Argus 2013 – What a Ride!

Words: Cheryl Whelan ǀ Photos: Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust

Road Cycling

I've been an avid cyclist for the past ten years, competing in many races around Johannesburg, as well as in Warmbaths, Heidelberg and Pretoria, but I've never had the opportunity or time to ride the biggest timed cycle race in the world – the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour. However, 2013 was the year for me to experience what had been on the lips of Sir Richard Branson and many elite and novice cyclists, and it was an event that I was really looking forward to competing in.



After finishing several Johannesburg-based 94.7 races, with a personal best time of 2:58 in 2010, I was told that the Argus was much easier than 'Joburg's toughest race', and with 35,000 riders taking part, it must be … right? I was totally unprepared for this race in terms of knowing the route and what critical points to look out for, but I had already decided that I was going to enjoy the race and take in as much of the atmosphere as possible. My time was not an issue.


The weather report for race day was an important factor for many people, and Friday morning's newspaper headline stated, “Heat and wind to make heavy weather for slower cyclists.” This was definitely not what I had hoped to read, especially seeing that I had geared myself up for an easy ride.


The start in Cape Town's city centre was superbly organised, and the excitement amongst the participants was tangible and I couldn't help but get swept up and carried along. The gun went off at 6:30 a.m., sounding the start of the 36th edition of this iconic race. I started in the 'W' group at 7:12 a.m.; a perfect time for me as it was not too early or too late.


We headed out of town and onto the M3 highway where we encountered the first signs of Cape Town's notorious winds. We were also riding into the sun, making it impossible to see the throngs of spectators that lined the side of the road. At this point, I realised that if I was going to enjoy the ride and not have to expel too much energy in the process, I was going to have to stay in a group of ten or more cyclists. Drafting is a very important tactic when it comes to saving energy in cycling and in a tight, single-file line, a back rider is able to take advantage of the slipstream created by the front rider and save an estimated 40% energy.


At the eleven kilometre mark, we saw our first climb of 135 m up Edinburgh Drive looming. Heart rates were pushed above 90% and the groups started to thin out as the stronger cyclists seemed to turn their pedals with ease and power away. After this tough climb it was easy cycling (as long as you stayed in your group and out of the head-on wind) down the M3, past Newlands and Wynberg, and through the small coastal towns of St James, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, Glencairn and Simons Town towards Muizenberg. With approximately 70 km left to go, I was feeling fresh and very happy with the stunning route so far.


The support from the residents in the towns that we passed through was amazing! They cheered us on, encouraging us to keep going, all to the sounds of music playing in the background. It actually felt like we were riding in our own Tour De France. Unfortunately, I was concentrating so hard that I was unable to look up and acknowledge the effort they made, as one mistake could have seen my group of about 50 cyclists end up in a terrible accident. All eyes had to be on the wheel of the cyclist in front of you, with the odd glance to see where the route was headed.


The second big climb of the route came as we left the picturesque coastline and were passing Table Mountain National Park. Smitswinkel saw us climb 142 m and once again the climb thinned out the group as they ground their way up. Once at the top, there was an amazing stretch of road that was covered on both sides by trees, creating a much-needed shaded area and an ideal section to pick up the pace and regroup.



With two short hills to go, we headed towards the Atlantic Ocean and town of Scarborough. This was a pleasant and relaxing 15 km ride along the West Coast, which allowed us to recuperate as we would need all our strength and more when we reached Noordhoek and the start of Chapman's Peak, a climb of 170 m to the top. For me this was the toughest part of the race. It was a long 10 km/h climb and not even the breathtaking view of the ocean on the left could distract me from this gruelling ordeal. Some of the riders seemed to glide up 'Chappies' like they had a motorised engine installed on their bikes, but for many it was a time to get off their bikes and catch their breath before tired legs battled the next few metres. Reaching the end of Chapman's Peak was the highlight of my ride and I rewarded myself with a refreshment stop and took a few moments to take in the amazing scenery that surrounded us and the view of Hout Bay beneath us – only 30 km to go!


I knew there was one more big climb to go after Hout Bay, so I enjoyed the 5 km freewheel down into this quaint town, which was alive with residents shouting and cheering us on from both sides of the road. They knew what was in store for us up ahead and that we would need every bit of encouragement and motivation to make it up the 87 m climb of Suikerbossie. It doesn’t seem like a long climb when you compare it to the others, but after 89 km of riding, this is the last obstacle you want in your way. With my head down and a look of determination on my face, I got through Suikerbossie surprisingly comfortably and was ready to tackle the last 14 km of flat road to the finish, where the last line of spectators waited and my four hour, 110 km journey would come to an end.


Congratulations to the winners; Herman Fouche in a blistering time of 02:39:53 and Anriëtte Schoeman in 02:52:51.


The most obvious benefit with races and events of this magnitude is the ability to bring the nation and communities together. You don’t need to be a regular cyclist or a very fit person to be able to compete and finish these events - although it is highly advisable to do some sort of training to prepare your body for what’s ahead, as well as enjoy the experience more. You also don’t need to have the most sophisticated bicycle to cross the finish line. These events are what you make of them and how you decide to go about competing. I will never be a top cyclist nor would I want to be, but the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour will definitely be on my calendar for 2014. Will it be on yours?


Did you know?

Approximately R700,000,000 worth of equipment cycled through Cape Town's roads at the 2013 Argus.


Related articles:

An Epic Journey (Issue 23, p. 50)
Emperor's Palace Road Race (Photo gallery)
Surviving the 94.7 Challenge (Digital article Nov '12)