My Cape Town Cycle Tour Experience

You must go and do the Argus they said,

It will be a challenge to cycle up Chapmans Peak they said,

You can stop for coffee and lunch on cycle rides before race day they said,

It will be great because there will be lots of people from Dubai they said,

You can’t imagine what 35,000 cyclists will look like they said,

Race Day will be tough they said,

What they didn’t say is that it will be all of the above plus a lot more…


The trip or adventure really started several months ago when I casually mentioned to my wife Mandy that there were a few people going to Cape Town to do the Argus and I had been invited to join them.  I clearly got a nod of approval and wasted no time at all registering for the event.  Once accepted on the event, the Westin Hotel Cape Town was booked, flights acquired through air miles.  Booked 5 nights in the Hotel because I thought there was no point flying all the way to SA and not having a little look around and doing a few bike rides.  I would have loved to have taken Mandy and our 2 girls with me, but not possible due to school etc. therefore choosing the right number of days was a delicate decision considering my family were not able to join me.

So what needs to be done in terms of training?  You need to get into the hills of Hatta and Jebel Jaise they said.

The hills didn’t happen.  I did get some extra training in and lost a few KG’s before the event, but the lost weight was nearly all back on by race day.  A big breakfast in the airport, food & beverage on the plane, then out for what was probably the best “T” Bone Steak and bottle of red I have ever had, and that was just the first day.  Turned out my Nephew and his girlfriend were in Cape Town on the first night.  (Penny works for BA and Sam joined her on a standby ticket) needless to say that day one was a big one.

The next few days before race day were spent eating, cycling, drinking, and meeting up with various people from Dubai and their family’s & friends from SA. Nichola now falls into to the friends from SA category since her recent relocation to Johannesburg. We had some great cycle rides along the coast with Table Mountain as our back drop, stopping in bars and cafes along the way. On Saturday (the day before the race) we had a little bit of a hill taster as we cycled over to Suikerbossie for coffee and scones curtesy of Phivo and his son.  As we cycled back up Suikerbossie and back into Cape Town signs were appearing on parked cars warning the owners of the imminent race and for them to remove their car before race day.  The authorities were busy putting up barriers and overhead gantries along Sundays route.  Captain Steve tells us that we are now into the final few kilometers of the race route and by tomorrow the barriers will be holding back excited supporters and well-wishers.  He warned us of the elevated pace and adrenalin rush that we were to expect.

So more about what 35,000 cyclists look like.

Arriving in Cape Town airport was like turning up at a bike box and bike bag review from one of the top cycling magazines.  Every major brand was represented as the bikes were all lined up next to the carrousel, waiting for their excited owners to collect.  At no point while out and about on Saturday or Friday for that matter could we not see other cyclists or bikes.  Every cafe was clad with parked up bicycles, every road junction had cyclists coming and going in all directions. Cars were laden down with bikes as the South African contingent drove into town having finished work for the week.  The top teams were going up and down Suikerbossie for fun getting a final leg spin and some hill training.  Polite but meaningful signs were posted in bike shop windows “ Don’t even think of asking for a service if you bike is not booked in with us”.  As we cycled along the roads, if we didn’t acknowledge each and every cyclist we passed would it be considered rude? or were there just too many cyclist’s out there?

Race Pack collection and the Expo is when it really starts to hit home that this really is the biggest one day timed cycle event in the world. Row after row of counters manned by cheerful people, eager to help with the pack collection & check-in formalities.  Everyone was welcoming us to Cape Town and wishing us good luck for the race.  Race pack collection was a breeze, this is one well-oiled machine, so based on this race day is going to be special.

well-oiled machine, so based on this race day is going to be special. Walking around the expo, there was a buzz made up of both excitement and nerves.  People buying replacements for the things they forgot to pack or perhaps securing a bargain.  I stopped to buy some small race day souvenirs for my children, conscious of the fact that my luggage allowance was at its max, and we still had to visit the vineyards after Race Day.

It was “Argus” weekend and the whole of Cape Town was ready.

night-cyclingThe “healthy T total pre-race day diet” lasted until about 2.30pm on Saturday.  While queuing up to have lunch at Willoughby and Co on The Waterfront, this lovely young lady approaches us asking if we would like to try a glass red or white while waiting for our table, we almost instantly buckled and decided that we were in Cape Town for the whole experience and not just a bike race. Captain Steve and Lena were very excited about eating at Willoughby and Co, as I think they wanted to do some name dropping.

So early to bed before race day. Our Hotel was incredibly close to the start line so calculating what time alarms had to be set for us to meet up for breakfast and get into our starting pen should be easy ??? Well actually no, perhaps this was pre-race nerves the night before as we couldn’t subtract the required number of minutes from our 6.29am start time to ensure we made the closing time for the start pen , closing time for the first check-in a few minutes transfer time from the hotel etc.  Breakfast was to start from 4.00am with a special “Cyclist friendly breakfast” laid on, so we decided to meet at 4.00am for breakfast.  I think we all slept fairly well, probably due to the over indulging that had gone on in the lead up to race day, by now I think we were all worn out.

While in the starting pen there is some small talk going on probably to hide the nerves. One guy notices that we all have fairly deep dished rims on our bikes and says “I hope it’s not windy out there today”  (he knows we are together because we all have the our Rev kits on).  They don’t do deep dished rims on the windy Cape, yet it’s all us fair-weather cyclists from Dubai seem to have.  Does that mean that we stick out like sore thumbs, does everyone else in the pen know that we don’t do hills in Dubai? Or are they just as nervous as us?  I have no real idea how long we had been in the holding pen, but it was our turn next, the gun was about to go off.  Each wave or group appeared to be set off by a different dignitary or sponsor.

Don’t go mad at the start they said.  There are a few hills to get over then it should settle down they said.

Our gun goes off signaling the start of pure hell with only a few seconds to get moving & clipped in.  Within a few moments 262 of us from group 1D are doing 38KPH and going up the first hill, over the first rise and accelerating up to more than 60KPH, heart rate is already through the roof.  This was not looking like the slightly controlled and reserved start everyone said we should be doing.  Around 20 mins had passed and we are at the foot of Hospital Bend which I think is the 4th biggest climb of the day and signals the end of the first phase before the course flattens for a while.  While clinging on for dear life, all I have to do is get up the Hill with the group and I can then try and get my heart rate down, to something a bit more manageable.  Wrong my chain comes off by the first drinks stop on Hospital Bend, normally I would stay calm keep pedaling and get my chain back on by adjusting the front derailleur except my chain had well and truly wedged itself between the cranks and  the frame.  Off the bike to fix the chain, I look up and that’s 1D well and truly gone and out of reach. 

Don’t worry if you get dropped, another group will soon come along they said. Except when you get caught up in all the excitement you still carry on pedaling like an idiot once you have been dropped, so when the next group comes along there is no available energy to hold onto the group.  This scenario had a habit of repeating itself for the next phase up and over the next three or four small climbs.  We have now gone through the southernmost point in the course and are heading to the foot of Chapmans Peak. 

cycle race startBy now I think I have spent far too much time on my own and out of groups, I am starting to calculate how many people have over taken me.  I think my head was now starting to drop then Keith comes past me shouting at me, giving me some much needed and appreciated encouragement.  I had no idea where he had come from because I was convinced that both Keith and James had long gone after my stop near the start. Anyway re-energized (for a bit at least) I chase after Keith. Another group is hot on our tails and Keith and I lose sight of each other again.

Then this Guy recognises my cycling kit and asks me if I know “Stewey”? “Stewart Howison I reply”? “Yes, I went to school with him” he tells me. Karl then goes on to tell me that that the peak that we can see in the distance isn’t the summit of Chapmans Peak, but it’s further around the corner.  It’s very deceiving he says so don’t use all your energy up before you get to the summit, like I had any energy left at that point. I am now starting to understand why they said “ You need to get into the hills of Hatta and Jebal Jaise”.  As I look around at other cyclists they also don’t seem to be any better off than me, as we are all suffering.  Once up and  over the top of Chapmans Peak it’s time for some easier cycling downhill with perhaps an opportunity to recover, except there have been a few high speed crashes which highlight the need to concentrate and stay focused.

As we get to the bottom of the Suikerbossie climb the Argus carnival atmosphere is starting to become more apparent, not that there hadn’t been lots of support all the way round, it’s now just gone up a gear.  The roads are lined on both sides by people offering encouragement and support.  The volunteers on the Coca Cola drinks station are now louder than all the previous drink stations as they compete to be louder than the team of helpers on the other side of the road offering a free push up the hill.  All I had to do to avail of this free service was to cycle on the right-hand side of the road the man on the PA said.  Apart from the fact that I was barely cycling at this point, I wasn’t about  to go the extra 15 to 20 meters out of my way to the other side of the road to get a push, and in any case getting help is cheating isn’t it?  I am now thinking that our nick name of “Psycho Pussy” was a more apt name for the hill. We couldn’t pronounce Suikerbossie .

So down into Llandudno, which I can pronounce properly because of my Welsh heritage (Th lan did no).  Slightly mixed feelings now as we start to push again having slightly recovered on the descent from “Psycho Pussy”.  Only a few kilometers to go and the main reason for visiting Cape Town will be very soon be over.  I look at my time versus the distance still to go, can I finish in 3 hours 30? Really not sure if I can do it, but it’s got to be worth trying.  I reunite with Keith once more and we share encouragement, I then see Andrew Stocks ahead, so I chase after Andrew for a chat.  Andrew then disappears into the distance so I look at my time again,  if I finish in 3 hours 30 minutes and 59 seconds is still 3:30 I say to myself???. Yes of course it is so let me give it a go.  Over the line and I stop my Garmin at 3:30:46, Cape Town Cycle Tour, Checked.

A free Coca Cola then on the find out how James, Nichola, Keith, Lena, The Captain and the rest of the Dubai/SA crew had got on.

Would I do it again?  Without doubt as the whole trip was amazing.

Will I do it again? Not sure, as it is a big ask of my family as they are not able to join me to share the experience.

Apologies if any of the above is inaccurate. 

Thank you to everyone who made this trip as enjoyable and as memorable is it was, you know who you are.

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