Friday, 30 March 2012

The Adventure of a Lifetime

My obsession with all things pedal powered extends beyond Cape Town, and so it is that on the 27th of April 2012 I will be heading to the UK for an 8 day traverse of the landmass that is the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

The route from South East (Land's End) to the North West (John O Groats) follows secondary roads and helped along nicely by the prevailing trade wind. The total distance covered is almost 1000 miles (1,407km to be exact, thanks Wikipedia). Most people traverse the route over 10 to 12 days but my Giant and I will try to make the trip in a mere eight...

Eight days is by no means fast, nor even close to the insane cycle record of 44h4m20s, held by an apparent masochist in 2001 (again, thanks Wikipedia!) However, it does mean travelling between 180 and 230 km per day, which is certainly going to be a test.

The ride is part of an unprecedented global triathlon put together by my friend Cameron Bellamy, in support of the Angus Gillis Foundation in South Africa. The triathlon has been dubbed the Ubunye Challenge, and it's worth knowing about. If all goes to plan (and with Cameron in charge, somehow it will) this will be the first time in human history that a person, under his own power, cycles the length of the UK, swims the English Channel, and rows across the Atlantic in one year, or at all.

I love a good cause, and a good challenge! Cameron has kindly opened the challenge to certain invited guests, and I was thrilled when I cracked a nod. The kit-list is growing but ultimately I hope to make it through with a minimum of admin and fuss, learning as I go.

Needless to say many lessons will be learnt along the way, so keep coming back for updates on the progress of preparation and of course the tour itself.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

An Amateur's Tips for riding your Best Argus

Anyone can Beat their Best

I am still on a natural, endorphin-driven high after destroying my personal best Argus time by over 1 hour. In two years I have brought my finishing time down from 6h30 (2010) to 3h41 (2012). 

But there's an irony in this downward trend: Each of my three Argus attempts have been easier than the last! Experience, that masterful old teacher, has taught me a few tricks: 

  1. Get into a Group: For free speed, get into a group at all costs. If no group is near, suggest to the nearest similarly paced riders that you form one. There is nothing like the thrill of riding in formation with like-minded athletes. Cycling may be an individual sport for most of us, but there's a reason the best riders are in teams. Wind resistance drops to negligible levels in a well formed group - you'll be amazed at the resultant increase in speed.
  2. Pump your tires up: The harder your tires, the less rolling resistance you will experience and the faster you will go. Properly inflated tires are also less likely to suffer "snakebite" punctures from rim-pinching.
  3. Check your legs: If you are wary of cramping, get out of the saddle and stretch your legs before you get to the start of a climb. Check often for cramps and massage them out when the going is good. You will appreciate the precaution later when the group pace forces you up out of the saddle.
  4. Drink fluids and take on energy: Drink and eat regularly, before you feel thirsty or hungry. Ration yourself so that you don't run out of sustenance before the end of the race. 
  5. Carry everything on board: Stopping at the water-points may seem like a great idea, but ideally you want to carry everything you need to last the distance on board with you. Stopping for any reason will damage your finishing time.
  6. Pace yourself: Plot your goal time against the various checkpoints (the organisers actually give everyone a really useful sticker which does this) and don't succumb to the pressure to outpace yourself in the early stages.
  7. Give thanks: This is a tip I learnt in 2012. It's incredible to see the support that local Capetonians and riders' families give to all riders. Best of all, the support usually comes on the climbs, when you need it most (Suikerbossie is the best example). Take the time to shout a word of thanks to the supporters, and watch them erupt in acknowledgement of your heart-felt appreciation. Believe me, there is no better energiser than a crowd of people directing their support and well-wishes, however fleetingly, solely at you.
Everyone rides SA's biggest cycle race for different reasons, but I would confidently argue that everyone, whatever their motivation for cycling, wants to have their best ride. I hope I never fail to beat my PB, and it's tips like the above that are going to keep me on track.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

2012 Cape Argus Cycletour

South Africa's Best Bicycle Race

The Pick n Pay Cape Argus Cycletour (let's just call it the Argus) is without a shadow of doubt the best bicycle race in SA. I am by no means an impartial judge, but the numbers don't lie. No other race boasts a higher head-count, greater TV coverage, more prestige and more vibrant crowd support.

This year I had my best ever result of this best ever race. My 2010 Giant TCR Advanced was the true hero of the day as it skated along the tarmac at an as-yet unprecedented average speed of 31km/h. Credit must of course also be given to the weather gods who played their role impeccably, and last, but not least, my two legs deserve an honourable mention for not failing me once the entire day.

For anyone interested in cycling the Argus, Go For It! You will never regret the experience - arguably even if you have a nightmare of a time on the day. 

My experience of the ride was characterised by speed, stunning natural beauty, willing co-riders who formed accommodating bunches, exhilaration and the pure, unadulterated satisfaction that forms the reward of obliterating my personal best time by over an hour.