I Now Know
Why They Call It
Whether you cycle professionally, to stay fit or just to be social, the 94.7 Cycle Challenge is a great option. I entered the race for the first time this year and plan to do it again next year, the Lord willing and finance allowing.
My daughter-in-law, Sara, rode with me and it was her first race of any kind. She is planning to be there again next year also.
The route is circular starting on the M1 leading into Joburg and finishing at the picturesque Waterfall Estate. It mostly follows main thoroughfares around Joburg but briefly juts into a historic section of the city centre before following the Nelson Mandela Bridge out of the city and along what is deceptively referred to as a rolling track which includes several types of roads: four lane stop-start highways, freeways (national and metro) and two lane roads in both residential and rural areas.
The list of high points is quite long and combined they helped create a great atmosphere for a road race. All credit goes to the organizers and to Joburgers for making that possible. The synergy was remarkable.
There were ten official water points all providing refreshments, mechanical assistance, medical support and physio treatment. The longest distance to any table was 15 kilometers and that was the first two tables following the start. All other tables were separated by no more than 10 kilometers. Several were only 5 kilometers apart.
Loads of additional, yet unofficial, tables provided refreshments, toilets, mechanical assistance and encouragement, all sponsored by small businesses and friendly people and at least one provided great humor. It featured a sign that read “EPO sponsored by Lance.” I got a good laugh out of that and later learned they were giving out shots of Tequila.
The ambiance was great! Hundreds of braaing spectators set up gazebos along the route and clapped and cheered riders on. Even large corporations set up additional stands to support the race and these stands really stood out. Organizers referred to these stands as “Power Zones.” They were so impressive, Sara and I paused at one thinking it was a water table but kept moving once we realized we were in the wrong spot. It was encouraging, however, to know the community was coming out to spend their morning – and afternoon – watching us ride.
They also provided mobile assistance to help with mechanical breakdowns. Additional reassurance.
I was pleasantly surprised by the number of sweeper cars. The official website assures riders that cars sweep the route stopping at water points to pick up any riders struggling to finish. I discovered they did much more than that. These cars stopped anytime they thought a rider was stressed anywhere on the circuit. They really looked after us. Impressive!
We felt surrounded by support and urged to carry on.
Upbeat music was played at all the water points to keep the adrenaline flowing and Momentum went the extra mile sponsoring portable stages with dancers and singers at several locations also. The vibe made it easy to keep pedaling.
The organization before the race was also superior. The official website offered maps and directions for everything even for finding the exhibition centre to pick up race packs. And picking up race packs couldn’t have been easier. I expected long ques and loud grumbling from people waiting to get their packets. Not so. Sara and I walked right up to the counter and received our packs in less than five minutes.
Before the race I communicated with the organizers by email several times and always got a timely response. Since I was only one of 27,000 entrants that is a very positive observation.
There is good reason to consider this race the greatest challenge in the country. At 94.7 kilometers it isn’t the longest but with 1,438 meters of vertical ascent, it is more vertically challenging than either the Amashova or the Cape Argus and the altitude adds to the challenge. Before the race I thought Joburg was flat. No more. The climbs started early and kept on coming. There must have been 25 in all. That, of course, is a negative only if you aren’t prepared for climbing. I loved it!
Rider generosity was great also! Most people were riding for one charity or another so compassion is vibrant in South Africa. The riders also interacted cheerfully with one another even in the more difficult parts of the race. My phone rang while climbing one hill and the rider next to me yelled out, “I got it” as I crawled by him on the way up.
Action Photo – the leaders in sports photography – had photographers everywhere taking happy snaps of riders. I’m accustomed to seeing them on race routes and know they will take a great pic if you smile big but I was surprised by the numbers. Like flies, the photographers were everywhere, even at the start. The bonus is they made the pics available online within a couple days of the race. A couple on this post were done by them.
This next item is a really nice touch. The organizers send certificates of completion to all riders who complete the race. The certs are sent by email and arrive a couple weeks after the finish. It’s their way of congratulating those who rode all the way to the end and it provides some interesting data, like the overall number who finished and how well you placed in both age and gender categories.
For me, traveling to Joburg for this race was better than a holiday! I recommend it.
There weren’t many and none were major but there were a couple of negatives.
NO BANANAS! None. Bananas are to a cyclist what oil is to an engine and I expected to find a banana or two to help keep me going. I found none. Water points offered water, Coke and Powerade only. Nothing more. Next year I’m bringing my own bananas.
Sticky backed race numbers were another issue. Instead of pin-on numbers – the usual type – organizers decided to try stick-on numbers. But they didn’t stick. I knew immediately the number wouldn’t stay on so my wife basted it to my jersey. Most didn’t do that and numbers were stuck all over the road or getting caught in bike spokes. Hopefully they’ll go back to pin-on numbers next year.
I ride these races for two reasons. One, I like to stay fit and cycling (spinning) is one way to do that.
Secondly, I ride for the SACRP (South African Children’s Resiliency Project). It’s more than an orphan village. It’s a concept. The village is being developed by a friend and colleague, Dr. Robert Graham, who is both professionally and personally qualified. Not only does he have an earned PhD in education with emphasis on the underprivileged but he has worked with the underprivileged for many years. His education and experience have enabled him to develop a great approach for giving those in need a hand-up.
If you’re not fit and you want to be, try cycling. If you aren’t riding for a great cause check out the SACRP. If you’re interested in riding for this charity enquire about riding jerseys being planned for this next year.