The cell phone alarm sounded at 03h50. Groggily I swung my legs off the bed and just sat there for a few seconds. ‘Its BIG RACE DAY’, I thought as I raised my arms in a leisurely stretch, took a nice deep breath, and allowed a smile to engulf me.
Ample time had been allotted for the pre- race early morning ritual of breakfast, bathroom, bike into car, and spiritual connectivity. Nothing like pre-race planning and preparedness leading to automatic race morning efficiency and calm.
Munier was waiting outside his place at 4h40 as planned, and 20minutes later we were in BoKaap, unpacking the bikes from the car, checking kit, and receiving some welcomed well-wishing from Shaakira’s Dad as we rode out of his driveway. The Cannondale felt light and smooth as I started pedaling down the road, swaying it from side to side. Gear changes were easy and effective through the cluster. Brakes were immediate with no noise or sluggishness post release.
As we neared the start we encountered ever increasing numbers of cyclists. It was a strange atmosphere, as there was not much socializing amongst the growing mass of riders, each unto his own, just the mechanical whirr of bikes. Once in the E Group start chute it was a matter of relaxing, taking it all in and waiting for the start. At 06h00, the music started, loud and thumping, only briefly interrupted for dignitary opening speeches. Just the kind of lead in needed to shake off the peaceful morning serenity. The excitement started building, and 15 minutes later, with much razzmatazz the Elite group was given starting orders. The 2012 Argus Cycle Tour was under way.
The size of the group made any game plan to stay in the front of the bunch from the start almost impossible. There were just too many jostling for position so early on, which made that approach not to be the safest , nor the wisest in terms of conserving early energy.
On Edinburgh Drive, 14min into the race, nicely warmed up, and it felt like a good idea to start moving to the front of the bunch. The leaders were closely watching each other, a game of cat and mouse, neither wanting to lead, nor wanting to be swamped by the group behind. The pace had slowed and I wanted to go faster. I took the lead, settled into the drops, and picked up the pace, pushing an avg. of 325W, 2 peaks of 820W max, and HR climbing to 98-99mhr (aaaiiii recipe for disaster). Pushing for 6min way too close to CP5. RED LINE !!!! RED LINE !!!! Oblivious to the first climb of the day that lay ahead, and spurred on by insanity, I was pulling hard at the front of E Group.
When the 2.9% avg gradient, 7 min climb announced its presence to my legs and lungs, I knew that the combination of timing and effort was horribly out of synch. Not much option left but to ease it down a notch, get a rhythm going again, sit this one out, and watch the front of the bunch slip away towards the top.
Following that bravado, the objective on the M3 to Boyes Drive was to keep in the bunch, get as much draft as possible, and to recover. Avg power sitting in the bunch dropped to 145W, and 80%mhr, great for the recovery, but disastrous for finishing time target. This long straight road was ideal for 240W Tempo riding, but the group leaders had a different agenda and were a bit slow at this point, and I was not gonna risk pulling at the front again. The group had also become nervy due to one or 2 falls caused by wheels touching, and then there was also the matter of a few tyre bursts in the bunch. Pressure too high + increasing road temperature = tyre burst = staccato group riding.
At the start of Boyes Drive (a 5-7% gradient in sections climb, 5.7km long), the pace felt comfortable, and I slotted into a steady rhythm. Moved to the right hand side of the road, keeping open space ahead of the front wheel. On this climb many failed to get their gearing selected timeously, slip their chain, or their pace dramatically slowed when least expected, which in a group of this size has quite a ripple effect. As the climb progressed legs remained strong, pace stayed comfortable. Normalised Power for the climb was 294W, upper level of my Threshold, and by the time we hit the crest, an impressive group position had been attained. On the 13.7km flat section from Kalk Bay to Simons Town, Power avg was 171W, Zone 2, which again allowed for some recovery, and perhaps a bit too easy riding.
After Simons Town, at the start of the 7.5km climb up Smits Winkel to Cape Point, and legs were strong, and a good climbing rhythm was maintained. Half way into the race and feeling good. There were many tired legs around, generally slowing, faces clearly depicting the burn of the climb. When the legs are strong, these images on others can inspire, creating potential to tap ever deeper into power reserves. Sadistic. NP for the climb was 267W (@ Threshold sweet point) Reviewing the power graph post-race showed a pattern of intervals on the smits winkel climb, very similar to an anaerobic training workout. 1 min intervals @ CP5 with 30s @ Threshold. Confirmation that Anaerobic Interval workouts will result in improved climbing performance. The climb up Smits, the increased effort over the 5.4% crest, and the high speed downhill (57-61kph) had caused a split in the 427 strong starting group, and I was well positioned with the lead group.
The pace through Misty Cliffs picked up even more. Effort was pushing through upper Tempo levels into Lactic Threshold territory. Tucked into drops, steady pedaling rhythm, 53-15 gearing,50- 55kph in sections, pointing and sweeping through the bends was totally exhilarating. Smile…
After a little pile up at the front of the bunch, which some saw as an opportunity, the pace hotted up again. The group was now starting to stretch out. Two riders ahead of me were having difficulty keeping up with the pace, cause a small gap start. I did not want to lose the bunch leaders, and instantaneously I kicked harder. Power went to 560W, speed to 64kph, legs were burning up, lungs were battling. Initial pull was not enough, doubt crept in, during that few seconds of easing off, I could feel energy for another attempt becoming available, so again, out of the seat, hard on the pedals, breathing deeply, head down, and digging ever deeper, and I was back on to the bunch…. YEEHAAA !!! Way to go. Relief. Could now sit back a bit and recover.
When I reached the top the group leaders were about 100m ahead. Going down Chapmans Peak is always exciting, high speeds and sweeping corners. On the downhill I needed to conserve energy for the final climb ahead up Suikerbossie. Temperature had reached 32degC and the heat was making its presence known. There were huge groups of spectators lining the road up Suikerbossie, so the atmosphere was amped, which helped to keep the effort up and the pedals turning over.
After Suikerbossie a second group had formed. There were some calls in the group to get some teamwork going, and soon we were picking up a good pace, 50kph in sections, towards Sea Point. The lead was being rotated, and the riders were giving it the last of what was left.
Through Sea Point the spectators were adding to the vibe, as our group had now become quite competitive, speed was high and the most was made of slipstream opportunities. There were about 5 of us that had now lined each other up for the sprint to the line. This is always very thrilling and packed with adrenaline. I had about 3rd wheel in the bunch, pedaling fast, good gear, tucked in nicely, waiting for the right moment. Could see the finish banner across the road ahead, still holding back, guy came pass from my wheel, and I moved to the side to have a clear path, and we were going for it. It was AWESOME !!!
All in all a very well ridden race. It was one of my strongest performances for the Summer, indicating proficient training and racing methods.
A very successful conclusion to the 2012 Summer Race Season.
Race Time 3h08
Overall Position 1131/31331
Group Position 47/427
Age Group Position 190/3527