Updated: Jun 21, 2019
Let's start with this: I know I am very fortunate to be here. Not lucky because I don't believe in luck except for when you win raffles and the lottery. I'm fortunate because my work has brought me to South Africa on an annual basis for almost 10 years. Cape Town was the first city in Africa that I ever visited and I instantly fell in love with it. My first visit here changed my outlook on life because I came and stayed in a hotel with a view of table mountain from my window. But I barely left my room and was stuck in working. It was an experience that made me rethink the whole airport - taxi - hotel - office style of business trip. How could I visit somewhere so beautiful and spend no time looking around? What a wasted opportunity. I decided to change that by adding extra time to my business trips after that. Even half a day can be worth it if you get a local to show you a mix of popular tourist haunts and personal favourites.
The other reason for falling in love with this place is the Cape Argus or the Cape Town Cycle Tour as it is now known. What started as a way of highlighting the need for better road safety has turned into the worlds biggest timed cycle race. More than 36,000 people ride in it every year over a 108km of closed roads. The city spends a week celebrating the bicycle and it has become a bucket list event for any South African cyclist. The moment I heard about on my first visit I knew I would come back to ride it. I have entered every year since then, only making it here on four out of eight attempts and only actually getting around two and half times (of which more later).
Once business colleagues and clients figured out I loved the race, they made a habit of booking me to work in early March every year knowing I would come (at a discounted rate!).
Having arrived via a flight to Johannesburg on Thursday morning I set off to register at the Expo, where I happily spent two hours wondering around getting into the mood for cycling. However I hadn’t planned to ride on day one and instead after registration I relaxed at the nearby Victoria Docks shopping, eating and watching a film. On Friday morning I went out for a shake down ride for both bike and rider. This took me down the coastal road in the reverse direction to Sunday’s race, through the suburbs of Bantry Bay, with its millionaires’ houses carved into the cliff and on to Camps Bay where tourists tend to stop and look out over the beaches. I kept going though, on towards the next town to the south, Haut Bay, which gave me a nice 5km/4% climb to test my legs. The climb brings you to the top of a hill called Suikerbossie before you plunge down the other side which is just 1.5km, but obviously much steeper. This hill has beaten me the only times I reached during the race. With 90km in your legs when you hit the bottom, it looks like one long unrelenting straight line and many people are beaten in their heads long before their legs. This was certainly the case for me in previous year, so on this ride I went down it specifically to come straight back up and put that daemon to rest. Once I had crested the top, it was straight back down to Camps Bay and the road back towards Cape Town.This time I avoided the easy coastal road and instead went inland to the parallel road going up Kloof Nek an 8% climb and onto Signal Hill where it ramps up to 11%. When a city is built around a mountain there is no way to avoid tough climbs, but the effort was worth it though to get the views from Signal Hill (the clue is in the name). What was concerning though, was that on the way back down the wind was really buffeting me all over the place, bringing back memories of my last visit in 2017, when the whole race was cancelled because of 100kph winds in the starting grid. You may have seen the now infamous videos on YouTube of riders barely able to hold their bikes on the ground while winds blow them all over the roads. They look funny now, but at the time getting blown 5 metres sideways on the road was no joke.
Two years before that in 2015 the ride was cut in half by bush fires raging through the hills in Haut Bay making the roads too dangerous to ride. Again this was no joke as people died as the fires rapidly spread through a neighbouring township. The only two times I have completed therefore where in 2010 & 2011 when a combination of injury and being overweight and out of shape meant I couldn’t break 4:30. I hope for much better this year but who knows. Two hours into a headwind on Friday morning suggests I could be even slower if the weather doesn’t improve.
On Friday afternoon I took a guided tour around Cape Town and I heard some great stories and drank great coffee. But if you want to hear more, you will have to download the Riding the Long Way Home podcast next week. No, that’s not a joke, I really am recording a new podcast. Is there no end to this bloke’s talent /arrogance I hear you cry?! All will be revealed to the (three) people who download what may be the first and last podcast I do. Who knows...