All of which followed a fire fanned by the wind yesterday afternoon and which had been approaching the race village at Oak Valley. The flames were bought under control some distance from the tents and infrastructure, but there was much more drama to follow.
Strong winds had been buffeting the temporary village on the Oak Valley rugby field but as evening approached the gusts got more powerful. In one blast tent poles inside the bedouin tent housing the CBC chill zone were dislodged and fell to the ground.
The FNB Wines2Whales management team and senior emergency services personnel gathered in the Venue Operations Centre (VOC) to discuss their options.
While they were busy with their deliberations the yellow one-man rider tents on the field were straining against their tethering. Gazebos were blown over and some hoardings were torn from fences.
It was decided to evacuate the area.
“We were sleeping at about 10.30pm when a car with its siren switched on drove between the tents,” recalled George’s Shawn Buckley.
“We were told to pack everything and to go to the buses and were taken to the primary school at Paul Cluver (wine estate).”
Buckley said the organisers had taken the “best option to ensure everybody’s safety”. He added that it was “amazing to organise that in such a short time”.
Another rider, Candice Ilic, said she had been trying to sleep in the gusting winds when the “wake up” call came through. “We got out of there quickly and after a ‘mini-heart attack’ we got into the buses and off to the school.”
Capetonian Koos Jordaan said he was “very impressed with the evacuation” while his brother and riding partner Johannes said it “went very well”.
Johannes added that his fellow riders had handled the situation well too and “I got the feeling that people were happy with the way it was handled … the gees (spirit) is good”.
That certainly seemed to be the case after the evacuees had been fed breakfast at venues outside the race village and returned to ride a shortened 40km course with a 11am start (delayed from a scheduled 8am).
Shortly before the start the rain returned and riders had to put up with repeated showers and extremely muddy conditions – with quite a few turning back towards the race village after only riding a few kilometres.
Once again it was the diminutive Lesotho pairing of Phetetso Monese and Malefetsane Lesofe (Team Sufferfest African Dream Team) who negotiated the course fastest, getting home a minute ahead of the chasing pack.
Monese and Lesofe had been among those evacuated. 21-year-old Lesofe said he had not had a great amount of sleep but it was better sleeping in the school than in a wind-whipped tent. Monese had damaged the rotor on his back brake and had lost some time repairing it.
The FNB Wines2Whales management thanked riders for their co-operation and the good spirit in which they had handled the disruption yesterday evening.
“The FNB Wines2Whales organisers are extremely grateful to Gaffley’s bus company for providing buses at late notice on Monday evening,” said FNB Wines2Whales marketing and communications manager Sarah Harrop. “And then they made a plan to get the riders back to the race village this morning in spite of having other commitments.”
Harrop added: “A huge thanks to those who opened their doors to accommodate the people – Paul Cluver wine estate, the Houw Hoek Inn and Trail’s End Bike Hotel.”