Bike Capetown with Mike
Cape Argus Cycle tour is the biggest bicycle race in the world with 35.000 participants. The race is on yearly the second Sunday of March. Start and finish is in the City bowl of Cape Town and the tour bring the racers around the Cape Peninsula. The distance is only 110 km., but enroute four mountain climbs has to be conquered. The presences of the "Cape Doctor" - a strong south easterly wind (storm) - as well as the heat, often ranging from 30 to 35 degrees, are other factors adding spice to the race. Not to forget that the race take place in some of the most spectacularly scenery on the planet and further; the outstanding camaraderie between the bike racers.
It is early Sunday morning in Cape Town. The sun is shining, the sky is deep blue. The start gun goes off for the Y-group in the 2008 version of Cape Argus Cycletour. The 500 person huge pack slowly moves forward, I reside halfway down the pack, when I finally cross the start line. I have learnt the route to heart. I have prepared my tactics for how to come through the next four hours of struggles. One of my goals is to realise an old dream of heading up a massive cycle pack, a peloton. When a few kms later we hit the ramp leading up to the N2 motorway, I have worked my way to the very front of the pack and I stay here for the following four km. uphill to Hospital Hill on the northern slope of Table Mountain. Halfway up the easy climb, I look backwards and what meets my eyes calls for a few tears of pure joy straight from my heart: the five hundred man pack is pulled out like a long snake behind me, the in-your-face presence of the majestic and awesome Table Mountain, the blue Atlantic Ocean and beneath us my new darling; Cape Town. It is a divine and golden moment. A noisy chopper is circling above us, motor biking cops are ahead of us - the race event is live on South African TV. In my lively imagination the scenario has a strong smell of Tour de France to it. I love this moment. In my yellow jersey I pull the pack up to Hospital Hill, and then I have to surrender the lead to riders much stronger than myself.
From now on our huge pack is no longer intact. Within minutes we are broken in to many smaller groups and I find myself together with 30 fellow riders, as we begin the ascend to the first of the four major climbs, Edinburgh Drive, which gets done with surprising ease. Downhill we reach a max. speed of 81 km/h my cycle computer tells me. My group shrinks to half the size as we commence onto the long, hard slog along the only flat patch of road heading down to False Bay. Despite the strong headwind we hold on to a fast pace of 45 km/h., I for myself have not the strength to be part of pulling the group from the front, but reside at the back enjoying the initiative and force of fellow cyclists. Riders disappear from our group, we overtake other groups and gets overtaken ourselves by the super strong from groups, having started later than us. The total 35.000 rider's gets send away in bundles of 500s.
At Muizenberg we reach False Bay and "The Cape Doctor" greets us in the shape of a full scale headwind. Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek and Simonstown we leave behind, I find myself wondering again and again of my "good legs", where is the tiredness? Now I actually find the strength to take the lead of my group from time to time and head us downward the coast of False Bay facing directly the nastiness of the "Cape Doctor". I am encouraged by the positive comments from my cycling comrades and the shouting from the massive audience has a wonderful, stimulating impact. According to the race organiser, the Cape Argus Newspaper, there are 300.000 spectators following the race along the route. They make it a day for a picnic and good fun away from home.
Halfway through the race we face the second major climb Smithwinkel and once again I make it over with no hassles or pain at all. Along the route there are 16 pit stops and I now make time for my first rest stop, within a few minutes I swallow five-six drinks, refill my bottle, grab a few energy bars for my back pocket and away I am on my 37 years old Danish handmade build Saxil racing bike - but she is still going strong and a great look, she sure is. I love her to pieces. I now find myself all alone on the road which I beforehand have decided is no way to race, I await a few minutes, quietly rolling along, the arrival of the next group, catch wheel and we are off towards the finish line in Cape Town.
As we hit the Atlantic the route make a turn to the north and we are now riding with a solid tailwind. Once again I reside in a strong, smaller group where the front provides the hard work, we are moving fast forward. My thoughts are entirely focussed on the two climbs to come, the two hardest ones: Chapmans Peak and the ultimate one; Suikerbossie, on the outskirts of Hout Bay. The heat also begin to make its impact, I empty my drinking bottle and make time for my second and last pit stop shortly before the seven km uphill climb to Chapmans Peak. I allow myself only a minute off the bike for a refill, I am terrified at the thought of my legs "going cold", that I suddenly might hit the wall! The Chapman climb takes its beginning in the bottom of a valley sheltered from the breeze of the ocean; the strength of the sun makes me feel I am cycling in a pressure cooker. All existing groups gets blown apart on the first kilometre uphill towards the Chapman pass, now we are all alone with ourselves. I am climbing extremely well; I overtake ten riders for every time I am overtaken by one. My morale gets a new major boost. I maintain my rhythm all the way up to "the turn". It's where the climb meets the Atlantic, now we are four hundred meters above the Ocean and the final 1 ½ km uphill to the pass is a drive along a very narrow road having the mountain on the one side and a vertical drop to the Atlantic on the other. These spectacular surroundings renew my strength, I can hardly comprehend at what ease I make the final climb and as I make my way over the pass, I find myself in a condition of feeling; I am "on a high". The entire race seems unreal. Despite we all suffer under the bright sun, it's a cool experience, my own performance surprises me positively, the camaraderie is wonderful and the enthusiasm of the strong audience has a better taste to it, than the best glass of wine I ever enjoyed!!!
The first three km of the Chapman descend is all solo riding, we are many together but with a distance of a few meters in between us, I read 85 km/h on my cycle computer on a few occasions. Further down the descend ease off a bit and our speed is reduced, we gather now in one large group, where I find myself in the very front together with five others. We fill out the width of the road. The route is not accessible for cars and other traffic during the Argus race.
I have often speculated of what is meant, when pro riders answer following a crash, that the bike just disappeared under them. What do they mean? How can a bike just disappear under you? I now know from my own experience!
My pack is coming on to the very bottom of the descend and the entrance to Hout Bay which soon after is followed by the toughest climb of the race: Suikerbossie. It's a shorter climb than Chapmans but the ascend is a steeper gradient and read 18% uphill in given places. On top of this we are coming to the end of the race, by now strength and morale has to be expected to be at a minimum. Suikerbossie is also the stage for the largest crowd gathering, this is where the drama is exposed and our sufferings are fully, honestly and openly displayed. In the Monday version of the Cape Argus Newspaper I read that in this year's race 40.000 people were watching the struggles on Suikerbossie.
Shortly before the descend flattens and we arrive into Hout Bay, our pack is doing 55 km/h. From the back of us a rider tries to make room for him among the six of us heading up our pack. The new arriving rider comes onto me on my left side; my instinct makes me look back, everything from now onwards happen in the legendary split of a second. Apparently I must have foreseen what is about to take place as I shout in Danish: NEJJJJ!!! (NO). Then my bike disappear underneath me, it's gone. I recall nothing about the crash itself, I feel no pain at all despite I inflict 13 skin abrasions, but I remember I gain conscience for a few moments, I instinctively put a finger in my mouth to feel my teeth - all there - and observe my now rearranged glasses a few meters ahead of me. I manage to stretch out and pull my glasses into my hand, which I put at rest on my chest and I am gone. During that moment of waking up, feeling my teeth and getting hold of my glasses, I recall everything is silent around me, no sounds at all for the few seconds awake before I pass out.
As I regain conscience I find myself moved to the roadside, first-aid people are busy cleaning up my wounds and I pass away once again. I don't recall anymore about the crash or from the crash side. The next thing I remember is sitting on my bike departing Hout Bay at the foothill of Suikerbossie. I don't remember the entire climb, but what I do recall becomes "my golden moments". With bits of blood running down my head, right arm and leg, I climb the feared Suikerbossie in a madly high speed. I remember how the other cyclists are riding on the right side of the road, me alone on the left side, attacking, standing up in the peddles, I overtake the one after the other, I recall how I feel the other riders have stopped biking!!!, spectators are yelling and screaming, some run next to me splashing water in my face, some gives me a quick push forward. And I recall how I feel I am in the yellow jersey (as I was), defending it and I am cycling the Tour de France. I am in another world. A world of my own. Its pure insanity. I feel absolutely no pain from my wounds or from the muscles in the legs. I further recall when reaching the summit; I release both hands from the handlebar, look around me and say loudly: Was that all!!! Then I address the riders around me: Catch my wheel and I will bring us all home fast!!! I don't remember the Suikerbossie descend at all, but I do remember a fragment from riding through the affluent suburb of Camps Bay, heading the pack, powering away in the highest gear of the bike. I ride like a mad man, way beyond my normal performance level, feel no pain at all; my only focus is the finish line.
My last recalls of this awesome race are from the very finish area in Green Point. I remember arriving into the finish area and I spot the actual "Finish banner" in the distance, I get out of the saddle, squeeze the last juice out of the muscles and as I cross the finish line with both my arms in the air, I shout: "I did it"!
Back at my Cape Town residence I realise how my helmet has taken a serious punch. The very frame of the bike helmet is broken in the right side.
I the Monday version of Cape Argus I read, that a little more than 7,000 riders didn't finish the race, 81 crashes were registered, 55 riders had to detour around the hospital and two unfortunate cyclists lost their lives due to heart failure!
Bike Mike relaxing after the race - the Table Mountain is seen at the back!
That's my Cape Argus Cycletour 2008. I have only been back home a few days, but I have already made bookings with South African Airways and Rose Lodge for March 2009. The Cycletour was such an awesome experience; I want another go at it. After concluding the race, both in the finish area of the race and in my Cape Town home environments, I was treated like the hero, I never have been. Everywhere I was subject to too much attention, which I strangely found very attractive and most enjoyable. From my surroundings I have always been searching for recognition through my actions, but when I got it, I couldn't handle it and cross wired! But not this time around. For the rest of the Sunday and all of Monday I walked around like another King of the Argus Race and enjoyed all the positives coming my way. I was far away from winning the race, but had the feeling, that I did so! Afterwards I believe that due to the raminifications from the crash and the "feel good" factor of my performance, I established a mindset of "feeling high"!!! But it is an all wonderful experience - everything went so well. The crash didn't do more damage to my head than already has been done through my abnormal living. Everybody else seemed terrified by my crash; I for myself knew that without the crash, I never could have performed so well on Suikerbossie. And without my bloody skin abrasions, I would never have been donated the positive attention and support during my great climb. My 15 minutes of glory on fearful Suikerbossie!