South African Cycling

My Given, Unridden Sunday …

2017-03-13 12:50
Cape Town Cycle Tour (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - Well, 72549 (my back-of-the-grid race number), I said to myself as philosophically as possible on mid-Sunday morning, at least I have staved off any possibility of failure.

WATCH: Cyclist blown backwards by epic Cape Town winds!

I was dog tired by then ... without having raced a solitary kilometre, of course, in the already confirmed, ill-fated 2017 Cape Town Cycle Tour. Or even having left my own driveway.

That’s because my night before had been, very literally, a sleepless one. I will confess this much: this 52-year-old had probably been revisited by the kind of excitement in anticipation of some challenge or occasion that you arguably only really experience as a pre-teen.

I am not normally an “events” person, you see. My cycling, whether road or MTB, has previously been in no small measure for the pure enjoyment, the healthy exercise factor and the agreeable sights and sounds of nearby nature.

Times are of relatively little interest to me; I am not obsessively driven, as some are, by the tech, the spec, the neurotic dieting and prepping and the sheer volume of time spent in the saddle.

I’m a moderately fit, comfortable weekend warrior with off-the-bike indulgences that may well preclude me from ever morphing into a “machine”, a racing snake.

I’m Steady Old Eddie.

My Saturday night - I’d gone to bed unusually early, even skipping Jaguares v Lions on the telly - was sleepless for another unwelcome reason: as rotten luck would have it, the very day before my maiden Tour I had been revisited by a left ribcage discomfort last felt to that degree in the seconds after I took a tumble during a MTB night ride some three weeks earlier.

During the day I picked up a heavy item at home (I can’t even recall specifically what it was) and just felt something “go” in the very area I’d landed on in the riding mishap, which was still a little tender but had been quite manageable in the gradual recuperation period.

So finding a comfortable sleeping position was a challenge, and yes, I had at least mild concern over whether it would add to any degrees of difficulty for me over the 109km course.

And then I heard the wind, as widely feared, gradually get up, a bit like increasingly audible, whistling steam from a near-boiled kettle.

I have a theory - which few are likely to refute, cycling fraternity or not - that if you hear the rustle of trees during a south-easter in sheltered Newlands, you will know that it is positively pumping in more exposed parts of the Peninsula … like those supposedly about to embrace the presence of 35 000 cyclists in the largest timed road event in the world.

It only added to my already developing paranoia around the weather; I’d been comparing increasingly ominous notes with friends and amateur meteorological gurus about the expected wind velocities come Tour day.

Then in the wee hours, even as I dozily, restlessly watched the hands on the room clock irritatingly progress, half-hour by half-hour, my smartphone started peep-peeping.

More and more so.

Awake anyway, I began, through bleary eyes, to examine the messages, the chatter of correspondence on SMS, WhatsApp, Twitter and the like.

One text from the official Cycle Tour office, at 05:40 (remember I was only due off in the tail group, at still-distant 10:00), naturally upped my curiosity considerably: “Urgent route update! The #Cycle Tour2017 will be diverted over Glencairn express way due to protest action on the route. Distance now approx 78km.”

Well, put that in your pipe and smoke it, for early-morning starters!

Any hopes of a much-needed, last-ditch forty winks were dashed, there and then, as my heart-rate understandably increased.

Protest? What? Where? Why? Who? And what will the sudden distance-change mean to all of us, and me?

Gee, is that a blessing in disguise, considering the rising wind factor? (I had completed several 70km-plus training rides without undue stress, but at the same time had been so looking forward to leaving my comfort zone for the Full Monty.)

To compound matters, news then began circulating about the tornado-strength, near-unprecedented Cape Doctor so spitefully strutting its stuff at the Foreshore start.

And then those remarkable video clips of hapless riders being forced backwards - oh, the irony of a 109km race … backwards! - even as they clutched a chunk of hand-bar on their twisting, cavorting, unmounted bicycles to try to stop them tumbling all the way to Sea Point.

The lone Brit who still, determinedly rode the entire course - call him the highly unofficial 2017 winner, and probably buoyed by the money he’d spent in getting here - aptly described to Cape Talk radio station on Monday how just attempting to get in the saddle and moving, initially, was like “dealing with a bucking bronco”.

The last rites came my phone’s way at 06:57: “URGENT UPDATE! Due to extreme weather conditions, the #Cycle Tour2017 has regrettably been cancelled. Please do not approach the start of the Cycle Tour.”

There was something tangibly sad and forlorn right through Sunday about the way I, and my family, later examined my unused race number (a bit of a 2017 collector’s piece, you think?), plus the pile of energy-giving goodies I had lovingly placed on the table in advance of My Big Sunday.

I still couldn’t sleep at any point during the idle remains of the day, my brain mulling over the array of emotions - see-sawing constantly, in general terms, between extreme regret and firm relief.

The regret was in no small part down to the plan to make my first Tour a simultaneous, previously-mentioned memorial - and awareness-helping drive - to the 13-year-old son of a sports-writing colleague and friend, who died of epilepsy-related causes a few weeks ago; the relief obviously triggered by just how brutal the ride would have been.

And I thought of the wasted, hard effort that had gone in by the Tour’s so clearly slick and devoted organisers and array of support personnel, even as they made such a wise and brave choice in pulling the plug.

I’ll tell you this much: it feels burningly like unfinished business for me.

I am more determined than ever, if they’ll have me, to finally tick the Tour box next year ... for Nicholas, for myself, and for everyone else who will want to make up for this particular, bloody Sunday.

Won’t it be so blissful if it’s a cool, utterly benign morning in 2018?

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    cape town cycle tour  |  town  |  cape  |  cycling


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