Cape Argus Gran Fondo by Mark and Dana Hedges

BY IN Exercise Institute News On April 7, 2014

I was seeded into group F and Dana into group G, based on our 3 Dams ride results in Perth.  The groups went down to ZZ!!!

I had agreed with Dana that I’d start with her in group G and stay with her until the 50km mark, where we’d review the situation, knowing that the SE wind would be favourable for us from there on and that the peloton mayhem would be out of the way. If she was feeling OK in the crowd then I could have a bit more of a go.  We’d driven the route the day before and I was happy we could perform well given our training and that each climb of any note was followed pretty routinely by a similar angle downhill on the other side.

The day before the event the wind had been quite still and, although we were aware that the wind was predicted to come up, we had hoped for 25km/h.  However, insistent rattling on the hotel window at 3.30am suggested otherwise.  When we got up at 5am, everyone’s hearts had sunk a fair bit as the winds were pretty heavy at 35-40km/h and gusting to 60.  Basically it was going to be a block headwind for 50km.  At our 5.30 roll out of the hotel, I said to all those in our team of 8  riders “hide in a peloton until the 50km mark, stay in the front 3rd and on the downwind side of the echelons.  Conserve the energy and then have a go on the back half ” – far easier said than done of course…..  It would turn out that of the 37,000 that entered, only 31,046 finished.  Our group of 8 disintegrated within 2 kms…..

Sam’s programme for the Argus was really well thought through, with a lot of diversity and we were confident of going well, if we managed our efforts in that 1st 50km into the wind.  The training lead up for us had been ideal – we had done our stuff, the RE rides in Cape Town and the 5x40sec/20sec “unblock” worked a treat two days out.  8 bikes arrived from Perth with not one rear derailleur damaged and things seemed to be going to plan on that front.   It was hard not to want to do more in that final week, but we trusted that the rest would do us a world of good.

Then the niggles – medial collateral ligaments in both my knees (old rugby injuries) meant I could barely walk, but not too bad on the RE’s – and then two days out Dana got a 24 hour flu and didn’t want to ride the day preceding, but she then recovered. I got the flu hot and colds the day before the event, plus night sweats waking me up every hour and a tummy bug.  Dehydration, little sleep and lost all my carb loading – it wasn’t looking good.  I lay awake from 3-5 am and resigned myself to chaperoning Dana in the wind and enjoying it for what it was going to be, rather than putting pressure on myself given how crook I felt.  We both thought about what the life of a pro might possibly entail trying to do this as a profession…..

It was a short but very blowy 2km ride, in the dark with sunnies on, into the holding pens.  Dana was not looking forward to it at all.  Even when we got there at 5.45 in the dark for our 6.35 start, we were already 450 deep of the 540+ in our group G.  It would take us 40 seconds to cross the start line after the gun went off.  She’s claustrophobic in the best of times but somehow she managed to stay calm in the mid-pack of 20 people  wide.

The start chute sends you under an office building where the wind was blasting straight down off the 25 storey buildings.  We were warned by the course announcer, but most of the field went sideways in 60km/h down thrusts and we had to get out of the saddle at 15km/h just to maintain momentum.  Luckily our team had a custom fluoro yellow jersey made up and this allowed us to broadly keep track of the others from peripheral vision in the half-light, however the 40km wind split 5 of our 8 riders out the back on the first 2km rise onto a 4 lane freeway.  Cresting the top of that gave us a sideways push downhill and a peloton loosely formed, then split – the less experienced were dropping chains changing gears and getting blown around and it was hard to pick and hold a line due to that unpredictability of the anxious riders and such a wide road.  It got to -7% grade and I started gaining momentum and overtaking down the outside with Dana following suit.  It started to feel better with some speed and punch into the side wind.

Dana and one other and I were still in eyesight of each other for the next 5kms and moving in and out of the pack trying to get back together. At 15 wide at times, everyone realised that was going to be futile and to just stay out of trouble. ABout 10km up the road the pace steadied out and the wind was on the nose, so things settled down.  The first decent angle of climb comes around 14-15km and was 1.8km at 5-6% which sorted things out a bit.  I pushed on a bit and was absolutely stoked to see Dana come up and go past me at about 23 or 24kmh, but I suggested she might want to back off a touch as there was still 90km to go!  At the crest I called the other guy left from our team to start a roll through awith Dana and me to bridge to a more organised group up front.  We got to them after about 2kms but others we were passing asked to join in because we “seemed to know what we were doing”.  I didn’t answer and none of them seemed to want the front so we just carried on and met the peloton on a big downhill freeway run.  We then hid with them for about 10kms downhill at about 40-45 into the headwind – some of them were burning a lot of matches for only 25km in and I thought “go ahead, but that ain’t going to be us!!   I thought this could actually work out pretty well for us to hide for the next 25km until the “turn for home”.  THe sun was starting to show more of a presence and my mood was lifting.Those on the front realised the futility of the pace and backed off, with noone behind prepared to work, so the pace drifted back to around 36-38.

Dana had become the master of exuberance again and when I saw her go down the outside of the echelon on her own – to the front – my mood lifted even more as I realised she wasn’t looking for me anymore, she was riding her own event 5 riders wide.  I thought “she doesn’t need me anymore!”  Nevertheless, she didn’t  realise that when she got to the front she would then be at the windward side of the pack.  She then got held out there and isolated,drifting back down the outside on the wind.  Since the pelotons were 50+ I also went round the outside but I stayed at the front 3rd and made others go around me.  There was a bit of effort put in for some reason on the front 1/3 and the mid-pack didn’t read the push and the group split and half the pack went out backwards, Dana included.  I remember watching the same thing on TV at last year’s TDF when the Movistar team get decimated by Omega Pharma in the heavy cross winds and I wasn’t going to let that happen to me.  There was no way I could help Dana and I wouldn’t see her again until the finish.  However, my mate and her at least stayed together in the same bunch until the 50km, after which they got split, but they were only separated by 1.5 minutes over the final 59 kms!  She later told me that shortly after the pack split that she had to take evasive action and she knocked her chest onto the handle bars and her $250 light is now a CNC machined aluminium ornament without a charger in a local village…..

Dana and mate Tommy later told me that they could see my fluoro yellow jersey disappearing fast with the front bunch and we managed to bridge to another group downhill into the first settlement for 40km called Simonstown.  It then got very messy with wide roads converging to two small lanes and every slight rise causing people to lift off and cause a domino effect and there were a lot of sketchy moments, especially with big mountain bike handlebars waving around.  I was nearly taken out once and several fell in front of me as two lanes went to one and riders swerved instead of braking, to avoid others lifting off.

Millers Point (5%) and Smitswinkel (5-6%) sorted out all the hangers on in the pack and as we turned for the second of these climbs I had started to feel really strong, having played it smart for 50kms.  Felt really strong up the Smitswinkel Hill and a fair few riders that I seemed to see a lot of in the peloton got sorted out and about 5 or 6 of us pushed pretty hard and got free of the remnants.  We cracked on across the flats that look a bit like the open areas near Busselton and started to come onto some riders from earlier groups C, D and even a B or two.    No one seemed to understand or want to do a roll through so I again just played it smart to manage my energy – I just couldn’t eat or drink due to my gut.  I took 4 gels and 3 winners bars and a banana with me, but I only got through one bar and two gels.  I had 750ml of Powerade and 750ml of water and both were half full at the end.  My strategy was to use strong but not full gas downhill and pace myself against higher graded riders for the uphills, which worked well.

When it came to the Chapman’s Peak – which was the 3rd climb and in two parts – I was ready to give it everything for the final 25km.  I felt strong and passed plenty up that two-part, 4.5km, which was followed by a good descent into Hout Bay. A couple of kms through that town then onto the final climb – the much hyped “Suikerbossie” by all the usual hangers on and friends with war stories – and we would be downhill all the way!.  I kept ignoring all that pre-ride shit and just kept saying “It’s only Welshpool Road to the BP –  2 kms up”.

We’d done it all at training back in Perth, the wind was behind us and I felt like I had paced my energy and efforts perfectly.  My best time up that Welshpool first rise is 6:35 in Perth at 165bpm.  I motored up Suikerbossie at 85 cadence in 6 minutes 13 seconds and was then over the last crest and it was 15kms to home –  mostly downhill, but with big gusts coming off the sheer cliffs of the famous Table Mountain you had to have your wits about you.  I didn’t really know what energy I had left given how little I’d drunk on the ride,  Cramp was my worry in the left calf but I was pretty sure the pain that had been constant for 50km was just a strain. Just peddle big, even circles was what I was thinking.  I’m a good descender due to riding fast motorbikes so I gave it full gas and straightened a lot of curves, but at a pace I knew I could hold to the end, since we’d ridden most of the last 15km of the route on an RE.  There was a few wheel-suckers on me and no one wanted to come to the front.  Picked off a few more riders from groups B and C’s and D and the odd A.   There was no way I could have maintained that effort without the 10 week programme and KP repeats…..

Turning the final corner into the finish straight the wind was smack in your face and the 40km/h road speed I had got whacked straight back to 25km/h in one gust.  I remembered our 30 second attacks up Welshpool, I remembered our 6×20 second sprints after our last river lap the week before, I remembered Sam telling me to give it a big kick up Forrest on our last Wednesday session at Kings Park and I just stood up in the big ring, hoping the quads wouldn’t say “no”.  There was no major grumbles and I stayed out of the saddle for the last 300m just to keep momentum.  Sweet Blue “FINISH” line banner passed and a half raised fist to the sky was a big cliche I know, but it was well earned, given events of the days before.

My overwhelming sensation of crossing the line was just a deep sense of achievement and satisfaction – this was the reward of all the efforts at training resulting in strong performance, of bringing it all together on the road though, and of using the wits in an ever-changing game of high speed, close contact, mobile chess.  I had not a lot left in the tank and my upper inner thigh muscles near the back sit bones went into full on lock-down for about 3 hours.  I could barely walk and had to ride back to the hotel standing.



6 years ago / 1 Comment






1 Comment

  • gloria


    A good read, Mark. I feel the need for a lie down now!!

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