Saturday morning 8am, Kalk Bay. This fishing village on South of Cape Town is sleepy and calm in the early morning. However, today I see a bicycle pile-up of note in front of the Olympia Café. I walk into the bakery and am greeted by a horde of men and women of all sizes wearing padded tights staggering around in shoes that are clearly not made for walking. This madness has been going on for weeks now and it means one thing: The Argus is upon us. Find out how see all the action in the spectator’s guide to the world’s largest timed cycling race.

Flickr Image by Craig Strachan

The Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour is one of Cape Town’s biggest annual events. It is for this event that even the worst couch potatoes dust of their mountain bike and pencil pushers get lured from their offices to ride for charities. Serious cyclists start training well in advance and compete in seeding events for a better start time, but for most Capetonians that is not what the Argus is about. It becomes obvious when you see the migration of amateur cyclists in colourful nylon over Boyes Drive and Chapman’s Peak; the average Argus competitor is not big into preparation. People are in this ‘race’ to enjoy the beautiful views of the Cape Peninsula, the unconditional crowd support and a beer or two after the finish. Sore legs on the next day are a small price to pay for a fantastic day out in the Cape. And yes, cycling 110km is and achievement; no matter how you do it.

Best Viewing Spots

The Cycle Tour wouldn’t be half the fun without the crowds cheering for every cyclist from the ambitious pro to the first timers who are proud to finish. The crowds come from all walks of life. You will find children, pensioners, men, women, rich, poor and all the colours of the rainbow nation. The crowd support goes beyond cheering; you will find people lending bicycle pumps, splashing water or handing out popular energy boosters like bananas or brownies.

If you want to see the winners and superstars like Lance Armstrong roll past, you will have to get up early. However, it is really about the rest of the 35 000 cyclists who stepped out of their comfort zone and enjoy every cheer. On a beautiful Cape Town day there is nothing wrong with packing a picnic and enjoying this incredible vibe. Here are some of the hot spots for Argus spectators:

  • The Start: The start of the Cycle Tour is a movement of biomass second only to the wildebeest migration in the Serengeti. If you want to know what 35 000 people on bicycles look like walk or cycle towards the corner of Adderley Street and Hertzog Boulevard. The first group leaves at 6:15am the last group starts at 10:08am.
  • Nelson Mandela Boulevard: The bridges crossing the highway give you an aerial view of the fresh and enthusiastic cyclists.
  • Edinburgh Drive to Wynberg Hill: This is the first climb of the tour and a great opportunity to help the fun riders up Wynberg Hill with your support.
  • Fish Hoek: You will see some speed on this flat stretch as cyclists race through the traffic circle towards Simon’s Town. Fish Hoek is accessible by train and if you get too hot in the sun the beach is close enough for a quick dip.
  • Simon’s Town: The refreshment stop after 40km at Jubilee Square is a hub of activity. The waterfront and restaurants are a nice bonus. Walk past the water point to watch the refreshed cyclists speed up towards Smitswinkel.
  • Scarborough and Noordhoek: Find a comfortable pub or restaurant along the way to view the action in style. The Noordhoek Farm Village is a favourite and possibly offers the best pies in Cape Town.
  • Hout Bay: At the bottom of Chapman’s Peak and just before Suikerbosssie Hout Bay is a good place to give the cyclists a final boost before the last and hardest climb of the tour. You will find some pretty good ice cream and pancakes here as well.
  • Suikerbossie: The last climb of the route always feels like the toughest. This is where the cheering really carries the riders up the hill and the atmosphere is most intense.
  • Camps Bay: Cape Town’s most famous beach has many restaurants on the side of the road and when the last rider has passed you will be right on the beach, which is always a good place to be.
  • Finish Line: The finish line in Green Point sees dramatic sprints for a good time. In the afternoon you will see very happy and very exhausted faces from those who just don’t care about the time. The winner will fly past around 8:45am and the cut-off is at 5:08pm.

Click here to view a map with the exact route, the profile and all the water points.

Flickr Image by Craig Strachan

What to Pack and How to Get There

It is usually easiest to view the race close to where you live road closures make it difficult to get around in Cape Town on race day. A great way to get to your viewing spot is, of course, to cycle. Otherwise use public transport. The city centre, Fish Hoek or Simon’s Town can easily be reached by train and the MyCiti Bus will get you to the finish line.

Increase your own fun by drawing banners and make yourself comfortable. Some snacks, water and fold-up chairs will go a long way. Some people even put couches on the side of the road. Because Cape Town is still quite hot in March don’t forget to take sunblock and a hat.

Cycle Tour Quick facts

  • Date: Sunday, 11 March 2012
  • Distance: 110km
  • Start: Hertzog Boulevard, Cape Town Central
  • Start Times: 6:15am to 10:08am
  • Finish: Green Point Promenade
  • Cut-off at the finish: 5:08pm
  • 2011 winners: Tyler Day (2:32:10) and Cherise Taylor (2:49:55)
  • Official Webiste

How will you enjoy race day? Share your tips in the comment section!