Cape Town - They gritted their teeth as they pedalled against howling winds that threatened to blow them off their bikes.
But from the windy chaos a Western Cape rider emerged as the new champion of the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Momentum Cycle Tour.
Standing in the sun-washed grounds at the finish line, Nolan Hoffman celebrated his victory, which marked the end of an almost 10-year bid to conquer the Cycle Tour.
“It feels so good to finally do it,” grinned the Team Abantu cyclist.
Cherise Stander’s triumph in the women’s finals was just as poignant.
Beaming at the finish line, Stander dedicated her victory to her husband Burry, the national mountain biking champion who died after being hit by a minibus taxi last year.
Typical of the elite men’s race, the final leg of the tour through the city saw the pro riders sprint down Helen Suzman Boulevard from Sea Point towards the finish line at the Cape Town Stadium.
A fraction of a second separated Hoffman from his rivals, as he edged out Eritrean Meron Teshome Hagos, and Pretoria cyclist HB Kruger to finish in 2 hours 39 minutes and 31 seconds.
Surprisingly, race favourite and defending champion Herman Fouche did not arrive with the leading peloton.
Since 2004, Hoffman consistently placed in the top 10, missing out on winning the race by mere seconds.
He said: “It sucks when you are so close and that win keeps slipping out of your hands… Now I have it and it feels great. It’s something the local fans have always been cheering for and they have never given up on me.”
But while the Franschhoek rider’s so-called “explosion” up the formidable Suikerbossie sealed the deal for Hoffman, he said the feat would not have been possible without his Abantu teammates.
Expecting a repeat of the stormy 2009 event, when the cut-off time was extended by two hours as riders were reduced to a snail’s pace in the face of 100km/h winds, Hoffman’s team had trained for the wind.
“My teammates bore the brunt of the wind, giving me the energy to pull this off.”
He said his team, the so-called “people’s team”, believed anything could be achieved in a strong community.
Gusts reached 45km/h in some places on Sunday. The effects of the Cape Doctor’s stormy magic were palpable as cyclists headed towards Hospital Bend from the starting line at the Civic Centre.
Gearing up at the starting line, defending champion Herman Fouche was not sounding so confident.
“Today the wind is a lot worse than I expected. It’s definitely not going to make an easy race. You can use the wind to your advantage or disadvantage, but at this point it’s going to be to everyone’s disadvantage.”
An air of trepidation hung over the race’s starting point outside the Cape Town International Convention Centre as the elite group prepared to set off at 6.15am.
Spectators cheered and held posters as charity riders in a colourful range of rhino costumes, neon-green cycling kits and super-hero outfits, assembled on the outskirts of the queuing pelotons.
The sharp crack of three starter pistols marked the beginning of the world’s biggest timed cycling event.
While many riders battled in the wind funnelling down Hospital Bend, and some walked their way through the opening stretch, most later crossed the finish line smiling, their hands lifted triumphantly.
As the cut-off time of 5pm loomed, a large crowd of supporters stood cheering at the finish urging the final stragglers across the line.
Cycle Tour Trust director David Bellairs said that despite the bad weather, there were no more collisions than usual.
“The wind slowed people down, it almost seemed to reduce the number of crashes.”
There was only one emergency helicopter airlift and 59 hospital admissions by 4.10pm. Of these, 33 were fractures or broken bones and eight were head injuries. The rest were minor cuts, bruises and grazes.
Last year, the event was marred by a man dying after a heart attack.