Imagine the scene – you’re sitting in your office in chilly and grey north London when the phone rings, and you’re asked if you’d like to spend a week in South Africa. You'll be riding with a team of pro and ex-pro cyclists, and the trip will culminate in the spectacular Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour.
That’s what happened to me, and I’m still pinching myself that here I am in Cape Town just a week later! On Sunday I was getting in a few training miles in the British winter; 48 hours later I was riding on a beautiful coast road to Camps Bay, with the sun shining, an amazing landscape, and even a whale visible not far off shore.
The girls in the HotChillee team have been really welcoming right from the first coffee back in Heathrow. There aren’t many opportunities for amateurs like me to get such an insight into what it’s like to be a top-level rider – I’m lucky enough not just to be riding with them but also hanging out with them while we’re off the bikes.
They’re lovely, normal people who are of course into their cycling, but have lots of other interests as well. We’ve been talking about everything from films to history to mobile phone bills, via a healthy chunk of gossip (about which I shall say no more!).
One thing I was curious to see was whether they all had strange or restricted diets – would they eat nothing but muesli and pasta, and look at me aghast if I had a beer? Well, actually no, I’m happy to report that some chocolate cake and a few glasses have been consumed (and I don’t mean just by me!), though the diet regimes some have been subjected to before sound a bit frightening and not my idea of fun at all.
So far we’ve been out on a couple of rides – one easy spin to check the bikes were working, and today a 60km ride with a couple of steady climbs up to Chapman’s Peak, which was probably the windiest place I’ve ever been on a bike. We all struggled to keep our bikes upright and travelling in a straight line – Alice [Monger-Godfrey]got blown practically across the road in front of me.
It has been a relief to discover that these top women riders do easy rides too, and that their idea of an easy ride isn’t so different from mine. I’m sure I’ll see nothing but dust when they put the hammer down, but when we’re rolling along I’m really enjoying it.
Come Sunday, Emma [Davies], Penny [Krohn], Tanja [Slater], Nikki [Harris*] and Alice will be up there setting the standard in the elite women’s group. I’ll be setting off later in one of the mass starts, but wearing the same (really rather fetching) green jersey and feeling like one of the team. I’m looking forward to seeing first-hand what the celebrations are like if – or should I say when – they win!
Liz rides sportives and occasionally races as a 3rd Cat with London Phoenix CC, as well as taking part in the occasional mountain bike race. She completed last year’s Etape du Tour, and is hoping that this week in Cape Town will kick-start her training for the London-to-Paris this summer.
* Nikki Harris is a new addition to the Hotchillee Challenge team. The 22-year-old from Derbyshire came 14th in the World Cyclocross Hoogerheide earlier this year and 16th in last year's Zolder World Cup, as well as winning the Wilrijk Road race. For more information, see www.nikkiharris.co.uk.