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The PPA Double Century (more affectionately known in the cycling world as the DC) began life as a non-competitive day in the saddle among long-time cycling chums. A Stellenbosch wine farmer, and fanatical cyclist (a 32-race veteran of the Cape Town Cycle Tour), Charles Milner, is traditionally considered the founding father of what has grown into one of the country’s most prestigious, challenging and scenic bike races.
In the early 1990s, the cycling fraternity in Milner’s southern Cape farming circle believed there was a market for a double century on the cycling calendar because, at the time, the longest race was the 160-odd-km One Tonner. For a challenging day out, Milner and his mates would ride from his Klapmuts wine farm, Natte Valleij, via Franschhoek, Villiersdorp, Rawesonville, Bainskloof, Wellington and then back to Nattevallej – a distance of 200km. This was tough, but an ideal route for a proposed double century race, they imagined.
And so the cycling farmers approached the Pedal Power Association (PPA) and convinced then-chairman, Lawrence Whittaker, vice-chairman, Frans Fouche, event coordinator, Jasmine Griffin, and executive committee member, David Bellairs, that a double century would be a welcome addition to the world of South African cycling. The circular route from Natte Valleij seemed a natural choice to suggest; after all, they’d all cycled that route themselves and it had proved itself to be just what a double century should be: an endurance challenge matched by the beauty of the landscapes it traverses.
The inaugural DC took place in 1993, with 385 starters. Milner remembered it fondly: “It was blisteringly hot on the day of our first race and even though I could almost see the tar melt while we rode, there was a tremendous team spirit amongst the cyclists. This same spirit is what makes the PPA Double Century what it is today – a race of camaraderie and team participation.”
Over the years, the route has changed many times largely due to race numbers impacting on the ability to use particular routes. After the first few years – the race grew exponentially in popularity so race numbers jumped quickly – traffic authorities closed Bainskloof to riders, which forced organisers to adopt a new route. They then rode from Klapmuts to Aan de Doorns wine cellar outside Worcester and back again. By the middle of the 90s, however, the starting point of Natte Valleij Farm was too small for the growing event: a new starting point had to be found. Organisers selected the Drakenstein Correctional Facility (formerly and better-known as the Victor Verster Prison, out of which Nelson Mandela famously walked free in February 1990) between Paarl and Franschhoek.
By the late 90s the race had moved to Ceres and incorporated a very tough out-and-back circuit to the top of Bo Swaarmoed and Theronsberg Passes. It wasn’t pretty, though, which resulted in dwindling numbers, so in the early 2000s the race was re-homed to a start and end point of Montagu (with its famous hot springs ready to soothe tired and aching muscles). Picturesque, historic villages and towns like Ashton, Robertson, Bonnievale, Drew, Swellendam, Suurbraak and Barrydale – via the Tradouw Pass – were then included in the route. The scenic beauty of the new southern Cape route saw a leap in numbers and the starting venue was moved to minimise the amount of time that riders spend on the national road (the N2) near Swellendam.
And so the race arrived at its current home: again to a start and end point of Swellendam where today it enjoys huge support from the local community.
In the early days, the chief sponsor of the race was Pickfords before, in 2007, Coronation Fund Managers came on board as chief naming rights sponsor. This was the first year the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust took over the organisation of the event from the owners of the event, the Pedal Power Association, an arrangement that is still in place today.
Over the years, a number of high-profile cyclists have participated in the race. Some famous finishers include:
Ben Swift (2013 and 2014)
Robert Hunter (2012)
Daryl Impey (2012)
Chris Froome (2010)
John-Lee Augustyn (2008)
Raynard Tissink (2010 & 2011)
Conrad Stoltz (2012)
Johann le Roux from Worcester is the DC mega-veteran: he’s completed all of them. In 24 years he has covered 4848km – more than cycling from Cape Town to Nairobi.
Endurance. Stamina. Guts. Glory. Heritage. The DC really does have it all.