A forgotten event
I entered mid last year and by that time could only be placed on a waiting list for the solo event. Then completely forgot about it. So it was quite a surprise when I received the reminder email in January. But there was one phone call I first had to make.
Best wife in the world
So the event fell on our 5 year wedding anniversary. Which is kind of a big thing. Fortunately I have the most understanding better half in the world, and Valerida gave the thumbs up – on condition that we at least have a proper lunch before I go. Which we did.
I really looked forward to this event – for a number of reasons: it was something new; I love the area; a few weeks ago we took the Route 62 during our April holiday to Seaview – in anticipation of the upcoming Cape 1000. So this would be another opportunity to have a look at the route. And I think the Huisrivier pass between Ladismith and Calitzdorp is something to behold.
I left Thursday afternoon and arrived in Oudtshoorn after dark. I booked accommodation on Airbnb, but when I arrived, I learned that the establishment changed owners and the contact details weren’t updated. Luckily the room was available and I took it.
I didn’t book anything for the Friday night because we’d be cycling (starting 6pm), nor Saturday night because I didn’t know what time I’d finish and wanted to play it by ear. Mental note for next time – book right at the starting venue as the atmosphere is great and you can soak up the experience. And if the chalets are booked just bring a tent as the facilities are great.
First thing Friday morning was spent in a moment of quiet reflection. A mate of mine lost his mother during the week and today was her funeral, 10am. I sat on the outskirts of Oudtshoorn and jotted down a few words of encouragement. He went through the same just a year ago, when his dad passed away, and we haven;t seen each other since. Time flies. Make the most of it.
Back to business
I went for breakfast and flipped open the laptop to still get a good morning’s work done while having the battery packs for my lights on charge. Thereafter I quickly popped into the only cycle shop in Oudtshoorn to buy two water bottles, seeing as I left mine at home. Off to Kleinplaas.
I promptly found a parking right outside the gate and was happy to take it. Then followed a few hours worth of faffing with the bike. This included picking up my race bag and pondering whether to make use of the 3 drop boxes available. I called fellow Randonneur, Rob, who did the event last year for a few tips. He had some valid input on clothing.
In the end I decided not to make the effort and tossed the boxes to the side. I’m just going to take everything I need with me. And seeing as it was so hot outside, I went light with the clothing. If it was to get cold just before daybreak on Saturday then I would just use my built-in blanket.
It was ridiculously hot, even in the shade, so I went for a cold shower before jumping into cycling kit. But moments later the shower proved to have been an exercise in futility. I was sweating like a gypsy with a mortgage. Very hot outside.
I saw Markus Franz and his mate. They stayed just down the road. Also doing the solo event. And a nonchalant Chris v Zyl rolled in just minutes before the start. He didn’t seem phased at all, briefly mentioning ‘groter dinge’ in the form of the upcoming Cape 1000. He went on to finish the 36one 7th in his category and 15th overall.
We lined up to get underway. Getting into the start chute took longer than I thought, given the relatively small field. I think they have around 800 riders. And I noticed roughly 530 finishers in the results afterwards. So 1 in 3 riders won’t make it. Not sure if this is correct. Anyway, thanks Pawel – I found your route map on RWGPS, below.
Is split up in 4 quarters with checkpoints after 81km, 102km, 97km & 81km. Quarter 1 takes you to the highest point of the race and down again. Quarter 2 is mainly rolling hills to the halfway mark. Quarter 3 packs a punch with 2 climbs, the latter being the steepest in the race. And quarter 4 should not be underestimated, as its climb has a nasty bite at the end.
There are 10 water points in total, the first after 50kms and thereafter roughly every 30kms. This is how it went.
And we’re off
The start was a dusty affair and I remember thinking that one would really struggle without sunglasses. You also have to be careful not to inhale through your mouth as the dust would constrict your breathing. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
We switched on our lights within the first hour of riding and continued into the night. The weather was great, not too cold, but a welcome relief after the heat of the day. There was hardly any wind, which is great, but also causes the dust to hang around for ages.
First hill done. I got here around 22:30. I think Rob mentioned that he arrived just before midnight, and I use his time as a gauge, seeing as we ride more or less at the same pace. So I happily sat down and had a coffee and a hot dog. I remembered how much time one could waste at water points so didn’t linger too long before I was off again.
Somewhere in this section we ended up on a field next to the road. We were then forced onto railway tracks and had to cycle on or alongside them for a stretch. This proved rather tricky as there was very little grip on those loose rocks. Mannie Heymans would have loved this on his fat bike.
I made decent progress through the rolling hills and got to the halfway mark well before 5am. They had some great lasagne – I’d cycle there for another portion any day. It was here that I saw Markus, unfortunately not in his cycling kit anymore as he had to abandon due to his chest. Must have been all the dust.
Time to spare
I left the halfway mark before 5am so still had an hour in the bag for a 24hr stint. But I also knew that these great conditions won’t last into the day and things would get considerably tougher and slower in the heat.
The dreaded third quarter
I wasn’t particularly looking forward to this one, since it included big climbs, the latter being the biggest. The first one went by without too much fuss. But the second one was real value for money. It was one of the longer climbs that I have done – but also felt vaguely familiar.
After a few false summits we finally reached the top. From here on I had to make up time. I didn’t ride with a trip computer so didn’t have the distance travelled on hand, just the time. After the climb both water bottles were empty and I could do with a drink. I enquired how far to the next water point (Calitzdorp, CP3) and was assured “just 10 kms and it’s downhill”.
It took what felt like an hour to get to the next checkpoint. It started with the best downhill of the day. By the time you get to the bottom your brakes are boiling. That part was 10kms, yes, but there were another 14 odd kms the get to Calitzdorp. It was hot and dry and you push hard because you think the water point is just around the corner, which it wasn’t.
As I came in I saw Markus again. My sense of humour was gone after the previous stretch and it was good to see a familiar face, but at the same time I was too tired for much conversation and immediately made my way to find a drink and something to eat. Have I mentioned the race had the best koeksisters ever?
I definitely saw a number of people bail at the third checkpoint and wondered what the failure rate is for this event. On my way out I saw someone with a Kroff shirt and enquired whether he knew Gerhard v Noordwyk, which he did.
I’ve spent much more time at this checkpoint than I normally would, but even so, I didn’t feel as refreshed as I’d hoped. Leaving there, my sense of humour was also a bit low, but after riding for a while it gets better. I made a quick call to Valerida to hear her voice.
Joggie was part of a group of 4 cyclists. I remember his lime green Cannondale as we have been passing each other all day. This time we struck up a conversation and discussed our hobbies. Turns out we have mutual interests and could do something together. Sometimes you are more productive on a bicycle than in the office. More below.
The last climb
Should not be underestimated. By now it was around 3pm and still 40 degrees outside. It was a long one into the heat of the day. I ran out of water. As did many others. Tempers flared. During a situation like this the organisers could add a temporary water point.
I ended up going off course in order to find a tap. Managed to find one at farm workers’ houses and traded some snacks for two full bottles of water. A bargain at the time. And then just a few kms later we arrived at the water point.
Be warned, this one sits in the middle of those fangs. When you reach here it is not all the way down. But nearly so. You are now on the side of the Swartberg mountains and everything looks familiar again. Just about 10kms before you turn right and start winding down onto the last water point (WP10) and the finish.
Blue light mirage
After the last water point we travelled on a long flat gravel road, heading towards the flashing blue lights of a police car in the distance. This would be where we turn left onto tar and head back to Oudtshoorn for the last time. But those lights just never seem to come.
By the time I got onto the tar I switched on my lights again to be seen by traffic. It was just getting dark. This stretch was very fast and just the way you want to finish, on a high. I saw someone on the horizon and tried to chase him down. I reached him just as we came into town but couldn’t pass. Nothing like healthy competition.
The last little bit in Oudtshoorn to Kleinplaas was a little further than we thought and after a 90 degree right hand turn I had enough in the tank to pass and slip away. Announcer Carel Bezuidenhout (who proved to be a hit) shouts your name as your cross the finish line. Job done.
I finished in 24hr40min. Wanted to do it in 24 hours, but the extra 40 minutes wasn’t a train smash. And I know where that time went – looking for water and wasted at the last checkpoint. This can easily be rectified next time.
A few firsts
This was my first MTB ride for the year. Also my longest MTB race to date. And the first one since a major bike service. But the route took its toll and afterwards I had to replace the one jockey wheel as the bearings were completely ruined – this was also the first time I attempted anything more advanced than a wheel change myself, so I hope the next blog entry is not one about me crashing down a mountain because of equipment failure.
Prior to this, the Transbaviaans was my longest ride (and still remains my facourite). That took just under 14 hours for 230km, so this was almost 11 hours more for an additional 130kms – but I suspect much relatively more climbing.
The water points were well stocked and the attendants were very friendly and made you feel right at home. The only niggle was the lack of water in the afternoon on that climb.
I’ve have had handlebar palsy before, but this was the first time on a mountain bike. Luckily it completely subsided within a couple of days and everything was back to normal – I could cut my own nails again. Other than that, nothing really.
Would I do it again?
Most certainly. Preferably next time with company – still enter the solo category, just have some mates around. I’m working on Antonie and Eugene just needs a mountain bike. And next year’s event falls a week after our anniversary. Brilliant.
Check out movemybicycle.co.za. Told you some of the best ideas are born cycling. (PS, still a work in progress at the time of writing as we are implementing the online payment system).