While extreme cold is limited in South Africa, stage race mountain bikers will have to deal with cold – and not only in the winter months. Add heat, rain and wind to cold and you have race conditions that are sometimes difficult to predict, but always possible to prepare for. Here’s our advice. – By Sean Badenhorst
It’s not always winter when cold affects stage races. The 2010 Wines2Whales (in November) and the 2012 ABSA Cape Epic (in March) both had days where the cold was the most challenging factor. Incidentally, both were in a similar region of the Western Cape (Grabouw) when cold froze play…
At the Wines2Whales, they had to cancel the final stage. It was a combination of the cold conditions (snow fell on the high ground) and the poor visibility that forced the organisers to end the race before the start of Day 3 in the interest of rider safety.
At the Cape Epic, rain aggravated the cold and many a lean racer found themselves wishing they had more body fat – or hadn’t shed their rain jackets during a sunny spell. Some riders became hypothermic, which is dangerous, especially when you’re in the wilderness – in wet Lycra, with single-digit body fat…
Dress in layers when you’re riding on cold days. Or expecting to ride into cold conditions. Yes, it’s uncomfortable and can feel bulky, but rather that than shivering yourself to a crash…
Lots of rain in our stage races. Try as they might to hold their events in the dryer seasons, the rain still makes for tough conditions for many a stage race organiser. It’s not only the riders that suffer in the rain. The race organisers and staff also have a greater challenge in wet weather.
A rain jacket is only a bulky pocket-filler until you need it. Then it’s the most worthwhile few hundred grams you ever decided to carry on a ride. And it’s this additional layer that shields against wind chill and minimises rain drench that can be the difference between you finishing a stage with some discomfort or pulling out of the race altogether.
Obviously heat will always be more of a threat to you than cold in this country. The best way to manage heat is to try and become accustomed to it when training, which means doing some training rides in the hot part of the day, or races close to your goal stage race to mimic the conditions.
A well-ventilated helmet, a bandana that you can wet and wear around your neck or on your head; and taking in an adequate supply of electrolytes (which you lose much of through sweat) is your best strategy to tackle the heat. Where heat will most concern you is when you’re riding slowly (usually up a climb) and/or where there is no wind or shade.
If you do feel weak and overwhelmed by discomfort in the heat, stop in the shade, unzip your jersey, remove your helmet and try to stay calm and cool and drink some electrolyte-enriched product. You can also stop at a water point where you can get assistance (medical if needed).
It should really go without saying that you should apply sunblock on sunny days; but it won’t, so we said it…
Besides cooling you down in extreme heat, a headwind – or a sidewind for that matter – is just a nuisance that makes the going tougher. There’s nothing you can do to change it, so you must just adjust:
- your attitude – accept that it’s there and the same for everyone in the race
- your gearing – easier gears folks. Think of it as a long climb
- your position – slow down and slot into a small pack help take turns to shelter from the wind.
TREAD Magazine is sold throughout South Africa and can be found in: Spar, CNA, Exclusive Books, Discerning bike shops and on Zinio
*Originally published in TREAD Issue 33, 2015 – All rights reserved