I wondered if Merry knew that change was in the air. Starting from the gate, the clouds were grey and heavy, and the wind was fresh, bordering cold. I wasn’t particularly motivated to go cycling with the imminent threat of rain, and as I started to climb the first hill the rear gear’s started randomly slipping across the lower cogs whenever I stood and put pressure on the pedals. I stopped a couple of times to see if I could twiddle the barrel shifters to improve things, but a few Km down the road the real problem became clear. My rear gear cable snapped clean off at the shifter hood.
After a few moments tidying the mess, I turned for home, with the joy ahead of tackling the nasty Yonder Hill climb on my patched up 2 speed – the new gears being hard, and harder. It wasn’t yet 2pm though, and Helder Cycles would still be open. Despite the less than enticing riding conditions, I figured rather than waste the afternoon I could nip by and hopefully get the cable replaced and gears fixed. Luckily they weren’t too busy, and less than an hour later I was pedalling back up the R44. It took a lot of effort to ignore the slip road at the top of the hill and suppress the urge to head home to a warm couch and some trashy TV.
Merry behaved the rest of the ride, and although the threat of rain never diminished, it also never quite arrived either. Just spots here and there, but nothing to make me want to put my horrible sweaty, non-breathable rain jacket back on. I resolved to go online that evening and actually order the wet weather gear that I’d been slowly mulling over for a week or two.
Closing the garage door, I also wondered how often I’d be riding Merry again. With all the components now arrived, tomorrow would be build-up day for the new bike. Maybe the broken cable was just coincidence – but in over 4 years Merry had delivered trouble free riding. It’s bizarre for a breakage to happen the day before the new ride came together,
Pictured left is William of William’s Bike Shop part way through the build-up process.
As it turned out, the new bike wasn’t quite completed in one go on the Monday. The one component I had decided not to buy purely from internet research was handlebars, and sure enough that was the one item none of the local suppliers had stock of any of my preferred choices. In the end we decided to put a standard 42cm Giant bar on as a stopgap for now to let us complete the build and replace it with something fancier later.
The remainder of the build was completed on the
Thursday, with relatively few hiccups – just the odd screw thread not quite reamed out fully, but all things that William had the tools to sort out.
I’m not a weight weenie, but it was also a pleasant surprise to see how light the complete build had come out – a reasonably svelt 8.3kg. That will go up of course when the light race wheels and saddle are swapped out for their more durable and comfortable audax counterparts.
It was very hard to contain my excitement on the first ride. At last the new bike was a whole machine – not just a pile of components and dreams lying around in boxes on my office floor. That lighter weight was immediately noticeable on the first few climbs. Combined with the stiffer frame it made for a lively and spirited feel. Just the merest extra surge on the the pedal and she leaps eagerly forward, ready to race. The riding position is also quite different, although it felt very natural over the short 30km test ride I did with Marleen. It seems that Justin may have been right about my saddle height – William’s setup ended up very close to the 74cm bottom bracket to saddle top height he had predicted. The lower 72cm setup on Merry had occasionally felt cramped on recent rides, but it’s surprising it felt good at all.given how large a jump in saddle height 2cm is. I’ve also got a hunch that William was right about me needing a seatpost with more lay back. It’s only marginal, but I did find myself pushing out over the back of the saddle to get into a natural and powerful pedalling position.
That’s tweaks and fine tuning for the future though – for now, I’m greatly looking forward to putting some solid kilometres under Jolly‘s wheels. Oh yes, the name, Jolly. That was in fact my first choice, but my impression Dad’s gang had the nickname of The Jolly Boys proved to be mistaken. That minor detail doesn’t really seem to matter now though – those first few turns of the cranks put such a huge smile on my face that Jolly is clearly the perfect name. And it’ll still be a memory and link to dad, regardless of it only making sense because of my faulty memory.
All photographs by author.
And just like that the long wait was over – the UPS delivery guy was at my gate.
Immediately I was struck by how light the package was, but that was nothing to how ridiculously little the frame weighed when unpacked. The look and feel is metal, but close your eyes and the titanium evaporates leaving you holding nothing but air.
Every bit of research I’ve done suggest that the weak spot, if there is one, in a frame is the quality of the welding. I am no expert, but to my untrained eye the quality of Justin Burl’s russian frame makers looks pretty darned good – even and tidy welds all around. Time will tell, but so far I’m very impressed.
Also packed into the box were the USE Alien titanium seatpost, Ortlieb bar bag for essential supplies on those long audax days and nights, and most importantly the Kinesis DC07 front forks. I’d not come across the Kinesis brand until Justin recommended them to me, but they feel reassuring solid without being overly heavy. Importantly, they have discrete mudguard eyelets behind the drop outs, not something you’d ever use on local fun rides and day races but vital for staying dry on long all-weather endurance events.
Hopefully all these parts will come together nicely next Monday on build day, and by this time next week I’ll have words and pictures to post from the build up and inaugural ride.
I may also have decided on the new bike’s name by then – there’s a few candidates floating around in my mind, but I don’t think she can really be named until we’ve connected on that first ride.
All photographs by author.
This weeks particular torture served up by the autumn and winter training programme was hill intervals. Suffice to say, that my first attempt at these resulted in a lot of sweating, gasping, and a peak heart rate of 175bpm. In theory that is 2bpm more than 100% heart rate, assuming of course that you believe the standard age based calculation of 220-age.
Anyhow, back to the hill laps – I devised a nice little circuit that I have called Hel’s Hills. It loops around various angles of the hillside on which we live, the Helderberg. The benefit of being local is that I’m training almost as soon as I leave the gate. The downside is, well, the circuit! Parel Vallei road starts out with a decent climb, steep but manageable. As it swings into Silwerboom road though the gradient pitches upward sharply and it’s a battle even on the small blade and 25 tooth rear cog to keep any kind of momentum going. First lap around I was sucking in gulps of air and battling pretty much all of the last and steepest section in a standing climb for. Second lap around I managed better, staying in a seated climb for most of the hill, with just an occasional standing surge to stretch out and keep my speed above a crawl.
I decided my legs needed a more gradual ascent between laps to loosen the legs before the next assault, so threw in a short loop down to Old Stellenbosch road and back up Irene avenue. The extra section making each lap into a figure of eight, and adding a nice gradual hill that you can steadily work up a good pace on. The only part of the circuit I’m less than sold on is the tearing descent down the other side of Irene, very steep and a badly placed 4 way stop and left turn mean that instead of running down it at speed, I end at the bottom with seriously over heating brake blocks. It’ll do for now though, 11km per lap and 300m of climbing, this week’s session being 2 laps making for a respectable start of 600 vertical meters for my first week of hill laps. Hopefully over the coming weeks I can speed up each lap and build up to 3 and 4 laps in the time clawed back from each faster lap.
This week had a few other cycling related highlights too. The hub forum served a considerable amount of interest in LEL 2013. It seems quite a number of SA based cyclists have an interest in taking part, one of whom also lives in Somerset West which could tie up nicely for training sessions. Also via a thread on the hub, it looks like we have the makings of a team for the Double Century in November. Our group will be meeting for an inaugural ride together on 22nd April. More on these in future entries as they develop.
“These are the hard kilometers, the ones that count.”
Those were the prophetic words of encouragement from my trainer about the difficulty of training through winter, as the weather slowly deteriorates and there are no organized weekend road races to help focus the mind.
Andri’s advice came back to me this Saturday as I battled against the howling South Easter, known locally as the Cape Doctor. Like all medicine, it’s tough to swallow. As it blows, it blasts away smog and pollution, leaving fresh clean air and draping the mountain tops in thick duvets of white cloud. The beauty is tough to appreciate though when you’re slogging at the pedals to try and get through it.
This training ride was unusual for me for a number of reasons. Firstly, I don’t normally do any road riding after the Argus until better weather arrives in Spring and thoughts turn towards Die Burger. Also, at 95km it’s a much longer route than I normally ride for training. I’ve wanted to ride from home to Franschhoek for a while, but probably due to the longer distance have never got around to it. Now, with the need to keep my training up and do longer rides it seemed like the obvious choice. The final unusual aspect was going riding mid afternoon on a hot and windy day. But over the four or five days of a Paris-Brest-Paris you don’t get to choose the weather, so I need to get used to riding in whatever conditions nature throws down. That’s not to mention the idea of doing the even longer London-Edinburgh-London in 2013, which has only recently occurred to me.
Without the water tables and other support facilities of an organised 95km ride, it’s inevitable that you need to stop at the very least to get extra water. That’s fine though, audax riding is all about self sufficiency, and your target speeds are much lower than road races. A good target speed for audax riding is an average of 20km, which allows plenty of time for stops. So it was an expected and much welcome relief when I pulled into the Pick and Pay car park having battled down the wind into Franschhoek. As it turned out, I should probably also have bought some food along with water and Powerade. I hadn’t really factored in the mid-day ride, and not eating much in the morning. My energy levels seem low already at present, so without enough fuel on board I, paid the price badly on the way back.
All was initially fine as I headed back. A graphic example of the strong wind was the difference in speed as I left Franschoek. On the way in I had been struggling to average 15km/h, on the way out I was coasting along at 40km/h hardly needing to turn the pedals. Trouble set in though around the 70km mark, just before turning opposite Allez Bleu and heading up through Pniel and over Helshoogte again. The engine stuttered and my legs started to cramp badly. I’m not quite sure how I managed to keep pedaling up through the pass. At times, I was on the verge of quitting and calling home for a lift. Fortunately, it turned out to be a considerably easier climb coming from the Boschendal side of the hill, and somehow I crested the top and freewheeled back into Stellenbosch.
I was pretty sure the wind would also be at my face again on the last few kilometers home, so I pulled into a garage for an extra water bottle just in case. My neck and back totally seized up as I dismounted, I guess from being hunched over punching into the wind. Setting off slowly and stretching to try and loosen up, I did at least discover a new favourite cycling snack though: dried mangos. Nice and soft to chew, sweet and tasty without being as sickly as most of the energy bars. It didn’t add enough energy to really help the last painful few kilometers home, but it made me feel quite a lot brighter for a while as I cycled through backstreets of the lovely old town.
The final ignominy was having to get off and walk a hundred meters or so of Yonder Hill, something I haven’t had to do since my first year of cycling. I was beat though, and at least after that I managed to stay in the saddle for the last small climb up Irene Avenue to home.
All in all, a ride that I will remember more for the lessons painfully learned than for being an enjoyable few hours in the saddle. At least my average speed of 18.6 km/h was close to what I need to achieve on audax rides, I just need to be able to manage that over much longer distances, and have enough energy to enjoy the scenery more in the process. Andri wasn’t wrong about these being the hard kilometers.
It’s a couple of days since the Argus for 2012, and after a gym session and massage, all that remains of the day are a few lingering aches and a ton of great memories. Foremost of those for anyone who took part this year will be the soaring temperatures they were faced with during the latter half of the ride.
Standing in the start chute in the full glare of the morning sun at just past 8am it was already clear that heat was going to play a big part. Once we were underway though it really didn’t seem too bad over the first half of the ride. A bigger factor during those early kilometers was trying not to crash into waves of charity and corporate groups who seemed not to have read any of the pre-race guidelines, and opted instead to spread out across the full width of the road and just stop dead in front of you on a whim. Despite that minor annoyance, there were a few bunches of riders from my TT start group, and also groups just ahead and behind, and we made quite decent progress down the blue route, over the evil stretch of short climbs on Boyes Drive, and through Simonstown.
Coming up on Millers Point my Garmin (now reliable again) was showing close to the pace I’d need for my 4:15 target. I knew before we set off a sub-4 was likely to be beyond me in the expected heat, so I’d already adjusted expectations even before the hold-ups getting through the crowded sections. The new plan was holding up though: my water bottle should last out until the second or third water stop after the climb of Smitswinkel looming just ahead; and my energy drink was only just over half gone, also about right for current progress. How quickly things can change.
As the road turned in to the mountain for the last stage of the climb, there it was, the first waves of real heat that would be mercilessly sapping our reserves for the rest of the ride. As we crossed from the East to the West of the peninsula the heat rose from a manageable 27 to 28 degrees, up to 38 degrees in a matter of about 40 minutes. After a nice fast downhill race from the top I pulled in to a water stop. I wondered about filling both bottles, but the stop was busy and I wanted to get going as quickly as possible. I knew I’d need to stop again, so I figured it was better to hope for a quieter stop further on and then refill both.
Scarborough and Misty Cliffs was the usual brief but refreshing delight of cool misty air mingled with the smell of the ocean as we rode alongside the breakers.Sadly, it’s also a fast stretch of riding so is gone all to soon, replaced this year by a sweat drenching slog over Slangkop and down to Ocean View and Noerdhoek. By this stage, I knew a 4:15 was gone and it’d be a battle even to equal my time of last year. Just before Chappies I took a quick stop, filled one bottle with water and the other Powerade. That’s unusual for me, but I knew I needed more than just water and the energy gels and bars were now just making me feel sick rather than giving me anything usable. Whilst waiting for the bottles I also downed a coke and a powerade for good measure, before setting off into the furnace again.
The next hour and a bit getting up Chappies and the one last hill beyond was honestly the toughest of any Argus I have done, including the storms of 2009. Certainly the closest I’ve coming to bailing, and had it been any other ride I suspect I may have stopped at a bar and called it a day. There’s a magic to Argus day though that demands more from you – and so far, has always found it. Every year, something has inspired me over that last barrier of Suikerbossie, and this year’s arrived in the shape of a rhino. Not a real one of course, but the tandem bike costume was almost as big as a rhino, decked out in Saving Private Rhino logos. My legs found some new strength and I pedalled hard, but the rhino beat me to the top. Hopefully the fate of real rhinos in the wild has an equally successful outcome, unlikely as that seems right now.
After Suikebossie it’s all downhill, quite literally. Apart from the minor bump of Maiden Cover rising up after Camps Bay. Small it may be, but that was where my legs gave up and locked solid with cramp. Luckily the work was done by then and I could pretty much coast to the finish. I crossed the line, greeted by the delightfully welcome sound of Yoli and Ben cheering from me at the line. The ride and I were finished, for another year.
As it turned out, it had been equally hot and unpleasant waiting for us to finish, so I’m not sure Yoli will volunteer again if it’s as hot in future year’s. It was lovely to have a welcoming party though for a change, especially one bringing much needed water.
My official race time was 4:36, only 7 minutes quicker than last year. The much tougher conditions. though are evident in my best ever race position of 47%, much improved on last year’s 58% and the first time I’ve made it into the top half of the finishers.
I’m a kid again. It’s the last few days before Christmas and I can’t wait to see what Santa has left in my stocking. Except this isn’t Christmas, it’s the week before the Argus, and at 47 I’m hardly a kid any more But that’s about where the difference ends. That same glorious, nervous, excitement has been building for a few days now. And just like that boy from my past, I probably won’t sleep much on Saturday night and I’ll be up early on Sunday morning.
One of the many things that makes the Argus special is the the unpredictable nature of the Cape weather. All races have the potential to go astray with mechanical problems, punctures, or a crash bringing down the bunch you are riding in. But those possible mishaps pale into insignificance to the mess that Argus weather can make of your training, preparation and race plans. In my four previous Argus’s we’ve had such extremes as the raging storm of 2009 which pummelled us with gusty blasts from before we’d even crossed the starting matts, to last year’s calm and mild weather which gently coddled us to the finish at Greenpoint.
There are many aspects that makes the Argus a special day: the camaraderie of 35,000 fellow riders; crowds of 100,000 supporters partying, and occasionally spraying water from a garden hose to ease the mid morning heat on our backs; and then there’s the hills, in particular Chapmans Peak. However fresh I feel rounding the corner into sight of Hout Bay, the next glance at the road ahead never fails to put a knot in my stomach. A majestic tarmac sliver winding up the rocky cliff face, filled with a continous snake of cyclists battling their way to the top. You wish you were already at it’s head, but as with every other part of the Argus, even this wonderful torture is over too soon and you’re flying down the other side with one last hill to overcome.
Memories of those previous rides help keep this year’s ride in perspective. I’ve trained harder and longer, and there’s potential to set a personal best time. But in all honesty, although I will push hard, if the day or my riding don’t make that possible so be it. The races I’ve done this season have far exceeded my expectations, with best times and fastest average speeds in every one of them. The Argus is the last ride of the season, time to just enjoy riding closed roads through the most stunning scenery imaginable.
This year too, I have the added bonus of Yoli and my 3yr old son Ben waiting to cheer for me at the finish. He’ll have no idea what it means to me to be taking part in it, but someday maybe he’ll read this and remember that feeling of waiting for Santa.
No racing this weekend and only light training now until the Argus on the 11th March, which gives some time to update on progress with the new bike. Or more accurately at this stage, the slowly accumulating pile of pieces that will hopefully all come together successfully in the form of the new bike.
The first delivery arrived a few days ago from SJS Cycles in the UK.
Most significant are the two silver components on the boxes – the dynamo hub and the LED front light that it will power. These small, excruciatingly expensive pieces of German engineering are defacto choices for serious audaxing. I just hope that their reputation is worthy of the cost and distance they have travelled.
Also pictured are the Brooks B17 saddle, and it’s saddle conditioning care kit. These also appear to be an almost automatic choice amongst long distance riders, but at this stage I cannot fathom why. I’m convinced the saddle would be only slightly harder if it was entirely fabricated from diamonds. I’m told that regular applications of the leather cream, and about 500km of riding will see it nicely softened and formed to my backside (or more likely my backside formed to it). Either way, at this stage I’m rather doubtful that it’s surface and my behind will have anything other than the briefest of encounters.
Another major milestone has been finalising the frame design with Justin Burls. Justin’s interpretations of my measurements and descriptions of riding style were spookily close to Merry’s current dimensions even in his first CAD drawing. A few emails ironed out the remaining kinks: lengthening the head tube a tad for more upright without an unsightly spacer stack; and room for mudguards with longer chainstays and altered fork angle to reduce toe overlap.
I’ve also pretty much settled on an Ultegra groupset. The luscious Italian lines of Campagnolo Chorus had me mesmerized for a long time. In the end though, the need for a special £200 tool to link or repair the 11 speed chain was a deal breaker. Not just for the ludicrous cost, but also the impracticality of carrying such a bulky item on a long ride. You can be sure the one tool you don’t have is the one you’ll most need, and that made the risk just too great. The chances of being able to find spares for and repair Shimano out on the road made it a much simpler choice even without the incentive of cost saving.
The use of mudguards and Kinesis DC07 forks also helped in the Shimano decision. The best choice for the long drop brake calipers that are needed to fit around mudguards looks to be the Shimano R-650s. These would look so badly wrong on a bike with an otherwise Campagnolo groupset – Nike sneakers poking out under an Armani suit. Although I’ve yet to source the Ultegra components, I found a great deal on the calipers from Buy Cycle, so with luck these should be here by the end of the week.
All positive strides towards the new ride and something to look forward to after the Argus.
During the Argus though, I’ll be one of many cyclists who pedal just that bit harder up Suikerbosse in memory of South African cycling legend, Ertjies Bezuidenhout, who passed away today.
I was beginning to doubt the wisdom of collecting my new P group start letter as we lined up at the start of this weekend’s Wellington Lions ride. Maybe it was the dim morning light, but the majority of riders and bikes around me somehow seemed more serious than my previous start group of S. In a very literal sense, I felt a bit out of my league. I tried to dispel the idea, putting it down to the earlier than usual 4am start to pick Marleen up and be here in time to sort out the new race number.
It wasn’t long though before those initial doubts were confirmed. Not the usual relaxed cruising when the starter let us go, but a frantic surge of sprinting bikes carrying N, O and P jerseys all around me. I burnt a lot of gas over those first few rolling kilometres just hanging on to the bunch at the front of our start group. Gone was the loose and fast feeling in my legs and lungs from the 99er two weeks back. The bad omens started early too, we hadn’t left Wellington before my rear water bottle broke free and catapulted out of my tri-bracket. For a brief second I looked back at it bouncing off the road and wondered about collecting it. But even in those few moments, the group was already slipping away. Sod it! I decided to get back into the group and resigned myself to more water stops. Not a great start for what promised to be a hot day in the saddle.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the first or last casualty of the day. The bunch was positively charging down the R44 heading towards Hermon. Occasionally I was comfortable, but most of the time I knew the pace was way too hot for me. My Garmin had developed a nasty erratic behaviour, flickering between believable speeds, zero, and a few Km/h. So I had no confidence in it’s figures, knowing only that the average speed it was showing of around 20Km/h was wrong for sure – at my best guess, we were averaging close or even above 30.
Three years had dulled my memory of the tough outride from Wellington, but my leg muscles reminded me as we came within sight of the day’s big climb, Botmaskloof. Standing to stretch, there was suddenly a gap of 10 metres from me to the back of the bunch. I changed up, and pedalled hard, but the gap stayed the same. Eventually, I had nothing more to fight with, and they slowly slid away just before we turned off the R44 and started the first ramps of the climb.
Feeling broken and drained, my inner thighs cramping painfully, I wasn’t convinced I would make it up Botmaskloof without walking. It even flitted through my mind that I might not be able to complete the ride at all, and would have to pull off to wait for the sag wagon. Needing to mentally regroup, I sat up, looked at the stunning scenery of the Riebeek Kasteel vineyards, and realised it was time to abandon my race plan and dreams of a sub 3:30 time. I needed to back-off, work through my cramps, and slog out the next few kilometres until I recovered from those early hectic salvoes. I decided to ignore the aptly ironic message of the sign for Allesverloren (‘everything is lost’), pushed past it and on into the pass.
Slower and slower the pedals turned as I struggled up the steepening gradient. I made a bold decision, shifted up two gears and stood up to climb. Normally for me the standing motion triggers crippling cramps, but to my surprise the pedalling became light and pleasant. I could even enjoy the antics of a troop of baboons passing alongside us in the kloof. Alternating seating and standing, and taking in the glorious views, the hard work was over almost too soon and the welcome sight of the hilltop water stop came into view. I hadn’t planned to stop here, but with one water bottle down I needed to keep topped up.
I was soon on my way again, and the descent was a welcome relief, occasionally the Garmin gave me a number I could believe, 40km/h, 50km/h, even flicking up to 60km/h at one stage. The speed and cooling wind breathed new life into my ride and as we leveled out I pedalled on solo with a new determination.
‘Klim saam’ …. (‘climb on’)
Or something close to that hailed the leader of the one of the remaining bunches as they passed me a bit further on. The gracious offer was an attractive one down the long windy stretch of road. For a few moments, I did think about it. I looked at the range of hills, uncertain whether it was the Perdeberg or Rhebokskloof. The difference between those two meant 20km or more closer to home. I was pretty certain the 50km reading on the Garmin was out, but I decided the risk wasn’t worth it. We had at least 30km to go, my legs felt good and I was making good speed, pushing that bit harder though would almost certainly trash them again.
That was the last bunch to come through, the rest of the ride was all solo – but no less enjoyable for it, despite being slower. The day was glorious, sunny and bright. A dusty heat haze spread over the rolling farmland interspersed with the little glinting mirrors of farm dams here and there. I’d long ago lost count of the kites, buzzards, goshawks and eagles also out enjoying the day. The privilege to be out riding on such a beautiful day was more than pleasure enough.
Finally I recognised a gradual rise before a short pine woodland from my last time doing this ride. The spot is significant for two reasons: firstly because this was where I cramped on the last attempt, walking every uphill for the rest of the ride; and secondly because I knew it was close to the end. I slogged up the slope past the my previous dismount spot, through the wooded section and down to the left turn at the start of the short vineyard detour loop the ride takes before home
’12km to the end’
Shouted the water stop marshall as we went past. The only figure I could trust on my Garmin was the time, and this was reading 3:08. Crikey, maybe I could make 3:30 after all. But some quick mental arithmetic and a memory of the undulating contours on the detour made me realise I would miss it, but only just. As it turned out, I also slowed a lot over the last 6km or so. My water bottle had gone, the Garmin was stuffed, and now it was me who was out of gas, both mentally and physically.
But the day’s drama wasn’t over. As I swung left into Piet Retief Street for the last 500m of the ride a crack like a rifle shot came from somewhere behind and under me. Immediately, I was wobbling around the road amid cracking and groaning noises.A rear spoke had gone, and it was all I could do to get over the line. After everything else, the bike was now broken too. I was cursing my expensive, sparsely-spoked, Easton race wheels as I carried the bike through the 3 or 4km neutral zone back to the start. The road surface had been especially potholed and harsh, and I guess they’d had enough too.
‘Rob, Rob, told you I’d beat you back. Ha!’
I was wandering blankly along, as Marleen shouted at me from the parking lot. She and Jakes were by their car. As it turned out her ride had not gone to plan either. She got a puncture at 42km, and although a fellow rider stopped to help her his efforts came to naught. The local bike shop had given her the wrong tube. Needless to say, she was not a happy customer. As she and Jakes both said though, better to find that now than on the Argus in two weeks. I reflected on my broken spoke, and realised the same was true for me.
In a different way to the 99er, there were plenty of positives from the ride. At 3:42, it was my fastest pace for a 90-something kilometer ride, 6 minutes faster, 2km longer and a considerably tougher ride than Die Burger. And despite punishing my legs early on and cramping badly, I managed to stay pedalling up Botmaskloof, recover my legs and keep a decent pace for all but the final few kilometers. I am absolutely certain I had nothing more to give physically or mentally, but there is still a tinge of disappointment at not getting under 3:30. An unrealistic goal it may have been, but I got damned close even riding solo for more than half the ride. I’m sure I’ll be back another year to try again.
The 99er has been my nemesis race since I first attempted it two seasons ago. Both past attempts have seen me finish cramped and walking, and driving home deflated and spent.
So the Friday before this year’s ride was always going to be a nervous time. The extra 15km added to this year’s ride really didn’t help. The brutal Vissershoek climb seemed more daunting than ever – I just could not envision staying in the saddle with a tough 115km already in my legs.
As it turned out, facing that reality proved to be the essential step in slaying the ghosts of those past attempts. Along with my usual pre-race preparation, I also crunched a few numbers to try and determine an optimal race plan. The interesting part was that walking up Vissershoek and Odendaal Street didn’t have a disastrous impact on my overall race time compared to climbing up them slowly in the saddle – although steep, neither are particularly long climbs. On the Tour de PPA in January I went off very hard from the start to try and catch a reasonably fast bunch to help ride out the rolling hills and wind with a decent average speed. I cramped at the end, but had already done enough work to finish with a satisfying time. It seemed crazy to be considering a similar strategy for the longer and tougher 99er, but numbers don’t lie. Every way I re-worked the plan, my best race time came down to starting fast and hanging on as long as I could, even if it meant some walking on the final hills. Putting in a fast 60km as I managed on the Tour de PPA, would give me a chance at a similar race time to last year despite the longer course. Every kilometer further I could hold the pace would get me closer to a 5 hour time, which seemed far too elusive to dream of achieving.
Apart from having a much more tangible race plan, I made a few other changes to my usual routine – peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches were on top of my cycling kit on the passengers seat as I left the house at 4:45am to head to the race. Normally I can’t eat much so early in the morning, but that costs energy in the latter stages of a race – so I munched away on them during the drive. I’d also only packed Perpetuem, favouring two plain water bottles and just one of energy drink, but mixed stronger. To replace the other energy drink, I’d also packed two energy bars and two gel packs. Hopefully the food and drink changes would help avoid the energy depletion I’d suffered over the last 25km of the Tour de PPA ride.
It was still dark throughout most of the time I was registering, getting ready, and visiting the typically disgusting toilets that always accompany races. Having a race plan definitely gave me something to focus on as we filed into the start chutes. Get to the front, go off hard, stay with the whatever other riders that also started off fast, and work to try and either form a bunch or catch one of the earlier groups. Being at the tail of the start times in group T doesn’t give you many chances at finding a bunch – realistically there might be one or two in your group or groups behind, but miss those and you’ll be battling the wind and rolling hills solo. Dark heavy skies greeted us as we headed out of Durbanville onto the first sets of rollers. It seemed to take forever to actually settle into a group. After 25km I was still pushing a punishing pace for such a long ride, but as we swung onto the R304 and sheets of rain started falling I finally managed to catch up with a group that stuck together. It was nice and fast too – my computer was clocking a nice average of between 28 and 30km/h, although the wet roads and falling rain made it seem like we were doing that in a shower cubicle.
As we approached the 66km water stop, I realised my plan was going to need some hasty patching. The cool riding in the rain meant I still had plenty of water, and so far the legs felt good despite the pace. Energy drink was another story, almost out. I knew ahead lay tough rolling hills, and quite probably wind. If I stopped to refuel, I’d lose this bunch – and most likely there would be no more behind me. Feeling very relieved I’d over stuffed my jersey pockets, I reached for the first energy bar and decide to make do with gels and snacks.
Several times over the next few kilometers the bunch nearly split as it passed riders, turned corners etc. It really took concentration to see the splits and make sure you accelerated to bridge the gaps. Finally, just after we past the third water station around the 90km mark, I was done – a split happened, and I had nothing left to fight back with. I sat up, took a proper look at the lovely views of rolling farmland, swapped my water bottles over, had another gel, and relaxed into the last few solo kilometers of the ride. I was smiling though. My race plan had worked better than my most optmistic calculations: 90km clocked in not much over 3 hours; 100km came up in well under 4 hours; and I passed the argus distance of 108k in 4:06, even having stopped for that water and energy drink top-up. Even walking up Vissershoek didn’t diminish my smile – this year it was part of the plan you see.
I finally crossed the line in 5:05, not a fast time by any standard, but for me an extremely satisfying result – 15 minutes quicker than last year despite being 15km longer. Next year my race plan will include cycling up those last two hills … maybe.