This idea snow balled from a thought, to a murmuring, to a rumour and finally to a Whatsapp group. The team members slowly started coming together with us initially having 10 ladies keen to ride. We met for the first time in June over a coffee and sussed out everyone’s expectations. We chose Jenna as our team captain, thanks to her experience of being on the previous year’s winning ladies team, but more importantly her level headiness and being one extremely strong, experienced rider. From June the initial team changed a lot due to injuries and other life commitments. Right up until the 2 weeks before the Double Century, we were still recruiting final riders. The final 12 that stood at the start line consisted of quite a mixed bunch of ladies in terms of experience, age, height and abilities. Everyone though had the single common denominator of just really enjoying being on the bike and looking to savor the coming 202km.
One thing I have noticed in general is how few ladies there are out there on the roads at the various PPA events, and even how few ladies teams roll up to the Coronation Double Century start line. My first Coronation Double Century was in 2017 where there were only 9 of us, 2 being female. So an all ladies team intimidated me, I mean, who was going to change my flats, push me up Op de Tradouw and was I seriously going to have to actually take a turn on the front? But seriously, I think I understand the reason for there being such a small ratio of ladies to men is not that us ladies are too scared to change a puncture, but rather that generally the time commitment required for cycling when put next to family commitments means it’s just not always a practical sport.
There was a fair bit of oestrogen flying around in the lead up to Coronation Double Century and general over thinking. I am pretty sure Mr Savage wanted to tear his hair out with the kit orders. I mean, men just get one style cut of kit, us ladies worry about boobs, tummies and tightness. No one size fits all here!
We managed to get one main ride in with at least 10 of the team the week before Coronation Double Century. The aim was to properly meet up and practice our riding strategy. Which for me, included learning what an echelon was, how exactly to navigate through and offs properly and to shout last rider when you rotated (umm Corn’s did you miss this bit?). The team consisted of two very different levels capabilities of riders. A few of us were definitely the “weaker riders”. It was agreed that we would set the pace on the climbs, i.e. get to the front and ride at a pace we could manage. Our stronger riders would be there to push if needed, take long pulls up front on the flats and of course, snap photos. Once at the second stop the team would decide if we should let most Savage ladies loose to hammer out the watts they had left in the legs to see if we could secure a podium.
The first 30km’s gets you to breathtaking Tradouw pass. The advantage of having experienced riders in the mix already is paying off, as they are used to how your body adjusts over the course of the race. Jenny reassured me that it was normal for my legs to feel like lead and that my legs were still warming up. This eased my mind just a bit and I soon realised that my HR wasn’t actually lining up with my perceived exertion. From that point on I made peace with just focusing on not letting the gap get too big to the wheel in front of me and just enjoy it.
We got to the start of Tradouw pass, and Karin came up next to me and kept me company for the climb by telling me stories of her husband fishing in the valley below – her goal was clearly to get this rather large frame up that first proper climb with as much sense of humour in tact and without completely losing loads of time. It worked. After that, my legs, body and mind seemed to have all come to the party and I was actually feeling pretty decent. Hence I shouted, ”ahh there my legs are” I think I heard at least 5 of my team mates breathe a sigh of relief. We all knew what was coming next though – Op De Tradouw.
As soon as we got to the bottom of that beast, the shouts of “Sarah” started, which meant – get your ass to the front girl. So off I went, Jenny by my side. She politely asked if I minded getting a push. To which I said “No, please don’t”. See the ego is a funny thing. Even as one of the weaker riders, I still didn’t want to accept help. Again, Jenny in her wisdom reminded me that it’s a team effort, the pushing gets us all towards the same goal. So my ego went in to my pocket, and Jennys hand onto my back. We made it up Op de Tradouw. Look, I still swore a lot. And I apologise to anyone that was around after that first false summit, and that kick up before the final summit. I found out I have no control over my mouth in situations like that. What Sarah thinks, Sarah says… normally with a lot of F bombs. Sorry mom.
As a friend pointed out when driving the route, from that point on its pretty much downhill to the finish,.. um ya ok?! Well we worked our echelons pretty well after that, we had settled in to a groove, and we got to the neutral zone about 20 minutes ahead of schedule of our 7 hour target. We got through the neutral zone, avoiding potholes and navigating the headwind to our feeding zone, refuelled and off we went.
Going through Bonnivale and the beauty of the Jacarandas was slightly marred by the headwind, and we took about 5 minutes longer for that stretch than planned, but still had about 15 minutes in the bank for our 7 hour target. The second stop is a bit of a frenzy, feet and bodies are sore, people are over it and now we needed to decide on what the plan was for the last 40km. After some polite debate it was decided to ride as long as possible with as many as possible. This lasted to the bottom of the 1st sister when 4 of us dropped off and told the thoroughbread race horses to hammer. Thankfully they let us go and they dropped the hammer in true Savage style, while giving some of the men’s team a push up the 2nd sister. They clawed back 8 minutes in those 20km’s with the first 7 rolling over the line together for a time of 6:37 and a cheeky 3rd on the podium.
What an experience!! I am so truly grateful to have been able to enjoy those 202km with the Savage ladies, to learn from all of them and their experiences and to have a fair bit of fun along the way!
The extra respect and feeling of empowerment you get being an all ladies team on the roads around Swellendam was a huge takeaway for me from the experience. #sistersaredoingitforthemselves. Every time I heard the cheer “Go ladies” whether from the side-lines, or the teams of boys happily sitting in our slip for quite a while, *cough cough*, just put a massive smile on my face and made the sense of achievement of crossing that line that much more special.
To everyone that shouted “Hammer”, Saaaaaavvvvagggge and even some cheeky “PorkSausages” as we rolled past – thank you. It really added to the experience of feeling a part of something bigger, something Savage. To the Savage men’s team, while it may not have been your best time, you are all still machines in our eye’s and thanks to you guys, Pure Savage gets the support it does on the road. Massive respect. To the mixed team claiming 3rd spot out of 60 plus other mixed teams, absolute Savage performance!!! And to the old ballies – all 12 across the line in 7:30 is a great achievement, but your wives are not going to let you forget they podiumed at the Coronation Double Century, ever!
Thank you to Driving Force for the sponsorship of our shirts, Tailwind for providing us with our nutrition and Ciovita for making our kit and accommodating the plethora of changes to the kit in order to accommodate all our needs. Sponsors, extreme levels of #kitdoping and a team consisting of a fair few iron ladies and racing snakes! What will next year hold?!
The Coronation Double Century is one seriously epic event – from the smooth and seamless organisation to the beautiful route. I had said that I would take a break next year, but I am not so sure anymore…