to write about, for two reasons. The first reason that, by and large, we were having an uneventful ride, and secondly, whatever action was happening, was happening behind me, and I wasn't seeing it. But I knew my trump card lay ahead, and I hoped the final 40kms would give me enough to write a race report.

Yup. Team Oryx is still there

We rolled into the next water point, and once again Team Oryx enabled picnic mode, but with a few modifications. I don't think there was as much sitting down, but there did seem to be quite a lot of weeing. Much like the repeated visits to the porta loos before the race, it looked like the same thing was happening again. Was it nerves because of what the final 30kms had in store for us? Was it because of the panic slurping of too much juice in the hope of finding some extra energy for the legs? I don't really know, but it made for interesting viewing. And then the cramp tablets came out and were passed around again. With our 30 minutes almost running out, Team Oryx hit the road for the final slog to the line and that Charles Milner medal that awaited us.
What do you mean you didn't bring a chair?

On any normal day, the final 40 kilometres of the Double Century route would just be a lumpy bike ride between Bonnivale and Swellendam, but with 160 kilometres in the legs, those final 40 kilometres are a sufferfest, characterised by 3 nasty hills. It's on these 3 hills that your Double Century strategy is put to the test - if you've overdone it earlier, these 3 hills are a long and lonely escapade through the Valley of Despair. This is where teams fall to pieces. Where friendships are ruined and dreams are crushed. But Team Oryx had a plan - if you had extra watts to spare, use them pushing someone up a hill. It can be quite tricky figuring out who needs a push, and again, clear communication is key. Except when Captain-Craig-of-the-broken-hip tells you that he needs a push, and before you can change your mind, or change your gears, he's engaged The Vicegrip of Death and climbed into your back pocket once again.

The waiting must be killing Captain-Craig-of-the-broken-hip

There is a saying that adversity doesn't build character, it reveals it, and nothing sums that up better than the last 30 kilometres of the Double Century. Seeing a rider pushing a weaker or more tired rider up a hill is one thing, seeing a rider pushing a rider pushing a weaker or more tired rider up a hill is another. And Team Oryx revealed their character, conquering the hills as one. Inch by inch we ticked off the climbs until we had the final hill to the line remaining. A hill that passed in a blur as the finish line came into view. 
The Hand(s) of God appeared to me on a hill outside of Swellendam

Achievements in sport (and in life) come in many shapes and forms, and it's not always about winning or coming first. Sometimes it's about doing cool things and having an adventure with old friends while making new ones. Thanks to everyone in Team Oryx for a memorable bike ride around Swellendam, and for giving me the chance to add another special medal to my collection. 

You get a medal, you get a medal, you all get a Charles Milner Medal!

Lastly, while twelve people crossed the line together, two unsung heroes people made a ride like this possible. Thanks to Natie and Jodi for doing the thankless task of backup, for providing ice cold coke, some reassuring words, and the occasional shoulder to cry on. 



Post a Comment