Thursday, 21 April 2016

Posted by Velouria Posted on 19:59 | 1 comment

The 36One 2016

This is a stupid, stupid event. Nothing about this bike ride makes sense. It's ridiculously long, through dusty semidesert conditions, and it starts just as the sun goes down. And yet 780 people thought that this sounded like a good way to spend a weekend.

Crazy crazy stupid
After vowing, not once, but twice, to never ever do this event again, both Captain Craig and I were back for more self-inflicted misery. We had a team title to defend, although admittedly, neither of us were talking up our chances too much. We both prefer the understated approach of seeing how it plays out on the day - it's so far and so long that anything can happen.

Spot Team Lunatic Express
This year, Team Lunatic Express had built up a bit of a cult following, mainly because of Captain Craig (aka Captain Chaos) and his light antics of 2015. And while some of the things that my partner gets up to do cause a certain amount of stress, I generally tolerate most of it as it always makes for an interesting blog post or anecdote afterwards. Together, we're the perfect combo of Yin and Yang - one cautious and pedantic and the other footloose and carefree.

Team Lunatic Express
As the sun dipped lower in the sky, we lined up on the startline of the 36One Challenge with hundreds of similarly crazy minded cyclists. Unlike other normal events, the air was thick with apprehension and nervousness - some riders not entirely sure they would ever see their loved ones again. And despite having done this twice before, I was one of those riders - 16 hours of bike riding lay ahead of me. That's 16 hours for something to go wrong, 16 hours to ruin the race strategy, and more importantly, 16 hours for Captain Craig to come up with a unique way of either injuring himself or having to survive on barely serviceable equipment. And as I stood there, resisting the urge to go to the toilet for the 5th time, it was reassuring to see that each and every rider had their doubts, their demons, their worries.

The unofficial member of Team Lunatic Express - Halfway Robertson
Right from the gun 5 teams formed a little lead group at the head of the race. After taking a turn on the front, I settled into the paceline while Captain Craig spent some of his pent up energy near the front. This gave me a chance to suss out the competition. We had the skinny RMB race snakes riding a crafty strategy early on. There were the guys on orange bikes pushing the pace a bit, but looking to the rest of us for cues. And finally, there were the guys in orange kit lurking at the back, keeping their heads down, silently observing the small group.

It's a tough weekend out for everyone
An hour in and this small group was shattered on the first real climb, leaving the skinny RMB race snakes and Team Lunatic Express at the front of affairs. This left us in a rather tricky position - drive on to maintain the gap over the chasers with the risk of overdoing it, or stick to the game plan of riding cautiously for the first 6 hours. Few things in life bring Captain Craig as much satisfaction as dishing out a lesson in bike riding, and usually I'm quite happy to indulge him, as long as he doesn't overdo it. But something wasn't quite right. We're rather similar riders, both fond of pushing heavy gears, grinding our way up climbs, and cruising along with our diesel engines, and yet, for the first time in ages we appeared to be completely out of sync. It was a theme that would last the entire ride - when Captain Craig was feeling good, I was suffering, contemplating self sabotage, and as quickly as I'd recover, he'd fade, entering his own private hell of torment.

Finding beauty in negative spaces
With the skinny RMB race snakes starting to hurt me up the climbs I had to ask Captain Craig to back off. As simple as this sounds, it's usually quite an involved process, mainly because Captain Craig has the hearing of an 80 year old. What would normally be a quiet word is instead a broadcast for all and sundry to hear - "Craig, please slow down - I'm feeling kak". I often get the volume wrong the first time, and have to repeat myself even louder, further embarrassing myself. It's right up there with announcing to the world at the top of your voice that you're a Liverpool supporter, or that you think the Bulls look great in pink. Not cool.

Halfway giving the Eye
Captain Craig got the message as we eventually waved goodbye to the skinny RMB race snakes and settled into what we do best - cruising along at our own pace. We don't talk much, mostly because Captain Craig can't hear anything, and all I can hear is wind noise, thanks to my rather generously proportioned ears. Occasionally the outside world would intrude upon our little puddles of light, a frog hopping like his life depended on it, a rabbit running from an unseen monster, the mangy dog having so much fun barking at cyclists in the middle of the night, but mostly it was just us and a slowly setting half moon. As tough and as stupid as this ride is - these are the moments that keep us coming back for more - the quiet solitude, the shared silence.

Spectators come in all shapes and sizes
While I hate to admit it, the best aspect of riding in a team are the stories we have to tell afterwards. My partners are usually the stars in the drama that unfolds, from lights that don't work, to spectacular crashes. I'm the observer, the spectator to their antics. Not at this race. In a testament to how good the food at the checkpoints was, ranging from ostrich sosaties to koeksisters, banana bread to date balls, I broke a spoke not far after the halfway mark. And while I've been called a big guy in the past, the message was finally sinking in - this was the fifth broken spoke in 3 weeks. The cycling gods were subtly telling me to cut back on the Nutella!

Halfway enjoying the delicacies on offer
Nursing a wobbly wheel we continued to make good progress, taking turns to dip in and out of bad patches. During a prolonged stretch of misery, just as I was contemplating a silent protest to the unpleasantness that Captain Craig was dishing out, I punctured. Weight issues aside, the irony was that we'd just caught the skinny RMB race snakes again, having last seen them 6 hours previously. We quickly bombed the wheel and set off on the chase, only for the tyre to once again go flat. Time to pop in a tube. As I ripped the tube off my seatpost, green slime spurted everywhere. My spare tube had been on my bike for so long that it had perished and was literally crumbling in my hands. No problem - Captain Craig's tube would do the trick, except he didn't have a tube on him. So there we were, in the middle of nowhere, with no tube and no sign of help, as we watched the lights of the skinny RMB race snakes disappear up the road.

Post race story telling
A couple minutes later a herd of bicycle lights appeared further down the road - salvation was on its way. Or so we thought. Fifteen riders must have ridden past us without so much as an utterance of "Are you ok?". And they say roadies are the unfriendly ones. Eventually, the leading lady, Hannele Steyn-Kotze stopped to offer some assistance, but didn't have a spare tube. Same with Henning van Wyk - another old school mountain biker with proper race etiquette. Thirteen minutes later, while watching our race slip away, we eventually got a tube. Rider 307 - you are a rare find in this modern age.

Rider 307 - we salute you!
With my tyre issues solved, and adrenalin coursing through my veins, we set off in pursuit of our podium spot. Our rough estimate had us in forth place with about 100 kilometres to go. Certainly enough time to get back onto the podium. The only catch being that we still had the imposing climb of Rooiberg to deal with. To compound matters, Captain Craig's good patch was fading quickly and the memories of the previous year's climb were flooding back fast. In a classic example of "going slow to go fast" we backed off the pace completely and rode at a slow, steady crawl up the hill. One by one, we reeled in the lights ahead of us. Broken bodies with vacant stares greeted us as we plodded along, and as we crested the climb we caught and passed the skinny RMB race snakes. The race was back on!
A frantic decent and a mad team time trial later we rolled into Checkpoint 3 just as the sun was rising. Captain Craig ordered me to get some tea, and when I told him to get his own damn tea, he told me it was for me. Apparently I ride quite well after a good cup of tea. We scoffed down some food, sipped on the tea, ditched our lights and hit the road as soon as we could, hoping to maintain our advantage over the skinny RMB race snakes. The final 80kms are brutal, but we figured that if we could hide out of sight we'd have a good chance hanging onto third spot.
Almost winners and worthy opponents - the skinny RMB race snakes

We plodded along, slowly conquering one torturous hill after the another, knowing that if we got to the final 40kms of flat farm and district roads, there'd be almost no chance of any skinny race snakes catching us on our preferred race terrain. With white line fever that lasted for around two hours we slowly hoovered up any riders ahead of us in the last desperate bid to improve on our overall standing. The town of Oudtshoorn eventually emerged from the mid morning haze as we finally crossed the line in 16h53, utterly spent and in dire need of a refreshing beer. In the background, through the hurt, sweat and grime, the announcer was going on about the arrival of the first team. Through the disoriented murk we eventually figured out that he was talking about us - Team Lunatic Express. Despite our (my) mid race wobble, we'd come back strong enough to defend our title. Suddenly it seemed all worth it, and that beer tasted extra good!

The skinny RMB race snakes of Maza & Sipho in 2nd, and Team Lunatic Express in 1st
In previous years I've always been hesitant to commit to doing this crazy stupid event again, but I am already thinking about next year.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Posted by Velouria Posted on 14:23 | 1 comment

The Big Day Out 2016

In just its third year, the Big Day Out is already becoming an institution in the local cycling community. As the summer temperatures pick up, so to do the murmurings about this crazy ride.

Essentially, there are three rules for the Big Day Out:
  1. It has to be a obscenely long ride
  2. It has to be a near perfect day
  3. It's by invite only

Plotting a route is no problem as we're spoilt for choice when it comes to amazing places to ride. Finding the perfect day entails watching the long term weather forecasts on countless websites and spotting a day with very little wind. The catch is that such days are often accompanied by temperatures in the high 30s to low 40s - Captain Craig's worst nightmare! Finally, the committee reserves the right to invite additional riders. Applications pour in from all over the globe, and the committee diligently sifts through all the motivations, considering the merits of each and every one. A short list is compiled, and the committee then votes. To date, no suitable candidates have made it past the vote. Until now. Halfway Robertson wrote a very moving essay expressing his desire to join the Big Day Out. Terms like "greatest accomplishment", "legendary status", "burning desire" and "give my life meaning" littered his prose. He even wrote a poem. In Haiku.

the road goes upwards
conversation stops, puff, pant
the silence of hills*

Application accepted.

The Big Day Out 2016
The original objective of the Big Day Out was to ride further than we'd ever gone before in one day. That meant something in excess of 365kms. In two years of trying we were unable to achieve this - the first year being scuttled by severe heat and a nasty headwind, and the second year ending with a broken derailleur. Third time lucky.

Bikes packed - ready for a Big Day Out
The day kicked off at 5am and we made good progress for about an hour before the wind started picking up. Every single weather source had promised that the wind would not blow, and yet here we were battling into a stiff gale 40kms into a 369km ride. At our current progress, we'd need a week to make the route! In addition, the first 180kms are supposed to be easy, just gently knocking off the kilometres before the temperatures get too hot. Instead we were slogging away at a snail's pace into a gale, our legs and minds both taking strain.

We finally made Wolseley feeling rather worse for wear, already the doubts about successfully completing the Big Day Out lurking at the backs of our minds. But if there is one thing all three participants of the Big Day Out are good at, it's persistence in the face of adversity. A short stop, a quick grumble, and we were off again - secretly hoping the cycling gods would smile on our endeavour and do something about the wind.

As we started the scenic climb up Bainskloof Pass, our prayers were answered. The wind was now a tailwind, and for the first time that day we got a hint of just how warm it was going to get, much to Captain Craig's dismay. There is something special about riding up Bainskloof - the twisty road, the imposing mountains, the lure of the crystal clear pools down below, and the isolation. Apart from the odd car, it was just the three of us in the middle of nowhere, riding bikes.

Before long, we rejoined civilisation as we descended the pass down into Wellington. A quick stock up on much needed fluids, and a chance to get our heads around the big climb of the day that lay ahead of us - Du Toit's Kloof Pass.

The main climb of the day would take us just short of an hour as we trudged uphill in the midday heat. The mercury climbed steadily, eventually settling at 40C, as we now longed for the cooling gale from earlier that morning. Halfway up the climb we passed the halfway point for the day, and while this would normally be a reason to celebrate, knowing that another 184.5kms lay ahead was enough to dampen even the most optimistic of us. We were also faced with another tough decision - once we went over the top of the pass there was no short cut home. We were committed to 175kms. We didn't think twice.

An interesting thing happens when you ride on unknown roads in the heat - you're always on the lookout for water as you never really know when you'll find that next oasis. As we descended the pass, with at least 30 kilometres to go to the next town, I caught sight of a tap. At that very moment, nothing else mattered apart from what that tap meant. Sustenance, survival, happiness.

Mixed emotions from Halfway Robertson making the halfway mark
Halfway Robertson, having passed the halfway point of our Big Day Out, got a serious case of burger fever and dragged the two senior members through the Molenaar River Valley on towards Rawsonville, and our scheduled lunch stop. In hindsight, Rawsonville was possibly not the best place to expect a meal worthy of the Big Day Out. After scouring the main road for gourmet establishments, we had to settle for the best out of a long list of dodgy choices - Nikki's Take Away. The only saving grace was the price of the soft drinks - R6.00 for 500ml! I felt like we were back in the Nineties (although some will say that the entire Rawsonville is stuck in the Nineties). After wolfing down a burger that we knew we would encounter again, we set off for Villiersdorp, 69kms away.

I think there is unanimous agreement when I say that the next section was the worst section of the day. It wasn't the toughest section of the day, nor was it the hottest, but I think it fell into that zone of self doubt. We'd done 220 kilometres, and despite only having 150 kilometres to go, we still couldn't see the end of the tunnel. As we slogged on, with the temperature hitting 37C at 5pm, our spirits started to waiver. And just as our shoulders were sagging and our heads slumping, the quaintest little farm stall appeared. With a tap! What followed was surreal, and must have appeared quite comical to any onlookers. Captain Craig and Halfway Robertson proceeded to worship that tap like it was some ancient life giving deity. And in return, the tap blessed them with a cooling, refreshing elixir. Suddenly, Villiersdorp seemed possible again, and we started to believe that we'd make the final 80 kilometres.

Just as things were looking up, Halfway punctured - a reminder that despite only having 100 kilometres to go, we still needed some luck to go our way. With the puncture fixed we made our way to Villiersdorp up Rooihoogte Pass, the taste of Nikki's burger returning to remind us of our earlier indiscretions. Just 85 kilometres to go.

The emotions of a Big Day Out
The sun was sitting low in the sky as we headed towards Franschhoek Pass, our last big climb of the day. By now, each man was in his own private hell, dealing with his own demons. From numb toes to cramp, from sore knees to aching hands, each of us plodded our way up the climb, one pedal stroke after another. After an eternity in purgatory we reached the top, and as we witnessed a spectacular sunset, started to believe that we'd make it.

We each drank at least 23 bottles of fluid
 It's on rides like these that you learn a lot about your mates - their character, their vulnerabilities, their stubbornness, their determination. Verbal communication gives way to body language and subtle gestures. With one look you can communicate a thousand things. Perhaps Halfway's Haiku had been prophetic!

The final pass of the day - Helshoogte - lay ahead of us as the final rays of light faded. One last push and the end was within touching distance. With 17 kilometres to go we pulled in for our final snack stop of the day. As we wolfed down some much needed replenishments to the bemused stares of several onlookers, we got into a conversation with an inquisitive bystander. Given that it was well past 8pm and dark, his comment was that most cyclists do their training in the morning. You can imagine his reaction when we told him that we'd started our ride at 5am in the morning. Instant hero status. For a brief moment we felt like rock stars, or professional sportsmen, with our very own groupie. But we couldn't wallow in stardom for long, as the final stretch awaited us. A stretch that I ride home from work each day, with three annoyingly brutal little climbs.

As we counted down the climbs and the remaining kilometres, our bums point blank refusing anything to do with our saddles, our hands throbbing and our toes numb, we were joined by an escourt. My wife slotted in behind us, headlights blazing and hazards flashing, like a mini parade through the dark streets of Somerset West.

Homeward bound
The final few kilometres, through the same dark streets we'd started this adventure on 15 hours previously, seemed to take an age. The conflicting sentiments, the sense of achievement versus the level of exhaustion and discomfort, dampened what should have a celebratory procession. But that was ok. It's what the Big Day Out is all about. And we'd finally done it!

While any thoughts of doing a Big Day Out any time soon will be quickly silenced, I'm quite sure we'll all be back for another day of making memories with mates on bikes. Applications open in January 2017.

*Actual poet is Steve Airey

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Posted by Velouria Posted on 13:00 | 4 comments

Oak Valley 24hr 2016

For two years I have lived with the memories of pulling out of the 2014 Oak Valley 24hr after nine hours. For two years I have wondered if I made the right decision at the time. And for two years I have tried to avoid the thought of ever doing a 24hr again. Thankfully, I had a very good reason to skip the 2015 Oak Valley 24hr - the addition of a little endurance athlete to our family.

A photo posted by @amarider on
As entries open for Dirtopia's 24hr, so too do the queries as to my participation. This year, I remained strong and determined to sit out another year, giving my confidence some more time to heal, as well spending more time with my young family. All went well until a morning in mid November where some friends successfully managed to convince me otherwise. They had thought of everything - how I could get the miles in without being an absent parent, how my wife (my backup and secret weapon) would receive additional support during the event, and how the little endurance athlete would be looked after for the duration of the event. In a moment of weakness I caved to their well laid out plans and sent the email to The Coach - time to get fit for a 24hr event again!

Back doing what I love
Needless to say, The Coach was less than impressed. Eight weeks is barely enough time to get ready for The Argus, let alone a 24hr race. But, being the miracle worker that she is she devised a training program that the devil would have been proud of. And just to show that she isn't the devil, she even gave me the week off between Christmas and New Year. The rest of the time I spent touring the roads of the Boland for hours on end on my own, clocking up an inordinate amount of kilometres.

In the zone, tapping out the laps
The easiest part of a 24hr event is the training - lots of long slow rides with the brain disengaged, letting the body toughen to the distance and acclimatise to the heat. However, as the event gets closer and closer, the mind starts to kick in. All the self doubt, the fear, the memories of the pain and suffering come flooding back, and somehow you need to harness the deluge and channel it into something resembling a plan for race day. Things to do. Things not to do. What works. What doesn't work. For several weeks the plan rolls around in your head, consuming more and more of your thoughts the nearer the event gets. Very soon you're dreaming about the 24hr, until the night before, when you most need to sleep, you lie awake running scenarios over and over through your mind.

Given the week Meurant had endured, we thought he could do with a drink!
The secret to a good 24hr race is the quality of your backup. It's not about the quality of the equipment, or the awesomeness of their camp setup. It's about having a mutual understanding of the goals and what needs to happen to achieve them. I'm lucky in that my wife is probably the best 24hr backup person I know (and I'm not just saying that because I'm married to her). And this year my backup had backup in probably the second best backup person I know (I'm not married to her though). Together, my backup crew put on a formidable show, tending to my every need. From nutrition, to hydration, from timekeeping to motivation, they had everything covered. All I really have to do is pedal, they do all the brain work. They are sympathetic when they need to be, and cruel when the moment requires it.

My feed station (the gin belonged to the backup!)
Race day dawned to clear skies and the prospect of temperatures in the high 30s, with a chance of rain overnight. We rocked up at Oak Valley an hour before the start, and set up our meagre support station. The less creature comforts there are, the less temptation there is to stop riding to enjoy them. A quick race briefing from Meurant, who'd probably had the worst week imaginable with the Simonsberg fires destroying not only indigenous fynbos and farmland, but also some of the best mountain bike trails in the Western Cape, and we lined up for the Le Mans style start. I always chuckle at the commitment and dedication some racers put into their run - it's almost like they do special training for the start. I, on the other hand prefer a far more sedate shuffle - after all, you should only really run when there is something life threatening chasing you!

Round and round
The first couple of laps are always a challenge, not because of the effort required, but because you have to hold yourself back and not get caught up in the mayhem of the racing relay teams. Us solo riders are in this for the long haul, and any over exertion is going to hurt us later on. It's really difficult to ride slowly when your brain is telling you it wants to race. I have a strict "no info" rule for the first six hours - I don't want to know where I am, who is ahead of me, or how many laps they've done. For me, the first six hours are all about finding the rhythm of the course that is sustainable for the following 18 hours. I put down markers - how long it takes to clear the first single track, how long it takes to get to the top of the big climb, how long the descent takes, and after six hours I have a good idea of the times I should be hitting each and every lap from then on. It makes for a rather boring race report, but doing lap after lap after lap at the same consistent pace is something that I'm good at.

A mixture of sweat, dust and snot
After six hours the contenders had been separated from the pretenders. There were several of us jostling near the top of the leaderboard. Marius, fresh off his maiden 3rd place the previous year. Lance, his collection of podium places showed his 24hr pedigree. Philip, a 68 year old who just happened to have the surname Erasmus - legendary in endurance events. And Jochen, a complete unknown and finally someone to take over my original nickname of "Who is that guy?". While my brain turns to porridge on the bike when it comes to basic decision making, I am somehow able to perform amazing mathematical calculations. I can figure out gaps to competitors, the amount of laps it will take to pass a rider ahead of me, or the number of laps I'll do at my current pace. I also able to build up a mental image of where everyone is on the course at a given time, and where I am able to make up time on them.

Competitors sharing the bum cream
While I'm playing make believe with imaginary bike riders in my head, the backup crew are doing an amazing job of keeping my going. Often, I'm not sure if I've actually conveyed my wishes to them, or if it's just a conversation I've have had in my head, yet whatever it is I've wished for will miraculously appear at the end of each lap. On one occasion, three-quarters through a lap, as I was feeling the first twinges of cramp, I made a mental note to remind the backup crew that I needed Rehydrate on the following lap. I then reached down to my still full bottle and took a deep gulp of what I thought was water, only to discover the cramp banishing taste of ice cold Rehydrate. Not only did my backup address my current needs, they could foretell my future needs too! (That, or I'd simply forgot that I'd been given a bottle of Rehydrate).

Marius trying to find his happy place
Friendly faces and words of encouragement do wonders to lift the spirits, and it is always great to hear the comments, both out on the course and in the pit area. Captain Craig made an appearance to offer backup to the backup's backup, as well as support and assistance. And even though we weren't riding together, he still felt the need to hassle me about the length of time I took taking on supplies and snacks in the transition area!

The winner of the hardcore prize!
There are three parts to a 24hr race. The two daylight sections, and the night section. Apart from just being dark (obviously), it's completely different to racing in the day. It's about consolidation and recovery. It's about laying the platform for the final 6 hours of racing. As the night wears on, the course gets quieter, and the nature of the trail changes too. Things look different. Holes look deeper. Trees look closer together. Rocks look bigger. Yet this is the time when I most enjoy 24hr racing. It's just you, your bike, the small section of trail illuminated by your light, and your thoughts (along with the odd frog and field mouse). It was during these dark hours that I came to a realisation. There are two things that make me happy during a 24hr event, and they are both related to lube. The first is a freshly lubed chain which makes the bike feel like a new bike. It's quiet, and it shifts easier, and somehow that eases a burden we all carry - the fear of mechanical failure. The same applies to the second thing - applying bum cream. Whatever aches and pains you might have seem to melt away with a fresh application of bum cream. Your bum naturally feels better, but so too do your legs, and feet, and hands.

And so begins another lap
Solo 24hr racing is both an ego boosting activity, as well as an utterly humbling experience. It's pretty cool to knock up an insane amount of laps and receive the admiration of many of the fellow riders out on the course, but at the same time you quickly learn which riders you can chase, and which riders it is best to just yield the track to. If you're that kind of guy that has issues with ladies riding up and down hills faster than you, then this probably isn't the sport for you.

The grime was the only thing holding my legs together
By sunrise, it had come down to a two horse race. Marius had popped spectacularly and lay huddled in his tent, wishing he was anywhere but at Oak Valley. Lance had endured a bad patch or two, and while still in 3rd place, was several laps off the pace. That just left Jochen "Who is that guy?" Waldherr, who was still going strong, stubbornly knocking off lap after lap. (I did some serious Facebook stalking after the event and it turns out Jochen is no stranger to 24hr racing, having come 6th at the European 24hr Champs, as well as consistently placing near the top of the leaderboard at other 24hr events.) I had a two lap lead over him, but that's not a margin I felt comfortable with given the amount of racing left. My strategy was to mark Jochen lap for lap, until there was no way he could close the gap. In the process of marking him we started chatting. He was out in South Africa on holiday, visiting his girlfriend, and had ridden Attakwas the week before. You could see he was quite hardcore - he was riding a 26 inch hardtail MTB - probably the only rider of the 600 strong field on a little bike. It's seldom that you get to ride side by side with the competition in a race and have a leisurely chat about all sorts of stuff - again, the beauty of 24hr racing.

The backup station I never got to see
The clock slowly wound down, and as I got the the point where Jochen couldn't catch me, I stopped and chilled with my backup. We'd had a near perfect race, and despite there being times when I was scared of my backup (being told that I had better finish a bottle on the upcoming lap, or else!) I was extremely grateful for the outstanding job they did in managing me, even though it turned out that they lived a secret life when I was out on my laps - the wine flowed, they enjoyed juicy looking steaks with salad and even got in a few hours of sleep. Somehow, they managed to hide this all from me, removing any temptation there might be to stop "for just 5 minutes".

The little endurance athlete on the podium once again
As I completed my last lap, I was greeted by the little endurance athlete in our family. Although he didn't quite understand what all the excitement was about, I could tell he was rather taken by the spectacle. All the bikes and people and danger tape!

Lance, the little endurance athlete, myself, and Jochim "Who is that guy?"
A big thank you to Dirtopia for another top notch 24hr event, and congratulations to each and every rider who took part in making this the premier 24hr event in South Africa. To my fellow solo competitors, well done on another weekend of good, tough racing. It was brutal out there! To my backup, and my backup's backup - thank you for another superb effort. You are the envy of many. To The Coach - I didn't mean all those nasty things I said about you on those long and lonely rides. Thank you for getting me into tip top shape! Lastly, to my bike, thanks for working like a dream and not giving a moment's trouble, despite my bum no longer wanting to have anything to do with you.

Well done bike

Some stats: 32 laps, 355kms, 8250m of climbing. Approx 45 bottles of fluid on the bike. 8 litres of Coke. 4 chocolate Sterri Stumpi's & 3 Coffee shakes. 10 Rehydrate sachets. Copious cups of tea and coffee, and 2 sips of a Gin and Tonic. Results

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Posted by Velouria Posted on 16:53 | 2 comments

Double Century 2015

It was never going to be easy to beat the year we had in 2014, but Team HotChillee were up for the challenge. Would we be able to crack the podium for the third year running at the Coronation Double Century?

Team HotChillee Mixed
Captain Craig, our fearless leader, spent many months scrutinising team lists and shuffling riders around to create the perfect balance of power, speed, endurance, and above all, team comradery. Our eventual line up consisted of a handful of diesel engines, several work horses, a couple of youngsters, a few wise heads, and 3 rather talented young ladies. We were a rather diverse collection of people, united with a common cause - we were going after the mixed title!

Hector The Protector and our amazing backup crew
One straight stripe
As per usual, the first time we met up as a team was the night before for the traditional pre-race dinner and drinks at Tredici in Swellendam, followed by a quick team briefing. In hindsight, we couldn't have been more wrong with our race day tactics, but more about that later.

Bird's eye view
Joining our team for the first time was Lucky Luke, aka The Wattage Cottage. A laid back guy off the bike, but a monster on it. Our challenge was to harness that monster for the greater good. We also had a pair of twins join us - Corne and Rico, two youngsters whom I still cannot tell apart. Finally, there were the ladies, and the VIPs of our team. We'd recruited the services of Carmen Buchacher, an exceptionally quick Capetonian with a string of results that most of us can only dream of. Our final team members were two young, exceptionally talented young ladies with experience of racing overseas. Kyara Stijns of Team Liv-Plantur was our foreign import, accompanied by her friend and rising local star, Catherine Colyn.

A helping hand
While the prospect of 202 kilometers in a twelve man team can be rather daunting, Team HotChillee was rather more concerned with the weather, as was every other team for the week leading up to the event. The forecast alternated from most certainly miserable, to decidedly despicable. It was going to be cold. It was going to be windy. And it was going to be wet. Welcome to summer in The Cape. But, it was going to be the same for everyone.


With our customary pre-race photo done, we rolled down to the start. This effectively being the first time the team had ridden together. And as we stood around waiting for our start time, the guys on Team HotChillee Mixed got a glimpse at how different it is to be a woman cyclist. As is often the case, pre-race nerves dictate that your bladder incessantly demands to be emptied. For a guy, this is no problem. You simply lean your bike somewhere, hop over a railing, and find the nearest tree/fence/lamppost. Two minutes tops! Ladies on the other hand have to locate the rows of porta loos, stand in the queue and hope that the next one available is "clean". Once in the porta loo, without going into details, they somehow get the required kit off and then on again in the confines of said "clean" porta loo without touching too many surfaces. The whole process can take in excess of 10 minutes. Much like destroying the Death Star, you pretty much only get one shot before the start gun goes.

Another beautiful bike
Urinary issues aside, Team HotChillee Mixed lined up on the start line to the cheers of a handful of supporters who were bold enough to brave the weather. And then we were off. Captain Craig took it upon himself to lead us out of town at a Goldilocks pace - not too fast, not too slow, just right. Almost immediately we realised that our male-centric race strategy was not going to work, and that instead of riding on pure testosterone, the guys in the team would have to engage their brains as well. Which is often easier said than done. Our ladies were our VICs (Very Important Cyclists), our number one priority, and we had to do everything to look after them. And to our credit we quickly got the hang of things, hiding the ladies from the wind, keeping the pace steady, and offering a helping nudge here and there up the climbs.

▮ ▮ ▮ 
And the brain work didn't end there. Our race tactics were in a constant state of flux too, and sensing that a spot on the podium was slipping away, Captain Craig made the bold call to ▮▮▮▮ ▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮, ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮, ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮▮  ▮▮▮▮▮  ▮▮  ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ (text redacted so as not to give away Team secrets - Captain Craig). And boy was it a good plan, putting us right back into contention, while at the same time giving our ladies a chance to recover as we rolled into the first checkpoint.

Final checkpoint strategy session

As has become the norm, our backup crew did a fine job, not only in attending to our nutritional needs, but also massaging our egos and offering gentle words of encouragement. A quick head count revealed that we'd lost one of the twins (I'm still not sure which one) due to illness. I hadn't even noticed, as the remaining twin had silently assumed his brother's responsibilities and it indeed felt like they were both still there. Our ladies were still in fine spirits, but if anyone thinks they were having a free ride, one look at the commitment and determination on their faces would reveal the effort they were putting in. Without a single complaint or utterance.

And the rain came down
If you're a person with a fragile ego, then a mixed team is not the place for you. If you can't handle being dropped (twice) by ladies on a downhill, or you can't deal with being pushed uphill by a female pro, rather stick to an all men's team, or Scrabble or something. Luckily, Team HotChillee Mixed had no such problems, our single objective uniting us.

A total team effort
Back on the road, Hector set about correcting a nightmare that has been haunting for two years when he got dropped out of the feed zone in 2013. To make amends, he almost single handedly towed the 10 remaining members of Team HotChillee Mixed into Robertson. From there, Captain Craig and I had a quick chat and set about implementing part two of our sneaky plan, only to hear Dr Dylan whinge for the next 10 kilometres about it being too soon. Our plan consisted of  ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮ ▮ ▮▮▮▮ ▮▮ ▮▮▮▮▮▮▮▮ (redacted again, more Team secrets - Captain Craig). And it worked!

The pusher getting pushed
As we rolled into the second stop, so to did the weather. The heavens opened with ice cold rain, prompting us to cut our stop short to get going as soon as possible. Most of the team hunkered down, grimacing behind their sunglasses, focussing on the objective, except for our Dutch import Kyara, who seemed to flourish in the miserable conditions. The worse the weather got, the stronger she rode, culminating in her taking a few turns to push her male teammates (here's looking at you Dr David).

The birthday girl
Just as we were making good progress, disaster struck - Catherine's gears gave up the ghost, leaving her stuck in the biggest gear at the back. While the modern trend of high cadence, "Chris Froome" style cycling is all the rage, no amount of cadence was going to keep Catherine in the bunch. Enter Hector the Protector and his magic pockets. Through sheer willpower, the team pushed and pulled and nursed our VIC up and down the remaining hills, finally crossing the line 5h39.

All for one and one for all
While it wasn't enough for the top step of the podium, Team HotChillee Mixed secured 3rd place, and in doing so, kept our hot streak of podium places going. We now had two reasons to celebrate, the second being Catherine's birthday, complete with cake and all.

Happy Birthday Catherine

Post race chill out zone
The dust has barely settled on another successful Coronation Double Century, but we're already looking forward to next year. In the meantime, it's back to the drawing board for another year of scheming and planning.

Third place