Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Cycling my 21st Argus Cycle Tour...

The Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour is one of the world’s most scenic cycle races. Held on the second Sunday of March every year in Cape Town, it takes in a breathtaking trip around the Cape Peninsula. With over 35,000 participants from all walks of life, each individually timed, it holds the honour of being the world’s largest timed cycling event.

This year, the 34th Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour was held on the 13th of March and the 110 kilometre route was won in a time of 2 hours 32 minutes and 10 seconds by Tyler Day of Team Bonitas Medscheme. While the professionals may blitz the route, it is the social riders whose day it really is. The professionals leave at 06h15 while the last group leaves at around 10h00.

The sixty or so groups, containing roughly seven hundred cyclists each, leave at three minute intervals and, with each rider having seven hours to complete the event, there is ample time to enjoy the scenery. I used to be one of those cyclists who wouldn't look at the scenery, because it was simply too dangerous. This was when I would start up front in the faster groups; the groups that contain the ardent cycling enthusiasts. However, nowadays I have rediscovered the social side of cycling. I find the racing itself simply too dangerous. I take it easy, soak up the scenery and talk to people along the route. And, more importantly, for the fourth year running I cycled to create awareness for Mercy Ships – in Mercy Ships cycling kit and with a large flag mounted on my bike.

It is waiting for the 45 minutes in my start group that I realize that this is it. I don’t know what it is, but there is something about it that strikes something emotional deep down inside me. This is the Argus. It’s not as if my life revolves around the Argus, but the Argus is the pinnacle of the South African cycling season – and a Crawford family tradition. After the start, there is no time for nerves or emotions. Once the race has started, all your training and pre-race strategy is simply theory. It is now the time to put that theory into practice. It’s time to cycle the Argus.

All of us have our own personal goals – be it to beat one’s best, or simply to finish – and this year was a perfect one to set a good time and enjoy the ride as well. I have been cycling this race since I was seven and now, participating in my 21st tour, I can’t remember a day so perfect. The temperature didn't get much beyond the mid-20s (Celcius) and there was a light breeze blowing off the coast along much of the route. My Dad, Mom, brother and myself all started together this year – and my Dad, brother and I rode the whole route together from start to finish. Our strategy was simple. Cycle the flats together in the bunches, and then on the climbs go at our own speed and regroup at the top of each climb. It worked really well, since we are currently all evenly matched in terms of fitness.

The Cycle Tour swings out of Cape Town's CBD and heads along Eastern Boulevard towards the first climb of Edinburgh Drive – also known as Wynberg Hill. This is a climb that, despite its gradual gradient and rather short length, has the ability of separating the packs. Having come after around fifteen kilometres, it can be brutal. If you haven’t warmed up and aren’t in a comfortable gear yet, you can be left behind. The important thing is to position yourself near the front of the group just before the climb, so as to allow yourself to still be in touch when you go over the top.

The Tour then heads onto the long fast stretch of road called the Blue Route. The faster groups go at speeds of between 40 and 50km/h and the professionals touch 60km/h. One wrong move and the whole pack can be brought down. Concentration is, therefore, key.

After the Blue Route comes Boyes Drive, another testing climb added to the race in 2009 because of roadworks along the Main Road. This ascent climbs up above the beach at Muizenberg and then declines steeply to Kalk Bay, where the route joins Main Road. This narrow road winds along the eastern seaboard of the Cape Peninsula through the picturesque seaside villages of Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, and Simon’s Town.

The next climb, Smitswinkel, comes several kilometres after Simon's Town. This is about five kilometres in length and starts out gradually and becomes steeper towards the top. It is here where the faster riders and good climbers can break. The top of this climb comes up to the main entrance to Cape Point Nature Reserve.

The road goes past the Cape Point Nature Reserve and down towards the halfway mark at 55 kilometres and then, from there on, through Scarborough and Misty Cliffs, on the western side of the Cape Peninsula. This part of the race is usually uneventful and the next twenty kilometres are easy cycling, with the wind making all the difference to one’s ability to stick with the pack.

The next major climb comes after 77 kilometres and is the scenic drive of Chapman’s Peak, a toll road that takes in breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean and the Sentinel, a prominent mountain outcrop that watches over the entrance to Hout Bay, a popular tourist destination. Cycling up this climb is easy, as it is relatively gradual and the spectacular views numb the feelings of pain and cramp that tend to crop up at this late stage of the race, if you haven’t prepared properly.

After the climb of “Chappies”, cyclists sweep down into Hout Bay and, almost immediately, tackle “The Beast” of the Argus, Suikerbossie (Afrikaans: “Sugar bush”). Although only a couple of kilometres in length, it is the steepest climb and rises the highest of all the climbs in the Argus. It is here where either your training pays off or your lack of training comes back to haunt you.

From the top of Suikerbossie, the route winds through the upper-class suburbs of Camps Bay and Clifton, characterised by lovely white beaches, and to the finish in Green Point, under the shadow of the brand-new Cape Town Stadium. In the end my Dad (20th tour), brother (22nd tour) and I (21st tour) finished in 4 hours 16 minutes... And I'll definitely take that since I was aiming for a sub-five hour Argus! But ultimately, one’s time is not all that important. To finish is the main accomplishment and to be able to say that you have competed in the world’s largest timed cycling event is an achievement in itself. And yes, my mother did finish – somewhat slower than us, but she completed her 20th Argus within the cut-off time!

The Cape Argus Pick ‘n Pay Cycle Tour is truly a unique tour. Not only does it take in the beauty of the Cape Peninsula, but it also raises funds for Rotary projects and other worthy causes throughout Cape Town. The Cycle Tour is run by the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust in collaboration with the Cape Argus newspaper; Pick 'n Pay, the shopping chain; Pedal Power Association (PPA), the main cycling body in the Western Cape, and the Rotary Club of Claremont. The partnership between the Western Cape government and the City of Cape Town is also key to making this event so successful.

If you can get time off work, then book a flight and come over to Cape Town in early March 2012, and see what all the fuss is about! But, more importantly, be a part of an event that really makes a difference and will keep you coming back for more. You will not be disappointed! For more information on entering this prestigious event go to the official Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour website or the PPA website.

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