If you are a keen cyclist then the Cape Town Cycle Tour (aka Cape Argus) is likely on your bucket list. Boldly conceived as a non segregated event during the height of the apartheid regime, the race is now a celebration of humankind, attracting 35,000 competitors. The cycling greats have all raced here – Miguel Indurain, Lance Armstrong, Jan Ullrich amongst others. The race combines tough mountain climbs around the Cape of Good Hope, jaw dropping scenery, fast downhill stretches, unpredictable winds, and the odd “baboon incident”. Despite sand blowing in my face and a few hair raising gusts of wind, I loved riding it this year.
If you heard the phrase “my fok Maralize” on this year’s tour it stems from a viral video starring a 19 year old South African woman learning to ride a bike. In an otherwise completely empty field, she manages to head straight for a rugby post and a nasty crash. Her mother is heard exclaiming “my fok Maralize” (Afrikaans for “my f**ck Maralize) as she rushes to help. It has joined the Afrikaan vernacular as an expression of irritation or exasperation.
Maralize was one of several C-list celebrities on this year’s tour. I don’t know whether she crashed, but with 35,000 cyclists (the world’s largest timed cycling event) there were plenty of accidents.
I saw an entire peleton wipeout, bodies literally flying through the air. The men ended up on on the tarmac, rolling around in seeming agony. Others lay motionless on their backs, arms outstretched. I thought that they were dying, but Melonski, my South African cycling partner explained that young African cyclists take their cue from European premier league footballers. If you might be hurt, make the most of it and splay your body out dramatically; act like you are dying. It makes for good television and you might just win a penalty!
Whether you are on a bicycle or driving around the Cape here are some of my favourite haunts along the storied cycle route:
Misty Cliffs is a stunning coastal village where everyone is either a cyclist or a surfer. Most people seem to make their living selling beads, baskets and vegan whatnots. The women are hirsute and barefoot. Their menfolk are tall, rangy types who will engage you in conversations about ceramic ball bearings and surfboard wax. The salty air carries the sweet smell of spent weed. It’s a happy place. The Village Hub is a destination for cyclists as well as lovers of fresh seafood. One can ride into the enclosed courtyard downstairs, well equipped for DIY bike repairs, and load up on tasty wholesome fare. The coffee, roasted daily on site, is superb. Upstairs is the Hub Cafe, a simple room with painted floors, a wraparound covered balcony, and polished surfboards mounted on the walls. I have actually driven here all the way from Cape Town just to have their crayfish; some of the best west coast crustaceans, simply grilled in lemon butter, served on a bed of saffron rice.
The Cape Town Cycle Tour takes you through Chapman’s Peak Drive, frequently cited as one of the most beautiful driving/cycling roads in the world. There are pit stops on either side of Chapman’s Peak Drive. On the south side, Noordhoek Farm Village has a cluster of restaurants, farm stores and coffee shops, run by bearded vegans and smiling farm girls. On the north side of the driver the Chapmans Peak Hotel dating from the late 19th century is justly famed for its grilled calamari.
I like stopping by the Dunes Beach Restaurant, a shack that is bang on the seafront in Hout Bay for a smoothie before hitting the mountains on my bike. On the return trip, I look out for the Street Cafe – a van parked along the sea front near Camps Bay that serves the best affogato milkshakes I’ve ever tasted.
March is the end of summer in the Cape – it’s warm and mostly sunny, but high winds can lead to rapidly changing weather patterns and the odd forest fire. The tourist season is winding down which means good availability at the Cape’s attractions. Race entries fill up fast, but its a little easier to find a place as an international rider. Check out Cape Town Cycle Tour for more details.