We’re about 31 kilometres into the 2017 Coronation Double Century, maybe 35 – it’s all a bit blurry at the moment but Tradouw Pass looms.
Right now it feels like an episode of Prison Break because the veins in Theunis de Bruin’s calves look a lot like Michael Scofield’s tattoos – a veritable map leading us through the labyrinth of tarmac that will eventually get us home. Theunis is a Savage newbie but doesn’t ride like one. He caught the attention of the team at the West Coast Express where he unleashed some pretty decent hammer and went off the front by himself at regular intervals. Anybody sitting behind him or Kevin or Waldo or Jarred or Bernard or Brendon or Will.I.Am for that matter is going to hurt. In fact, we’re all going to hurt. Even Will. We think…
Our main goal was to shave 10 minutes off last year’s time of 5h18min and improve on our 18th place but for this to materialise we’d need to keep the bulk of the guys intact until the first stop. That was the plan. On Friday, we received the splits from team captain Brendon, which read as follows: 2h45 (stop 1), 1h 05 (stop 2), 1h 15 (finish). The chat went silent for a moment while people tried to do math, everyone knew that this meant plenty digging deep and spending ages in the red.
The Tradouw Pass is the first bump of the race and while it’s not the biggest climb it helps to get everything warmed up for the first real test – the 18km Op de Tradouw ascent. We’ve lost many a Savage up Op de Tradouw before so to avoid some of the Sausages getting cooked too soon we sent Kev to the front to marshal the pace and keep things somewhat civilised. This pace proved a little hot for Klyde who, at this point, began to sound a lot like a pressure cooker. Despite his orkish grunting however, the Cannonball was in high spirits and even quipped he was sitting comfortably at 190bpm – about 100bpm less than his max heart rate.
Starting so late this year – 7:07am – meant, unlike previous editions, there wouldn’t be as many teams coming from the back but rather a lot more to pass. The chirps and encouragement heading up along the route were truly inspiring and awesome to hear. “Savage!” “Hammer!” “Hammer time!” “La Pure Cabbage!”. It really gives us the drive and determination to ride harder. This is something really special when riding for Savage. Even the UCT chaps were dishing out some friendly banter as they came past us at the summit. Yip – all who know this race will tell you the most enjoyable and sometimes-hardest bit of racing takes you from the top of Op de Tradouw to Montagu, as an appreciably fast descent becomes a predominantly flat and all-out blitz to the mats.
We lost Jarred and Stephen somewhere on this section as Theunis began to drive the pace on the front. It wasn’t very enjoyable from a heart rate point of view but we were well and truly flying and that made it all the more reason to keep pushing on. At the 80km mark, Willie took his first sip – a personal record for the man who usually finishes every race with two full bottles. We were on course to beat our split 1 goal time quite comfortably but Will. I. Am had other plans and moved to the front and began to unload some serious wattage. For Will beating our goal time was not good enough – he wanted to obliterate it. The last 10km to the neutral zone were balls to the wall – no words were spoken except for the odd ‘HAMMER’ from Brendon. Ten of us crossed the neutral zone mats and we were 5 minutes up on last year’s time. Job 1 of 3 done.
Our Toyota Hilux team car along with Nardus (Savage stalwart), Olivia, and Megan were a welcomed sight. The support crew did a superb job and ensured we ate, drank, and relaxed. Jarred and Stephen quickly rolled up just a few seconds behind us but neither looked too well. Jarred had been battling sinusitis the entire week leading up to the race and wasn’t feeling great. In true Savage form, this meant burying himself for the next 40 km and work for the team until he popped – go until you throw.
Segment 2 from Montagu to Bonnievale is no easy passage. In previous editions crosswinds and rain have marred this section, and this year wasn’t any different with a slight headwind making an appearance. We started again with our full complement of 12 and quickly merged with several teams of pretty much equal ability, the Punishers and Jakkalsvlei. Jarred wasn’t having any of this group riding comfort and moved to the front along with Waldo, Willie, Aaron, Will, and Theunis. While passing slower teams at the train tracks these six accidentally broke away and continued to push hard in an attempt to secure the goal time for the segment. Those who found themselves in this Savage hammer train soon realised there was no turning back and their efforts here could well and truly cost them finishing top 6 and the race altogether. But that’s DC and that’s how Savage rolls. However, just before the breakaway crossed the timing mats, Brendon, Bernard, Calvin, and Kevin came thundering into view after chasing down their teammates in true Savage fashion, followed later by Klyde and Stephen. A massive kudos to the lads from the Punishers as they rode like beasts with the 5 chasing Savages to the stop. The second split was smashed 8min faster than last year.
Some mushroom clouds began to surface as Aaron, Willie, and Jarred limped in looking like something out of the Walking Dead – the massive efforts of the 1 hour smashfest had taken its toll with Jarred and Stephen calling it in as a result. Both of them rode like champs and did their jobs. The heat too was now in full effect, grilling us like sausages on a Wimpy grill. It was hot, no question but the last few hurdles of the day still lay in wait: 42 km and three Ugly Sisters. The team were pretty wounded but the spirits were high and the banter as loud as ever. With some Call Me Maybe pumping from the Hilux, the boys set off for the final roll of the dice.
“Hammer! Hammer! Hammer!”. Kevin loves saying those words and he kicked off the final split with gusto and several puns. The boys were riding like men possessed rotating on the head of the paceline like a well-oiled machine. At the170km marker, Aaron’s head gasket blew along with his turbo and intake manifold forcing him to ride solo (just the way he likes it) until the 189km mark where he ground to a halt. So severe was this state of suffering that a supporter’s wife decided Arron needed to be prayed for on the side of the road as he looked like death.
Having just watched Aaron explode, Willem and Cannonball put in another 20 minutes of hard turns until their legs also expired. There was no hanging on the back or skipping turns in the paceline to recover, they rode until they could ride no more for the team. Down to seven Savages and still the three sisters to see to, this saw Will and Theunis putting some big efforts on the long drags keeping the pace high. The banter and boisterous cheering as we passed other teams dried up in the last 30 km, with the heads down watts up. The only words were from Brendon, telling Will to go steady when pro teams came past, Will was suffering from Pro Fomo.
The first two sisters were dispensed without much drama, just gritted teeth and plenty of stem staring. The final sister saw Will finally paying for driving the pace the entire day, Brendon was pleased as he had no energy left to mutter one more, “Steady”. Cool Shades who has not finished with the team for the past 2 years started seeing stars half way up the last sister and was off the back. After some vibrant language from the remaining Savages and the ever strong presence of Waldo beside him, Calvin was marshalled over the last sister.
The final hammerfest to the line was as brutal as the last sister, as a sub 5 hour ride was still on the cards. The boys all dug deep with every Savage raising the pace during their pull on the front until we hit the final climb. The steep gradient and legs full of punishment makes the last climb a real sting in the tail. Nothing was left out there as the boys wrestled their bikes over the line to stop the clock in 5:00:21. As the boys finally started coming out of the fetal positions on the pavement there were high fives, massive smiles and a few selfies. We had taken 18 minutes off our last years’ time, more importantly for the team we finished 15th overall, 3 positions better than previously.
We shuffled down to the show grounds and shared war stories over a few cool mineral waters with other teams. The heat and lack of wind was the centre of most conversations and Viviani getting a puncture in the first few kilometers. Massive congrats to Active Bodies for taking the win on the day and UCT boys getting another top 10. That evening we dished out countless fines during the team braai and made plans to improve next year! A massive kudos to the organisers for a well-run event and great hospitality. Thanks to Toyota for sponsoring the team this year at the Coronation Double Century with some killer kit and the use of a tougherest Hilux for the month!