Friday 7 February 2020

Posted by Velouria Posted on 06:31 | No comments

Oak Valley 24hr 2020

I never set out to be a 24hr solo racer. That was something only the hardcore mountain bikers amongst us did. I much preferred the idea of riding in a team with mates. Do a lap. Chill. Chat. Relax. Do a lap. But that all changed when we couldn't find a fourth person for our 4 man team, way back in 2006, at Dirtopia's 24hours of Malmesbury. The tents were packed, the beers were chilling. There was no way we were going to miss out on a weekend of beer drinking, bike riding and braaing, so the three of us entered solo.

On the start line of my first solo 24 hour in 2006
We'd ride a bit. Stop. Chat. Have a beer. Do a few more laps and watch the legends of 24-hour racing dice it out - Gavin Roussouw and Shaun Peschl. That was the plan at least. Earlier in the week, I'd asked on The Hub for some advice on how to not die at my first solo 24hr race, and Gavin gave me some advice that's stuck with me ever since: "If you have to brake, you're going too fast".

A young Meurant giving an enthralling race briefing
From the start, I latched onto a guy's wheel. He wasn't a race snake, but it looked like he knew his way around a 24hr race. And I copied everything that he did. When he took a bottle, I took a bottle. When he ate, I ate. When he put his lights on, I put my lights on. This went on for about 7 hours until I lost him - he probably snuck away to file a stalker complaint at the nearest police station - but I had my template on how to ride a 24hr. Steadily and consistently.

A 3x9 26 inch Raleigh with bar ends!
At around midnight something extraordinary happened. I took the lead. In my first 24hr event. Not having a clue what I was doing. And for the next four hours, Gavin and I diced it out before I wilted away, eventually finishing a distant second. But the seed of 24hr solo racing had been planted.

2nd Overall. I was so broken I think they had to carry me up to receive my goodies
Fast forward 14 years. The bikes may have changed, the lights have certainly improved, but Dirtopia's 24hr events are much the same. A great weekend away with mates and bikes and beer and braaing. After a three year absence, I was coming back for one last race. One last go at riding to my limits and then pushing just a little bit beyond them.

The thought of doing a 24hr is always very appealing, especially in September when the event is months away. But, as the days and weeks pass, the reality of just what a 24hr entails starts to nibble away at your subconscious thoughts, and before you know it, you're questioning the thought process that got you into the predicament in the first place. What level of insanity had decided that this was a good idea? What part of 380kms in 24 hours sounded like fun? Where was the joy in having numb hands, numb feet, and other numb bits for days after the event?

After a week of wishing for a natural disaster to strike Grabouw, of mingling with Chinese people in the hope of catching a certain deadly illness, of praying, begging and pleading with any deity that might listen, race day dawned. And it was a beautiful day. Warm, but not too warm. Windy, but not too windy. Just right.

Packing the car for a 24hr is probably the easiest race to pack for. Even the Argus requires more admin. And the reason for this is simple - we don't take a lot with us. Despite this being a weekend away, we don't pack a tent. We don't pack a chair. We don't back bedding. We don't pack any creature comforts, as we're not there to use them. It's just race food, race drinks, race lights, and some spare gloves. And a podium outfit. We're there to race bikes and anything else makes the desire to stop racing just that little bit more tempting.
Snacks! Snacks! Snacks!
If you've never experienced a Meurant Botha race briefing, you are missing out. It's worth entering a Dirtopia event just for the race briefing. Even if you get in your car and drive home before the race starts, you will still have gotten your money's worth. I learnt a few things in those 20 minutes, like the definition of a person who takes a short cut. Or how to deal with people that are rude when asking to pass you. (Unfortunately, as this is a family blog, I can't go into too much more detail, other than the word "box").

The turnout for the race briefing
With the race briefing done, and the crowd still chuckling to themselves, it was time for the traditional Le Mans start. All the bikes are parked at one end of a rugby field, and all the bike riders line up at the other end. When the clock strikes twelve, there is a mad sprint across the field. Bike riders hop onto their bikes and speed off onto the route for their first lap. That's the theory anyway. But I am a bike rider. I choose to ride bikes so that I don't have to run anywhere. Ever. And so, when the gun goes off, the most I can do is an enthusiastic shuffle. I know that I'm not that abnormal because, when I look around, there are plenty of fellow shufflers just humouring the idea of running until we get the opportunity to do what we're good at, and that's riding bikes!

I have no idea why anyone would want to run!?
The first lap is always a bit of a schizophrenic challenge. You want to impose yourself over those around you, but you also want to hold something back. You want to go fast, but you want to go slow. And you know that every other rider is thinking the same thing too. I started off a bit too fast and almost immediately picked up a line of riders on my wheel. If I sped up, they sped up. If I slowed down, they slowed down. It was like playing a bike-themed version of Simon Says. My followers had clearly done their homework and knew about my inability to go downhill fast. As we crested the big climb they all zoomed past me, getting into the singletrack ahead of me. While my ego did take a bit of a knock, it was probably the best thing that could have happened - I was now riding my own race at my own pace.

After around 6 laps I started to settle into a rhythm. The flow was starting to come to me and I was feeling quite smooth on the course. It also helped that I lapped Lance, my longtime 24hr nemesis. While it's never cool to see someone having a terrible ride and suffering, a part of me was glad that for once, Lance wouldn't be the one hurting me. What I hadn't figured out yet was just who my competition was going to be.

Finding my rhythm
My secret to 24hr racing isn't speed or technical skills. It's consistency. A real-life story of the tortoise and the hare. One of the things I do to make sure I ride consistent laps is to put down a few time markers on the course. My first marker was at the bottom of the steep climb, just as we went over the big style - 18 minutes. My second marker was the first timing point at the top of the climb - 28 minutes. I would then aim to hit those times again and again and again. And lap after lap after lap I would surprise myself - I'd be within 5 or 10 seconds each time.

28 minutes to the top!
My other secret weapon is my support crew. Not only do I have a backup, but my backup also has a backup. My wife has figured out the right combination of care and cruelty to keep me going. She knows when to lie to me, when to withhold information from me, and when to tell me to toughen up and pedal. And, she's been able to get Bonte, the backup's backup, to do the same.

The secret lives of the backup crew
One of the rules that we have is that no matter what I say, I don't want to know where I am in the race for at least the first 6 hours. I want to make the race about me, like I am the only guy out on the course. After all, I am the only thing I have complete control over.

The winning team!
There are two moments of 24r racing that I love - sunset and sunrise. No matter what sort of ride you're having, the setting sun signifies a chance to reset and start over. Everything's new. The course changes, there is a shift in temperature. Even the people on the course seem to change. Gone are the 6-hour race snakes, replaced with the riders that are in it for the long haul, either in teams, or riding solo. Your whole world becomes the tiny puddle of light in front of you, and as the world fades from view, you can feel your mind decluttering too. All unnecessary thoughts draining away, and only the brain cycles required to navigate the obstacles in front of you remain.

To pass the long and lonely night hours, I give myself some admin out on the route. Tasks like changing my light brightness from low to medium, or having two mouthfuls of fluid as the trail flattens out. The catch is when my OCD aligns all at once and I have far too much admin to do in a very short space of time. Like at the top of the course. Drink some juice. Turn on the backlight of my computer to make sure I hit the 28-minute target. Change back into my big blade for the upcoming downhill. Swipe my tag at the tag reader, and turn my light onto bright. Swiss precision is required.

Of the six 24hour races that I had won before this one, I had always been in the lead by midnight for five of those. And racing from the front is so much easier than chasing. You're the guy controlling the pace of the race. You don't need to go faster than anyone, just as fast as the nearest guy. And that's a great place to be. However, I was not in that place this year. With the lift on the information ban, I found myself down in a disappointing 3rd place. I wasn't leading. And with 2 riders within 5 minutes behind me, I was barely hanging onto a podium spot. And that's when my backup (and the backup's backup) kicked into gear. While they had been withholding information from me, they'd been very busy gathering information on all my competition. I got a complete rundown of the race situation. Who was where. What lap times they were doing. How they looked. How long they were stopping for. And I liked what I saw. The brains trust reckoned that if I kept my current pace up, I'd take the lead in about 3 laps time. And at 02:34am I finally took the lead.

Time for an emergency Red Bull!
In previous years Meurant has always gone to bed just after midnight to catch a few hours of sleep but he was wide awake this year, with a Cheshire cat grin from ear to ear. I think one of the main reasons he puts on these 24hr events is to get an armchair view of the bike racing, and the more suffering there is, the better. He had two bike riders with completely different strategies slugging it out, lap after lap after lap. For the next ten hours, the gap between us was at most 20 minutes, and at one point down to just 20 seconds.

Meurant, glued to the action!
Over the years I've threatened to retire from 24hr racing several times (usually during and after each event I enter). But the brain is a funny thing. The pain and suffering are forgotten, the nervous weeks spent training fade from memory, and all that's left is the pureness of man and machine against the elements. The solitude. The adventure. And if all goes well, the glory. But this was different. This was to be my swansong 24hr, no matter the result. I hoped to go out on a high - one last victory - but as the race wore on, and Murray Craib refused to crack, I found myself considering the idea of settling for second. I secretly wanted Murray to pass me so that I could back off and end the suffering. But the one thing I've learned over the years is that if you're suffering, the other guy is probably suffering too!

Sunrise is my happy place, and I don't think I've ever needed a happy place like I needed one now. It's the start of the final push. The beginning of the end. The air starts to warm. There are fresh faces about. The trail comes alive. And I was beginning to believe that I might just stand a chance of hanging onto my tenuous race lead. Lap after lap after lap the big pass never came. And lap after lap after lap I was still hitting my markers - 18 minutes at the style, 28 minutes at the top. The only weapon I had in my armoury to defend my lead was the amount of time I spent between laps at the start-finish area. I was able to shave a minute off my lap times by doing Formula 1 like pitstops. In hindsight, it was those pitstops that won me the race.

Keep on rollin', baby
You know what time it is
At 8:21am, Murray was just 2 minutes behind me, but that was the closest he would get. I slowly eeked out a margin and by 9:58am I had 14 minutes. While the rest of the country was cursing Eskom's load-shedding, I was secretly grateful as suddenly we were all racing blind. We had no idea of the gaps between us - I was solely reliant on my backup (and my backup's backup) to keep me informed. And while we thought I'd done enough, my heart did sink when Murray passed me on my final lap. I thought I was a lap ahead, but for the remainder of the lap, I wasn't sure. As I approached the finish line for the final time I looked for signs that I had done enough to secure my 7th win. And as I scanned the crowd, I was met with hundreds of faces urging me on over the final hundred metres. Telling me that I'd done it. I'd won my toughest 24hr adventure yet.

My greatest supporter, and my biggest fan.

My 15 minutes

One of the regrets I've always had is that I've never celebrated a 24hr victory. I've always just been so relieved to finish. In the wee hours of the race I'd made myself a deal - if I go on to win this event, I'm doing the bike-over-the-head victory salute. And after 7 victories, I finally had my celebration pose.

The Pose!

While 24hr solo racing is a solo adventure, a whole lot of people make my adventure possible. From my wife (the backup) and Bonte (the backup's back), to Louise (my longstanding genius coach) and the guys at William's Bike Shop (they're not mechanics, they're bike wizards!), they've all played an integral part in this particular adventure. Thank you.

I'm glad I packed a podium outfit!

Some race stats:
31 laps
55 772 kilojoules
34 bottles of Enduren
6 Rehidrats
2 Red Bulls
Longest stop: 5m11s
Fastest lap: 39m14s (the first one)
Slowest lap: 50m12s (the 12th one)
Moving time: 23h30m36s

Thursday 7 March 2019

Posted by Velouria Posted on 15:16 | No comments

The #BigDayOut 2019

“When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an Adventure is going to happen.”

-A.A. Milnie
And that's exactly what The BigDayOut is all about - adventure. We never really know if it will be a good adventure or a bad adventure, but we don't really mind. Any adventure on a bicycle is an adventure worth pursuing. The only important part is that there is someone to share that adventure with.

#BigDayOut 2019

As always, Richie Porte and Cameron Wurf's excellent adventure is our reference when planning a BigDayOut. It must be epic. It must be audacious. And it must memorable.

We've added a few rules of our own over the years too. Like the requirement that new members need to submit a haiku. Or the clause that gives existing members the first right of refusal. And the rule that states BigDayOut should preferably happen on a windless (and hot) day.

As honorary members for life, Captain Craig and I are responsible for the route planning and member selection. Few things are as closely guarded as a BigDayOut route. Planning usually starts as the memories of the previous BigDayOut begin to fade, and the desire for a new adventure gains momentum. We typically go through 3 or 4 rounds of route planning, scrutinising roads for safety, planning breakfast, lunch and dinner stops and getting the balance right between roads we haven't ridden before, and old favourites that we love to bits. Once we have our route we shroud it in secrecy. Coca Cola and The Colonel could learn a thing or two from us when it comes to keeping secrets.

No adventure is complete without someone to share it with, and while Captain Craig and I are quite happy in each other's company for hours on end, barely saying a word to each other as the miles whiz by, we do like seeing other people too. As the rules dictate, Snack-Monster Mike and Heat-is-my-Kryptonite Tim were cordially invited. And Tim didn't disappoint - he fired off his unsolicited haiku in a flash

All that we needed now was the perfect day for bike riding. While this seems like a rather trivial thing to determine, it's not as easy as just checking the local weather forecast. We have to check the local forecast for all the regions that our adventure passes through. On multiple days. Using multiple forecast models. From multiple online sources.

And then reality steps in and throws a curveball - Captain Craig wasn't as available as he'd thought, and the decision was taken away from us. Wednesday the 6th of February was #BigDayOut2019. Unfortunately, the date didn't suit everybody, and in another unprecedented move, Tim submitted a withdrawal haiku.

Actually, he submitted two

This left the BigDayOut committee in a bit of a pickle. Do we go with just three riders and have that awkward situation where two riders ride side by side chatting, while the third rides behind, trying to edge into the conversation? Or do we try to find a replacement for Tim to alleviate the 3rd wheel problem? We turned to social media looking for solutions.

It turns out that while everybody wants to get an invite to ride BigDayOut, the sudden interest dries up when they are actually invited. Either that, or they are really bad at haiku. So we waived the haiku requirement and still, everybody was suddenly "busy" on that day with that important thing.

The First 100kms

When Captonians moan about the wind, you know the wind is really blowing. Most other cities around the world would probably declare a disaster, shut the schools, and issue severe weather warnings, but not Cape Town. We moan a little on Facebook and Twitter, and then we carry on with our lives. Some people take the kids to school, others head off to work. Us - we were going on a bike ride.

Our first order of business had us doing a quick loop of the Peninsula - up Ou Kaapse Weg, over Chapman's Peak, through Hout Bay and over Suikerbossie towards Camps Bay and up Kloof Nek to see the sun rising over the city bowl. A quick dice with the morning traffic in town before we headed off on the West Coast road, passing car after car as they sat gridlocked for miles. I'm not sure what it is, but the freedom of two wheels is intoxicating when others are stationary. This is the sort of freedom that we'd experience over and over again during the course of the day - free from the daily grind, free to have fun, free to ride bikes.

Morning splendour

The Second 100kms

Once out on the West Coast road we ate up the kilometres, thanks to the roaring South Easter. But, much like eating a bunny chow from the Eastern Food Bazaar, we just knew that this was going to come back and bite us. And so, with the Mountain slowly shrinking from sight behind us, we made short work of one of the most boring roads in the Western Cape. We were only too glad to see the turnoff to Darling, despite the wind and hills that it brought, just for a bit of variation. And the promise of breakfast.

Within sight of The Mountain - we're still safe

“An army marches on its stomach”

-Napolean Bonaparte
Choosing what to eat on BigDayOut is an art form in it of itself. You HAVE to eat. You eat to forget about the previous 100 kilometres. You eat to survive the next 100 kilometres. And you eat for the 100 kilometres after that when you don't feel like eating at all. And while all this eating is going on, you have to think about what you're about to eat. There are few things more appealing to me than a peanut butter milkshake. The sheer genius of the guy who took an already good idea, the milkshake, and thought to add peanut butter. We might as well stop trying to be creative in the kitchen - we've peaked with the peanut butter milkshake, and everything else is just second best. However, as much as I love a peanut butter milkshake, I don't like tasting a peanut butter milkshake hours and hours later. Needless to say, peanut butter milkshakes and I are now having a bit of a trial separation as we learn to appreciate each other again.

Back on the road, we set off for Malmesbury. Another one of those towns that no one actually goes TO, but rather goes THROUGH on the way to somewhere else. And the road trip there is about as memorable. Apart from Snack-Monster Mike having a panic attack about a suspected puncture, I don't remember too much else of the journey. I do remember that I was starting to get annoyed with the wind. This constant relentless headwind that kept buffeting us for kilometre after kilometre. And the heat. It was starting to get warm. And I was starting to get happy.

Long straight roads
A quick stop in Malmesbury to replenish the bottles and we were on our way to Wellington. One of my highlights of BigDayOut is when people ask us where we've ridden from, and where we're going. As the day gets longer, so the looks of amazement increase. But everyone says the same thing - crazy cyclists.

The Third 100kms

When most people see tractors, they see slow-moving farm implements, often covered in animal excrement. And then they forget about them. When cyclists see a tractor, we see a meal ticket. A free ride. An opportunity to have fun while zooming along. And we spotted two. With the wind increasing in intensity, we jumped at the chance to hide in the slipstream of the tractors. And here is the weird part - we only rode behind those tractors for 3 minutes, but it felt like hours, such was the effect that it had on us.

By now the temperature was over 40C. The sun was baking down on us. And the cool drink in our bottles was like tea. The incessant headwind wasn't helping either. Instead of being a cooling breeze, it was like a hairdryer, sucking the moisture from each of us. And for some strange reason, my body really likes this. This is where it likes to operate. The hotter the better. Which is Captain Craig's worst nightmare. He'll be solid one moment, and the next moment he's pedalling squares.  Head down, jersey open (the only time Captain Craig goes full-on Euro-Pro). A world of misery and hurt.

It's getting hot
This makes it rather awkward for the rest of us, because, ultimately, there is not much you can do to help when the wheels fall off. Snack-Monster Mike tends to zip off up the road, giving the sufferer some time and space to dwell alone in their pit of sorrow, while I try to be the silent companion, lurking around, offering unspoken solace and comfort, but ultimately, both techniques have little effect. These were Captain Craig's demons, and he had to deal with them alone.

Captain Craig going full-on Euro-Pro

“It doesn't matter how slowly you go as long as you don't stop”
With a sense of trepidation, we refuelled in Wellington, knowing that we were about to commit to something big. Up until now, we'd always been on the right side of the mountains, within calling distance of an emergency rescue. As soon as we went over Bain's Kloof, we'd be leaving behind civilisation and venturing into the dark unknown. For any Capetonian, travelling out of sight of The Mountain is a big thing, and so trekking over the Du Toitskloof mountain range was our watershed moment. This was the Big Day Out, and we were putting on our Big Boots.

Time for Big Boots 
As if it's not bad enough that we have to manage our bodies and our minds, we now have to manage our gadgets too. Long gone are the days when one would simply hop on a bike and go for a bike ride, and BigDayOut is no different. Mixing juice and cramming snacks into pockets is easy in comparison to preparing all the gadgets for a full day of adventure. I had to:
  • Charge my bike
  • Charge my Garmin
  • Charge my front light
  • Charge my rear light
  • Charge my phone
  • Charge my battery pack so that I could repeat this process while out on the road
  • Charge a spare Garmin, in case the previous point didn't work out
And then the nightmare begins. You're making Sophie's Choice style decisions. What do you charge? Phone or Garmin. Garmin or light. Front light or rear light. In a testament to my skill or complete lack thereof, I finished BigDayOut with a phone on 6%, a Garmin on 11%, an empty battery pack, and a flat rear light. More about that rear light later...

With Bain's Kloof behind us, the wind still in our faces, and the sun slowly sinking in the sky, we entered the Slanghoek Valley, or as we shall call it from now on, Purgatory. The Slanghoek Valley is magnificent. Mountains on one side, hills on the other, and miles and miles of vineyards in between. And we hated every second of it. In fact, we've now ridden through this valley 3 times on 3 separate BigDayOut adventures, and we've hated it each and every time. It's the straw that breaks the camel's back. We're all just a millimetre away from mentally or physically cracking, and every year, the valley claims a victim. Snack-Monster Mike was the first to go, mentally pulverised into submission, while Captain Craig followed suit, physically giving his very last effort.

We rolled into our late lunch stop at Du Toitskloof cellars and went about our business refuelling for the climb up and over Du Toitskloof Pass. Except Captain Craig couldn't bring himself to eat. Which, for anyone who knows Captain Craig, is a very strange thing indeed. I made sure to steer clear from the peanut butter milkshakes, but with Captain Craig not keen to eat his meal, I couldn't let it go to waste. Another amateur move. My reward: basil and garlic pesto burbs for the rest of BigDayOut.

The Final 100kms

We had two challenges left - get over Du Toitskloof Pass, and then fight the wind back into the City. And for one of us, that was one challenge too many. Captain Craig dug deep, went into the pain cave, burrowed around in his suitcase of courage, wrestled his demons, dropped the hammer and sat on the rivet - all to just get over Du Toitskloof Pass. But it cost him dearly. The lack of food and the feelings of nausea not only cracked his body, but cracked his soul too. He was a broken man. However, as an expert in dealing with feelings of nausea while riding bikes, I still believe that all he needed was a good old tactical vomit and he would have been right as rain. As a seasoned expert in the art of the regurgitation, I also understand how difficult it is self-purge.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
And so, it was with sadness that Snack-Monster Mike and I left Captain Craig at a dodgy garage outside Paarl while he waited to be rescued - we still had a job to do. Ninety-nine more kilometres.
The sun was low in the sky. People were returning from their day at the office. Others were getting in a quick bike ride before dinner, a spot of TV and bed. And Snack-Monster Mike and I were still doing the same thing we'd been doing for almost 15 hours - riding bikes. And I think we were still enjoying it. The temperatures were dropping, the wind was almost behind us, and there was a peacefulness about everything. A peacefulness that lulled us into a false sense of security.

Sunset. What a time to ride bikes
We'd had grand aspirations of finding a quaint little place that offered boutique burgers for dinner, but with one man down and an overriding desire to finish, we resorted to Garage Forecourt Cuisine. Dodgy pies. Iron Bru. Chocolate bars. And vanilla milk! We probably inflicted more damage on our bodies with those snacks than we did with the 400 kilometres of the BigDayOut.

They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but Snack-Monster Mike is living proof that you can. In a complete reversal of his urinary habits from BDO2018, where it took him hundreds of kilometres to find the perfect wee spot, Snack-Monster Mike was happy to wee almost anywhere, anytime. Say the word, and we'd stop. It was during one of these stops that my South Africanness shone through - a car stopped while we were engaging in some night weeing, as one does, and my immediate thought was that we were about to be relieved of more than just the urine in our bladders. But we needn't have worried, for this was the beginning of the several night supporters that would drop by and say hi.

Snack-Monster Mike - a new man
Next up was Snack-Monster Mike's wife, and she provided a reassuring escort as we edged ever closer to the bike lane and our appointment with the South Easter. This was to be our moment of reckoning, our date with destiny that we'd been ignoring all day long - two guys on bikes, under the cover of darkness, fighting their way back to the Southern suburbs. I generally hate war analogies, but we had a battle on our hands. Sore bodies. Sore minds. Grinding our way into the teeth of a gale. Normally, at this point of a BigDayOut, I'd mentally knock off the kilometres in my mind, each one a victory. Except now I was celebrating every 100 metres that ticked over on my Garmin.

Thirty kilometres to go became twenty, twenty became ten, and suddenly we were in single digits. The end was almost within touching distance. And then Mike's Snack-Monster struck. With seven kilometres to go, we had to stop for a snack. But Snack-Monster Mike was all out of snacks. Luckily, I'd been carrying around a nougat bar for 409 kilometres, just in case a situation like this arose. Also, I'm quite sure Snack-Monster Mike had seen the nougat bar in my pocket, and had been lusting over it for hours. Under the guise of riding behind me because my rear light wasn't working, and not because he wanted to hide from the wind, I'm quite sure he'd mentally consumed that bar over and over again until he could suppress the urges no more. So there we were at the Liesbeck Parkway N2 intersection, late at night, hardly a soul in sight, eating nougat. And boy did that nougat go down well.

Captain Craig on the Scooter
 As we limped home, passing clubbers, street people and women of the night, I thought we were about to be mugged for the second time that night. By a guy on a scooter. He was getting far to close and being far too friendly for my liking. I do remember trying to figure just how he was going to mug us, and where he was going to put our bikes, but before I could figure all that out, I realised it was Captain Craig coming to escort us for the final few kilometres of BigDayOut 2019. Secretly, I was relieved that he was still alive and in good enough spirits to share in those final moments.

Yoh - that was a toughie
And then it was over. A whole day had passed, and we'd just ridden bikes. We saw things and we experienced things, far too many to list. Some good, and some bad. But that's exactly what adventure is all about.

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.