The Knysna to Cape Town ride is held annually as a training ride/camp in the middle of Cape Town’s winter. In my opinion, this is the perfect time to hold this ride as it ensures a solid block of mileage during a time in which athletes struggle to build a good base.
The training camp is held over four days and covers 607km (full version) and 324km (light version). MTD has ensured that athletes of varying levels are accommodated for - cyclists are allocated into three groups based on one’s fitness and cycling experience. Personally, I found that Claire and Kent Horner (the owners of My Training day) did an exceptional job of gauging who should be in what group which was evident in the well-matched and even-paced groups. This resulted in cyclists feeling confident and comfortable on the road.
The ride from Knysna to Cape Town takes place in some of the Cape’s most scenic vistas with long open roads and many beautiful climbs. The ride is a fully-catered for affair. When entering the ride online, I was a little sceptical that MTD could offer what they promised on the meagre entry fee. In today’s times entry fees for events such as the Cape Epic and many other rides are so high that one could rather be going on an overseas holiday. These same events often offer sleeping facilities of a mattress in a tent and all meals are normally held in a mess hall. This is where the MTD tour really outshines all other cycling events.
Accommodation that was included was four-star (electric blankets are a plus when temperatures drop to two below zero!). The food was of a high quality and there was never a shortage. We were offered three full meals per day with dinner being a social three course affair each night. A good night’s sleep and wholesome food cannot be underestimated when riding 600km over four days (especially if you did little training prior to the ride!). The excellent post-ride care does not stop there. I was pleasantly surprised with the daily supplements (both gels and bars) and energy drinks that were supplied by High5 sports nutrition as well as recovery salts supplied by bexters (all free of charge). MTD also organized a qualified and experienced physio that was available to all athletes in the evening to tend to all aches, pains and sore muscles. This was an additional service offered at a very reasonable rate. Furthermore, there were recovery boots made available by Juan. These boots aid in the recovery of muscles. This was a highlight for myself as I could sit with the recovery boots on while having a drink and watching the Tour de France on TV- all at the same time- a cyclist’s dream come true! What made the experience even better was that Juan turned out to be an ex-pro cyclist with a wealth of knowledge and many a great story to share.
The daily safety and organization of the riders was second to none. Claire and Kent had thought of everything which is vital when you have a group of excitable athletes covering over 600km of public roads. I could see that this responsibility was taken seriously by MTD. Each group had a driver following behind them at all times ensuring that traffic was rarely near the riders and if vehicles were close, they were aware that they were passing a group of cyclists. These back-up drivers (Heather, Juan and Faye) are the unsung heroes of such an event as they follow each group between four to eight hours a day- I know I would much rather be riding!
Day 1 Knysna to Oudtshoorn. The first day encompasses 136km with an elevation gain of 2321m. With heavy rain predicted it was decided to shorten the route and skip the leg on the N2 for safety sake. The weather saw temperatures in the single digits and plenty of rain which resulted in myself and others, not able to feel our fingers (except kortbroek Piet-some are just built tougher). This is a reminder that having the appropriate apparel can never be under estimated. The highlight of the first day for me, was climbing the Outeniqua pass which has a wide verge and steady gradient which allows one to get into a good rhythm. The first day ends at De Oude Meul country lodge where we spent the night.
Day 2 Oudtshoorn to Barrydale. This stage is the big one covering 191kms and total elevation of 2036m. The main climb of the day is from Calitzdorp to Ladismith up the Seweweekspoort Pass. This is a long and testing climb but the fact that there were almost no cars and beautiful views made it a special climb for me. The days highlight was the refreshment stop at Ronnie’s Sex shop where I was immediately given a Coke spiked with brandy! After downing my drink and having a quick photo, I was off for the last 20km to Barrydale. I found my second wind and the kilometres passed in a blur. Coke, Brandy and 191kms somehow all worked together in perfect unison. Special mention must be made about the Barrydale Karoo Hotel – this eccentric hotel off the beaten track exceeded my expectations. The gluwine upon arrival after an icy day on the road was the icing on the cake! I will be revisiting the hotel soon after our comfortable and luxurious stay.
Day 3 Barrydale to Slanghoek Valley. The third day consisted of 158km of riding and an elevation gain of 1469m. This day took cyclists through stunning valleys including Montague, Ashton and Robertson where we stopped for lunch. The Bourbon street restaurant in Robertson served us excellent food and coffee which put us all in a happy space which was welcomed before hitting the next 68km into a headwind while riding on rolling false flats (character building stuff). The ride ended in Goudini Spa. At the end of day three, it was clear that everyone was beginning to feel the effects of the accumulated mileage. This was when Kent decided to bring in some fun and games by introducing a race between the under 30s vs the over 30s which would be carried out the next day in the form of a hill climb up Bains Kloof.
Day 4 Slanghoek to Somerset West. The final day consisted of 122km of riding with 1216m of elevation gain. The morning started with much scheming and plotting on how to win the hill climb challenge. This gave me the same feeling one gets before a race and I had to remind myself to not get caught up in the racing as over 85km would still have to be done on tired legs. Whether one raced up Bains Kloof or took it all in at a leisurely pace, it is a climb that leaves an impression upon one. The pass has rugged cliffs with steep dramatic drops to a flowing river. It is a truly beautiful climb.
The ride/tour ended at Erinvale Golf estate in Somerset West. We made use of their excellent facilities to freshen up and then had our farewell lunch. It was during the lunch that it dawned on me how lucky I was to have spent four days with a group of fun like-minded people who understood that the simple pleasure of riding a bicycle puts a smile on ones’ face and makes the small everyday issues seem unimportant and generally makes for a better world.
To quote Arnold Schwarzenegger “I’ll be back”