Monday, 9 March 2009

2009 Cycling for Mercy...

"Hey, you're cycling for Mercy Ships!" This was what a fellow competitor in the Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour exclaimed to me as I cycled past, with a Mercy Ships flag blowing proudly in the strong south-easterly wind. I looked back and said, "Yep, have you heard of them?" To this she said, "For sure! I plan on joining them next year!"

This conversation was one of the highlights on what was otherwise a really challenging 2009 Tour. There was a storm-force wind gusting at up to 160 km/h (that's 100 miles/hour) and many cyclists were literally blown off their bikes and unceremoniously dumped on the tarmac.

The start was difficult to say the least. Just 100 metres after the start line we emerged out of the relative shelter of the business district of Cape Town and were slammed by the howling south-easter. Most cyclists, myself included, had to dismount and push for several metres before being able to get enough momentum to get back on the bike. It was very scary. A mere five kilometres into the race, the effects of the wind were clear. People were abandoning, turning back to the comfort of their cars, parked in the centre of town. However, I pushed through the tough first half of the race, as the route wound its way out of the city and through the picturesque coastal towns of Fish Hoek and Simon's Town, towards the Cape Point Nature Reserve. As cyclists made the gradual climb of Smitswinkel up towards the reserve's main gate, the wind went from being a terrible enemy to a best friend. Here the route turns towards the other side of the Cape Peninsula and the wind is an immense help as you speed down past halfway and through the beautiful conservation villages of Scarborough and Misty Cliffs. My time at halfway (55 kms) was three hours. About 45 minutes behind schedule due to the wind.

But the second half of the ride whizzed by, despite the climb of Chapman's Peak Drive, a breathtaking coastal road that winds itself hundreds of metres above the Atlantic Ocean before heading down to Hout Bay. The final climb of Suikerbossie (Afrikaans: "Little Sugar Bush"), which climbs steeply up from Hout bay, went much better than usual and then the final fifteen kilometres along the Atlantic Seaboard down through the upmarket suburbs of Llandudno, Camp's Bay and Clifton went really well. I usually struggle over the last part of the ride, but this year I dug deep and found some much-needed adrenalin. I finally arrived at the finish in Green Point, under the shadow of the brand-new 2010 Soccer World Cup stadium construction project, to complete my 19th consecutive Argus Cycle Tour.

Despite the wind some 25,000 of the 35,000 entered cyclists completed the race. My time was officially 5 hours 12 minutes, placing me at position 13,000 of the 25,000 riders. I will happily take that. After all, it is not everyday you get to do the sport you love and combine it with creating awareness for the global charity that you're involved with - Mercy Ships - and not to mention cycle 110 kilometres of some of the world's most scenic roads in the world's largest-timed cycling event!

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