Once Were Virgins – Legends of the Cycle Tour Want You To Do This
We all remember our first time and so it is with the greatest bike race in the world: the Cape Town Cycle Tour. Some had a good time; some scraped their knees. But every single one of the first-time Cycle Tour finishers in this article came back for more. And some of them for more, and more, and even more. So, what’s their advice for the 2023 Cycle Tour virgins, as they clip in for their 109km adventure around the beautiful Cape Peninsula?
Dr Michael Mol
TV doctor, Munga finisher, 12 finishes
I DID THIS
My first Cycle Tour didn’t go according to plan.
I’d trained well enough, and arrived in Cape Town with a bike and my new(ish) wife in tow. Hearing I wasn’t alone, Dave Bellairs promptly offered Jacqui an entry and a bike. But the last time Jacqs had ridden a bike was to school and back, so needless to say I spent most of the tour with one hand on my handlebars and the other on my wife’s back.
But it was amazing! I got to experience the best of the Cape Peninsula in ‘slow motion’, heard all the chirps and cheers from the crowds lining the course, took in the breathtaking views and experienced the elation of owning the road on a bike for a day, with tens of thousands of other lycra-clad enthusiasts.
By the time we got to Suikerbossie, I’d so much left in the tank that I left Jacqs on her own for a bit, sprinted to the top (drawing much cheering and applause), and then came back down to ride it again with my wife.
So if this is your first time, my advice would be to take your time, look up and look around – there’s not a moment on the ride that isn’t simply spectacular. Soak it up, max out on your time in the saddle, and come back next year for a PB. The Cycle Tour is like a kiss; you’ll never forget your first, so make it a memorable one.
Owner, Olympic Cycles (one of Cape Town’s oldest bike shops), 26 finishes
I DID THIS
When I think of my first Cape Town Cycle Tour – the Argus cycle tour, as it was then – I get amped to get out on my bike and look forward to the next tour.
Firstly, all the southern suburbs training rides and funride events, where we had the wonderful privilege of riding Constantia Nek and round to Cape Point on so many weekends; for me, that went hand in hand with the build-up to the tour. Then midweek training rides with my dad on the tandem, and a small group of riders. I remember the awe of watching the others smashing it up the Victoria Hospital climb on the way back from our 50km loop, while I suffered up slowly on the tandem.
As far as the race-day experience goes, I just remember things passing by on the side. I remember the laughs and the amazing vibe out there, as a constant stream of riders headed around the peninsula.
I remember not having brakes at the back seat, and that tandems always made a lot of friends down the Blue Route. As I was on the back of the tandem, spectators and other riders would tell my father that I wasn’t pedalling at the back. Eventually I got to take the handlebars and ride in the front – now I get told that he’s not pedalling at the back! Although in the past year, he’s slipped off the tandem onto an e-bike.
But still today, when I ride certain sections, I always think of those moments back then; when the slog as a young kid always felt so much tougher than today. And the finish in Camps Bay was always festive, after the last hill ‘sprint’ to the finish line. And the odd year of making an effort to go for a dip in the ocean before leaving! Then pushing our tandem past the festivities as we walked up from the fields at Maiden’s Cove past La Med, to cycle back to our car.
After 21-plus tours, every time it gives me just as much joy to be out there riding around the peninsula. Especially when the day kicks off with a good Hoopla!
Start eating and drinking before you’re thirsty or hungry. Enjoy the ride, and ride within your limits – accidents happen when the red mist clouds your judgement and the sweat in your eyes clouds your eyesight. Stop at the Simon’s Town water point, sing along and have a dance. Smitswinkel is longer than you think, and that’s where the ride really begins. Smile all the way. Be kiff out there.
One of just two riders to have finished every single CTCT, 44 finishes
I DID THIS
I remember standing at the start line in Strand Street, next to the Castle, as a young 13-year-old, thinking: “I can do this ride. And finish it!”
In the lead-up to race day, my training had consisted of only five rides; the longest was 34km, which took almost two hours. On the day I had a puncture in Simon’s Town, which I repaired with a patch and glue, as we didn’t ride with saddle bags, hence no spare tubes. And there was a strong south-easter to Smitswinkel/Cape Point – followed by a great tailwind to Misty Cliffs. What a contrast!
The original Suikerbossie climb was a narrow road, and wasn’t closed to traffic. A big white Land Rover 4×4 almost knocked me into the stone side-drain, but I managed to stay upright just centimetres from the tar’s edge. The finish line was in Camps Bay, at the old cast-iron lamppost, which is still there today. It’s opposite the soccer field, just before the coffee shops.
The distance was 104km, the furthest I’d ever ridden in my life at that time! And my finishing time was 5:25:00, at an average speed of 19.2km/h – still my slowest CTCT finish to date.
Believe in yourself, that you can ride and finish within the time limit of seven hours. That’s 15.6km/h or faster. Stop every hour or so for a short break, no longer than five minutes at a time. Make use of the water points to do this. Keep moving by walking around; try not to sit still, as you’ll struggle to get going again. And don’t waste time along the route stopping unnecessarily.
Ride at an even pace, knowing that you’ll take longer on a climb and be faster on a descent. Look in front of you all the time. Watch a rider or two in front of the rider you’re following for any movement or change of pace, and don’t overlap wheels. That’ll give you more time to react and escape any mishaps.
Most importantly, have fun; because only one person will come first on the day. And come back next year!
Tied second on the VIP log, 37 finishes
I DID THIS
Oh, god… can I even remember, 40 years on?!
I should be riding my 40th, like the delightful Olga Basson: the most Argus’d woman rider! But I’ve missed two. Three punctures last year, plus one year out with flu; so this year will be number 38.
I’d only been riding for about six weeks before my first Cycle Tour, in 1983, on one of [husband] John’s cast-off bikes plus a sheepskin saddle cover. I did a little over five hours. And in those days there were under 3 000 riders; which meant you didn’t see a soul for hours, we were so spaced out.
I remember only the start – which is always scary, until you get going – and the finish in Camps Bay, with parked cars everywhere. And the sense if relief to have finished this epic ride!
My advice to the first-timer is to keep hydrated if it’s hot, and make sure to eat a good breakfast beforehand. Take along an energy bar or banana; it’s a long day, for most beginners. But there are refreshment stops along the way, so make use of them. And remember to enjoy the fabulous scenery and great camaraderie along the way.
Five-time winner, 20 finishes
I DID THIS
I was eight, turning nine. And it was very much a family outing, so I did it with four of my cousins, and my aunt and uncle did it on a tandem. We all drove down together from Pretoria, and it was such a special moment. I don’t think any of us knew what we were getting ourselves into!
My parents made a rule: we all had to ride together. We stopped at every single water point. My eldest cousin took such good care of me, feeding me bananas and Bar Ones at every water point.
I remember, at the last water point, telling my two younger cousins – they were the same age as me – that I needed to go to the toilet. When I came out, they had carried on riding! I was so disappointed, and my oldest cousin just stayed with me – he even picked me up when I crashed going down Oukaapseweg.
It was such fun. I’ve ridden every year since, except the Covid year, which I missed, and then last year I crashed on Chappies, which is the first one I haven’t finished.
Pace yourself. Suikerbossie really is a tough climb, and if you go out too fast, you <itals>will suffer on it. Don’t try anything new – you see people with new pants, different energy drinks… that doesn’t work. Rather use stuff you’re used to!
And then, just take the time to do the Cycle Tour for what it is. It’s such a magical day; for one day of the year, you have all these thousands of people doing the sport that you love. Take in the vibe. Take in the moment. Look around. It’s known world-wide, and you’re part of it.
Celebrity braaimeister, and A-group winner, 30 finishes
I DID THIS
My first Cape Town Cycle Tour was in 1992 and I haven’t missed one since, making the 2023 edition my 31st.
I was 11; back then, you were allowed to ride on your own at that age. The A bunch was the first one in those years; I think my father started in the B batch or thereabouts, so I waited quite a while for my start at the back. Which was still in the main alphabet, as there were no secondary alphabet groups yet!
Two songs were played on repeat for the duration of the wait: ‘Bicycle Race’, by Queen, and then, as each group set off, ‘Wish Me Luck As You Wave Me Goodbye’, by Vera Lynn, a song that makes me nervous to this day. I rode a Peugeot Rapport road bike, with downtube shifters and toeclip pedals. My wardrobe was a neon Romer helmet, a cycling shirt that I won at a prior PPA cycling event lucky draw, black Znugglez cycling shorts, and running shoes.
At the time the finish was at Maiden’s Cove, so it was a 105km event. My only nutrition was Coke, and I stopped once or twice to refill my bottle. Every hour on the hour my father waited for me at some designated main scaffold tower at Maiden’s Cove – obviously this was years before cellphones, so that’s how he found me again afterwards. My time was around 4h20.
Wear sunscreen. Everything else, at the start and en route, is pretty obvious and self-explanatory once you’re there. The organisers have done this many times, so it’s pretty smooth. And you should braai many times in the days leading up, to fill your body with proteins!
Serial Absa Cape Epic finisher, three finishes
I DID THIS
I did my first CTCT when I was still fairly new to cycling, more than 10 years ago. I didn’t know much about nutrition on the bike; neither did I know about slipstreaming, following a wheel, or how to read and understand the route profile!
I only had a bite to eat at water points (potatoes and bananas), and had a light sports drink and water in my two water bottles – I was completely under-fuelled for such a tough race. So needless to say, I tanked a good few times along the way.
So I stopped for way too long at waterpoints, anything from 10 to 30 minutes. And I wasn’t prepared for the climbs, because I hadn’t studied the route in order to prep myself for them!
So with that said, to anyone facing their first CTCT this year: try and do the opposite of what I did in my first one! Carry snacks (energy bars, etc.) for in between the waterpoints. Eat or drink something every 15 to 20 minutes to sustain your energy. Slipstream in a bunch or follow a wheel (especially on the flats) to make up time while saving energy.
Fuel up ahead of climbs, for extra energy – a good 5km before a climb, have an extra bite to eat, plus your energy drink. Plan for that; basically, study the route profile, or have someone explain it to you.
And don’t forget to look up every now and then and take in the beautiful route!
Record seven-time winner, 21 finishes
I DID THIS
My first CTCT was very overwhelming, because I’d never seen so many cyclists together in one place! It was the most magnificent experience, with the crowds next to the roads, and the whole vibe. That’s one of the things I love most about this race. It’s a celebration of humanity.
We are so privileged to have the world’s largest timed cycling event right on our doorstep; but the magnitude of this race can be nerve-wracking and overwhelming for first-timers.
My advice would be to familiarise yourself with the venue, and double-check your start time. Also, make sure you arrive at the event on the morning with more than enough time to spare; things can go wrong, and you don’t want to rush and panic. Make sure you’ve packed your water bottles, checked your tyres, and have your timing chip with you (that is what this event is about, after all!).
In the first half of the race, don’t start too fast and push too hard; rather keep something in the tank for Chappies and Suikerbossie. (Suikerbossie has notoriously claimed lots of cyclists due to cramping.)
And lastly, enjoy the vibe – if you start with a slower group and it’s not about the racing, then stop, take pics, and enjoy this fantastic spectacle that Cape Town has to offer!
‘Cycling Mayor’ of Cape Town, owner of Khaltsha Cycles in Khayelitsha, two finishes
I DID THIS
My fondest memory is of the concept of CTCT that was pitched to me when I first started riding. I was 22 I think, and I built up a fascination with this bike event that was happening in the city of Cape Town, allowing us to ride our bicycles freely without any cars on the streets – 109 kilometres, dedicated just to us for the day.
So the Cycle Tour has never been a timed race for me; it’s always been a day to enjoy the city on your bicycle. And that goes back to the <itals>gees and the excitement – not just from other riders, but from the spectators.
I rode a Raleigh bike my dad had bought me; a heavy road bike, but it was just amazing to connect with people I didn’t even know. And some of those people, I’m friends with even to this day. So it gave me an understanding of the freedom that bicycles can give you. You can’t even get it in a car – the wind in your face, stopping and talking to people… These are the pleasures of life.
As you know, my mission is to get people on bicycles; in particular, people of colour. For me, that has always been a very touchy point. There are a lot of people of colour who want to ride bikes, but don’t even know how to ride yet.
And this year, on 12 March, we’re taking 30 girls to the Cape Town Cycle Tour who had never ridden before. Kitted out with brand-new Avalanche bikes, helmets, the works. It’s given a life to young black women, telling them it’s possible. That if Ashleigh Moolman can do it, then they can do it. It’s a big milestone for us.
And I guess my advice to all first-timers is the same as to the girls: get out there, andbe positive. You can do it.
Comrades Marathon legend, eight finishes
I DID THIS
I was in Cape Town for the Peninsula Marathon – it was the week before the Argus. I finished third, in 2:18, and then my friend Graeme Lindenberg told me I should do the Argus, seeing as I was still here… Alan van Heerden organised me a bike, and I was off!
I think I rode a 3:25 or something. My legs were fine, but my rear was agony. In a later Tour I crashed, too, at the top of Smitswinkel, and grazed my knee. Not badly at all. But there’s a picture, somewhere, of Mosuioa Lekota putting antiseptic on it for me in the VIP tent…
There was one big positive takeaway which made up for that, though: I met my future wife Gill at the party after the 1987 ride!
First-timer advice? The first thing is proper shorts, that your rear is used to, and maybe even chamois cream. More importantly, I think, should probably be not to do it because of a dare the week before!
And realise who we all are: average age 50.5, married, two and a half children. We’re not stupid, no one wants to die. We all love life. So we hold our lines on the corners, and we’re not stressed if the batch behind catches us later on.
Premier of the Western Cape, 13 finishes
I DID THIS
I remember, it used to end just on the other side of Camps Bay – you didn’t go all the way through Clifton to Sea Point and the Cape Town Stadium. It was somewhere in the 80s, I think I did a 3h22 or something. It was a lot easier to cycle round the mountain at that speed in those days!
I’m much more tempted to stop at coffee shops and take it easy these days, which I think is more enjoyable.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, or when you have the chance to do your first Cape Town Cycle Tour: try not to get sucked up into those fast-moving groups. Rather enjoy the ocean views, and the banter, and the natter. That’s what it’s all about: enjoying a day out, riding a bicycle around the peninsula.
Celebrity chef and restaurateur, nine finishes
I DID THIS
I don’t think I’ll ever forget my first. I didn’t even have a bike; my mates promised they would organise me one, and wait for me on the route, that kinda thing. The first time I rode my borrowed bike was down to the registration!
I think it took me 5h40 in the end, an absolute nightmare. But we always go back, because of the <itals>gees and the energy around it all. And the route is just spectacular. How could there be a more beautiful race in the world?
Ride at your own pace; keep left, pass right; and take in the scenery and the spirit. Stop at every water point, and soak it all in. Just the nutrition of doing that will probably get you through it!
Liezel van der Westhuizen
Media personality, Ironman finisher, five finishes
I DID THIS
It was in 2010. I remember being so excited, because I’d just moved to Cape Town, and here I was doing this. And then I realised, at the start, I’d forgotten my timing chip! Luckily I had enough time to get back to my car and get it.
And then I remember falling in love with the vibe and the gees on the route. I remember people cheering and supporting and shouting. The musicians and DJs along the route. I’ve never experienced anything like it, anywhere in the world.
Always remember your timing chip! Strap it to your bike, or get it ready the night before with your outfit.