400 km, Stellenbosch 8th November 2014
(Paris-Brest-Paris 2015 qualifier)
by Rob Walker & Hendrik Vermaak
The last couple of ride reports for our Cape Audaxes have used a similar format. For this 400km brevet we had someone who not only volunteered to be a safety driver, but also offered to share his view of the ride and riders seen from a somewhat different perspective. Below is Hendrik Vermaak’s account of the day, followed by a short facts and figures summary of the event.
Audax SA 400km ride, as seen from the safety vehicle
I volunteered to man the safety vehicle for this event because of two reasons. First, one of the riders was my support during last year’s DC therefore I owed him one, secondly because I thought “what can be easier to do, sitting in an air-conditioned vehicle with nice music lots of snacks and ice cold drinks from a fridge”, – how very wrong I was.
The day produced highs and lows, frustrations and jubilations and I had a few lessons in life by just observing people acting on the edge of exhaustion.
The week before the ride I sat down and pictured different scenarios in my mind of bicycles needing repairs, cyclist needing assistance etc. etc. The result being that I took some real unnecessary silly stuff with me and left a few really weird items at home – let’s leave it at that. I was also very concerned with the length of the event and the midnight start. With this in mind I swallowed a sleeping tablet just after lunch on Friday and slept till 10pm, much to the annoyance of my wife sneaking around the house not to wake me.
The ride started with a high for me and an experience that is difficult to describe to anyone. The second control stop was at the small town of Riebeeck Kasteel. With nothing open at 3 o’clock in the morning we decided to have the control at the entrance to town. I stopped at a safe distance from the road and proceeded to set a table with coffee, tea, sugar, cups and spoons. I rigged a neon light to have ample light.
Waiting for the riders I became aware of the incredible beauty and peace around me. After switching the radio off I stood outside with a full moon basking the vineyards in a pale ghost like glow, the Kasteelberg mountain reaching for the sky, not a breath of wind, a Kiewiet calling its mate close by and an owl hooting far away. This feeling of contentment made the whole effort of safety driver worthwhile and I was sorry when the riders left and I had to pack up. It was also very funny when a police vehicle arrived from nowhere and questioned my sanity – imagine what they thought seeing a car parked, table set for guests and a bloke staring into the distance. A comforting feeling, to see police taking an interest in the unusual.
The low of the ride for me was when I passed one of the riders at Vredenburg. He was next to the road in a bush vomiting and not sure which side to wipe first. He was in dire straits, head shaking and ready to give up. I felt his pain and disappointment and was lost for words. I then witnessed how an unselfish concerned fellow rider can help another to the end of a ride. On four occasions he virtually picked the rider out the gutter and back on his bike. Towards the end he nicked named him the “Zombie” as he almost fell asleep on his bike. Admiration and respect are the only words I can think of at this time.
It was quite clear to me early in the ride that riders fall into three groups. First the “head down, cycle till you drop, best time riders”. Then the middle group “ride for a good time but don’t kill yourself and don’t waste time at stops” and the last group “enjoy the ride, enjoy the scenery, have fun, make friends and still finish well inside the time limit”.
As the safety vehicle driver the above scenario became quite a problem for me. I wanted to be at all the control stops to “assist” the riders. At the halfway point it became impossible for me to race up and down between stops for each group. I then realized that the first group look after themselves and need no assistance. The second group is happy when you have cold water but it is also not compulsory. The fun for me was in joining the last group at the control stops. Finding a restaurant to rest the tired legs, eat and to chat about the route. See what I mean –
The most difficult for me was riding alone it the car without anyone to talk to the whole day. No one to keep me awake during the last few hours.
This was a great, satisfying first experience and I will do it again.
The 00:01 start was a tough but necessary measure to ensure the West Coast National Park gate times could be achieved even at the minimum pace of 15Km/h. On the day, all riders made the entry gate comfortably despite strong headwinds until the northernmost point of the ride at the Veldriff control, approximately halfway into the ride. Weather for the remainder of the ride was extremely pleasant, with the unusual pleasure of tailwinds home.
In terms of controls, we were extremely fortunate to have Hendrik’s provide us with a manned control at 3am in Riebeeck Kasteel. There are ATMS in the vicinity and so future events using this route should have no issue with proof-of-passage, but there will be nowhere open to refill water bottles or refuel. The control at Moorreesburg is approximately 35km further on, and despite the early hour there was a petrol station open at 6am when the main group arrived, with coffee and snacks available. Beyond that, all control stops had petrol stations, shops and restaurants for sustenance as well as receipts and/or signatures. The cashier at Veldriff was especially helpful, and delighted in telling us that he had seen our lead group come through some four hours earlier.
Road surfaces and conditions were mostly good – some potholed sections at times, and a very rough stretch through the R44 roadwork’s in Wellington. In general traffic was not too heavy, with the unavoidable section of R27 after leaving the park being perhaps the busiest. Fortunately this short period of unpleasantness had already been counter-balanced by the sublime scenery of the West Coast National Park, enjoyed on largely empty roads aside from a number of puff adders and cape cobras who were also out basking on the warm and deserted tarmac.
A club mate and friend of two of the riders joined as a second safety driver for those in the lead groups from around Yzerfontein home. No incidents occurred, although there was some slightly suspicious activity both before and after Malmesbury for the tail-end group. It was very re-assuring to have a safety vehicle keeping a watching eye over our passage through these stretches.
Many thanks to all those who took part in the event, and especially to our tireless drivers Hendrik and Anja.
Final distance measured by GPS was 403km.
- Chris van Zyl
- Derek Lawrence
- Marius Karstens
- Richard van Antwerpen
- Henri Meier
- Gerhard van Nordwyk
- Nico Coetzee
- Rob Walker
- Peter Müller