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The Cape Argus 2009

Oh Crap, it’s the Cape Doctor, oops I mean Cape Argus.


By Vaughan Hunt  –  So I’m 200m into the event I, and all the riders around me are off our bikes… mine is lying on the ground and I’m down on my hands and knees… not one of us can stand upright. There was no crash!

2km into the event I’m reading a heart rate of 175 and struggling to climb a 2% gradient. Half the other riders around me are walking.

What’s going on?

Riders struggle to get off the start line.

I managed to time a business trip to Cape Town, South Africa so I could ride in the 2009 Cape Argus Cycle Tour. This is the biggest participation cycle event in the world with over 40,000 riders registered.

So what’s actually going on is the dry and warm, south-easterly wind known as the Cape Doctor… It sprung up around 10pm the night before and by 8am it was in full force, averaging a consistent 45-65km/h.

At the starting line for my wave group (group FF), it was quite surreal… a whole row of porta-loos blew over, the crew were desperately cutting the banners off the starting line as the scaffolding of the start line threatened to give way, and we had to brace into the strong side wind… a whole row of bikes at 45 degrees.

The race start passes under the local council building, which spans the road just like the PNCC building. As our group cleared the building, a huge gust flattened the lot of us. I couldn’t stand and had to get down on all fours and wait for it to end.

The 110km loop goes from Cape Town down to the Cape of Good Hope, the southern tip of Africa, and back circumnavigating the Cape Peninsular.

Because it was my first entry I was un-seeded and started in the middle of the field. That means nearly two Taupo events ahead of me and two waiting behind! Imagine that! Imagine no bunches and heaps of mountain bikes! Bugger!

However, the Argus is as much a festival as a cycle tour… without a lie, almost all of the 110km were lined with cheering crowds! The roads of the entire course are closed to cars, including the M3 motorway. It is the biggest participation cycle event in the world after all!

The course starts on the 3 lane M3 motorway but soon changes to a climb through the leafy suburbs of Newlands where cheering crowds of white South Africans were way beyond enthusiastic. I had one of those “New Zealand” cycle tops from Gary’s shop on, and the cheers of “Go Kiwi” were loud and numerous.

30km in you reach Muizenberg and the coast. The road follows the sea through the towns of Kalk Bay and Fish Hoek. At exposed points down the east coast the wind is blasting across the sea, picking up sand from the beach and sandblasting the riders. Soon sand is everywhere! A liberal coating stuck to my sunscreen and sweaty skin. Yuck!

Getting sandblasted at Kalk Bay

Grinding through Simons Town I was counting down the km till the Cape Point and the turn into the tail wind!

After 2 hours 30 I reached the southern point of the ride. You know how disappointing it is when you anticipate something so much and then it never really eventuates? There were definitely moments of fast tail wind riding, but on the west coast of the peninsular the wind was swirling over the hills and unpredictable. Bugger again!

Turning North you hit the coast again at Misty Cliffs, which is an exact description of the place. I’ve ridden through there once before with some buddies from one of the local clubs, and it is a spectacularly wild coast.

The next section is more in the Black African neighbourhoods of Ocean View. The Africans on the side of the road were unbelievable… especially the women. They were dancing and singing and playing all kinds of instruments. What a party! You have no idea! Heaps of little African kids lined up in a row on the edge of the road with their hands out for a “hi five”. I could get 10-15 at a time.

Two big hills to go… first up is Chapman’s Peak. This road has been closed for the last 12 months because of dangerous rock falls… so it’s too dangerous for cars, but OK for 40,000 cyclists?


Chapmans peak (the day after the ride)

Regardless, it’s a spectacular road and a great climb. The swirling wind gusts on this cliff edge road are freakish… especially on the descent where they threatened to push you over the cliff.

Quickly the ride reaches Haut Bay and pitches up again into the much feared Sukierbossie (pronounced Psycho-Bossy). It’s the Argus equivalent of Hatepe.

Sukierbossie hill is the toughest climb on the course

Actually the wind was squarely behind me on this climb and the people lining the road were calling us on.

Some guy was out with his garden hose dousing anybody who wanted it… and I was definitely keen. My late start meant that the temperature was approaching the day’s maximum of 29C.

Now it was oscillating head and tail wind as the course followed the Atlantic seaboard north to Cape Town. Great scenery with the sea on one side and the cliffs of Table Mountain and the 7 Sisters on the other! Cape Town has some amazing geography.

The Atlantic seaboard, the Seven Sisters on the right and Lion’s Head on the left

Approaching Cape Town the crowds changed as I rode through the wealthy Camps Bay. No black faces, only white ones toasting us with glasses of wine from the café’s and bars.

The last 2km were the longest. The wind was back in my face and I had nothing left in the tank to fight with! It was hard to know just where the finish was as the scaffolding had already blown over and been taken away, but the timing mat was a sudden and welcome sight!

4hr 24 later, at a pathetic 24.9km/h average speed, I was there, the finishers medal was thrust into my hand. Probably worth a medal that one!

The ride profile

YouTube video of the start line

Locals cheering!!!

TV Advert for the ride… remember that Sukierbossie is the toughest climb on the ride (not for the squemish!!)

Some facts about the Argus:

  • The Argus is a sister ride to Taupo and one of the UCI Golden Bike events.
  • Number of people who paid an entry fee: 43,000
  • Time to sell out the 35,000 “local entries” : 48 hours
  • International riders can register at any time without restrictions.
  • Number of bikes blown off the cliff into the sea at Chapman’s Peak: 1
  • Number of serious injuries: 71, 19 requiring overnight hospital treatment
  • Number of cyclists killed on Cape Town roads this year: 5
  • Number of cyclists trapped in a porta-loo when it blew over (door down): 1
  • Arran Brown of Medscheme pipped Robbie Hunter of Barlowworld at the line
  • A special team of Baboon control officers are out on event day at Smitswinkel