Riding the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour

March 10, 2011

(photos (c) Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust)

In March 2010, I was in Cape Town for business. As part of that trip, I rode the Argus Tour and fell in love with it. 35,000 people riding their bike, huge crowds dotting the course and scenery that can compete with any ride anywhere in the world – what’s not to love?

Come to think of it, just one thing: To ride the Argus Tour in mid-March, us Northern-hemispherians have to train in weather that couldn’t be farther from what we can expect in Cape Town. Last year the training pre-Argus consisted of three 60k rides, this year I decided to take it more seriously. With six rides under my belt, I got onto the plane.

Arriving in Cape Town mid-week, the city was already buzzing. It’s a great experience to see a city taken over by cyclists, and not have anybody complain. The locals seem to truly love this event, and go out of their way to make everybody feel welcome.

The “locals” means not only the residents, whose streets are blocked for the course and whose favorite cafes are occupied by (sports) celebrities big and small (this year’s event included Miguel Indurain, Stephen Roche, Maurizio Fondriest, Daley Thompson, Morné du Plessis and many more), it also means companies like Pick ‘n Pay who host their guests with incredible hospitality even if, for example in my case, all they can ever hope to receive in return is that I buy a few bananas at their local grocery.

The fact that on the morning of the race, the 80-year old former chairman of Pick ‘n Pay and his wife were at the start at 6am to wish participants good luck tells you how everybody embraces this event.

Shortly after receiving his well-wishes, were were off for our 110k. Last year we were in a very fast starting group, so when 100 riders formed a peloton, it was easy to be part of it. This year we started in a much slower group, so when six riders took off I thought it might be my only chance for some good speed and I jumped in. A minute later I realized that was a mistake, and on the first climb I decided to ride my own pace.

Immediately I was overtaken by another group of 15, with Stephen Roche sitting in the middle smiling. I wouldn’t see him again until the finish. It’s not until the first big climb, Boyes Road, that you realize how amazing the organization of this event is. You’re riding ten wide and when you look up all you can see are hundreds and hundreds of colorful jerseys rocking back and forth up the hill.

To keep this course clear of traffic and safe, to have food, massages, medical assistance and technical support of the highest quality and to still make people feel like it’s a family event is no small feat, and the group around Dave Bellairs pull it off with what seems like no effort at all.

After Boyes Road a small group is formed that includes Mr. Pink & Drive, Mr. Sleeveless and Miss Nedbank. It’s amazing how in a sea of 35,000, there are people you see over and over again. You may drop them on a climb and get caught again on the descent, and as I identify them by their jerseys I tend to give them names (what else are you going to occupy your mind with).

With 30k to go it is time for Chapman’s Peak, generally considered the toughest climb. But today it seems a lot easier than in the training ride, must be the wind direction. Whether it is the conditions or my condition, I fly up Chappy’s (using the term flying lightly) and push it on the descent to the final climb, Suikerbossie.

I have a love-hate relationship with this climb, it loves to hurt me while I hate to climb it. It’s a straight and very wide road, so it seems to never end.

From the top of Suikerbossie, it is more or less downhill except that just like last year, the headwind makes it slow. Realizing there is time to be gained here, I push it on the descent which is not a pleasant experience. Most riders take it easy here so there isn’t much help, and anybody you catch is caught for a reason and usually also not much help to make you go faster.

As usual, I finish a little too fast and upon crossing the finish line, my back decides to lock itself in one position (and it isn’t “straight”). Oh well, it pays off with an 18 minute improvement over last year, which was roughly what I was hoping/expecting. But it doesn’t really matter, and Stephen Roche’s ride exemplifies that.

He was probably 15 minutes ahead of me by the time he reached Chapman’s Peak, but then he decided to stop and wait for some friends (including Cyclosport’s Sven Thiele). He waited so long that he ended up finishing behind me, but he had a wonderful time, as did everybody in our group of 20. Some reached the podium in their category, some finished for the first time, but the common denominator is that we will all be back next year. I can’t wait.

2 Responses to “Riding the Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour”

  1. So, going to try and crack a sub-3 hour next year? Considering you’ve done the race twice, and know hte terrain and conditions, would you go for lighter wheels or a more aerodynamic set (eg SRAM S80 deep section wheels)?

    • I would definitely go for the most aero set-up, unless of course the wind is crazy. So without a doubt I would use an aero frame, as the wind has very little effect on that (so an S2, S3 or S5). Then if I had unlimited choice in wheels, I would use 40, 50 or 60mm wheels depending on the wind.

      Obviously you could use 80mm wheels too but it would be rare for there to be no wind and in those big groups, you have to make a responsible choice so I would err on the side of caution. And when you look at for example a new Zipp 303, that’s a very aero wheel with little side wind vulnerability. The new 3T rim profile is deeper but apparently also cuts down on side wind vulnerability, I’ve got to try that soon.

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