What an awesome weekend away in Swellendam for my first DC (203km team cycle race). It perhaps didnt go exactly as planned but it was all a great team building experience.
We travelled through on the Friday evening and stayed on a farm about 15kms from Swellendam, which felt like in the middle of nowhere after the bumpy ride along the gravel road! We got out the car to find 3 ‘had-been-beautifully-clean’ bikes (except Manus’ which is never clean!) now all a tasteful shade of beige/brown from all the dust! But with a swimming pool in the back garden our bikes had a quick swim and were looking reasonably presentable again. (My poor bike!!)
We all headed off to bed by 10pm and alarms were set for 4am. But who needed an alarm when we were all woken up at 3am with a howling gale and doors and windows banging. I lay in bed listening to the wind thinking how on earth am I going to stay on my bike? The forecast was for perhaps a little bit of rain but I hadnt heard anything about gale force winds! I was just hoping that since it was still in the middle of the night, so to speak, that by 6am all would be calm….
We were all up, dressed, breakfasted, bikes packed inside the cars/bakkies and away by 4.45am, and then we were back at the house again at 5am when we had realised we had forgotten a team member’s (who we were meeting at the start) number! Not the best start! But on a positive note; at least the wind was beginning to calm down!
Amazingly we were all ready and at our start chute by 5.40. Everything seemed to be very well organised. Our team of 10 headed to the start line and very quickly we were off! With the wind behind us for the first few kms we were moving at a decent pace. At about 30kms we started our climb up Tradouw Pass. What beautiful scenery and rock formations. I had a relatively slow decent as us faster climbers waited for the others and soon we were all back as a bunch.
As we headed along the R62 we had bunched up with a few other teams but we were working our way to the front when all of a sudden I heard that horrible crashing metal sound. Its so hard resisting the temptation to immediately turn around and look to see what’s happened and if everyone is ok. I slowed down and took a quick glimpse back and all I could see was riders falling like dominoes and filling the road. We quickly realised that 3 team members had been brought down. We turned back to go and help and assess the damage. Fortunatley Elma, Tiaan and Andre were all ok. Their bikes were not so.
Manus, being a true sportsman that he is, offered his back wheel to Andre, who was doing his first DC, to replace his buckled wheel. Or maybe Manus just didnt fancy riding the 150km we still had to do?! I’m still undecided! 😉 Elma’s wheel was also buckled but we managed to get her back on the road. Tiaan’s bike was also rideable and he applied Rule #5 to his bruised shoulder and grazed arm!
The next 70kms to Ashton went reasonably uneventfully except for when Andre’s front wheel rubbed against Elma’s back wheel! If Elma hadnt been holding onto her bike so hard because of the wind I think she would have hit Andre! You could tell Elma’s head wasnt quite in the right space after the earlier incident and when I asked if she was ok she replied ‘I just want my husband’ 🙁 to which her husband later said ‘Geez, she must have been feeling really low!’
When we reached Ashton we had the 2.3km Neutral Support Zone in which we had a maximum of 30 mins from crossing the first mat, where our time was stopped, to leaving the zone at the other end, where our time was started again. The support vehicles were in numerical order so it was easy to find. Sadly Elma called it a day here. After a couple of muffins, some nuts & raisins, water and a pee the 8 of us were off on our way again. But as soon as we came out the neutral zone we hit the wind. We sat hiding behind another team for as long as we could as there was no point in us wasting our energy and driving the train. I was holding onto my bike for dear life and I darent take my hands off to take a drink!
But what goes up must come down and what heads into the wind must at some stage have the wind on our back and indeed we did. We turned out of the wind at Robertson and we were flying! I was instructed by Douw and Johan that we must hang on to the team in front. We were averaging about 48km/h along past some stunning wine farms. Unfortunately we dropped Jean along here and we had lost Tiaan a little earlier. So it was now me and the 5 boys.
After time trialling along the long straight my legs were burning and as we turned on to the R317 my energy was low but after some encouragement from Morne and Johan, some slight recovery and some more 32Gi tabs I was feeling better. The others had a quick stop at the support vehicle at about 180km but a) I couldnt stop in time, b) I didnt need anything and c) I had thought we werent going to stop! So I cruised on steadily while I waited for the others to catch up.
I tackled the rolling hills during the last 30km feeling strong and the wind had become our friend, now helping us. Fortunately we were allowed to cycle slowly over the 350m gravel track at the portage point, which had been made due to the collapsed main road, rather than carry our bikes. With 10kms to go the finish line was calling and it was great to pick up speed again. Until the sneaky little hill within the last kilometre! And after 7 hrs, 4 minutes and 53 seconds Cornelis, Andre, Douw, Johan, Morne and myself crossed the finish mats.
I absolutely loved it! What an awesome team event. Thanks to the whole team and to Johan for giving me a few pushes when I needed them! Thanks to my Silverback bike which didnt let me down. And thanks to 32Gi who fuelled us the whole way (drinks, chews and tabs). I cant wait for DC 2013!