Cape 1000km test ride report, by Rob Walker. 18 June 2015, 9pm.

They say that mad dogs and Englishman go out in the midday sun, but there doesn’t seem to an equivalent saying for Cape Randonneurs gathering for a 1,000km Audax at 9pm on a cold mid-winters night – beyond just simply “mad” that is.

Five riders set out from Vrede to embark on this epic adventure, numbers swelling to six by Wellington with Chris van Zyl catching the group after his delayed departure. The climb over Bainskloof was pitch black in the moonless night, and bitingly cold. But in every other sense it was a beautiful night to be out riding – myriad stars shining brightly in the crisp cloudless skies, and barely a breath of wind.

The war of attrition on riders started early though – our first rider succumbing at the 80km mark in Wolseley. It’s hard to get the body and legs warmed up in such cold conditions, amplifying cramps, pains and other ill feelings which under other circumstances might normally be ridden. Peter Muller was clearly battling, and made the difficult decision to retire.

With the impromptu break in Wolesley, the group made the decision to push straight on past Tulbagh a few kilometres down the road rather than stop again. A quick pitstop was taken in Porterville before chasing down the final 25km of rolling hills to the 2nd control at Piketberg. The early pace had been relatively swift and Chris, who had been off the front since after Bainskloof, was just starting to roll out of the busy truck stop as the group arrived. All joined up again and huddled inside trying to warm up over a variety of coffees and garage pies.

A short ramp started the next leg, the vast quarry  dropping away to the group’s left as the road rose up and around the edge of the mountains behind Piketberg. Once over the top the pace picked up again, aided both by the long downhill stretch and by Chris driving the group on. We had been forewarned that this stretch had long sections of Stop-Go roadworks. For the most part they were fine though, only becoming a problem in the final few kilometres before Velddrif when volume of traffic, and especially heavy trucks, picked up as daylight broke over Berg estuary and West Coast flatlands.

Velddrif at around 220km saw most of us gathered again in a garage – scoffing yet more pies and coffee. Only Nico elected to hit the delights of the local OK store. As we headed out again this would be the last we’d see of Nico on the ride. He opted for a 10 minute nap to cure the dozies which were beginning to set in. Once rolling again he broke 2 spokes in his rear wheel as he pushed to catch us up, and became our 2nd DNF of the day, stopping at Langebaan. The rest of us stopped briefly at the 3rd official control in Saldanha, before heading for pizzas at a much celebrated and oft visited waterfront restaurant in Langebaan. Those of us visiting for the first time were not disappointed – the pizzas were excellent and the views even better. It was hard to leave, but there was still close on 150km of riding left in the first leg.

The next section through the West Coast Park and on to Darling was both delightful, and also almost the only part of the ride which saw us shedding layers and actually warming up in the afternoon sunshine. The stark cold beauty of the night had given way to a glorious day to be out on the bikes. Sadly Darling saw our 3rd retiree of the day – Theunis’ saddle woes had struck again, and his rear was way too painful to continue. The lure of that first 1,000km medal was still strong though as Desiree pulled up to give him a lift home – and the temptation to try and ride on despite the extreme discomfort was visible even as he started to load his bike into the car.

Three riders down, three remaining. In true champion form, Chris was relaxed and cruising – the pace so much lower than his norm that he commented his legs felt as fresh as on a coffee ride. The same could not be said of Gary and myself – we’d pulled well above our comfort zones the whole day, and the strain was slowly beginning to show over the last rollers into Malmesbury. It wasn’t a control on this occasion, but the temptation for a quick stop at the Wimpy for coffees and toasties was too great all the same.

It was indescribably hard to resist the temptation to take the short route straight back to Vrede – the official route being some 20km longer via the final control of the first leg in Paarl. As it turned out, it was actually a pleasant alternative to the normal direct route. It was surprisingly fast too, despite being a series of almost continuous rollers. Tired legs and bodies had been refuelled, and spirits were lifted with the home stretch of this leg in sight.

Paarl was busy with it being a Friday evening, and riding through the outskirts we passed a serious car accident with blue lights flashing and police cars rushing around. It was a sobering sight, and an unwanted reminder of how fragile and exposed one is on a bicycle with such thoughtless idiots on the road. Once through the long stretch of town, there was just a final 17km or so and two small but unpleasant hills to push over. The group rolled back into Vrede at 9:20pm, just over 24hrs after leaving and with 443km in the bank. It had already become chilly again as night fell over the final section, and by the time we pulled into the gate temperatures were plummeting still further. Common sense took over and our remaining group of 3 riders decided to retire and savour the ride already completed rather than head out for a second night of bone chilling riding.

Rather surprisingly, it wasn’t the extra zero on the distance which thwarted our attempts – but the zero on our thermometers.

That elusive first 1,000km Cape Audax remains unclaimed but all vowed they would return to do battle again. Fittingly too for a test event, a few lessons were learned about how to improve the 1st leg – most notably that Wolseley is a better 1st control option the Tulbagh, and also that the 9pm start will be a very good start time for a summer version of the ride. Watch this space for details of next year’s edition – most likely around late March or April.

Future Cape Audaxes

For all of those who didn’t manage to attend the Cape Audax braai (and you missed a heck of a party!) – we are planning to stage further Cape Audaxes towards the end of this year and a full programme again for next year. Things will go a little quiet over the next couple of months as we prepare for and take part in PBP, but we will put up dates for the future rides sometime in September – most likely with rides to start again in October.