Day 121, stage 94, 90km
Start, Municipal Camp Yzerfontein
Finish, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
At 6am on Saturday morning May 11, 2013, the last day of the 2013 Tour d’Afrique, it was freezing cold. There were competing theories. Do you get on your bike early and hope that you will warm up as you cycle, or do you stay wrapped up, wait for the sun to do its work and leave later. In the end most people left early. It had been about 3C when we work up and about 6C at 7:30, by which time most people had left. Once we hit the road the temperature dropped back to 4C. My fingers were frostbitten. It was painful. Fortunately, after only 7 or 8km we came to a farm shop that served tea. We all stopped and entered the warm cocoon for coffee, tea, hot chocolate and scones. The farm shop could have been in Port Dover or some other seaside town in South Western Ontario – full of crafts and curios and preserves and knick-knacks – or even Fanny’s Farm shop in Surrey near our house in Merstham. The only difference was that here you could go out in the back garden and see lions.
Reluctantly we left the warmth of the farm shop and got back on our bikes. We had a full and more or less formal day ahead of us. We had to be at our lunch stop at the beach 60km south of Yzerfontein by 11am for official photos and stuff. We had to be ready for the police led convoy for the final 30km into Cape Town by 12:00 noon. And we had to be at the V&A waterfront amphi-theatre for the closing ceremony by 2pm. It was now a military operation and we had our marching orders. So, off we went.
Many of the younger riders were ready to celebrate. They had bottles of champagne in the bottle racks and camel backs. They were taking photos of anything that moved. They were happy. Many of the older riders were a little more subdued. At the lunch stop I didn’t feel in a celebratory mood at all. I felt happy. I felt pleased with what I had accomplished. But I really just felt like going off and being alone for a while. It was sort of anti-climatic. But I had some champagne that was offered. I had some pictures taken and didn’t skulk off. I had the 30km convoy into town to get into the mood.
Convoys are never fun. They are a necessity, something to be gotten through. This one was no different. We had been told that the convoy would not stop for anyone. If you had a puncture you and your bike would get in the truck. Simple as that. So it was rather ironic that Bridget, who won the women’s race, punctured just as we were setting off. Everything came to a halt. They tried to pump it up. No go. And unused bike was quickly pulled off the truck and she had a new ride. We were just starting up again when there was a cry from Tess at the back: “oh no! My chain just broke!”. Unbelievable but true. A quick fix and five minutes later we are finally on our way. And so it goes. The police took us along the bus lanes, through every red light and to the heart of the V&A by 1:45pm. Mission accomplished. I had finished. I had achieved EFI.
We parked out bikes, came back to the amphitheater, were handed champagne in Styrofoam cups and a handful of pretzels and the show began. Flags, some speeches, some medals and awards, a band, strangers cheering – all very ‘celebrity envy’ stuff. The 30km hadn’t shifted my mood that much. I slipped away to the hotel as soon as I could. I had a few hours to myself before the closing party.
Thankfully the party was very informal, lots of milling and chatting and drinking; then some eating, then a slide show of some really very good photos many people had taken over the last 4 months. Alex B gave a good tribute to staff and Phil Howard sang a song he had written about the Tour that was great fun. A DJ took over and we all bopped for a while. I was back at the hotel and in bed by midnight. Many of the younger riders – champagne still in camel backs for all I know – went off to clubs. I believe most were eventually able to find their way back to the hotel.
Tomorrow is sorting, packing and saying goodbye to good friends. Early Monday morning I go to the airport for my flight back to Dar.
Day 120, stage 93, 142km
Start, Eland Bay Camp, Eland Bay Hotel
Finish, Municipal Camp Yzerfontein
At the rider meeting at Eland Bay yesterday evening we had some very welcome news. The powers that be in charge of roads and traffic in Cape Town had relented and granted us last minute permission to use the paved roads. So we could use the original route and wouldn’t have to do the much longer off-road ‘work around’. Instead of 158 today, we would only have to do 142km. And tomorrow we would do 90 instead of 105km. This was very welcome news. There would still be some off-road today but only about 25km.
Since it was a non-race day there was no time pressure on anybody. It was a lovely day and the cycling conditions were great. I rode all day in a group with sometimes changing characters that included Vince, Wayne, Bridget and Phil Kissel. We didn’t doddle. We kept a good pace. But we didn’t race and we did stop for coke. It was a very pleasant touring rather than racing day
Yzerfontein was yet another seaside town full of holiday homes and little else. But Yzerfontein had a clearer purpose that simply sitting in beach chairs or walking the dog. It was a holiday town devoted to sport fishing and rugby. There was a sports club with a bar and restaurant at the boundary of the camp where we stayed. It didn’t take Vince, Bridget, Wayne, Trish, Sandi and I long to find it and to tuck into some cold Hansa draft beer. It was a real club rather than just a bar. Everyone knew everyone and several people came over to introduce themselves and welcome us to the club.
We went back to the club after supper. There was a live rugby match on with some team from New Zealand playing some team from south Africa. I know nothing about rugby – shameful to admit for someone who has had a house near Bezier for almost fifteen years – but told Vince, a rugby playing Kiwi, that I would keep him company. He tried to explain the rudiments of the game to me. It didn’t take. As the only Kiwi in the room he then got into the thick of it with all the South Africans. I enjoyed the beer.
Day 119, stage 92, 73km
Start, Municipal Camp, Strandfontein
Finish, Eland Bay Camp, Eland Bay Hotel
Today is the last race day. The final two days into Cape Town will not count in the official race time – but will still be counted for EFI. So today is short and off-road. I am not a great off-road rider. But I am getting better. I can pick a line much better and I can now slalom down the hills without riding my brakes. But the rough roads still beat me up because I have no suspension. I would definitely fit a front suspension fork onto my bike if I did this again. I like the cross bike. I like its geometry. I like the comfort and the drop bars. I don’t like the fixed front fork on bad roads. It battered me. It battered my headset, which had to be repacked four times in four months and is now shot.
Pascal, who won the men’s race, road with a fixed front fork. He did it because this allowed him to ride a bike made for the roads and that allowed him to cycle much more quickly on road. It was a conscious trade off. Freek, a very strong young Dutch rider, road a typical hard-tail mountain bike with front shocks. Today, he and Pascal decided to trade bikes (I believe that there was a claim that if Freek had Pascal’s much better bike he would win every day). Good decision for Pascal. Freek was outfoxed. Pascal now had shocks off-road. Freek didn’t. (Freek should only have agreed to the trade on an on road day.) The result was that Pascal won the stage and Freek ended up with numb arms and hands, blisters and a much slower time. Point made.
I had a fairly good off-road day – but then if you only have to cycle 73km any terrain may seem acceptable. If I had had to do another 73km on the same terrain I may not have been so sanguine.
The camp today was right on the beach. The town, once again, was more a holiday village than anything else. We had enormous cheeseburgers and a couple of beers at the Eland Bay Hotel to celebrate the end of the race then went down to dinner. In another few days we were really going to have to actively manage a reduction in calorie intake. We were consuming enormous mounts of food at all times of day. There was nothing regular or polite about our eating habits. Eat five times a day, whenever you are not cycling, and fill your gob with ice cream, crisps, peanuts and chocolate in between. Swallow as much fluid as you; ten litres a day is not too much. Make sure there is a good mix of water, oral rehydration salts, sugary fizzy stuff and fruit juice – small sips or two litre oral injections; it doesn’t matter, just get it in.
At the beginning of the Tour I would stop at a coke stop and, well, have a coke. A week in I would have two per stop. Two became three. In the last month of the tour I was buying two litre bottles of fizzy stuff. I am sure this wasn’t very good for me but it sure felt good – the fluid, the sugary energy fix. I have lost over 7 kg but have picked up some very bad habits along the way.
Day 118, stage 91, 162km
Start, Municipal Camp, Garies
Finish, Municipal Camp, Strandfontei
Today we started our ‘work arounds’ with an off-road century. A make or break day with only four days to go. But there was a slight reprieve. The route today would not be all off road. The route had been adjusted somewhat – still as long but some tarmac. The counterbalance was the wind. While it had been more or less benign for the last two days, today it was against us.
The off-road sections were really miserable – deep sand and gravel, large sharp rocks, bad and deep corrugation, lots of up and down. It was a long slog. And then when we finally came off the dirt we turned into a wind of steadily increasing velocity. The last thirty kilometres were almost directly into the wind. And we were now heading to the coast where we would see the Ocean for the first time. The wind was onshore and cold. It shrouded the coast with shivering fog 25km inland. It was miserable. And then when I had finally reached Strandfontein I could find our camp. Our route through towns is marked with pink flagging tape. Sometimes the route is well marked, sometimes it is not. It depends who has done the taping I think. Today it was crap. It was either misleading or missing – blown away. As a result I spent half an hour going up and down steep coastal hills in this small seaside town looking for other cyclists and wondering where I was. I finally stopped a car and was pointed in the right direction. But I was not a happy camper. They had broken me. And let the staff know it when I got to the camp. The last thing you want after a tough and long day is to spend a half hour going up and down steep hills trying to find home.
I just wanted a coke.
We were camped on a grassy hill overlooking the Atlantic. But it was cold and foggy and there were not really a town centre with shops and restaurants. This was a town of holiday homes – big places with great views, lined up on the hills next to the sea. No Nandos, no 1950s restaurant at the Garies Hotel. Just the TdA lunch truck and our tents. Fortunately Alex was in a gregarious and active frame of mind. He took a walk around the village asking any local resident he met where he could buy some wine. After half an hour or so he returned with two bottles of wine – a red and a white – both of which had been gifted to him by the locals who were distraught to discover that we had cycled so far and had no wine waiting for us. This brightened my mood considerably. After dinner, some nice wine and a lovely hot shower, I slept well.
Day 117, stage, 90, 117km
Start, Municipal Camp, Springbok
Finish, Municipal Camp, Garies
This was the kind of day I expected in the last week of the ride: short, on tarmac, not too windy, pleasant countryside. It was the kind of leisurely, cruise control kind of day that makes people believe that cycling is easy. Today it was. There was quite a lot of climbing today, as there was yesterday but it wasn’t the frantic up and down small peaks and gullies type of climbing you get where road builders have simply carved a track through the existing terrain. These were engineered roads. Undulations were smoothed out. Climbs were longer but also more gradual – a steady 2 – 6% rather than sharp 10 or 14% pulls.
Before lunch I went out a fairly good pace again, this time I cycled for quite a while with James Campbell and Wayne Gaudet. This time I also lingered a bit longer at lunch and cycled mostly on my own for the latter part of the day. But I was still in in good time.
Garies is very different than Springbok. While Sprirngbok is very much the up and coming town with the Toyota dealership, Garies is the town time has forgotten with tumbleweed blowing down the main street. It reminded me a lot of a 1950s northern Ontario lumber town. The old hotel in the middle of town on the main street was a classic. You could find it on the main street of any small Ontario town circa 1950: the restaurant off the reception with varnished wood booths; the Black Label beer posters and lights; the taxidermy on the walls. Vince, Alex and I went in for cheeseburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches and milk shakes. The waitress was also old fashioned. She had one of those old fashioned order taking pads, beautiful handwriting like a primary school teacher, and she smiled. I expected to see my grandmother’s faded green 1953 Chevy parked out front when we left. But no, all I saw was the town drunk shuffling into the bottle shop for some cheap sherry. Yes, even their cheap booze is the same as 1950s small town Ontario.
Day 116, stage 89, 133km
Start, Provenance Camp, Noordoewer
Finish, Municipal Camp, Springbok, South Africa
We were up and out of camp early. We had a border to cross, not a long day but not a short day, and over 1500 metres of climbing to do. We were also worried that there might be a head wind. We were heading more or less south west and a south west wind was common in these parts. As it turned out the wind was on a carrousel all day, changing directions and being quite fickle – great when it was behind us, which it was for a while, less great when it was on our nose, which it was for a while; but for the most part it was varying degrees of cross wind and more or less benign.
I cycled to the border with several others and then cycled the hills into lunch with Vince and Bridget. They were probably relaxing but it was a good stiff pace for me. We made it into lunch in really good time and enjoyed a couple of fantastic kite rides down long hills (what goes up must come down) with following winds. I lingered a little longer at lunch that Bridget and Vince – the race was still on and they had to think about time – and then cycled on my own for most of the rest of the day.
We arrived at Springbok fairly early and Vince and I wandered into town. It was like a small Midwestern town in the US: a main drag with big grocery stores, car dealerships and chain restaurants. We have become quite jaded now. We can walk into a well-stocked, air conditioned mega grocery store and think nothing of it. Gone are the days in the deserts of the Sudan when finding a small packet of chocolate cream biscuits, two years past its sell by date, in a small, tin-roofed, road-side kiosk were a source of joy, wonder and rabid consumption. We could now have a coke any time we wanted, in any size we wanted – 200ml, 340ml, 500ml, 1litre, 1.5litres, 2 litres – and in any type of container that took our fancy – glass disposable, glass returnable, plastic screw top, tin. We could also choose from any number of local knock-off competitors; my favourite was something called Iron Brew that tasted sort of like a cherry coke. But there was also every variety of cream soda and fizzy fruit drink. The coconut and pineapple blend was really good. We were becoming very sophisticated consumers again. Oh dear. We also stopped at a Nandos and had some chicken wings (actually Vince had a stir fry and rice – not enough – and then a half chicken and chips – lunch had been a couple of hours ago and dinner wasn’t for another two hours) and they didn’t have to run out back to catch and kill the chicken first. Amazing.
We also had to get some Rand. I used an ATM – slick, efficient, no hassle. Vince just had $40 he wanted to change for some pocket money. The first four banks we went to wouldn’t do it – a variety of excuses. The 5th agreed to do it and asked to see Vince’s passport. He didn’t have it with him of course but I had mine still on me from the border crossing that morning so I took over the transaction. It was banker’s extortion at it slickest and sickest. Vince’s $40 at a crap rate came to about 345 Rand. Ok then. They then said there was a commission. OK then. But the commission was 115 Rand. Holy shit. But we hadn’t finished. They then charged valued added tax on the commission! What value did they add you might ask? This brought the costs to over 130 Rand. This brought Vince’s return on $40 to a grand total of 225 Rand. The published exchange rate in the papers that day was $1 = 9.18 Rand. $40 should therefore get you something just over 360 Rand. So Vince had given the bank over a third of his $40 for the privilege of changing currencies. When I asked the clerk on the other side of the barred, bullet-proof glass who conducted the transaction if she didn’t feel just a little bit guilty for the exorbitant fees, she simply said ‘No sir’. Take me back to the Sudan where I can haggle behind the brothel with a guy in a dirty galabia for a small portion of the dirty stack of notes he pulls out of his countless hidden pockets.
The bank was ABSA by the way.