Survive the six toughest Cape Cycle Tour climbs

You may experience tummy flutters at the thought of taking on the Cape Cycle Tour climbs, and likely to have heard horror stories depicting how steep they are.

Whatever your experience of the event, these key climbing tips from 2016 Cape Cycle Tour winner Clint Hendricks are sure to set you up for a more successful (and faster) Cycle Tour.

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Clint Hendricks conquering climbs at the 2017 SA Championship. Photo: Stuart Pickering / Nikon

Rather than listen to whispers of doom and gloom in the spinning class, it’s all about prioritising the climbs and knowing what to expect.

Clint says: “The climbs are the major factor of the race. It’s simple; if you can conserve and spend energy wisely along the route, then you’ll conquer those climbs with legs that can sprint over the finish line at the end.”

Clint will represent Nic White’s RoadCover Cycling again this year, after joining up with the team in January 2016. With sights set on defending his Cycle Tour victory, he will ride alongside Bradley Potgieter (captain), Willie Smit, Kent Main, Eddie Van Heerden, Mornay Van Heerden and Brendon Davids.

Whatever your experience of the event, Clint offers some crucial advice for surviving the Cape Cycle Tour’s six toughest inclines.

Clint’s Cycle Tour climbing tips:

1. Hospital Bend

I’m feeling nervous – there’s still a big group at this point, okes are breaking, and there’s crashes. I’m just fighting to be in front and stay out of trouble.

Expect… fresh legs at this point, with blood pumping and adrenalin raging. I always use this climb to measure out how my legs are going to feel for the rest of the day.

Do… stick to the front of the group if you’re able to. Allow for some space between other riders; most accidents happen here so it’s crucial to be extra weary and stay out of trouble.

Don’t… Let the adrenaline and excitement affect what you’re trying to achieve. Getting over excited and not sticking to your limits on this climb will set you up for disaster later on. Ride within your limits, staying aware of what you’ve trained for.

2. Edinburgh Drive

This is where I start to switch on. It’s a tougher climb, so the weaker guys get dropped. Mentally, I tell myself to wake up and focus.

Expect… a bit of a burn.  Your spirits will be high though, as you feed of the energy of the massive crowd supporting you at this point. There’s usually music and dancers, and you’ll be “getting into that groove” and finding your rhythm.

Do… pace yourself on this one. It’s one of the harder climbs, but it’s also predictably consistent. Find a good rhythm from the start, commit to maintaining it, and you’ll get to the top comfortably.

Don’t… go hard too early. This climb can be deceiving, and doesn’t give you the immediate relief of a descent at the top. But also don’t take it too easy and fall behind, you don’t want to be frustrated behind a group that holds you back.

TIP: Remember to use the time after this climb to refuel as you make your way to Smitswinkel, Clint advises an energy bar and fruit at this point. He also advises continuously sipping on something that will keep you energy levels up, and uses Cytogen as his race mix.  Don’t get complacent on this stretch, and prepare yourself mentally for what it to come.

3. Smitswinkel 

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Clint Hendricks crossing the finish line fourth at the 2017 Berg en Dale Classic. Photo: Stuart Pickering / Nikon

If there’s a place where the race really begins for me, it’s here. I am very alert and completely in the zone. I make sure to ride right at the front, top ten normally.

Expect… to still be feeling fairly decent at this stage. The climb starts out consistently, but gets quite steep near the top. You’ll discover a high speed descent once you’re over.

Do… stick with the group. Riders often break away into smaller groups at this point, especially once they get over the top and pick up speed; you really don’t want to face what’s left of the race alone.

Don’t… enter the pain cave too soon. You may have reached that half way mark, but the worst is yet to come.

4. Ocean View

To be honest, I hardly take note of this climb. All I’m thinking about here is how close I’m getting to Chappies, so I start setting myself up for that.

Expect… to slowly start noticing the signs of fatigue. Embrace this feeling as a reminder to regroup, switch on and prepare for the climbs to come.

Do… set yourself up for Chappies. Bring out that little energy gel you’ve been saving, you’re going to need it for what’s ahead. If you’re set on placing or trying to make a sub-3, it’s time to start pushing to get to the front of the group. If you can establish a place near the front after “small Chappies” and persevere to maintain it in the climbs to follow, you’ll be well ahead for that final sprint.

Don’t… let the early stages of fatigue play with your mind, or over-do the energy gels with the aim of completely reviving your strength. Trust your body, and mentally get into the zone.

5. Chapman’s Peak

This is it, the first make or break test. I don’t want to be further back than the top five here, because I know that this is where they start to separate the men from the boys.

Expect… everything that you’ve heard about Chappies. Your body will scream for you to walk, but remember that this is one of the two major hurdles between you and the finish line.

Do… try to mentally distract yourself from the climb and focus on your surroundings, the view is incredible here. If you’re looking to place or set a PB, however, you need to be in the top five of your group; coming from behind to make up time on the descent is dangerous.

Don’t… gear too high. If you are able to start digging deep at this point, and can push your way up Chappies in a slightly harder gear to hold your position in the front, then go for it.  But rather be consistent and save your energy to completely give your all on Suikerbossie.

TIP: Time to have that last energy gel and take your final few sips.

6. Suikerbossie

I hold onto the handle bars for dear life and close my eyes! It’s all or nothing at this point.

Expect… to feel pain, and lots of it. There’s no sugar coating this final climb. Your heart rate is going to be through the roof, but if you can get to the top of this hill, then rest assured, you’ve made it. There’s music pumping, commentators, people cheering you on, the vibe will take you to levels you never thought you’d be capable of.

Do… give it everything you’ve got. No more cautious climbing or conserving energy, it’s time to enter the red zone.

Don’t… wait to give it your all after the climb, it will be too late and you would have lost precious minutes. Everyone can pin it once they’re close to the finish line, but only a few will be able to dig deep enough to make up time during this climb.

Clint is confident that the Cape Cycle Tour wouldn’t be South Africa’s largest individually timed event unless it tested the grit of every competitor.  He ends off with one final parting shot: “The greatest thing I’ve learnt in this sport is not to sugar-coat things. Sometimes the things you want to achieve the most come with hard-work and suffering, and you just have to embrace that.”

For more practical steps to a comfortable climb

Bike Radar provides a step-by-step guide for getting your bike setup this right.

Clint is clear about time on the bike as the ultimate preparation. So if you’re looking for a specific training guide to prepare for future races, Nic White provides a personalised programme.

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