Cape 400km on 21 March 2015, at 00:01. By Rob Walker.
With rather miserable looking weather forecast for much of the morning, it was perhaps not surprising to see a few of those registered decided to stay home. Even so we had 14 riders kitting up just before midnight to tackle the ride. The weather at the start was actually rather pleasant, but the rain and wind did show up just before dawn. Fortunately it also passed over reasonably quickly too. Once the headwinds had been battled to the half-way point at Velddrif, from that point on the conditions were much more pleasant, albeit somewhat hot across the middle of the day. For the second time in succession, we enjoyed tailwinds for the ride home – a rare and most welcome blessing.
One of our riders was heard to comment that we should perhaps name this particular brevet the Tour de Windfarm – since the route passes three installations of massive generating turbines. It was also commented that shouldn’t the ride planners have considered this might indicate a likelihood of wind. What can we say? It is rumoured that they get wind in France too, so we’re just making sure you are all adequately prepared!
Even with the wind and rain, we managed a full complement of riders finishing within the cut-off time. It seems Cape Randonneurs are a hardy bunch not easily deterred by a bit of weather.
Finishers, in alphabetical order
- Marius Carstens
- Nico Coetzee
- Ernst Englebrecht
- Theunis Esterhuizen
- Gideon Krige
- Gary Kuhnert
- Daniel Langenhoven
- Peter Müller
- Marius Nel
- Richard van Antwerpen
- Wimpie van der Merwe
- Chris van Zyl
- Rob Walker
- Tom Wittenberg
Congratulations to Daniel – with completion of this event he joins Chris, Nico, Derek, and Rob as qualified for PBP. On a quick count back, it looks as if we have a further six riders who only need the 600km in April to qualify. Plus a number of others on two events for whom the expected extra event in May could clinch the deal. It looks like 2015 could be a bumper year for Cape Randonneurs.
Special mention must also go to Rookie Randonneur Tom Wittenberg for showing the utmost in audacious spirit. Undaunted by the theft of parts of his bicycle just 14km into the ride at the Stellenbosch control, he hung with the big dogs up front. They blazed such a scorching trail it’s surprising the rest of us behind needed lights at all. Their rolling pace recorded on Strava of 31.1km/h would actually have been illegal by BRM standards, but luckily they stopped enough to bring that down to 25.6km/h. That is still either impressively quick or just plain mad, depending on how you view these things. Did we forget to mention it wasn’t a race?
In the report from our November ride we already covered the essential facts and figures of the current Cape 400km route. To avoid going over old ground, this report will pick out some of the highs and lows from our second ride of this route.
Stolen in Stellenbosch
The first, and possibly lowest of the lows has to be the thieving little sh*t who helped themselves to parts from Tom’s bike whilst he was getting his brevet card signed in McDonalds in Stellenbosch. Being Tom’s first control on his first Audax, he hadn’t quite got himself organized at the process of getting through controls. His fellow riders in the fast group were already starting to kit up for riding out as Tom was finishing up. Luckily Tom was out before they had a chance to remove anything major enough to end his ride there and then, although what they did take would have made most consider abandoning. Fortunately Tom is a tough character, and he wasn’t to be deterred.
Perhaps what is most notable and remarkable about the incident, apart from the sheer cheek of it, is that it’s the first we’ve had since starting the Cape series last year. We’ve had a couple of slightly suspicious roadside incidents, and Peter witnessed a spectacular punch-up from a safe distance in the small hours of the morning in Wellington. But this is the first incident that has affected any of our riders directly. Hopefully we’ll avoid such incidents in future but let’s make sure we look out for ourselves and each other out there.
Le Relais de Riebeek
You did realise you were meant to be learning some French in preparation for PBP, didn’t you? OK, we’ll help out this one time – ‘le relais’ means ‘road house‘. Hendrik Vermaak may have manned the Riebeek control with his car, but at 3am he had all the hospitality you could wish for from a roadside inn on a dark and stormy night. There was light, and fresh water for bidons, jars of beskuit, and packs of muffins. As if that weren’t enough, Hendrik had laid on that staple of all cyclists – plentiful supplies of hot coffee.
A few days ahead of the ride it looked like we would be standing around in deserted streets gathering ATM slips as our proof of passage, or visiting the SAPS for a signature and stamp. Either way, we’d have been wondering if we had enough water left to make it to the next control. How much more pleasant to be standing around Hendrik’s car, laughing and joking and contemplating if there was time to quickly swig down an extra cup of coffee before mounting up and pressing on.
A massive thank you to Hendrik from all of the Cape Randonneurs for coming out at such an unearthly hour to make our ride so much more pleasant.
Moistened in Moorreesburg
Somewhere along the road to Moorreesburg a light drizzle started to fall. Barely more than a mist in the air, but enough to be picked out in the beams of our headlights – pinpoints of light in a mesmerizing dance ahead of the bikes. It was turning to full scale rain as we reached the outskirts of town – but with the Total petrol station in sight, all that was needed to avoid a drenching was a quick stand on the pedals and sprint into the shelter of the garage forecourt.
There had been no real plan to stop long at this control – however the coffee machine in the corner said otherwise. For a 24hr filling station it was a little surprising to see a proper coffee machine, complete with a hopper of dark roast beans waiting to be ground. It would have been remiss of us not to at least check that the coffee tasted as promising as it looked. We were not disappointed – standing around drinking hot, delicious coffee whilst peering out into the dark and the rain. The idea of getting back onto the bikes and riding out for a proper soaking was not appealing, but it had to be done. There was still 280km of pedalling left to be done.
Hopeful in Hopefield
When the Cape Audaxes were first being planned in March 2014, at least one voice was heard to say something along the lines of ‘any route as long as it’s not Hopefield again’. The back-story behind this was the 2011 qualifier series which had almost exclusively used west coast routes. As a result, the first draft of the 2014/15 brevets had no routes to the north and west, only in later iterations adding the 400km being ridden this weekend.
None of the riders who’d originally requested avoiding Hopefield were on today’s ride, or took part in the previous edition in November 2014. Which was more than a little ironic – since this season’s crop of Cape Randonneurs have enjoyed a rather different experience of this unassuming little West Coast town. On our first visit, a wonderful lady named Ella had very kindly opened her café early and provided a fabulous breakfast and coffee. When organizing this weekend’s ride we contacted her to see if there was any chance she’d do the same again. Sadly she couldn’t, the café was closed. But with amazing generosity Ella had offered to make us all breakfast and coffee again, but this time on the stoep of her house. She didn’t have to ask us twice, we positively bit her hand off!
A little after 7am we trudged up her drive, soggy and dishevelled from riding the past 30km through the rain, with regular extra showers of dirt and spray from trucks rushing past. Ella’s fabulous hospitality could not have been more welcomed or more timely. Lashing of hot coffee and plates piled high with cooked breakfast, it was quite literally a shelter from the storm. As we sat and ate, the clouds rolled back and the sun came up properly. Only one of us had thought to bring dry clothes, so it was a relief to feel the day warming up.
It was difficult to tear ourselves away, but the remaining 250km of the ride beckoned and there was at least one remaining tough stretch ahead to be battled. Before moving on we must say the most sincere of Thank Yous to Ella for twice making Hopefield a place we’ve thoroughly enjoyed riding through.
Winderig in Velddrif
Our count of mechanicals was already standing at one puncture, and I added a broken rear spoke to that tally before we’d actually even left Hopefield. We’d heard it pop some time back, but annoyingly I forgot to check it whilst we had breakfast. Rather than hold the ride up, Ernst and Gideon helped me get it a little less wobbly and open the brake arches to lessen the brake blocks fouling.
It wasn’t a great start to what proved to be the least pleasant leg of the ride, again. The Northerly winds were not quite as strong as they had been in November, but they were more than unpleasant. At least with seven riders we had a few more to share the workload this time around. It was a tough 40km or so, and not one I think will make the top ten list of favourite stretches for any of our riders.
Eventually of course, persistence overcame the wind and Velddrif came into view on the far bank of the Berg river. It was an unremarkable control stop, the group choosing to pull into the Engen garage and grab ice creams and sodas before pushing on again.
Surreal in Saldanha
Without a doubt the most surreal thing I have witnessed on any Audax ride unfolded in Saldanha. Somehow our desire for food had landed us at a bay side hotel with a restaurant on the 3rd floor. The obvious decision would have been that this may not be a good fit for cyclists – but not to us at that time, we’d already stopped, and we wanted food. Even if it meant cramming ourselves and our bikes into possibly the world’s smallest lift.
Yep – you did read that right. We were confronted with a miniscule lift cubicle, which could just about take two bikes if stood upright on their back wheels with their owners bent into variations contortions around them to squeeze inside far enough to avoid blocking the door. It’s almost impossible to explain why not one of us suggested riding on to look for somewhere else. Instead we just laughed at each other and the situation, and a couple of the guys took the stairs. 220km into a ride, why on earth did it seem like a good idea to be carrying our bikes up 3 flights of stairs? Honestly, you had to be there.
The spectacular view outside the restaurant across Saldanha Bay was at least some consolation. The view inside the restaurant rather less so. Unless your idea of scenery is shabby cyclists, their shoes, their bikes, and other miscellaneous equipment sprawled all over the place. The restaurant were amazingly tolerant of our scruffy presence – to be fair though, they were hardly busy and we were not exactly a demanding crowd, well aside from cluttering up half their restaurant. We just wanted hot food and milkshakes. It wasn’t the best we’ve eaten on our rides, but it was more than good enough to refuel us for the next stage.
At this point, I’m pretty much out of alliterations for the remaining controls … I mean what on earth would one use for Yzerfontein? In truth too, aside from a broken rear spoken for one of our other riders, and a couple more punctures, I don’t recall too many other unusual or remarkable events on the remaining 180km of the ride. The tail wind pushed up our pace significantly from Saldanha on, and the West Coast Park was as sublime as on the previous 400. Considerably fewer snakes this time, thankfully, but several Eland were spotted as we rode through.
The tailwind died down on the final stretch from Malmesbury – but that was still infinitely preferable to the strong headwinds we have battled along that stretch on recent rides. With no wind, progress was rapid and even the tail group of riders were home well before midnight, three hours ahead of cut-off.