7 Steps to Acing the CTCT 42km!

The 42km route at the 2023 Cape Town Cycle Tour may only be half the distance of Big Daddy, but there are still ways you can make it easier.

By Tim Brink |

So, the Cape Town Cycle Tour 42km is your first bike race? Or your first in a very long time? Congratulations! You’ve chosen one of the very best out there, filled with heritage, beauty and fun, fun, fun. Let’s help you make it even better, with seven simple truths dredged up from our own early years…

You won’t be starting in the dark like the big boys – more chance to focus on staying calm and making the most of the heritage that surrounds the route.

1. Don’t Panic

Okay, it seems far – but it isn’t. Even the big-daddy 109km is totally manageable, with the right attitude. Start by breaking it into bite-sized chunks, separated by a drink, a nibble, even just a glance at the view. 

For the shorter route, think of it as 10 x 4km rides. You can do that in your sleep, right? Then string them together, maybe like so:

  • Grab a bite to eat to celebrate conquering Nelson Mandela Boulevard.
  • Wash it down with some water as you pass UCT, and the view across the suburbs appears.
  • Edinburgh Drive is going to be hard, no matter how you tackle it. Your prize is another snack at the top – but only at the top! A little vasbyt will get you there…
  • Enjoy the free speed on the Blue Route. Let out a loud and joyous WHEEEEEE! as you descend Wynberg Hill, and allow your legs and lungs a rest.
  • See if you can spot a golfer duffing a shot at the turnaround – that means your day is instantly better than his.
  • Check out Pollsmoor on your left as you eat another energy bar. See if you can spot where the old 1930s Grand Prix track was.
  • Getting back up Wynberg Hill might need a little more vasbyt – check out the fancy houses, and distract yourself with which one you would buy with your lottery winnings.
  • Order some of Chart Farm’s famous scones, and see if they’ll deliver through the fence… and suddenly, the hill is over.
  • Close your eyes (metaphorically, not actually) as you scream back down Edinburgh Drive, and use your momentum and rested legs to get up to the flatter road through Newlands Forest.
  • Stop and hug a firefighter. They need it. You need it. While you’re there, one last energy nibble to get you home. And a slug of water.
  • The final hurdle. Hospital Bend was fast when you left town; now, payback is sweet – in the form of a sip of cold Powerade, where you can, to break the climb up – because the view once you reach the top, all the way over the harbour to Robben Island and beyond, will make every bit of the mileage behind you worth it. And it genuinely is all downhill from here, for the last 5km. 

By the time you have split it all up and distracted yourself, it will be all over bar the medal and the Powerade, and that knowing glow at work on Monday.

2. Don’t go mad

Start. Out. Slowly. Even slower than you think you should. 

If you can’t share nervous chit-chat with the riders around you, if you’re out of breath at any point before UCT, then knock it off until you can partake in such pleasantries; this way, you’ll set yourself up for a strong second half, where you’ll pass all the bluffers and puffers you were with earlier.

The same goes for individual climbs. Start out at a pace you know you can manage out of sight and around the corner, and you’ll feel as strong as an ox by the time you get there. You’ll feel even better passing all the riders who sprinted into the foot of the climb and then tried to survive. 

This is especially important on Edinburgh Drive and on Wynberg Hill, both of which are long enough to hurt the rest of your ride if you get it wrong.

3. Have the right bike

Hopefully you’ve read this early enough to make the necessary improvements – either to your bike, or to your position on it. 

The bike is all-important. Yet unimportant. Let me explain: you can finish the 42km Cape Town Cycle Tour route on just about any bike, if it’s in working condition. Mountain bike, Dutch trapfiets, unicycle – bring what you have, and you’ll have an amazing day out, no matter what your wheels. 

However. A road bike will make it much more fun and comfortable, with faster wheels, and more hand positions on the curly bars keeping your neck, shoulders and wrists in top shape for the ride. A mountain bike will be slower – yet plusher, on its fatter tyres, and not slow enough to warrant buying a whole new bike; if you’re going that route, it sounds like you need to be riding the 109km. Serious business! 

But seriously: a proper bike-fit on the bike you have and are used to will be the fastest bike for you, on the day. Most bike shops will offer a rudimentary non-computerised check that you’re set up approximately correctly; or you can do it yourself by scanning the QR code on this page, and get close enough for now. When you upgrade to the 109km next year, the R1 000-odd pro bike fit will be worth every cent.

4. Invest in some toys

Who doesn’t love a spending spree before a big event? Here are some bits and bobs you can buy – even at the Expo – that will make your day even better.

  • A well-ventilated helmet will help immensely on CTCT Sunday. The 42km starts mid-morning and the sun will already be blazing, so every bit of cooling will help.
  • A second water bottle. It hurts to run out of water.
  • Gloves will help keep your hands cool and comfortable.
  • There will be more than enough signs along the road to let you know how far you’ve come, and how far you have to go, but a gizmo on your handlebars that gives you your speed and distance information will make your ride even more fun.
  • Armies: instead of sunscreen on the arms, experienced riders use removable UV-protection sleeves, to stay cool and not get burnt.
  • Clipless pedals. If you have time to get used to them, and you’re ready to invest in shoes and pedals (you’re in for R1 500, minimum), this is the biggest upgrade you can make in safety (your feet won’t bounce off the pedals on bumps in the road) and efficiency (they let you pull back and up as well as pushing down). But you need to practise with them; probably best not bought last minute at the Expo.

5. Drink

Hydration is critical to enjoying – and even to finishing – the Cape Town Cycle Tour. Your start time for the 42km route sees you heading out into the heat of the day, so begin with a 500ml bottle of water or Powerade while you wait at the start line, to keep your hydration topped up perfectly. 

After that, you should be aiming at 500ml per hour, sipped regularly – not gulped guiltily when you suddenly remember. The stress of the event, that craziness around you, can make it easy to forget; so practise drinking while riding in your training, and make sure you’re taking on fluid every few minutes. 

Water or energy drink? The best advice is one bottle of each on your bike; then you have a break from the sickly-sweet stuff available if you need it. Don’t be shy to stop at the water points and refill, either; this is an adventure, not a race. DO NOT TRY ANY NEW PRODUCT ON THE DAY, or you may well end up visiting those little blue spaceships along the route and ‘recycling’ all the goodness you’ve just put in.

Image by @ashleighnaaron

6. Eat

As with drinking, solid refuelling begins long before you feel hungry. The goal is to get in 40 to 60 grams of carbohydrates per hour on the road – that’s two bananas, or two normal energy bars – washed down with water or Powerade, to aid rapid digestion. 

If you can’t unwrap a bar on the bike, stop and enjoy the view while you do; the eating is more important than skipping a feed for the sake of speed and then grinding to a glycaemic halt on the final climbs. Plan for a morsel every half hour or so, adding up to the 40-60g carbs we mentioned above, and you’ll finish strong. 

As with hydration, DO NOT TRY ANY NEW PRODUCT ON THE DAY; flirting with gastric disaster should be left for training rides, when you don’t have thousands of fellow riders to try and hide from when it all goes wrong.

7. Finish

As you crest Hospital Bend on the way back – and I won’t lie, you and your tired legs will be pretty bleak by now, and p***ed off with this stupid climb that never seems to actually have an end – the magnificence of Table Bay will unfold before you. Take it all in: from the harbour to Robben Island, Table Mountain itself and Lion’s Head, blue sea and distant mountains and the immediacy of the vibrant city. 

You have but five kilometres to enjoy this. And you really must: you’ve completed one of the most scenic and heritage-packed short routes that any race could offer. Enjoy the medal, the Coke, the pats on the back. Champion.

This article appears in the March/April issue of Bicycling, on shelves across the country now with tons of other useful stuff, too!

READ MORE ON: 42km Cape Town Cycle Tour CTCT first-timer novice short route the argus tour

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