Cycle Tour: Eish … you’re never too old to learn

Rob Houwing (Supplied)
Rob Houwing (Supplied)

The best way to describe it would be to submit that it was probably the nastiest little rummage into my own pocket that I have ever done.

It was then, seconds after the beep-beep as I crossed the finish line at the 2020 Cape Town Cycle Tour, that the rudest of shocks came to the fore.

Utterly convinced in my own mind that I had done a personal best – admittedly, only my second Tour at ripe old 55 after an already daftly belated debut two years ago – I duly delved into my shorts for my smartphone and the unofficial (but still virtually smack-on) race time on my Strava app.

Even as I yanked it out, there was a self-satisfied smirk all over my face; self-adulation was positively imminent.

All race long, I had resisted the temptation to check how I was faring time-wise, figuring that a get-your-nose-down-and-graft, no-distractions sort of policy would carry me through.

No, I didn’t stop at a single water/Coke point (there was enough naartjie-flavoured fluid in my two bottles), didn’t dawdle anywhere to chat to a familiar-faced roadsider, didn’t even look up at the sometimes cloud-covered heavens to check the position of the sun as some sort of rough clue to where the hands might be on your average clock.

I just rolled, like the solid goods train – rather than Japanese bullet-type flier – I always am in the saddle.

That’s right, a humble mid-ranger of the trade: pretty fit; always could be better so.

And most of the time, I was satisfied I was rumbling along particularly well: come the finish, and the plan was to surprise (and by extension wow) myself with just how consummately I had beaten off my maiden 2018 performance of 5:04.

My fancy was at LEAST 20 minutes. Jeepers, maybe more?

I should mention that I make things a little harder for myself: I again rode the Tour on my mountain bike, with its knobbly, wider tyres, and the opinions I have heard range from five minutes to half an hour of impediment (I always prefer to bank the latter, of course) against a more conventional, pencil-slim racer.

Anyway, out, in a wave of enthusiasm akin to a child looking under the tree on Christmas Day, came the phone.

5.09, it said.

I did a double take.

Five oh bloody nine?

No, no, no … this can’t be.

I fumbled in the other pocket - with indignant urgency and amidst the warm, oozy remaining wine gums - for my reading glasses.

Ah, I said to myself soothingly as I did, it was just an old geezer’s misread. (Reading glasses are the cure to many ills.)

But the spectacles were no solace, either: it was STILL an unbudging, hell-and-damnation, billions-of-blistering-blue-barnacles, end-of-my-world 5.09.

Can you reverse a personally administered back slap? All I know is that right there and then, I did.

My misery quickly deepened as I examined a flood of banked-up, ebullient Whatsapps.

Most of my mates – earlier starters, all riding feathers and revelling in the conditions preceding the spiteful black south-easter, drizzle and rumbles of thunder that nailed me to a limited, but clearly fateful enough extent – had recorded “PBs”.

Spike, who somehow attracts mishap like flies to a fresh doggy deposit on the lawn, even managed one despite involvement in a peloton pile-up in the first third, near Ladies Mile.

Just off surgery to a hand gash in a surfing accident, he nonchalantly extricated himself from the crumpled mess, just a little bloodied and scratched (by his standards, anyway) to a leg, and reckons he only lost three minutes or so.

Craig, Barry, Carl and Dan all had tales of personal valour, too. (Dave didn’t … he turned this year’s into a deliberately sedate-paced, stop-start little booze cruise.)

It was all no comfort … though Craig, particularly, with his soothing Buddhist-like diplomacy, tried.

“Look, Rob, you just need thin tyres next year, man. And to start earlier (how’s that going to happen, with my insipid 5:09, I ask bitterly?). Oh ja, and to latch nicely onto a peloton.”

Peloton? Dude, don’t you know there ARE no pelotons amidst the 08:36, 5D start group? (It’s every rider for him- or herself, a sort of strategic spaghetti-bolognaise, with “just get me there” the key ethic.)

My wife offered a philosophical, attempted softener too: “You are two years older than for your last Tour, you know … and you only sacrificed five minutes in all that time. It was like a win. You’re still my hero!”


It’s Monday now, and I have kind of recovered from my punctured ego, though the hangover’s still there: I drowned my sorrows with some gusto at Spike’s otherwise celebratory post-ride braai, having abstained from alcohol for almost a week (big sacrifice, for me) to give myself an optimal – or so I misguidedly thought - crack at the event.

As the dust settles on the 2020 race, a few “if onlys” come acidly to my mind.

First and foremost, though, it really might not be the worst idea to repurchase a simple odometer (mine fell off the bike and trickled into a sealed drain as I reloaded it onto the bakkie after a service a year or so back) so that I have a better idea, all race long, of whether (or when) I need to put the hammer down a tad.

Mental estimates/brazen assumptions of impending glory? Nah, they just don’t cut it.

I promise this much: like the drop in the bottom of the shiraz bottle, there was a bit left in these old legs at Sunday’s finish. That’s the really infuriating part.

But I guess you’re never too old to learn.

I’ll be back. If it’s the last thing I do, I will get inside that blessed “five” one day.

Psst … even if I have to talk REALLY nicely to the good Tour media office people for the next 364 days about my 2021 seeding, and beat off that wretched Cape Doctor.

Are you reading this, Nicole?


*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

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