Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Posted by Velouria Posted on 11:12 | No comments

Sani2C 2013

The astute readers amongst the vast following that this blog has (there are at least 4 regular readers out there) will have noticed that there was no 2012 Sani2C race report. For that I apologise, and before I get down to this year's event, I'd just like to share the reasons behind why I didn't dare make that post.

Everyone loves a cyclist
As with the previous year, I rode Sani2C 2012 with Little John. Unlike the previous year, I wasn't in great shape - a two week holiday in Paris combined with a bout of rather vicious Parisian flu meant that I went into the event quite short of form. For almost 3 days I followed Little John on our adventure from the Underberg towards Scottburgh, relying on muscle memory and experience rather than fitness and conditioning. I rode as if each pedal stroke was my last, giving it everything I had. To compound matters, I had discovered the night before we left for Sani2C that my bike was cracked. Literally - every pedal stroke could have been my last, and I was expecting a catastrophic life ending failure at any second. At the end of each stage I was both physically and mentally exhausted. But I was fine with that. That is what team racing is all about.

Look closely for the crack
With barely 20kms to go on day 3, after sticking to Little John's wheel like a remora suckerfish all race long, he sat up. To talk to a "pro". My theory is that anyone riding anywhere near us can't be that much of a pro. While Little John was blinded by the stars in his eyes, the people we had been racing each stage were slowly gaining on us. Had I suffered so much just so that I could witness Little John and his blossoming bromance with a B-grade pro? Like a rage-filled midget at a rock concert I finally snapped, and my mission wasn't to finish ahead of the B-grade pro or the chasing riders, but to ride Little John into the ground. To strike down upon him with great vengeance and furious anger. To crush his soul. With my legs on fire and my lungs screaming I mashed the pedals, each pedal stroke more violent than the last. My sight narrowed, the red mist descended and all I saw was the road ahead - I completely blocked out the spectators, the other riders, and everything else. Time for Little John to feel my wrath and fury. As the finish line approached I stopped and waited - a minute went by, and then another, and finally Little John made an appearance. While we might have crossed the line together, the smiles were fake and the back slapping was hollow - the anger still simmered below the surface. So much so that I was scared of what I might write if I were to do a blog post. What a difference a year makes.

Annabelle, born after last year's Sani
Little John, so named because he was one of the last mountain bikers in South Africa still riding an increasingly unfashionable old school mountain bike with 26 inch wheels, had finally upgraded to a 29er. We needed a new name, and Captain Craig came up with Old Man John - OMJ for short. We once again made the trek up to Durban, staying over in Umhlanga before heading off to the Underberg, somehow managing to cram 2 bikes and our luggage into the back of a Ford Figo. Nothing like abusing a rental car! After the usual chores of registration, putting the bikes back together, and repacking our gear for the event, we got a good night's sleep in the warmer than usual Underberg. A later start than in previous years meant that we could take our time getting ready, and after we'd loaded our boxes onto the trucks, we went for a quick warm up ride. I thought this would be a good time to put my gloves on, only to discover that I'd pulled a super amateur move  - I'd packed in two left gloves. I had three options - ride with no gloves, ride with one glove Michael Jackson style, or try to get the offending left glove to imitate a right glove. I went for option 3 initially, first trying the glove on upside down. That didn't work, so I then tried inside out. Still no luck, so I eventually settled on option one. No gloves (on my hands at least - I still had them in my pockets).

It's a rental!
After a fast start, OMJ and I settled into a comfortable rhythm, doing our own thing. I was determined to be a good partner, and so let OMJ set the pace. I quickly discovered that OMJ and his new machine were having relationship issues. He was trying to ride it like his old bike, and the bike was protesting. It's a strong man's bike, demanding strength and power, and OMJ was trying to gently caress and tease it up the hills, and as a result his legs were taking a beating. From a neutral bystander's point of view, it was an interesting battle to watch, and for once, I couldn't be blamed for inflicting the pain. Not yet anyway.

Old Man slippers!
Sani2C is all about the rider experience, from the manicured trails, to the free swag, the endless lunches to the infinite supply of vanilla milks. The water points are no different. And this year I was going to make a point of enjoying them. President Kennedy was probably thinking of Sani2C when he made his famous "Ich bin ein Berlinner" speech. I'd eat so many jam doughnuts each day that I think I was beginning to look like a jam doughnut too. Sometimes I'm surprised they didn't have to chase me out of the water points.

OMJ getting intimate with  his new steed
While there is always a rather laid back jovial mood at Sani2C, there was a slight mood of trepidation at the MacKenzie Country Club as night fell after the first stage, the weather forecast for the following day promised rain. And while we're mountain bikers and can handle most adverse weather conditions, stage 2 of Sani2C is the one stage where you'd like the weather gods to play nice. It is the reason 5000 cyclists make the pilgrimage to the Natal Midlands for the opportunity to ride down into the beautiful, unspoiled Umkomaas Valley. A 40km downhill with breathtaking views and frightfully fast descents. Any overnight rain would change all that and turn the descent into the world's longest slip and slide - a mudfest on two wheels. After a delayed start we inched our way on toward the Umkomaas descent to discover that is was as slippery as a bar of soap in a Pollsmoor Prison shower. It wasn't an uncommon sight to come around a corner and see a cyclist lying in a heap. And I'm not just talking about us weekend warriors, I saw plenty of pro's (both A and B grade) having little lie downs in the mud.

We eventually got to the bottom of the Umkomaas valley, having spent a lot time time riding, walking, sliding, and slipping. I personally wallowed in the mud 4 times. From there on it was an uphill slog all the way to Joliviet Farm, our next overnight stop. That was fine for us seasoned 29er riders, but quite cruel and nasty for OMJ and his new steed. I was still being the good partner, riding on his wheel, going along at his pace. Resisting the urge to race. I was having issues too, of the mechanical kind, and after breaking a chain that took two seasoned mountain bikers an embarrassingly long time to fix, was stuck with just my middle and large chain rings for the rest of the day. Rather me than OMJ. And just to show that no matter how badly you think your day is going we came across Red John lying in a patch of grass looking rather sore and annoyed. He'd had a massive crash and dislocated his hip. To show just how tough the guy is he'd ridden 8kms out of the bottom of the valley, dislocated hip and all, to where he could be airlifted to safety. Huge respect.

Modern day post stage prep.
With the end of the stage almost in sight, OMJ was fading fast, and I was forced to apply the hand of shame. It feels so much better dishing it out than being on the receiving end, although the receiver can be a bit demanding now and then. A couple ups and downs later and we rolled across the line at Joliviet farm - wet, cold, and covered from head to toe in mud. Everything took longer than normal, cleaning the bikes, showering, drying kit, and by the time the chores had been done it was supper time. TripAdvisor has several recommendations for the best place to get a steak, such as here and here, but if Joliviet were to ever get listed, the juicy, tender steak they serve for dinner would get 4972 five star ratings (and 28 no star ratings from some very envious vegetarians).

Team mates having an afternoon nap
Our agreed upon objective for this year's Sani2C was to finish in the top 100 after stage two, and we'd made it - position 49. Farmer Glen had introduced another fantastic idea in that the top 2 seeded batches would only start at 11am on the last day. Compare that to having to get up at 5am for a 7am start. I do have one complaint though in that the riders from the C batch showed very little respect and made an incredible amount of noise, so while we didn't have to get up at 5am, we were rudely awoken at 5am by the racket the rabble were making. I'd like to suggest to Farmer Glen that at next year's event a special area is set aside so that the A and B batch riders can enjoy a late morning snooze in peace and quiet.

The scariest 800m of the whole event
After 2 breakfasts, 4 cups of coffee, several visits to the toilet, 3 warm up rides and a mid morning nap we were eventually off - heading towards Scottburgh for the final stage of Sani2C. OMJ was once again doing battle with his machine, riding his bike like it was a contact sport - arms, legs and head flailing all over the place. At this rate it would be a TKO in the 5th round! Since the final day is relatively flat and fast, I hopped on the front to set the pace and offer some shelter to OMJ. Initially this worked out quite well and we made good progress, but slowly the memories from the previous year came flooding back. While I never set out to intentionally rain down fire and torment on poor OMJ, I realised that with 20kms to go he was either going to kill me, or go and hide in a sugar cane field and not come out. Our race was done, and all that remained was to get to the finish in one piece.

The view at the finish
Farmer Glen's other innovation for this year's event was a crazy stupid long floating bridge over the Scottburgh lagoon, and out into the ocean. As a sufferer of Gephyrophobia this idea had given me countless nightmares and sleepless nights. The added pressure was that my wife had successfully navigated the 800m long, 80cm wide bridge without incident the day before. Farmer Glen's advice to the race snakes was to ride on inside of the corners, to look ahead, and keep the speed up. He got two out of three right, and I suspect that was on purpose. DO NOT EVER ATTEMPT TO RIDE ON THE INSIDE OF THE CORNERS ON A FLOATING BRIDGE. Much to his disappointment I didn't end up taking a swim in the Scottburgh lagoon, I did however came far to close for my comfort.

The Crazed Wombats successfully navigated the bridge and the stage and finished in 51st place overall, another Sani2C safely completed. While his bike and I abused him, OMJ was in fine spirits at the end, and word on the street is that he was spotted doing some secret training on the back roads in and about Hermanus. I suspect Trans Baviaans is going to be the scene of his revenge grudge match between both him and his bike, and him and I.

The Crazed Wombats

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:52 | 1 comment

An Epic Tale

Not to be confused with this Epic Tale, this is an Epic Tale, HotChillee style.

Did you see those two guys up ahead who rode into each other?
Yeah - they were riding along quite happily until the guy on the left made a sharp right turn  into his buddy
Huh? Are you sure that is what happened?
Oh yes. Definitely the guy on the left's fault.
All I could think was that we'd moved up one place on GC

Moral of the story - you never know who is about photographing your post race analysis.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Posted by Velouria Posted on 06:35 | 4 comments

The Cape Epic 2013

As I sit here in a cold and blustery Winnipeg, I can't help but think back to the week long mountain biking adventure I embarked on a little over 3 weeks ago. That was when Captain Craig gave me a call on a Friday night asking if I was keen to do the Cape Epic. Not the 2014 edition, but the 2013 edition, starting in a mere 8 days time. Team HotChillee Infinity had lost a member with The Bull being laid low by an ill timed bout of pneumonia, and I was being asked to fill some rather large shoes (and some rather small kit - more about that later).

The finish line at Lourensford - so far away

The Cape Epic is the pinnacle of mountain biking not only in South Africa but worldwide, and before my brain had time to fully process Captain Craig's request, my heart had already answered - it's not everyday that an opportunity like this comes around. While my brain was calculating the various ways that I could possibly die in the forthcoming week, my stomach was quickly filling with butterflies. I'd missed these Epic nerves, the doubt, the worry, the uncertainty. And unlike most participants, I didn't have months of training to fall back on, the only thing I had was Captain Craig's belief that I was a capable substitute to The Bull. Before my heart got too carried away though, my brain did manage to insert one rule into the deal - we ride this Epic conservatively at my pace, with no expectations. The only hurdle remaining for my participation in the 2013 Cape Epic was to get the boss's approval. My wife and I had just bought a house and were due to move during Stage 6. I can't remember exactly what I promised, but I am completely indebted to her.

Daniel, Team HotChillee's youngest supporter
The remaining 8 days were a whirl of activity and action. The Fun Ride World Championships was no longer my season highlight and once I'd successfully navigated the 109kms of danger around the Cape Peninsula, all my focus was on getting ready for the Epic. I have a stage race bible specifically geared towards the Epic that DaisyWay Coaching put together after my first Epic. It serves as a checklist and refresher on what to expect, what to pack, and how to prepare for an 8 day bike race. On the training front, I managed to squeeze in two rides, totaling about 90 minutes. In reality, while I don't think those rides made any difference to my fitness, their real purpose was to give me some time to mentally get my head around my upcoming ordeal, away from the hustle bustle of work and life. Pure me time.

And so our Epic begins
I turned the rest of the stage race bible on it's head too - I bought new shoes and gloves with 5 days to go, I got my bike serviced with 3 days to go(a big thank you to William's Bike Shop - despite it being the busiest week of the year for bike shops in South Africa, you guys didn't blink when I brought in my attention needing bike), I got my fantastic looking but ill fitting HotChillee cycling kit the night before, and Captain Craig and I were still busy with shuttles to the local garage to get our new Continental tyres to seal mere hours before our 7:40am Prologue start at Meerendal.

An awesome way to start the Epic! (My eyes were tightly closed!)
Being part of the HotChillee Epic adventure came with several benefits - apart from the opportunity to meet, chat and interact with Stephen Roche (my roadie roots were in heaven just listening to some of his tales of life in the pro peloton) - we got to experience the organizational skills and support that have made HotChillee famous, which gave me time to frantically organise my life in the remaining days before our adventure began. In addition to the people working behind the scenes, we had real life soigneurs in the form of Hazel and Tony, and physiotherapist Jayne to look after us during the event. This was going to be an Epic like no other. We were also amazed by the support from friends and family, from the opening of homes, to wishes of good luck - all helping to offset the doubts that kept running through my mind.

Who said the Prologue was going to be easy!
Race day eventually dawned, and Captain Craig and I blitzed the Prologue course in and around Meerendal in a rather disappointing 116th place. Despite our no expectations rule, we were both a little surprised - we'd ridden hard and had expected a better result. Our loosely agreed upon goal of top 100 seemed almost unattainable. Clearly the level at the Epic had been raised since we last had ridden it. With the Prologue behind us, the 3 HotChillee teams convened at The Hammond House for a post ride massage, some final packing and some snacks before heading off to Citrusdal, where the real Epic awaited us (in reality, it was more like the HotChillee teams gate crashed a family Sunday lunch, left a whirlwind of chaos in our wake, and left when the food ran out but before we had to do the dishes).

In the zone
Every year at the Epic there is a stage that polarizes the riders, and in 2013 Dr Evil wasted no time in getting that stage out of the way. Stage 1 was tough. It was sandy. It was hot. But this is the Epic, and we didn't expect anything less.  Sticking to our one and only rule, we started right at the back of our bunch and stayed there for the first hour while we watched the cyclists around us taking unnecessary risks in an attempt to move up a place or two. By the time we made the first water point we had already gained several places - not because we were riding fast, but because those around us were riding like fools. We passed people with who had started too fast and blown, people with punctures, broken wheels and broken bones. You can't win the Epic on Stage 1, but you certainly can lose it. One of my few mountain biking skills was also coming in very handy - the ability to ride soft sand. That's not to say we didn't push our bikes - we did. For hours. When you see the tiny frame of Catherine Williamson doing the same but with blood oozing down her arm from a nasty looking gash we couldn't really complain. We're all in this together, we're all suffering, we're all pushing machines that were invented for riding. And this is exactly what most of the 1200 participants have been focussed on for the last 6 months (Tennis Playing Pete and myself excluded). This was why we do the Epic. This is what makes that Epic medal stand out from the medal you get from the ride hosted by the local charity around some flat manicured course you've ridden a thousand times.

Time to cool the feet
Why we do the Epic.
At water point 3 the announcer mentioned something about only 66 teams having made it this far. We couldn't believe it. Suddenly the message from Jayne to slow down and ride the Epic as an 8 day race made sense. We were flying. We were now doing better than we had ever expected. How could this be? We weren't riding hard. We were just two guys on bikes having fun, doing our thing, riding to our only rule. For years people had been telling us that to ride well at Epic you needed to ride conservatively, and in the naivety of youth we'd always dismissed their advice as old-timer stories from people who were out of touch with modern bike racing. Perhaps they'd been right all along. We finished the day in 63rd place - one of our best performances at the Epic to date in our third attempt at riding together. It all felt so surreal, so dreamlike, a feeling that would continue to grow each day.

Slow and steady
My tight, aero, well ventilated racing kit from Lemarq
The 3 HotChillee teams were decked out in cycling kit from Lemarq - designed especially for the 2013 Cape Epic. While we looked fast and professional, there were two slight oversights. Firstly, the sizing. Over the years I've learned that to get a figure hugging aero cycling top in South Africa I need to wear a small, so it was with a little trepidation that I tried on my medium HotChillee top. To call it figure hugging would be polite. I had to open the zip just to breath it was so tight. There was absolutely no room for weight gain or water retention in this kit. The second oversight was as a result of an attempt to keep the black HotChillee kit as cool as possible. Large semi transparent breathable sections were used on the rear of the shirts. Fantastic for riding in the African heat. Not so fantastic for riding in the African sun. After Stage 1, most of the HotChillee riders were sporting what I like to call Angel Wings. I made a mental note to include putting sunscreen on my back in my pre stage preparations after that.

One of many amazing sections of single track
My Angel Wings
Stage 2 was a transitional stage, a way to get from Citrusdal to Tulbagh via dirt roads and orchards. I would have consigned it to my long list of unremarkable Epic stages if it were not for two sections. The first being some meandering single track cut into a saddle between two mountains. It broke the mould for the entire day’s riding - it served no purpose other than to bring a smile to the faces of the riders. We zigged and zagged, bobbed and weaved, around boulders, through gorges, over rocks, in the middle of the Koue Bokkeveld, with no other sign of human life for as far as one could see. The second section was the crazy scary descent into Tulbagh - a 15km long technical downhill that scored a near perfect 10 on the smile-o-meter. I felt sorry for the people who walked sections of the Prologue - they were going to be in for a long day of hike-a-biking. Despite our general indifference to the stage, we finished in 69th place.

The Koue Bokkeveld playground
The great thing about being part of a group of teams is the comradery. Here was HotChillee’s founder Sven doing his first Epic along with roadie and Triple Crown winner Stephen, who had only been on a mountain bike 3 times before the start of the 2013 Cape Epic, and they were having a ball. Sharing our Epic experiences each day helped us forget about the bad bits, and remember the good ones.

Dinner with a Triple Crown winner
Evidence that even a World Champ needs a nap every now and then
Stages 3 and 5 were virtually carbon copies of each other, loops around town that went in search of the best mountain biking each area had to offer. Despite being significantly shorter than the transitional stages, I found them far tougher. In a good way. They suited our rule way better and we were able to do our own thing without being sucked along in the excitement and testosterone of the bunch. I was able to get my diesel engine going, steadily tapping out a pace as Captain Craig adopted the rather new and unfamiliar position of riding behind me. Slowly but surely The HotChillee Express would move through the field, catching and passing teams we’d waved goodbye to several hours previously, and in the process dishing out a psychological blow to any resistance that remained. We finished those stages in 51st and 58th place respectively - again, beyond our wildest dreams. At the back of my mind I had this nagging question - when was it all going to come crashing down?

Right now, nothing else matters
Like any marriage there are always ups and downs, and Stage 4 was divorce day. Another transitional stage of 121kms. Right from the start Captain Craig was pushing my buttons. We were going too fast, chasing wheels, and I was riding outside of my comfort zone. While I can ride there for a bit, I knew I was going to pay for any excess effort in 3 or 4 hours time. This wasn’t the plan. It wasn’t what we’d spoken about. If looks and thoughts could kill, Captain Craig would have been in a ditch at the side of the road very early on. After some harsh words and some marriage counseling, Team HotChillee Infinity had patched things up sufficiently and we reverted back to the plan. Slow and steady. Ride our own pace. Ignore everyone else. As we wound our way towards Wellington, things started to fall into place and the early morning argument started to fade from my memory. We were passing teams again, moving through the field, inflicting psychological hammer blows all over the place. Over Bain’s Kloof and into the single track of Welvanpas, Captain Craig on my wheel. Despite the early difficulties, we finished the stage in 54th place, the dream still was alive, and getting more and more surreal as each day passed. For the first time, I dared to think about the finish in Lourensford.

Our home for a week
The 11 o'clock HotChillee Express
Stage 6 was billed as the Queen stage for the 2013 Cape Epic. A 100km transitional stage from Wellington to Stellenbosch with 3000m of climbing. As a one day event this would be tough, let alone on legs that had already ridden 5 long gruelling stages. The air of trepidation hanging over the race village was almost palpable. Survive this stage and that Epic medal was virtually guaranteed. Right from the start I was in a very bad place. My lack of training was finally catching up with me, and while we were making good progress, I was heading deeper and deeper into unknown. Up until now I’d briefly encountered The Hand of Shame on my back as Captain Craig would gently push and nudge me along, but today I wholeheartedly embraced it. The Team HotChillee Infinity marriage was once again rock solid. Apart from 25 minutes in the middle of the stage, I remained firmly entrenched at the back of my pain cave. In attempt to get more power to my legs, parts of my brain were shutting down - I was reverting to head nods and hand signals as a means of communication, and despite the massive amounts of support Team HotChillee had on the side of the road yelling our names, my facial recognition centres had completely shut down. To all those supporters - I have no idea who you were, but your shouts of encouragement went a long way to preventing me from adopting the fetal position under a bush, wishing the torment would end. That, and the thought that as much as I was suffering here towards the front of the race, how would the other HotChillee team of Jan and Alan be coping? In comparison, I’m sure I was getting the magic carpet ride. Despite the hardships of the day, we finished with another amazing result - 53rd - which just reaffirmed that I possibly wasn't the only person out there suffering. That was confirmed when the leading women’s duo crossed the line with Yolande Speedy (we went to school together) sporting a broken clavicle and two broken ribs. Time for me to man up a little.

And just like that, the adventure is over
Captain Craig and I, enjoying the moment
With one stage to go, there was suddenly talk of a top 50 finish. This was completely against the rule that had got us this far. We were lying in 52nd place overall with a short 54km stage remaining. I doubted we could make up the 5 minutes required, and instead convinced Captain Craig to settle for just beating the team ahead of us - Team Loutrans - with whom we’d done battle before at the TransBaviaans and come off second best. One thing counted in our favour - we were now riding on my local training routes - we’d need any advantage we could get. Right from the start the racing was furious - my heart rate was the highest it had been since the Prologue, and looking back, I whacked several of my personal best’s on Strava. And that was even before The Hand of Shame made it’s appearance. We passed Team Loutrans very early on and now my sole objective was to get to Lourensford - my driving motivator being a bath in the Victorian bath in our new house. Retrospectively, I should have noticed it but at the time I was too focussed on the bath - Captain Craig had merely paid lip service to the agreed upon plan and was doing everything in his power to get me up the hills and closer to that mythical top 50 finish. He pushed and pulled and encouraged me every inch of the way, and despite a rather nasty fall almost within sight of the finish, used every ounce of energy he had left to get us across the line as quickly as we could go. All I wanted was that bath. As we crossed that line we couldn’t afford to celebrate just yet. When Team Loutrans eventually made an appearance 5 minutes later I thought that was it. The Epic was over. We’d ridden a fairy tale of a ride, had a ball of a time doing so, and hung out with the best teammates and support crew one could hope for. What could be better than that? And then Captain Craig got the SMS - our daily update on our placing. Team HotChillee Infinity had finished the stage in 59th place, but more importantly, we were 50th on the general classification. It’s not often that a fairy tale has a fairy tale ending.

Immediate relief after crossing the line
Team HotChillee celebrating after the SMS
To all the people at HotChillee that made this ride possible - thank you. To the (often faceless) supporters, family and friends that cheered us on along the way, that sent us messages of encouragement and support - every little bit helped us through, especially during the darkest moments. To the other HotChillee riders - well done on a fantastic ride, and thank you for the camaraderie and conversation - it was an inspiration having you guys around. To our support crew - thank you for indulging our every whim, for tolerating our porridge brains, and for enduring some rather dodgy camping conditions, all in the name of making our lives easier off the bike. You guys are the real champs. To Captain Craig, thanks for that phone call, and for getting me through this adventure, Hand of Shame and all. Lastly, to the friends that helped my wife move house - we’ve named the rooms in our house after each of you and you're welcome to stop by anytime - thank you.

My biggest fan and supporter

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Posted by Velouria Posted on 20:25 | 3 comments

The Cape Rouleur 2013

I was lucky enough to have wangled an invite to HotChillee's African adventure - The Cape Rouleur, and for once, instead of riding bikes, I'd traded in my lycra and cycling equipment for a black HotChillee crew T-shirt and a race radio. As a rider, my natural inclination had always been that those who can't ride, crew. What a rude awaking I was in for.

My only previous experience of working at a bicycle event happened 18 years ago. I was given a red flag, a bottle of water and a high viz vest and dropped off in the middle of nowhere at the quietest intersection in South Africa with explicit instructions to control the traffic. While I like to think I did a great job of simultaneously waving my flag and looking for motorists, the truth is I'm quite sure that intersection would have been fine without me. I can't even recall actually seeing a car other than the one that came to collect me several hours later. With this in mind, I was a little nervous about crossing over to the "other" side again.
Look closely - a chain ring grease mark on the leg of a pro.
Glad to see that they're human too ;)
A certain cycling magazine editor out the back of the bunch - evidence that the Cape Rouleur isn't just plain sailing.

The Cape Rouleur attracts riders from all over the world, about 120 people from differing backgrounds, fitness levels and experience. To ensure that things run (mostly) like clockwork there are in excess of 40 crew members on hand, and they are ably directed by the "separated at birth" twins of Hazel and Jane - often from the dark recesses of the Bedouin tent. Every aspect of the cyclists' well being is considered, both on and off the bikes. There is always a plan A, at least a plan B, and often a plan C, D and E. What often appears to be random chaos is in fact a finely choreographed stage production, each person doing their bit to make The Cape Rouleur a memorable event for all the participants.
My view into the peloton for 4 days
It doesn't get better than this

A crew member's day begins in much the same way as a cyclist's does - at the crack of dawn with an early breakfast and the promise of a daunting day ahead. Instead of pulling on tight, figure hugging Lycra we don our black shirts and baggy shorts and go into crew mode. As a crew member you never really have one particular role apart from the well being of the cyclists - one minute you could be erecting branding banners and the next you're emptying rubbish bins or mixing energy drink. And wearing the black shirt isn't without it's occupational hazards - I encountered things that nothing in my 17 years of bike riding had prepared me for - rose thorns in my fingers, a sunburnt left arm, and various other aches and pains from carrying, lifting, pulling, pushing and hoisting objects from one place to the next.
Me - on a mission, with my radio
Me - unpacking musettes, with my radio
Me - watering some cyclists, feeling rather lost without my radio

My appreciation for the amount of planning, self sacrifice and dedication that goes on behind the scenes was growing with every minute. I'm the first to admit that I'm a selfish cyclist - things must happen as I decree, and I've always expected race organizers, marshals and volunteers to jump to my every whim and desire. And they often do. As cyclists, we believe the crew members can solve any problem, conjure any required accessory into existence or know the answer to any question. We expect it.
My office and officemate (Vincent) for 4 days

To add to the complexity of the organizational effort behind The Cape Rouleur, the Cape summer had offered up some exceptionally fantastic weather. If you were on a beach. Under an umbrella. In an ice suit. With temperatures in excess of 40C and not a hint of the Cape's notorious South Wester blowing, a large contingent of riders who just a few days previously had been training in sub zero temperatures were going to need some extra special attention. They say the next World War will be fought over water, and judging by the riders clamouring to ensure their water bottles got refilled before our stock ran out, the first skirmishes might already have been fought.
The amazing ThinkBike marshals

Apart from my new found appreciation for the people who organise and manage events, I now have the utmost respect and admiration for the ThinkBike motorbike marshals that escort us riders during road race events. Previously, I'd always considered them to be bullies, patrolling the white line like vicious guard dogs with no understanding of the dynamics involved in racing bicycles. Working with them to ensure the safety of the cyclists opened my eyes to the role they perform, and the professionalism with which they do it. And while they might look like big scary bikers on big scary bikes, off the bikes they're a fantastic bunch of people with a wealth of knowledge and experience when it comes to managing and anticipating the sheer random nature of motorists on South African roads - all in the name of safety for us cyclists. It takes guts to stand in front of an irate motorist at an intersection who will be inconvenienced in her Sunday morning shopping quest. It took quite an adjustment on my drive home to actually have to think about the traffic around me - such was the job that they did.
The annual BlackShirt convention
While I am glad I got the opportunity to see the other side, it's not a place for everybody. My only hope is that my fellow BlackShirts and I did indeed make the Cape Rouleur a memorable event for all those who participated, and I look forward to seeing many of them back in sunny (and preferably not as hot) South Africa next year.  I will take away a new sense of appreciation for the dark art of event planning, and I promise to always say please and thank you to the crew members and bike marshals who go out of their way for my enjoyment of the event.