by Wimpie vd Merwe

The inaugural Cape 1000 AUDAX was a thriller from start to finish. The date for 26 April 2016 was already set the year before so it coincides with a favourable holiday timetable. What could not be predetermined was the weather. Around April May we have the transition between seasons and this is exactly what happened. During this period summer transitioned to winter, literally within hours. This would eventually have an outcome on the amount of successful finishes.

The eventual two finishers for the first Cape 1,000: Chris van Zyl and Wimpie van der Merwe

A uniqueness of this event was the use of live satellite tracking of each competitor. Someone following from overseas made the observation that for the duration of the ride it was like a reality drama, creating a much greater online and public participation than any Audax before. This element has captured the imagination of people across the world. There were several WhatsApp groups operating for the duration of the ride. As riders we fed these groups with photos and comments, sharing our experiences, our highs and our lows. It was a way to be encouraged and break the monotony of days’ cycling on end. It will be good to have this feature again for future long events, not only for the sake of safety, but for the sake of the interest the public has in ultra long distance events, where it’s like will the rider be able to complete and how are the others around him doing?

As with any long distance event preparation determines the outcome of it. I and I believe Chris, who completed the ride, are of the opinion that this event, if it is to be repeated, has to have qualifying rides before the time. The event has the potential risk of frightening riders from ever riding again. At times I thought of selling my bike to the first bidder enroute.

My focused preparation for the Cape 1000 already started 5 months earlier. The last quality training was 2 weeks prior to the event, by doing sir Lowry’s pass 20 times (235 km/7,000 m) and still I had the utmost respect for the distance and the climbing that awaited us.

Huisrivier pass was about the only pass of the 12 that we crossed in daytime
Huisrivier pass was about the only pass of the 12 that we crossed in daytime

Each participant planned his own strategy that suited him best. My opinion, when I arrived at the line, was that most of the other competitors were loaded too heavily with luggage. Chris and I travelled with less than 2 kg of luggage. Over 1,000 km this becomes significant, more so if you have to wear it on your back.


The drop bag system applied for this tour worked superbly. You hardly needed to carry any luggage along. Based on our experiences from PBP you could put in enough clothes and provisions in the bags to cover your needs between stops. The drop bag system helped for this route in particularly, especially to cover for towns where there is nothing to eat, drink or buy after sunset and before sunrise.

Barrydale bag drop at sunrise, day 1
Barrydale bag drop at sunrise, day 1

It is always difficult to say where you will experience a bad patch or where you will need a shut-eye, before you start. Chris and I understood the danger and challenge of Robinson pass at the halfway mark and the time when we shall be crossing it. It is a HC class climb. You can be so tired that you waste too much time getting back, because you were too tired. We either had to sleep before the pass and then do the crossing and continue to CPT or ride fast enough that we can cross it whilst corpus mentus and then sleep in Oudtshoorn. That would be determined on what happens enroute.

We made the decision to cross over and on the return leg sleep at 720 km. As we departed from Oudtshoorn to Hartenbos we turned into a terrible headwind. We comforted ourselves that for every step we suffer into it up the pass we shall have that same wind push us back over the pass to Oudtshoorn. But how cruel can nature be? We crested Robinson pass in the dark and as the sun set the wind dropped and there was no wind to push us back.

The Hors Category section from the top to Eight Bells we were freewheeling at over 100 kph. Before Eight Bells there is a hairpin, just after we went through it my battery ran dry. It was instantly pitch black. Had it happened a minute before it could have been catastrophic, because racing down the pass and going through the corners needed split second decisions. That was one of the closest ‘what if encounters’ in my cycling career.

We left the halfway mark after grabbing a Wimpy burger at the control in Hartenbos and hoped that the predicted cold front for the Western Cape will only find us in the Boland and not in the Klein karoo. We were following the weather forecasts by radio.

We decided to catch our first shut-eye between Oudtshoorn and Calitzdorp for 3 hours so we can get going at daybreak. Two km away from our destination we saw this lonesome light coming from the front, Michelle Gahan. She was lying in third position and still had to cross the pass. She was more than 200 km behind us. We admired her tenacity and courage to be travelling woman alone in the elements and for that distance. Through our WhatsApp groups we were kept up to date about who packed up and how far each competitor was on the course. At that point it was only Salim (a couple of minutes behind Michelle) in the fourth and last position, too still having to cross the pass.

At our planned stop we quickly showered and tried to heat ourselves with the next shift’s dry clothes. Night time in the Karoo is cold and with a lack of glucose in the body the body’s ability to heat itself up, is lessened.

Ladismith, the last solid meal before home
Ladismith, the last solid meal before home

By 07:00 we were on our way, feeling the breeze from the front picking up. We still had protection against it in Huisrivier pass, outside Calitzdorp, but once we were on our way to Ladismith we had the wind in the face, increasing in ferocity up to the Lord Charles hotel, where we finished in Somerset west. Due to the ability to track us, Rob Walker, driving the safety car, could find us at a local restaurant in Ladismith, us eating their last rump steak, which had more fat than meat and we did not mind.

Finding food along the way during daytime is possibly not difficult if you have time to scout and time for the meal to be prepared. I packed ample amounts of cheese in my drop bags and luggage, supplying fat energy for the long haul. I used over 800 Cal/hr, with an eventual calculated total of 45,000 Cal. This was not supplied through food and drinks alone. Both Chris and I wasted away, becoming contenders for Mr Concentration camp.

The ride was not all about covering the distance as fast as possible. We had some fun. We stopped twice at Ronnie’s Sex Shop between Barrydale and Ladismith. The second time, possibly due to fatigue, I saw from afar: ‘Ronnie’s Sex Swop’ and I wondered how I could have missed that the first time, because it now made perfect sense to me. The roof of the bar is covered with bras, hanging with all shapes and sizes, so I determined the owners swopped their ‘dubbelloop slingervelle’ (traditional weapons) for something Ronnie had to offer!

We arrived in Barrydale at nightfall, nearly 2 days in the saddle now. We realised that with the wind there was no chance of doing a fast time. Finishing was the priority. At the rate at which the wind was sapping our energy we realised we were at risk of not finishing at all. We decided to do a shut-eye at the backpackers for 3 hours. As we were readying ourselves to leave by 22:30 Michelle and Salim arrived, dropped off by Rob Walker. We were now the only 2 contestants left. We tackled Wildehondskloof pass now from the steep side. Luckily it was dark so we could not see the never ending road. The wind hit us as we crested. The downhill to Montagu was reward for a long suffering. However, we ran dry with water and we could not find a tap in town without risking an irate house owner or jumping fences with a dog taking a chomp from you.

We hit the front properly as we went into Ashton and rain as we left Robertson. The temperature drop was significant, bringing it close to zero. The snow clouds were moving over theWitzenberge and Breederiver valley. Between Robertson and Worcester we had our first mechanical, my right hand pedal loosening up. One of my clients stayed on a farm 5 km away and we missed the turn-off to the farm several times. We needed to find a spanner to tighten the pedal. It turned out not to be the pedal, but the insert in the carbon crank that delaminated. Eventually it failed totally, but fortunately close enough to a control and with enough time in hand to source a replacement bike, albeit neither the extra 90 minutes sitting in the cold, wind and wet, nor the stress of such a problem so close to the finish were welcomed.

Waiting for a bike in the wet and cold outside Villiersdorp
Waiting for a bike in the wet and cold

It was heart warming to see the responses on WhatsApp, people riding out with their vehicles to cheer us on to the finish in the final stretch. This was made possible through the tracker system so people could constantly be informed of our progress.

Almost home

Eventually the finishing time was 66:55 hours. We climbed close to 14,000 m, with 1,039 km on the clock.

Tired and satisfied
Tired and satisfied

An experience like this cannot go by without reflecting on the impact it has on your life. You were part of making history. Very few have done what we have done. Very few have attempted to do what we as a group have done. The question is it the sport or discipline forming your character or is it your character making you select this kind of activity? I think it is a little bit of both.

To be successful in doing this kind of activity you need to be an independent, highly disciplined, have a singleness of purpose, a capacity for suffering, not taking no for an answer kind of guy. You have to be a sucker for punishment and have a capacity to manage pain and suffering. Mentally you have to be rock hard and very single minded with an extra dose of courage. You are just not an ordinary kind of person. Any ordinary kind of person can do it, but will not excel when circumstances start to overwhelm them. Having said all this there are still basic pillars one need to base your attempt on:

1. Respect the distance

No matter how fit or well prepared you are it is worthwhile and sensible to respect the size of the job at hand.

2. Pace yourself and if in doubt, go slower

The success of a successful endurance athlete is his understanding of spreading his energy over the full distance. The key is constant effort and not constant pace. If you do this you need not fear climbs and wind because you are still keeping constant effort.

3. Know your abilities

One of the purposes of training is to get to know what you are capable of in a given moment, physically and mentally. With this make-up and prior knowledge you will have to make best with what lies ahead of you. You don’t have to be super fit to complete an ultra distance.You just need to know your abilities.

4. Have courage to conquer the unknown

Many times we don’t take the ship out of the harbour. Try distances that are completely bizarre. Once you have conquered them you have a confidence for similar attempts.

5. Be your own greatest encourager

Mohammed Ali and now Donald Trump, taught us that you need to be your own greatest cheerleader, especially on the lonely road where the negative inner voice would want to convince you of failure.

6. Quitting is NOT an option

Rather rest and start again or change your expectations. Quitting is permanent. Quitting should not be part of the internal conversation or external, when riding with others. Quitting becomes easy when there is an easy way out like a support crew/vehicle that can collect you or when others in your group quit, leaving you as the only participant.

7. Overcome the boredom

Riding day in and out can become very monotonous. It will be difficult if you have not yet overcome it in training. You must be able to keep your mind active and focused. I find my Garmin with my bio-feedback a way to keep my mind active. Some plug an earphone in the ear to listen whatever they want to.

8. Exercise patience

Ultra distances are not completed or won on the first day. Since you will be riding much slower than during your normal distances, exercise patience. If you become impatient you will ride faster and pay the interest late on.

9. Eat the elephant bite by bite

Whatever the goal is you need to accomplish, whether the full distance or the sections between controls, break the goal up in manageable sections. Even the portions you share the pace can be planned. There is a sense of accomplishment when you complete a set goal. You are one step closer to the final goal. Chris and I came to points over time that we became so tired that we needed to pep one another and the saying was: ‘just keep moving and moving in the right direction. How fast, does not matter.’

10. Keep the internal conversation positive

When I train on my own there are always two persons present: me and myself. Many times they have a long conversation going. I monitor the conversation like a fly on the wall and umpire it. The moment the conversation goes negative I blow the whistle for time out. I need to understand when and how this conversation takes a bad turn. If it is because of fatigue I need to address the fatigue before it becomes a stumbling block, because fatigue makes cowards of us all. Others are just not accustomed to have only themselves to speak to. They run out of topics and fight with themselves.


It was a fantastic venue and very challenging. If the level of challenge wants to be maintained for future events, keep the route, but let riders qualify. Keep the tracker system. It was a fantastic idea and will make events like these open to the public and increase attention for these kind of these events.


PS, thanks to Spot Africa for providing the tracking systems – it worked beautifully and kept the attention of a number of supporters, local and abroad. Find them online or visit their facebook page.

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