People power

Meet the guy who’s ridden every single Old Mutual Wealth Double Century, and one of the event’s loudest cheerleaders.

The Pink Panter

In her role as marketing guru at Van Loveren wines, Bonita Malherbe first encountered the Old Mutual Wealth Double Century when a Fun Bus carrying a very laidback team of riders would stop on the way up to Swellendam on the Friday afternoon for some essential carbo-loading. 

“I’ve been a big supporter of the OMWDC since it came to Swellendam; and when I joined Van Loveren, we got involved as the official wine sponsor. I started riding mountain bikes years ago, but never got on a road bike. 

“David Bellairs [captain of the Fun Bus team, and Marketing Director at the Cape Town Cycle Tour Trust (CTCTT), which organises the event] had been hinting I should do it – increasingly, as I started to ride more. Then, in 2013 at Christmas drinks with my girlfriends (most of them cyclists, and all fans of the event), someone said, ‘Why don’t we just do it?’ 

“Whether it was the wine, the collective madness (because many of us had never ridden a road bike, and were firmly in the ‘never’ position), or the idea of an adventure awaiting, I can’t say; but we all signed our commitment on a napkin. And so it began.

“We’re a bunch of girls, ranging from 35 to 62, all from Bonnievale, Robertson and Montagu. While some of us have the potential to be real racing snakes, for the DC we’re just the Fiver Fairies, and our only goal is to all finish together and have a great time. And it’s the camaraderie that makes us come back. There’s nothing like it. 

“It’s amazing how your team and the surrounds carry you.”

“We tackle this as a five-month event – riding together, getting sponsors on board for everything from kit to helmets to jackets, you name it. We have a sponsors’ evening, where our kit is handed out. We do a proper photo shoot and have a coffee-table book made after every event, that includes pictures from our training to our post-event get-together the Sunday after the OMWDC. Riding the event is the highlight of our year.

“After the first one, I said ‘never again’; and then, after two years, we did it again! Last year was a miss, this year I’m joining David’s teams. And next year will be our third one as the Fiver Fairies – everyone actually confirmed yesterday! 

“The thing is, as soon as you’ve done it once, you learn that on paper, it looks tough. And it probably is – but it’s amazing how your team and the surroundings carry you. 

“In our first year, two of our riders struggled and got sick, and one rider stayed with them. Nine of us continued to the finish, as it was clear that they weren’t going to make it. But as we entered Swellendam we phoned them, and were surprised to learn that they were still continuing, and might, might just make it in time. So we waited for two hours in the rain, singing and cheering other riders along, and we all finished together. 

“We cried, we laughed… that experience cemented the OMWDC in our hearts. The cherry on the top was to receive a second set of Charles Milner medals for our team spirit on the day – totally unexpected, and I believe unplanned.”

Bonita’s Top Tips

  1. Do train. It really makes it so much more enjoyable.
  2. Have a glass (or two!) of wine the night before; it calms the nerves.
  3. Choose a team song, and tackle the climbs with your song – it will entertain other riders, too!
  4. Stop (where it’s safe!) to take pictures.
  5. Look around you. Don’t let the wonder of the surroundings pass you by.

Creature of habit

Worcester cycling legend Johann Le Roux (still just 49 years old!) is the only person to have finished every one of the 28 Old Mutual Wealth Double Centuries to date. How? And why?

“Back in 1993, I heard about the race through a friend; and we thought it could be a nice challenge, so two of us joined a group of riders from Cape Town. It sounded quite attractive, especially with Worcester being one of the towns on the route. The first event started outside Klapmuts on the farm Lievland, headed back to Paarl, then over Franschhoek Pass, through Worcester, over Bainskloof through Agter Paarl, and back to Klapmuts. 

“My only lasting memory of that first one is the intense heat, on the day; our team totally disintegrated going through Rawsonville, and when we reached Bainskloof, it was 40 degrees plus. We ran out of water, and our backup team stayed with the backmarkers of our team. My friend and I stopped a few times in Bainskloof to drink from the water running down the mountain. 

“When we passed under the N1, about 5km from the finish, I started to cramp badly – to the point that the medical crew stopped to lend a hand. Eventually, they wanted me to get into the ambulance; my response was that I would rather walk the last five kays than give up… even though I was wearing a pair of brand-new Time road shoes! I guess that was the start of the journey.”

“It really isn’t as tough as everyone makes it out to be if you are prepared.”

“I rode a number of the first 10 or so DCs with a friend, Juan van Deventer, but he stopped riding a few years ago. The only other friend I’ve been riding/training/racing a bike with over the past 20 years – Grey van Tonder, also from Worcester – did a few of the first DCs and then stopped. But he’s joined me again for the last 10-plus years. I have a rule with him: he will stop when I stop. I bribe him every year by paying for his entry! 

“The fact that it’s a team event sets it apart. I can truly attest that if it wasn’t for my teammates, I wouldn’t have finished a few DCs – especially the few years it was run from Ceres. The team dynamics do add complexity; but again, I have a rule: we start as a team, and we finish as a team. I’ve raced enough DCs; now it’s about the team, and enjoying a day out with friends. With a small challenge.

“I’ve never had a truly bad experience during the event. Yes, sometimes the blood pressure does rise, but those who enter the event are all like-minded people, who want to enjoy a ride in the countryside – with a twist, it being a bit further than a normal ride! But it really isn’t as tough as everyone makes it out to be if you are prepared; and again, the team will carry you to the finish. 

“I pretty much plan my November around the DC, especially due to the fact that the DC is close to my daughter’s birthday. When she was born, it was a close call! Other than that, I’m now into trail running; so I just manage the races around the DC, to ensure I have a bit of time to do some riding, to get the butt to acclimatise.”

Johann’s Top Tips

  1. Ensure your teammates have more or less the same ability and mindset. Manage expectations in terms of finishing time.
  2. Expect the unexpected. Mechanicals, punctures, or someone not feeling good on the day… you need to be able to deal with it.
  3. Make sure you do a few LSD rides, and practice your nutrition – eating and drinking, what and when – to find out what works for you.
  4. Put your stronger riders at the back on the climbs, and in the front on the flats and into the wind.
  5. It’s much easier pulling someone up a hill (with them hanging on to your jersey) than pushing, especially on the last climbs into Swellendam.

This article first appeared in the September/October edition of Bicycling South Africa.