“If you can’t do a sub3 Argus, you may as well give up cycling all together.” That’s what I was told by a respected sports scientist sometime last year while concluding a key training block in my Absa Cape Epic preparations. – By Aaron Borrill
And while what he said holds true to a certain extent, many cyclists – the majority of which reside in the Mother City – have an intrinsic obsession with their ‘Argus’ time. It is, after all, one of the most popular conversation starters among cyclists at braais and group rides alike.
I’ll admit it’s always bothered me. I’ve only been cycling for just over three years and in that short time I’ve managed to register times of 5h26 and 3h42 in 2013 and 2014 respectively on a mountain bike. My first Argus that I officially prepared for was cut short owing to the devastating fires that scorched the Peninsula in 2015 and I was adamant it was the year I’d dip under 3 hours. But – the sub3 monkey would stay on my back for at least another year.
I’m not embarrassed to say it’s been a goal ever since I’ve taken cycling seriously. And while I knew I had the stamina, intensity, skill and fitness to comfortably dip below the magical 180min mark the fact remained I’d never managed one. Would this forever be the case?
I found myself in a quandary last year as the Cape Town Cycle Tour and Absa Cape Epic were separated by just 7 days. I was told by numerous people to give it a skip, as there’d always be another year to race it. Maybe they were right – I’d after all, put a lot of work into my Cape Epic preparation and it would be silly to throw it away due to a stupid bunch fall, right? I agreed to give it a miss. Or at least that’s what I told everybody. Secretly, it remained a goal. For days it toiled with my emotions and common sense. ‘What if you fall and break your collarbone’, Aaron? ‘Ok, I wont. Maybe I will. Ag, I won’t. You know what, I’m going to do it. Nah, It’s not worth it. Damn, I’d like that sub3’. It went on like this for days.
I made an agreement with myself that if the weather conditions were perfect, I’d line up in A bunch come race day. I trolled the weather station sites like a peeping tom for several days for updates. The predictions were looking good: no wind and cool conditions – a rarity in itself and a good omen perhaps. I decided to kit up and take my chances.
On the morning of the race I was filled with anxiety and visited the toilet more times than I can remember. Lining up with the racing bunch was both exhilarating and liberating, but also frightening come to think of it. My participation at the Cape Epic hinged on a clean passage to the finish line and I’d need to be extra vigilant so as not to touch bars, panic brake or get caught up in a bunch fall. As usual the first 20km were a dog show. The smell of burnt carbon regularly filled the air and profanities were the order of the day. At one point I remember telling one of my mates Donovan le Cok I’m going to call it in – the risk was just too great and the behavior of the bunch was suggesting a fall was imminent. Donovan told me to relax and hang back with him.
Donny is a good guy – calm and collected he knows his way around a peleton and has a knack for preempting possible moves and attacks. The bunch calmed as we approached Simon’s Town the first real tester loomed – Smitswinkel. It’s not a terrible climb but picking a dead wheel up here will likely result in getting dropped. Donny and I shimmied through the rabble of dead wheels and found ourselves cresting the top with the front guys. The fast descent into Kommetjie gave us some respite and a chance to mentally prepare for the last two climbs, namely Chapman’s Peak and Suikerbossie.
It was fast and furious up Chappies. We averaged 31km/h up there but there was no time to relax at the summit as the pace went up several knots on the descent into Hout Bay. We were just 20-odd kilometers away from the finish. “Do you think we’ll get a sub3 Donny?” “Forget the sub3 dude – just ride your bike,” he muttered. That was great advice. Our group had splintered into four at Smitswinkel and only the strongest riders had made it through to this point however, one hurdle still remained – Suikerbossie or Sugar Bush as some of the guys like to call it. This was definitely the toughest climb; not because of the gradient but rather it’s position in the race and the pace at which the peleton sails up it. If there was a point I thought I’d get dropped, it was here, but I managed to crest with the bunch.
The next 19km were fast and furious. I looked at my Garmin and we were on course for a comfortable sub3 but the race wasn’t over just yet. I narrowly avoided a big crash on Beach Road and side-stepped a guy with a puncture moments later. Just 500m to go. Should I contest the sprint? Or should I coast home? Sanity prevailed. I coasted in at a time 2h52. Donovan – also racing the Cape Epic later that week – won the sprint and took the VA win but I didn’t care. I’d done it. I’d finished 41st in the group and 187th overall. I was exhausted. Not physically but mentally. But what a rush, what a feeling. It felt as if a weight had lifted from my shoulders – was it the relief of getting through unscathed or had the proverbial sub3 monkey fallen off my back? At that point I didn’t care.
Would I do it all over? In a heartbeat. It’s a risk I’d genuinely take again – especially considering what would unfold just a few days later at the Cape Epic. Who would have thought I’d succumb to food poisoning on Stage 5. Imagine I’d skipped the Argus and went ahead only to end up in hospital just a few days later with a bacterial infection and nothing to show for it. I took solace in my sub3 – it got me through those dark post-Epic days.
Pros call the Cycle Tour “the Fun-Ride World Champs” to play its importance down. But I tell you what: if you offered the local pros the win beforehand I guarantee you it wouldn’t be a “Fun Ride” anymore, because it would make their career. This year, I’m faced with the exact same situation again but I’m going to follow my gut instinct here because two subs3 are surely better than one, right?