One of our recent visitors was here for the Cape Town Cycle Tour (Argus) which was cancelled for the first time in 40 years because of high winds. Did he let that put him off?…read his story here.
MAD DOGS AND ENGLISHMEN
12th March 2017
For 35,999 cyclists the 2017 Cape Town Cycle Tour will be remembered as a huge disappointment. For one solitary Englishman, however, it was a bit of a triumph.
Rob McNeilly (51) had booked his first Cape Town Tour ride well in advance and trained hard through the dreadful English winter, riding in early morning darkness through rain, snow and fog. He flew in to Cape Town on the Friday before the race and drove round parts of the course, getting the lie of the land. His main concern was that, having only been given an 08.18 start, he would have to ride through hundreds of slower cyclists if he was to get the sort of race time he thought he was capable of.
He woke early on Sunday and cycled the short distance from his Waterfront hotel to the start area. While he got his bearings a hubbub broke out and the rumour quickly spread that the race had been cancelled on account of the high winds. This puzzled him as, where he was standing, the wind seemed quite gentle. He could see some of the starting groups ahead of him leaving their pens and turning back, but in that moment he took the decision to ride the race anyway.
He started riding up towards the pens at the front and, just as he passed them he was hit by a ferocious long gust funnelling down off the Civic Centre. His bike reared up like a bucking bronco and his helmet tried to leave is head. He mastered the bike and inched forward and the wind died down long enough for him to make headway towards the bottom of Nelson Mandela Boulevard. But the Boulevard had been coned off once the race was cancelled and Rob had no idea how to find a route forward. Happily a friendly race official pointed him towards Sir Lowry’s Road and off he went.
He quickly caught up with three cyclists heading home to Newlands, who accompanied him from there onto Edinburgh Drive and pointed him down the M3. There he passed the leading groups of cyclists, who had headed off before the cancellation, being escorted back to town by police.
Alone now, he cycled down to the end of the M3, where he caught up with another race rider. “Are you going to do the whole route?” asked Rob. “If so, can I join you?”
“No” came the reply, “I’m just going to Kalk Bay to have coffee with my brother, but I’ll show you the way.”
As he rode through Simon’s Town he found himself being cheered – a lone exemplar of what everyone had turned out to see by the tens of thousands. By now, and for the rest of the ‘race’ Rob was alone, though in the later stages he came across occasional cyclists who had given up and opted for a consolation ride of a few kilometres.
Having struggled against the ferocious South Easter all the way down to Smitswinkel, he was astonished to discover, on turning North West at the gate to Cape Point, that he was to be rocket-boosted all the way to the Redhill/Scarborough turn-off.
In the chaos at the start he had gathered that another factor in the decision to cancel was the threat of protests as the race passed Masiphumelele. He approached Masi cautiously but, apart from two police Nyalas all he could see were people going about their business and a number of kids waving and cheering him as he passed.
At last he came to Chapmans Peak, where the mountain offered some protection from the worst of the wind, but only until he crested the highest point. Thereafter, although the road ran forgivingly downhill, the wind gusted from all directions, at times moving his bike under him and threatening to stop him dead in his tracks.
Through Hout Bay, up Suikerbossie and past Camps Bay he wondered whether he was indeed the only person to ride the course. Could the other 35,999 have all gone home? He’d enjoyed himself. He’d heard about the great camaraderie of the race, the festive spirit. Comrades were few, to be sure, but those he’d found had been nothing but friendly. And the challenge – the pitting of man against nature…he’d never had better.
As he rode through the Finish he looked in vain for someone to report to. There were only workmen dismantling the stands. So he rode back to his hotel and showered in as little water as he could manage. And ordered breakfast.
Here Rob is on the day after the race where he was photographed in the Kalidas family outfitters, with one of their customers, Derek Erispe, who had cheered him on his way through Simon’s Town on race day. Derek grew up in Simons Town but was forced to leave in the days of apartheid and group areas. He recently returned to live in Simons Town. Welcome home Derek.