So we’re back in the UK after our big South African adventure. It would be unfair to say that everything went off without a hitch…upon arriving in Cape Town we were immediately taken for a drive of the route so we could scope out what we had let ourselves in for. The hills were a little more substantial than the gradient maps had given us to believe, the particularly nasty one, Chapman’s Peak, left both of us feeling pretty nervous despite the stunning view at the top.
After a very idyllic stop at a coastal bar for a drink (of water) and some squid we returned to our room in Cape Town hoping to go out for a first test ride of the new racing tandem. Unfortunately this was not to be…the bike shop that provided the bike had decided (in their great wisdom) to give us a set of pedals geared for mountain bike cleats instead of the one that fitted the road bike shoes that we had brought with us from London. These pedals were eventually delivered to us later on that night, but it meant that we weren’t going to be able to go out and find our balance before our planned ride the next day. The moral of this story is to always carry a spare set of pedals around with you…obviously.
The next morning (Saturday) with a fully equipped bike we ventured out onto the Cape Town roads. After a shaky couple of minutes because of the size of the new wheels we managed to get 6km of balancing practice in. Two veterans of the Tour then met us: Horst Prosser and Les Salo who took us out to cover the last 20km of the course. Les was about to compete in his 34th Argus and Horst chose not to compete because he rode the course three times a week anyway and didn’t think it was anything special! So we were in very good hands!
Despite our expert guides this ride was not all plain sailing. Our first climb out of Cape Town saw our bike start to produce some rather ominous squeaking noises from the back wheel. We stopped to examine the wheel and it emerged that the back break was rubbing so much so that the wheel was being stopped from turning. We soldiered on though in the hope that we would find a bike shop to fix the problem, but as the ride continued more things started to fall apart. Molly stopped being able to change the gears and the front break also decided to start complaining. 5km from stopping and just when we didn’t think anything else could go wrong, we rode over a cat eye and got a very fast puncture in our front wheel…the ride culminated in us limping the tandem back on a very flat front tyre. We were forced to the conclusion that our new tandem was the bike equivalent of a Ferrari…very fast but equally temperamental.
After a pretty excellent brunch and much heroic organization from Molly’s grandparents, the bike was collected and taken away to be mended. It was eventually returned to us, 12 hours before we were due to leave for the start of the race.
We woke up bright and early (5:15) after having had a fairly disturbed night thanks to some rather inconsiderate neighbors. The ride down to the start was not quite as straightforward as it could have been…you’re given a starting group and a colour to help marshal you and we succeeded in following the wrong marshaling group to the wrong point, but this was solved quickly. It was a pretty electric atmosphere with all the other cyclists waiting to be fed through to the start line. A grand total of 30,000 cyclists took part and it was really possible to feel the excitement amongst them as we waited to load. We found ourselves attracting a lot of attention the combination of our jerseys and the fact we were a female tandem seemed to be very novel.
We were set off with the rest of the international riders at 8:15 and before we knew it we were well on our way along the coast and down through the outskirts of Cape Town. Much to our surprise we found ourselves matching pace and overtaking some pretty quick riders. This continued as we got further along the course and as we rode up Edinburgh Drive we met the first crowd of spectators. There were many shouts of ‘you can do it tandem!’ and ‘do it for the girls’. It wasn’t just the crowds who were cheering us on; our fellow riders all seemed to have quite a lot to say about and to us. We started a tally on the number of times we heard ‘she’s not pedaling’ and there was also a lot of ‘aren’t tandems supposed to be slower up hill?’ Our personal favorite had to be the universal cry of ‘catch the tandem!’ as other riders tried to slipstream us on the flats and down hill.
We went through the 60km marker, much to our surprise, at bang on 2 hours and it was at that point that we realized that we might be going pretty quickly. We didn’t dare start to think about the final time knowing that the worst two hills were yet to come and that we tend to cap out at speed uphill (we can’t go any quicker than 12kph). Our biggest fear was the aforementioned Chapman’s Peak, which had seemed far bigger than anything we’d done before when we drove it in the car. As it turned out it was fairly straightforward and we succeeded in annoying quite a few of our fellow riders with our chattering all the way up.
After we reached the summit of that hill things felt like they were going to get a lot easier. Before we knew it we’d hit the roundabout we’d ridden to the day before and it all felt very doable. Little did we know that the worst part of our ride was yet to come. Suickerbosse, we had been told, was going to be the hardest climb of the ride. We had scoffed at this the day before; it had seemed as nothing in comparison to the gradient of Chapman’s Peak…we were proved wrong. Coming up to midday we started to climb it and realized, very quickly, that it was not going to be a walk in the park. The heat had reached it’s peak and there was no shade to speak of. To make things more interesting someone decided to step out in front of us as we started to build up speed to climb the hill, Molly did an excellent job of steering out of the way but he did get an earful from both of us! We carried on at a somewhat slower pace but about a quarter of the way up our gears (which had been playing up since Chapman’s Peak) decided to give up as we changed down and the chain came off! Luckily for us a knight in shining armour jumped out from the crowd and put our chain back on. The whole incident only lasted a minute and we rode off again with cheers from the crowd.
We reached the summit in a very sweaty and panting style but after that the last few kilometers felt like a breeze. As we hit the coastal road leading into Cape Town and the finish line we decided it was time to empty the tank. Our last 5km was cycled at a blistering (for us) 44kph and we crossed the finish line having to swerve around some riders who had decided to finish holding hands. Standing up after that was a touch challenging but the feeling of euphoria was very real!
There are a few very important people we need to thank for such a fantastic experience. Molly’s wonderful grandparents; Jeff and Kate, the incredibly professional Horst and Les and most importantly all of you who have donated! If you haven’t donated by now then you really should…it’s a fabulous cause and we rode our socks off!
This won’t be the last you hear from us either, there are plans in the pipeline to get back on the tandem…after our posteriors have recovered of course!