10 March 2014

Argus 2014

A student’s company had organised a charity team for the Pebbles Foundation for the 2014 Argus. After much consideration, I decided, to heck with it, I’ll enter, I mean, what’s 109km.
As one of the team members, I was required to raise at least R2000 for the charity, which I did (thanks to those who donated!), and wear the team shirt (woohoo, free shirt!).

  The days leading up to 9th of March consisted of eating. A lot. And not always stuff that was good for carbo-loading (oops). I had also done three Peninsula flights in the 6 days leading up to the race, so I got a good view of the route (and each flight I thought ‘What have I let yourself in for?!).

On Thursday, the wind forecast wasn’t looking good. 30kts, gusting 40kts, and a South Easter to boot. Lekker.
The night before the race, the wind was still pumping in Somerset West. I had told myself that if the wind was howling on Sunday morning, I wouldn’t even bother going through to Cape Town. But then I realised I had been eating so much, that if I didn’t cycle the race, I’d need to do a lot of other exercise to burn all the calories I had consumed.

So when Sunday morning dawned windy and chilly, I donned my sexy cycling shorts, tired Hi-Tec tekkies, and Pedal for Pebbles shirt, and duly made my way to Cape Town. It was cool passing countless cars, all with bikes loaded on the bike, and bleary-eyed occupants in cycling attire making their way to Cape Town.

We pulled in near the Cape Town Convention Centre, and went through our final prep. Tyres pumped up (my rear tyre had a slow puncture. Excellent), food sorted, and bottles containing water and energy drinks secured in their holders.

After meeting up with the rest of the team, we made our way through the first checkpoint. Word of advice, invest in a pair of arm-warmers; it was freezing in the shadows of the buildings, and there was a gale force wind adding to the chill factor.

After some waiting around, we made it through the second checkpoint, and stood around there and waited. And waited. And waited. Luckily the sun was rising above the buildings, and it was slowly starting to warm up. All this at just before 9am. And then we got word that the first riders were crossing the finish line. Crazy.

Eventually the group moved to the start line, where we waited some more. Photographers moved through the crowds, taking snap shots (including one where I had just taken a huge bite of an energy bar).  There was a 10 minute delay, in order to give the bunches ahead of us time to spread out. The wind was working its magic. While waiting, I heard one guy complaining to his friend that he had already had two punctures before the race even started. Ouch.

And then, at about 0910, we were off!
Everyone spread out right from the start, and it wasn’t long before I had lost the rest of my team (I wish I could say I pulled ahead, but unfortunately I think I was right at the back).
The start involved a climb. Pace yourself, don’t push it. Save your energy for later. Use granny gear if you must, but just keep pedalling.
Before I knew it we were on the M3. Woohoo! First climb done; I had been expecting a lot worse.
Spectators were on the side of the road, cheering us on. One guy had us all laughing (and some of us swearing) when he shouted “Don’t worry! You’re almost at the finish!”. I suppose that technically, we were near the finish, which was behind us at the Green Point Stadium.

There was even one of those doomsday people, ringing his bell and telling us there was only 1 month left to live. Thanks dude.
‘Am I really doing the Argus?’ constantly ran through my mind.

And then we hit Wynberg Hill. Or, as all the posters on the lampposts said “Whine berg Hill”. The first big climb. It was awesome hearing the shifting of gears and clucking of parts as everyone started shifting to an easier gear. And some very great people were blasting “Final Countdown”. That gave a lot of us the drive to motor up the hills.

After Wynberg, we had a nice long downhill. Nothing like speeding down a hill at over 50km/h, while surrounded by cyclists. It’s exhilarating. And scary. All you need is for one person to swerve into you, or wipe out, and you’ll be smeared along the tar before you know it. Speaking of tar, the roads were awesome! I mean, how often does a pleb like me get to cycle along the M3.

After the downhill it was flat(ish) towards Tokai. With a water station coming up, I decided it was time for a loo break. That was the most unhygienic toilet I’ve ever had the misfortune of using. But at least I could focus on the race properly now.

Before I knew it we were in Muizenberg, with people cheering us on. In the beginning it was like “Oh this is cool! Smile for the people. Yay, happy happy!”. But that slowly turned to “Okes, you aren’t the ones in this race. It isn’t actually easy”. And then it became “Easy for you to say, sitting in your lawn chair with a beer”, and the worst was the smell of braai’s, and boerewors rolls. I was ready to kill for a boerie roll.
‘I can’t believe I’m doing the Argus!’

It was lekker riding along the coast though. With a stop in Simons Town for a marie biscuit and a fresh coat of sunscreen, I was feeling revived.  Good thing too, because a long climb lay ahead. Not sure what it was. Smitswinkel? Somewhere near the top there was an ABSA (I think) trailer, with people sitting inside, and their legs sticking out. The caption read something like “You look like you could use a new pair”. Clever.

And then on to Misty Cliffs. Beautiful scenery. Perfect blue-green sea. But I was over taking photos at this point; I’d seen it enough from the air. 47km left. Almost there.

Still smiling!

 Noordhoek next. I was almost taken out by a member of the PnP team. We had just gone down a hill, and it was levelling off with quite a sharp right turn. This bright spark tried to overtake a group of us by going on to some gravel. At about 40km/h. I heard shouting and saw his front wheel coming towards my rear wheel out the corner of my eye. I was grateful I had kept my speed up and managed to stay ahead of him.

And I don’t think any of his teammates stopped to help. Quite a few people complained about the PnP team.

By this stage, most people had settled into a good rhythm. We were constantly over-taking each other, and falling back, and so on. The KWV team often came past me; I’d be chugging along merrily, and the next thing I was surrounded by a sea of red KWV shirts.

Through Noordhoek, and the spectators were spurring us on “Chapmans Peak, it’s all downhill from there!” and there were poster with “Are you a happy chappy?” all along the road. Well, I was happy until I rounded a corner and saw what a long climb it was to the top of Chapman’s Peak. At least there wasn’t any wind.
‘Ha, I’m doing the Argus!’

A long climb, stick to granny gear and just keep the pedals turning. I think it took me a good 20 minutes to reach the top. I was overtaken by a girl on a uni-cycle...
At the top of Chapman’s, we had a good view of Hout Bay below. And the beautiful twisty road that lead down to it. Unfortunately for us it was windy on this side. So much so that we had to pedal downhill. The wind also hit from the side, threatening to send you flying off the road. So I kept my speed low and did my best to keep my bike from being swept out from under me.

Top of Chapman's Peak. Not smiling anymore!

Hout Bay. One more hill and then it would be smooth sailing. Suikerbossie, the hill everyone ranted about, saying how horrible it is. It’s not a tough climb, but by this point you’re tired, the cramps are starting, and a climb is the last thing you need. Near the top there were “angels” (people wearing angel wings) ready to give you a push.

I don’t know how long it took, but I made it to the top of Suikerbossie. And I was so happy, because it was supposed to be downhill and flat. But no one told us we’d have a headwind. All the way to the finish line. Camps Bay was covered in posters “Welcome to Cramps Bay!”. Too right they were.

15km left. I can do this. I’ve done 15km before. I’m almost there.
10km. There is a hill. Going up. They said it was flat. Liars!
5km. I wanted to shout with joy! I was almost there!
1km. Good thing I didn’t shout with joy and tell everyone we were almost there; my odo was sitting on 108km when I saw a sign saying 4km to go. I was feeling finished. And when I saw my odo was wrong, I felt deflated.
4km. Cruel world. I want this to end!
Final push to the finish. Come on. Go. Go. Go. And there are photographers there, telling you to smile. No you fool, I’ve just spent almost 7hrs on a bicycle, I don’t want to smile!
Over the line. Yes! Keep moving forward. Don’t stop. Don’t fall over.

At last. It was over. My legs were sore. My arms were sore. Hips, shoulders, ankles, even my jaw. I collected my medal. And a Coke. And I found a place to sit down, grateful to sit on something wider than a bicycle seat. And I savoured the fact that I had just completed the Argus.

And then I was told I had to cycle another 2km to get to where my lift was parked. Eina!
And on the drive back home, I sat quietly, revelling in the fact that I was done. I had actually done it!

The next morning, I woke up wondering if it had all been a dream. And then I moved, and my screaming muscles confirmed that I really did cycle the Argus.
Me, sporting my hard-earned medal!

Observations from a Newbie...
-         - Buy arm warmers.
-         -  Don’t stress about having two bottles of water, and a camelback, and and and. You can fill up your bottles with water, Powerade or Coke at one of the water points.
-         - Don’t drink too much Coke; the fizz might end up fizzing up everywhere...
-         - If you take energy bars and chocolates, open them so that you can easily grab them and take a bite, without trying to open the wrapper while screaming down a hill.
-        -  Don’t try drink water from a bottle while going up or down a hill, rather drink from a Camelbak if you have one, or wait until it flattens out.
-         - Sunscreen. Lots of it. Use the water resistant stuff
-         - Keep a steady pace. Don’t worry about being over-taken; it’s how the flow goes.
-         - The climbs aren’t THAT bad; just keep the pedals turning. I came to dread the downhills; once I stopped pedalling, the cramping started. And all I wanted to do on the downhills was to stand. But if I stood, my legs would stop working, and start cramping. If I sat and slowly pedalled, my bum would scream at me. It was a lose-lose situation.
-         - The worst bit about the climbs was sitting for so long. 20 minutes in the saddle was agony. You can stand and pedal for short periods, but don’t tire yourself out.
-        -  The last 20km were the worst for me, because I knew I was so close to the finish. And my body knew it would get to rest soon, and started shutting down. So the final push was difficult.
-        -  Don’t stress too much about training. The furthest I had ever ridden was 33km, and the longest was about 2hrs. The last ride I did was 2 weeks before the race. BUT, get to know your bike well. Know which gear combinations work well for the different climb gradients.

Would I do it again? Yes, probably.

The bike that got me through it!