Coronation Double Century 2014
The Double Century or “DC” is a highlight of the South African road-riding calendar. It is a 200km single stage team race starting in Swellendam and progressing up the Trudaux pass, winding through breathtaking scenery that includes premier vineyards and I am reliably informed the home of the dried fruit industry in Montague, returning to Swellendam via three rather challenging hills. Unlike the individually seeded races that would place stronger riders in the early start group the DC teams of 12 are seeded according to their previous finish time if they have previously competed or slowest to fastest to simplify the explanation. There is a cumpulsory stop, in Ashton, at 120km into the race, Teams are allowed a maximum of 30 minutes in the support area where they can refuel and rest with the assistance of a team support vehicle. These 30 minutes are not calculated into the overall time. This year, due to the number of teams that had entered, the vehicle could not follow behind the participants to the finish. A second stop, in Bonnyvale, with the same rules but half the time at 15 minutes, was introduced.
In 2013 I was fortunate enough to be invited to ride with the Jeppe Quondum team and we managed a respectable 07h20 that included two punctures, a broken spoke and a broken chain. We estimated that we had lost approximately 20 minutes to the mechanical issues. 2014 was therefore an opportunity to ride under seven hours and compete, once again in what must be one of the most beautiful cycle races in the world.
The DC is one week after the 94.7 Cycle Challenge, so logistics and recovery are a challenge. It is a Saturday and not Sunday race so for the working sportsman Friday, a day of precious leave, must be offered up to the cycling gods so that the Johannesburg based team can fly to Cape Town and drive to Swellendam to register, check bicycles, have dinner and then pretend to sleep for a few hours before the race starts. There is naturally no accommodation to be had for a team of 12 plus 12 (Jeppe had two teams this year) in Swellendam so we stayed in Montegue. Our 2013 performance meant that we were started 50 minutes later than the dawn start of Jeppe B. It still didn’t help me, notorious for only waking up 30 minutes after the ride has started. The logistics of staying 30km away from the start line and having to think about nutrition, warm clothing and clothes to change into at the finish is all too much. I ended up getting myself into the vehicle with my cleats and helmet in the correct cycling kit. I took it as a win.
The thought of a second Jeppe team that had left nearly an hour earlier had all of the makings of a greyhound race, with the rabbit motoring along ahead. We set off and a comfortable pace. The team – Alan, Pat, David, Mike, Justin, Rob, Declan, Richard and I. going through 30km the horrible snap of carbon spelled certain disaster for someone. A spoke gave way on the rear wheel of Mike’s bike. It is a carbon wheel so although we all put brave faces on we silently knew that it was doomed to disintegrate, eventually. Had we been able to ride gingerly to the support vehicle it would not have been as agonizing, but with Tredaue pass ahead the thought of a 60-80km per hour decent on the other side would dissuade even the craziest of cyclists (read me) to pull off. Mike did an astounding job of keeping it together up the pass and near the first decent the wheel took the shape of a developing market currency.
It was on this particular climb that I began to notice my body temperature. Rob starting pushing and I was very thankful. It was tough going. I ended up cresting and then blowing through the stop at the top to try and take advantage of the momentum and cycle hard into the undulating hills that lead to Montague. I go downhill fast and we lost half the bunch this way. Still, I was hopeful that I would be able to keep the momentum into Ashton and beyond.
At the first long stop I was hallucinating. I was hot, fatigued and could not imagine the next 90km that included the 3 sisters at the end. I started hyperventilating at the thought. I ate a bacon sandwich. A bit of a tradition on this ride, I remounted my bike with the crew and set off again. We got into an Investec bunch early on. Alan and the strong fellows pulled ahead. One of the bankers hit the tarmac at 60km/h. It was ugly. I avoided it by seconds and regrouped with Jeppe. It was not going well. I started heaving. The first bit of bacon sandwich escaped in a rather civilized way but the 32GI behind it had other ideas. Al was trying to drag me back into the bunch and I was having none of it. The Jeppe Boys are way to good to drop a fellow cyclist and go so I did what I considered necessary and rode into the middle of a field and stopped. Alan took a look back at me projectile vomiting and headed put to the next stop at Bonnyvale. When he got to the vehicle he told Del to alert a medic. I was done.
I am a stubborn fellow. I managed to cycle through to the next stop and fortunately for me Dr. Selikson had a look. Rehydrate and the removal of my under armor vest. Moron. I had dehydrated. I took a few gulps of air, some more rehydrate and then get back on the bike. I headed out toward the last 40km with a view to catch Jeppe B. I saw them on the horizon as I crested the third and final climb. Riding into Swellendam just behind them I had come back from the dead and learned some important lessons about the race. On to 2015.