Cape 300, 5th December 2015, by Rob Walker
The final Cape Audax of 2015 was held on a glorious, but savagely hot summers day – mid afternoon temperatures rising to 36 degrees and above. It’s unsurprising that in such weather the normally high rate of finishers was demolished – just a handful of official finishers from a starting field of 12 riders:
- Nico Coetzee
- Henri Meier
- Gary Kuhnert
- Wynand Louw
Special mention must go to 2 other riders though – who but for a minor mis-reading of the route sheet would also have been on that list: Kelson da Cruz & Demetri Mamacos. In the full heat of the day they missed the control at Riebeek Wes – coming up short by 10km on the full 301km of the ride. Obviously their cards cannot be validated under Audax rules, but their achievement and bravery at sticking to the task despite the conditions will be recognised with an Audax SA medal for the ride.
Hindsight is of course 20/20, and perhaps it would have been better given the forecast to move the start time earlier to midnight, or even 9pm the previous evening. That is certainly a lesson which will be taken away for future rides.
A ride of two halves
The early part of the ride was really rather pleasant, with cooler morning air seeing riders over Franschhoek pass to a glorious sunrise around Theewaterskloof dam. Sad to see that the coffee machine has now been removed from the Shell garage at the control. It was never exactly a connoisseurs choice, but to those of us who enjoy a caffeine boost to their ride it was something of a disappointment. The route out to Worcester was at times accompanied by an unusual Easterly headwind – not strong, but enough to be annoying hindrance to progress.
All but the three tail riders managed to slip across the Brede river bridge at Nekkies before it was closed for roadworks. Despite laying on our most persuasive charms, Henri, Theunis and myself had no such luck. The diversion took us through the center of Worcester, then briefly onto the N1, before we could fork left onto the old road (the R101) and make our way back towards Rawsonville. The unexpected detour added perhaps 5km, and although it wasn’t the most interesting or pleasant route, it was fast riding. Stretched out as a pace-line of 3 and alternating turns at the front, we rapidly closed down the distance to the Goudini Spa koppie.
Sadly, service at the Bush pub by the Goudini turn has not become any faster. The coffee and food are both pretty decent, but it takes forever to come. What should have been a quick breakfast stop for toasties and coffee stretched on for nearly an hour. The wait did at least give Theunis a chance to fix his second mechanical of the morning. An earlier broken spoke hadn’t become an issue, but a broken seatpost clamp had the potential to be ride ending. In the end, the cure was as ingenious as it was effective – from somewhere Theunis had the idea that maybe a hose clamp might keep his saddle in place and at the correct height. Amazingly, not only did he find one of the right size thanks to a very helpful farm foreman, but it did actually grip tightly enough to do the job. Perhaps slow food arrival had been a blessing – the pressure of us being ready to ride on quickly, might have forced Theunis to abandon rather than find a solution.
As our group rolled out and through the sublime scenery of the Slanghoek valley the mid-morning heat was rising fast. Theunis wasn’t done with mechanicals for the day – the potholed ford across the Brede dislodged his saddle bag, sending it bouncing across the road in front of me. Just past the crossing he and Henri got busy with that friend to all Randonneurs – cable ties! As they worked a huge tour group on horesback rode past us and disappeared into the vineyards.
“Pas op – jou fiets staan in die duwweltjies”
One of the tour guides helpfully pointing out my careless error – I’d pulled off the road in the middle of a thick patch. I carefully scrubbed and inspected each tyre, luck was on my side and none had stuck in.
Some time back Henri had made the call for us to stop and fill up with cold water at the Kalabash bush pub before tackling the pass. It was a sound plan, ice water and cold sodas before tackling the climb. It was lost quickly though – the narrow, windless valley and reflected heat from the tarmac was like cycling in a blast furnace. Never has Bains kloof passed so slowly or felt so hostile. Even dousing with water didn’t help much – it was bone dry in minutes. Dotted along the winding road were spectators of The Munga – waiting expectantly for loved ones to ride through on the last stretch of their epic adventure. We’d got the news that first place had gone to John Ntuli courtesy of Henri’s cellphone over breakfast. Somewhere close behind the battle for second and third was unfolding – sadly we were up and over the pass before they came through, although we did spot the Race Director’s car coming back down the pass.
The descent down into Wellington was a welcome, cooling blast – albeit a bone shaking one, the road now more potholed than ever. Henri had to double back to collect a stray water bottle which shook loose on the way down. Even more welcome were cold, thick milkshakes at the control – plus, in my case, a swift burger and fries. Our first retiree, of the day, Shaun, pulled out at Wellington – the exertion of the climb and the oppressive heat prompting a sensible decision to withdraw.
I was surprised to find myself and Theunis in much the same circumstances within 15km of leaving the control. We’d left the control in good spirits, but the sauna cranked up a notch as we left the town behind us. The sun beat down unrelentingly on the exposed stretch of road to Hermon and, for once, the tail wind was unwelcome. Henri managed to lift his pace enough to get the merest hint of cooling air, but Theunis and I laboured along slowly – unable to break free of the stupifying heat. We faltered, and then failed. Unable to resist the temptation of a stand of trees, we dismounted and sat in the shade trying to recover. But it was too much, we were beaten. Reluctantly Theunis called good friend Hendrik Vermaak to the rescue. Hendrik has a been a strong supporter, and rider, of the Cape Audax series and once again he came to our aid. One of my favourite quotes of the day (perhaps of any Audax) came from Theunis when Hendrik asked how to find us:
“Kyk vir die ou lappe onder die boom”
As an English speaker I’m often struck by the almost poetic way Afrikaners can sum up the most bizarre of situations. Bikes cast asunder, and sprawled out by the roadside, this was one of those occasions.
Henri had waited a while for us up ahead at Hermon but on hearing we’d had to retire he rode on to Du Vlei farmstall . Markus and Derek also ended their ride at Du Vlei, but Nico and Henri pushed on to join the select few who could stand the heat of one of our toughest Cape Audaxes of the recent series.