David Moseley

Double or nothing

2012-11-27 07:40

David Moseley

The last time I was invited to participate in the Coronation Double Century (a 202km road race that starts and finishes in Swellendam) I had to borrow a bike (which ended up being two sizes too small) and only figured out how to change the gears by the 30km mark of the event.

Some of the more po-faced cyclists (which, this being a road race where victory is determined by a lack of humour and finely shaved legs, was all of them) thought I was joking when I asked, just moments before the start gun went off, if anyone could show me how to work the gears. Help was only forthcoming from e.tv's Jon Gericke.

That year I bungled my way around the course for 150km before calling it quits and jumping into the support vehicle to be fed grapes and biltong by two leggy local celebs, much to the dismay of Bicycling editor Mike Finch, who soon realised I’d eaten all his sandwiches and taken the last seat in the car. The fact remains, though, that with a quarter of the race to go, I simply gave up. I took the easy way out.

So when the event organisers came calling this year, to see if I was keen to join a media team to ride in aid of a local Swellendam charitable cause and to raise money for cancer research, I was wary.

Good starter, non finisher

All I could remember from my effort in 2010 was the suffering on the faces of my teammates as I enjoyed chilled Coca-Cola in the air-conditioned interior of the support van. I wasn't sure if I could pull similarly anguished faces while aching my up the three hills that take you to the finish of the race. More distressingly, I wasn't sure I had the stones to cycle 202km.

But I'm nothing if not game to start challenge, even with a results roster crowded with DNFs (hedging my bets early, I anticipated another early "finish", insisting to the organisers that with only a month's warning I couldn't be expected to cycle 202km, but I'd gladly do 120km and "ride" the rest of the way in the support vehicle again). "Deal," they said. "But please get a bike that fits this time."

The cause, too, was compelling. As well as raising money for cancer research, we'd be riding alongside a handful of youthful farm workers who’d been encouraged to take up cycling by a Swellendam dominee and local company Southern Oil (SOILL). This would be their second attempt at finishing the Double Century after missing the cut-off in 2011. So taken with the sport was one of the young lads that he saved to buy his own bike for this year's event.
 
Naturally, at the start, just when you've done the bare minimum of training (for a 50km race), the wind was howling and the rain was threatening us with the kind of looks luxury car salesmen reserve for the grubs who stick their noses up against showroom windows.

Bicycling and News24, who were already sharing a room, then shared worried looks when a giant pot plant was blown into the pool of the B&B by a mighty gust of wind moments before leaving for the start. Ominous signs indeed.

Ready to ride

The telly boys from e.tv were fit and primed, Bicycling was talking a good game, the Star looked thirsty at the start already, EWN radio sounded confident, while the Cape Argus contingent observed the proceedings quietly, ensuring that yours truly didn't sneak off back to bed at the B&B.

Representatives from SOILL, the dominee and the young riders, Manie and Danville (who were wearing takkies and using flat pedals) seemed chipper enough, which was rather silly of them as they'd done the race before and knew full well that a long, hard slog lay ahead.

The race didn't disappoint those expecting a challenge. For 100km the wind bullied us front-on and pushed us sideways, tormenting our every stroke. If you weren't in full control of the bike, there was a strong chance of being slammed into passing cyclists.

Fitter, more professional teams whizzed past as we battled into the gale. For what felt like an eternity, gumball-sized drops of rain smashed into our backs and ran down our necks.

With the stronger riders in our group enduring the full force of the weather, we crawled towards the support vehicle at the 120km mark and a much-needed pit stop to refuel. This was to be my exit. But by now the team banter was encouraging, with Manie and Danville determined to finish the race this time too. It would be a shame to pull the plug and break the team unity. Suck it up, Moseley. Finish something, just this once, I told myself, finish something.

And then, a wind assist. For about 30-odd kilometres we flew towards Bonnievale, revelling in the speed and warming nicely to the task as the rain took a breather and allowed the sun to warm our backs.

With every media member and celeb rider taking heart from the efforts of Manie and Danville we pushed on, some getting pushed (just me) up the final hills. 170km became 180km, soon it was 190km and we looked to be on course to finish well within the 10 hour cut-off.

When the rain came back and the aches and pains cried like off-key choir members in my head, I simply had to look at these two boys, ploughing on through the cold in their beaten takkies and battered bikes, about to finish something that most comfortable citizens would never even dream of entering. That's all the encouragement I needed to hammer it home over the last 10km.

As we climbed up the last, short hill to the finish in nine long hours (with all team members present), I turned to Manie. Before I could say anything, he looked around. He looked up. He sighed. Then smiled. "I'm so happy," he said. "I'm just so happy."

- Follow @david_moseley on Twitter.

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