I write this from an air-conditioned hotel suite. With my calves twitching, my head pounding and empty water bottles littering the room. Today was 130-odd kilometers, out of Franschhoek to the Silos near Malmsbury (locals, you know what that means when it s warm, non-locals, it means @#$%-warm), almost to Paarl and back via Victor Verster prison to Franschhoek. Our team leader, for those of us silly enough to aspire to Group One, and the Bulls, is a man called Flash. I am sure he has a real name, too, and some impressive results somewhere, because we hit the first racing section – a timed 12 kilometer stretch out near Malmsbury, after 70-odd kilometers – with an average speed of 34.5 kph. At that point, it was only 39 degrees. No harm done, then. I shudder to think where we would be right now if the don’t-pass-Flash rule hadn’t been enforced. The Bulls youngsters looked twitchy all day, though Mr Platt was, I am told, warming up at 2am in the hotel and was happy to play chaperone towards the back of the group for most of the day. As was Mr Fondriest, who was never far off Vanessa Haywood’s, ahem, wheel. Just in case she needed help, you see.
The timed GC section was my nemesis today. By the time I finished, after forcing the rest of the bunch to regroup under a tree, the temperature was 45 degrees. Kindly, it dropped to 41 so I could stare at my uneaten lunch at the Ridgeback Winery, just outside Paarl. And then we hit the road again for the trundle home. There was one more piece of business to deal with – the Rouleur is great in that it mixes a steady ‘touring-pace’ ride with shortish-burst os silliness to decide the winners of the sprinters’, GC and climbers’ jerseys, with a regroup after each and more trundling. Karl Platt (I think, my telescope was back in the car) won the sprint to the Victor Verster prison, where we stopped for water, and so the foreign riders (from Norway, Italy, England, Ireland and, looking at Paul Ingpen’s race number, Starfish are represented in our bunch) could have snapshots with the statue of Nelson Mandela at the gate.
Unfortunately, our escort had a little oopsie at this point. No, not my new room mate Kevin McCallum’s escort, the traffic police and the Think Bike marshals misunderstood each other, catastrophically, and we were forced to ride on to Franschhoek a bit more carefully than before. The rolling road closure has been exceptional for this event – world class – and hopefully everyone is ok. I hate seeing the guys and girls who put their lives at risk to keep ours safe coming a cropper. Let’s hope everything is okay.
So, there we were, escortless, and with Flash, for some reason, no longer marshaling the pace at the front. I was hoping he would pick me for the new team leader. But, sensibly he didn’t, and we got to the finish at the Hugenot Monument today, broken, but in one piece. If you know what I mean. By the time we hit the six kilometer roll up to the town, I was very, very tired and hot. It was like Nascar: if I sat behind a rider, or the bunch (in his wisdom, Flash nominated a Bulls rider, ensuring our relaxed pace was pro-relaxed) my heart rate went straight to max. If I popped out of the slipstream, it dropped five beats as my body cooled, infinitesimally, in the still-45-degree sauna. But I would get dropped, instantly. So, it is with a slight grovel (and a beer later) that I need to apologize for abusing Joel Stransky on Twitter earlier in the day – without his encouragement and frequent power-pushes, I may not have made it. Damn, the man is strong!
So, there we have it. Day one done. My average speed for the 130km was 34.2kph. Looking at the download, my heartrate was within ten beats of my maximum for three-quarters of the final two hours, which sounds impossible, but the heat was just insane.
Thankfully, all we have to do tomorrow is ride Franschhoek Pass – Viljoens Pass – Houw Hoek Pass – Franschoek Pass, for a 145 kilometer sufferfest. The weatherman says we will be ten degrees cooler, and he never lies. I think I am crying again.