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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.