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Thrills and Spills in Dean Downing’s South African Adventure

Today we welcome Wattbike ambassador Dean Downing to the blog, who talks about his recent adventure to South Africa to take part in HotChillee's Cape Rouleur and the infamous Argus:

Earlier this year I had a phone call from HotChillee events asking me to kick off my ambassador role with them in South Africa at the Cape Rouleur. I’d be riding a four day, multi stage event, riding with different groups and motivating all the guests. Who could say no to that?

The added bonus being that I could stay on in Cape Town and compete in the Pro/Elite Cape Town Cycle Tour formally known as The Argus. The last time I rode The Argus was 10 years ago when I lead Russ out for the win. So I knew it was a massive race.

I’d not trained properly for five months and only recently started constant exercise (I took part in the #30minutesaday challenge). I knew that wasn’t enough to get me out on the front of The Argus … let the panic training commence!

I had just three weeks before leaving, a short window to get back some kind of fitness, especially as the weather was rubbish. I managed a few rides out with my brother Russ, Ben Swift and a couple of chain gangs with the lads. That really hurt the legs! But most of the panic training I did was indoors on my Wattbike.

I did quite a bit of Zone 2 and Zone 3 work. Solid work outs and at just over an hour and 10 minutes, they were quite tough. I even did a crazy session through the zones. Starting with a Zone 1 warm up, a 20 minute Zone 2 block, then straight through into Zones 3, 4, 5 and finishing with a very short Zone 6 effort. I felt like I was training for the Tour Series again.

We all arrived in South Africa and were welcomed to 30 degree heat, which was tough to get used to. In the event village we had two Wattbikes to warm up on pre stage, as it was over 30 degrees we were already warm, but it was still nice to sit on them and turn the legs for 10 minutes before we heading out on the stages.

The Cape Rouleur was an amazing event in the gorgeous area of Franschhoek and riding for five days gave me bit more form in the legs for The Argus. I was also able to move though the groups on each stage; on the last stage I was with the MTN Qhubeka Pro’s and some of the top amateurs in Group 1. The race section gave me a bit of a taste of what The Argus would be like.

I’d seen in the press that Mark Cavendish was in Cape Town with his chief lead out man Mark Renshaw. They were both down on the start sheet to have a go at the Cape Town Cycle Tour, The Argus.

As the day got closer the organisers had a massive task of rescuing the race due to massive forest fire damage on and around the course, mainly the iconic Chapman's Peak climb. Plan C had to be put into place and the route would be a much shorter 47km route up and down a motorway. Three climbs on the way out and of course three climbs on the way back.

47km is my kind of distance, climbing however has never been my thing, and at speed too with the Pro/Elite bunch, it was going to be a tough race. I was banking on the Wattbike efforts pulling me through and fingers crossed for hanging onto the back of the bunch over the last climb 7km from the finish.

Race day came and I pinned my numbers on my HotChillee racing jersey, didn't think I'd be doing this so soon, especially lining up with Mark and Mark. The 6:15am start was a bit harsh too, it was still dark when we left the start line.

First climb came after only 7km and just after 6:30am in the morning, my old instinct of slide and glide came in handy and I made it over. The other two climbs weren't as bad and I managed to make it to the turn in the 80 rider strong bunch. Half the field had been dropped already.

The tail wind on the second half was a nice feeling and looking down at the speedo we were flying along at 55kmph. With my race head on, I knew that this could only mean one thing, the last two climbs of the day were going to hurt. A lot.

I did some serious sliding and gliding to be last man over the penultimate climb and used my descending skills to get as close to the front with 7km to go. With only 50 or so riders left now, the last climb went full gas. All I could think about was, “What am I doing here?  I've retired.” I groveled so much it hurt, and I was sliding and sliding backwards, no gliding this time. I just made it.

We flew down into Cape Town, and with the 5km board in sight I had a look around me, I was near the back of a fast moving 30 man group. My sprinters instinct took over and I was thinking about the max sprint efforts I had been doing, all of a sudden I was in the middle of the Drapac Boys and close to Cavendish. Into the last km and it was Renshaw, Cavendish, Drapac Rider and me flapping around on the back all going round the outside of the bunch with 400 to go.

Seconds later, a rider came out of the bunch from nowhere and smashed straight into my rear wheel taking out 2 spokes and nearly taking both of us into a media motorbike. With my race over, I wobbled my bike over the line in 36th place 20 seconds behind the winner Nolan, who took his second win in the event.

For a few minutes, I loved racing again, right in the thick of the sprinting action, and then in seconds I remembered how crazy it can get. But, what a buzz, heading to the line again with Mark Cavendish still in sight. Well for a few seconds anyway.

Thanks for Hotchillee and Wattbike for all the support on my South Africa adventure.

All images courtesy of Slingshot Media