On Friday, Jevandre Pauls and Craig Symons, both young professional riders, were on a training ride on Polkadraai Road outside Stellenbosch. They had reached the dip near the Polkadraai strawberry farm, a popular stop on the road, where people go to pick their own strawberries in the sun.
Pauls was the 2013 South African junior road champion and won five titles at the SA track champs last year. He rides for the Bonitas team, while Symonds is with RideLife Giant. The two were in single file, riding in the yellow lane of a newly resurfaced, double-lane road, enjoying the sun of the winelands. Pauls had had a good week of riding, having been in the big break at the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour and was going to race the Western Province track champs this weekend to qualify for the South African championships in April.
When I rode up alongside David Moseley, a writer, editor, publisher, and wild and woolly member of the DC Massive, somewhere during the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Momentum Cycle Tour on Sunday, he said he was over the race already. “All I am thinking about is the ice-cold beer at the finish.”
It was all I was thinking about as well. My body was reminding me about the ice-cold beers I’d had the night before. Sobriety and an early night are necessary to ride a good Cycle Tour. I’ve never managed to ride a really good Cycle Tour. The first 30km is for getting rid of the hangover, the next 40km is for hiding from the wind behind other riders and the last bit is spent getting ever closer to that beer.
The regular crowd had shuffled into the Vasco da Gama Pub and Taverna in Alfred Street, Green Point on Saturday afternoon. It is a proper old-school pub. Little looks to have changed since it opened in 1972. There is a swing door from the street; the stools, round and soft, are bolted into a raised step beside the bar, which runs for much of the length of the room; the décor is Portuguese-immigrant flowing into serious boozer. This is a place you come to drink, eat and be merry, not to primp and pose.
On Wednesday night, it was the place that Graeme Smith chose to throw a retirement “shindig”, for want of a better word, for friends, colleagues and family, to mark the end of a career that has consumed his life and changed the face of South African cricket. Smith, born in Johannesburg nine years after Vasco’s opened, is a Cape Town man now. His friend owns Vasco’s, having, the story goes, heard that the building it was in was up for development and that Vasco’s would be forced to close or move. He felt it only right to save an icon like Vasco’s and bought the building, thus ensuring that future generations can go to the pub where Smith spent his first night as the former captain of his|country.
What, asked a friend, will he do next? I reckon, I replied, Graeme Smith will probably ride the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Momentum Cycle Tour. Riding it would certainly be a lot easier than trying to say the entire name.
It is not the longest race name in world cycling – the Italians have that locked up – but it is certainly a mouthful, which is why most people call it the Cycle Tour for short, or, even, the Argus, which is shorter, but a nickname that does not tell the whole story of the race.
On Thursday afternoon, not long after the Fireman’s Arms on Buitengracht St opened and a good part of Cape Town became a happier place, Steve Walsh, the Australian referee from New Zealand who once made too regular a habit of being happy, was sitting in the bar of the Cullinan hotel with a laptop. He and a person I did not recognise, were going through videos and explanations of the way things would be for Friday night’s match between the Hurricanes and the Stormers. It was, from the looks of things, a rather relaxed discussion, focused, I guessed, on the breakdown and the mess it has a tendency to become.
There were nods, smiles and words along the lines of “I’ve got you”. Walsh drank water. A lot of it. The man who once loved a drink or 15 and arrived at a referees’ function in showroom condition worked his job, loved his job. He was, it must be said and praised, good at it on Friday. Preparation, interaction and explanation paid off. A simple trio.