Cape Town is proud host to the largest cycle race in the world: the Cape Argus (usually known just as the Argus).
Unlike South Africa's other major ultrasports events - the Comrades and Two Oceans ultramarathons and the Midmar Mile swim, which take up to 6 months of dedicated preparation - the 110km route (which must be completed within 7 hours) is manageable for fit people who've put in some advance training. However, for those considering participating, you should bear in mind that the race is sometimes affected by extreme weather conditions (this is, after all, Cape Town): in 2009, the race had to be stopped because of high winds that were blowing competitors off their bikes, and has also been stopped in the past due to extreme temperatures.
The route around the Cape peninsula is absolutely stunning (I've done it many times by car, but consider myself far too sane to do it by bike!) and although the race has only been going for about 40 years, it has become an institution. The numbers are capped at 35,000, but because of the iconic nature of the race and the beauty of the route, the race is usually fully subscribed within a few weeks on entries opening.
The Argus usually takes place the second week in March. If you are an ultrasports fanatic and/or masochist, why not consider staying on for a few weeks to recuperate in the lovely Cape before you run the Two Oceans ultramarathon (see my travel tip) - by then at least you'll have the advantage of having experienced part of the course!
If you are sane enough to have no intention of cycling the Argus, might I respectfully suggest that you avoid visiting Cape Town at this time, as flights and accommodation are fully booked, and the law of 'supply and demand' kicks in, which results in prices going through the roof!
South Africans are sports mad, and Cape Town's stunning environment makes it an ideal location for outdoor pursuits. It is therefore unsurprising that it hosts one of the most popular - and arguably the most beautiful - ultramarathon events in the world, the Two Oceans, which takes place over the Easter weekend.
The best bit about Two Oceans is the glorious route around the Cape peninsula, much of which borders the Atlantic Ocean and False Bay coastlines. There is also a good deal of camaraderie, as over 22,000 people ran in this event in 2010 (although this also included not only the 8,000 or so entered for the ultramarathon, but also people running in the half marathon and 'fun run' components). However, Two Oceans isn't for cissies - it extends over 56km and there's quite a lot of up and down along the route, as well as the potential for high winds if a South Easter is blowing. The winner usually finishes in a shade over 3 hours (the first woman would usually finish in about 3:40).
Most competitors enter Two Oceans to fulfil part of the qualifying requirements to enter the Comrades marathon - the world's largest ultramarathon that is held between Durban and Pietermaritzburg in June every year.
If you are sane enough to have no intention of running Two Oceans, might I respectfully suggest that you avoid visiting Cape Town at this time, as flights and accommodation are fully booked, and the law of 'supply and demand' kicks in, which results in prices going through the roof!
South Africans are fanatical about sport (in my experience, only Aussies come close in terms of their sports obsession), and among white South Africans, rugby is not a sport, but a religion! Until I moved to South Africa, I couldn't see the logic behind the sports boycott which was imposed on South Africa in the 1980s and 90s ... and once I was here, I realised how profoundly hurt white South Africans were that nobody would play games with them!
So, the time has come to write about one of my consuming passions: rugby! I have been putting off writing this time forever, because I know that it will necessitate an explanation of one of the most complex (and constantly evolving) sets of sporting rules ever developed, but anyway, let's give it a whirl.
Rugby is a fairly recent game, and apparently came into being in 1823 when a schoolboy playing football (soccer) decided to pick up the ball and run with it: the lad in question was William Webb-Ellis (after whom the rugby World Cup trophy is named), and the school he attended was Rugby, hence the name. Actually, subsequent research indicates that this is likely to be an urban legend, but it's a good yarn nonetheless! In fact rugby shares many features in common with Gaelic football in terms of using an oval ball, allowing the ball to be played with hands as well as feet and using an 'H' shaped set of posts, as well as having 15 players per team.
These days, there are two main forms of rugby: rugby union and rugby league (to my mind, 'rugby lite', as it has removed many of the complexities such as scrummaging, and about which I will say no more). Rugby union - which is what I am going to concentrate on - is the more popular game, and also has a shorter '7 a side' tournament format (best known for the annual Hong Kong Sevens tournament, a drinkfest of note).
Certain things about rugby don't make sense. For a start, although the objective is to run and and ground the ball over the 'try' line of the opposition, it's forbidden to throw the ball forward (points can also be scored by kicking between the two upright posts above a cross bar). And we're not even going to begin to discuss why the man mountain wearing the No.2 shirt is habitually referred to as the ‘hooker' ...
Rugby is also unique for its 'scrum' formation, where eight beefy lads from each side but shoulders and heads in an aggressive 'group hug' into whose heart the ball is then placed: on average, the 'pack' from each side weighs in at over 850kg (about 2,000 pounds in old money), so the resultant forces exerted as they push against each other are extraordinary - in fact, this is one of the reasons why neck injuries are so common in rugby, and as a result, scrumming is not allowed in the junior format of the game.
I would venture that you can't come to South Africa in the rugby season (roughly February to September) and not watch a rugby match - preferably live, or, failing that on a TV (most pubs and bars would have big screens). So, why would you want to? Well, for me, the game's greatest attraction is that it's a fast moving and exciting sport which combines immense skill with sheer brute force, and (unlike soccer, where goals are few and far between and draws are fairly common), the teams score often during a match. It is also the ultimate team sport, particularly among the pack of eight players who comprise the scrum, an entity which almost has a life of its own. And although rugby is an incredibly physical sport, it's a surprisingly disciplined game in which the ref's word is regarded as gospel and no dissent is tolerated. Lastly, rugby is a game where the violence is solely confined to the pitch, and the crowd usually contains a heartwarmingly high proportion of families!
In short, attending a rugby match during your time in South Africa is a wonderful way to spend an afternoon - even if you have little understanding of the rules - as the atmosphere is very congenial and the ticket prices are very reasonable by international standards. Tourists are most likely to be tempted to attend matches at Coca Cola (formerly Ellis) Park in Johannesburg, Loftus Versfeld in Pretoria, Newlands in Cape Town and at ABSA stadium (formerly Kings Park) in Durban. Just be mindful that for big matches, tickets are sold out well in advance, so check the website for availability.
In terms of 'who's who' in the rugby universe, the Big Five are the All Blacks (New Zealand), the Springboks (South Africa), the Wallabies (Australia), France and England. The Welsh have a phenomenal rugby tradition and dominated international ('test') rugby in the 1970s - but have never again reached the same heady heights - and the Irish and Scots also have creditable teams. The Southern Hemisphere teams compete in the Tri Nations (expanding in 2012 to include Argentina), whereas the major European teams (England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, France and Italy) battle it out for honours in the Six Nations tournament. Then there are the unexpected outliers: the Namibians, Romanians, various Pacific island teams (Samoa, Tonga and Fiji are excellent teams, especially in the 7 a side format) and even the Georgians!
As a general rule of thumb - and although it pains me to admit it - the New Zealanders are usually the best team in the world at any given point in time, and consequently the most hated (rugby fans will often tell you that they support their home team, followed by any team that's playing the All Blacks!).
Although rugby is usually associated with strapping white Afrikaaner farmboys the size of an ox, it may come as a surprise to learn there is in fact a long and proud rugby playing tradition in the Coloured community, particularly in the Griqualand region of the Northern Cape. There are an increasing number of black players, and in terms of racial transformation, rugby has made much bigger strides than, for example, cricket.
If you'd like an insight into how significant rugby is to the South African psyche, watch the excellent movie 'Invictus' for a perspective on how the canny Mandela used the 1995 World Cup in South Africa (which, of course, we won!) to play a key role in his nationbuilding initiative during the early days of democracy - see photo above.
(work in progress)
For those who read the title and thought that this was going to help you pick up local lovelies, you're going to be sadly disappointed, as probably the only way that you're going to score with a maiden (or any other woman) at Newlands is with a cricket bat!
Newlands is located in the leafy suburbs of Cape Town just south of the City Bowl, and is the Cape Town venue for both provincial and 'test' (international) cricket matches. If you don't have a car, the stadium can be easily accessed by train from either Cape Town central station or from any of the stations along the False Bay seaboard (such as Muizenburg, Kalk Bay, Fishhoek and Simonstown).
Cricket seems to be an enormous source of bewilderment for those who are not priveleged to hail from non-cricket playing nations, so let me try to explain the basics. Cricket comes in many forms, from the three, four and five day games (which, believe it or not, often end in a draw), to the more popular one day format (where you are at least guaranteed a result after a mere day): call me a purist, but I personally draw the line at the 20 over aside Twenty20 format, which I consider to be little more than 'hit and giggle'. Cricket has a fiendishly complex set of rules that make even rugby seem easily comprehensible: try explaining the Duckworth-Lewis method of determining a result for a match interrupted by rain to a novice or - even more challenging - try justifying D-L to an irate fan whose team have just falled foul of this method!
It's fair to say that cricket is definitely an acquired taste, after which it becomes highly addictive! Its popularity is almost exclusively restricted to Commonwealth nations (although the Irish and Dutch are cricketing minnows who have put up a creditable showing in the recent World Cup) - the heavyweight nations being Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India (the world champions at the time of writing), Pakistan, Sri Lanka and England. Indeed, I have a pet theory that a thirsty traveller can only rely on getting a decent cup of tea in countries who play cricket at a test (international) level!
Cricket is, above all, a game of strategy and once you get your head around the rules, it is utterly enthralling ... the downside is that this takes the average person about a decade! The good news is that you don't have to understand cricket to enjoy it, and attending a cricket game is a deeply relaxing experience, especially if it's one of the three, four or five day games. Unlike other more high energy, limited duration sports, frenetic action in cricket comes in short bursts (if at all) which allows you to get on with the serious business of sitting outdoors amid pleasant surroundings and in good company, keeping half an eye on the 'action' whilst chatting to your mates over a few beers.
A note for families: like rugby, cricket is a family game, and one of the most heartening aspects of attending a cricket match is to see stands full of fathers and sons (and often even mothers and daughters). Crowd violence at a cricket match is unheard of, so if the weather is nice, this is a laid back, affordable and very South African way to while away a lazy day. Way back in the mists of time, I spent my first Boxing Day in South Africa watching a cricket match at Newlands, and still have very fond - if hazy - memories of gazing up over my cold glass of beer at Table Mountain and wondering if there could be a better way to spend a day. Later that evening, suffering from severe sunburn because I hadn't been liberal enough with the sunscreen, I wasn't quite so sure! Bear in mind that cricket is a long game, and even the covered stands are not in the shade for the whole day, so go equipped with a hat and plenty of sunblock!
P.S. 'To bowl a maiden over' is cricket parlance for the highly desirable achievement of bowling an 'over' - six consecutive balls - from which your opposition does not manage to score a single run. Basking in the limelight of your achievement and scoring with the local maidens thereafter is entirely optional ...
Details on the public transport arrangements for the World Cup stadia continue to be issued in drips and drabs. The most comprehensive and user-friendly useful summary I've seen was from Prega Govender in this morrning's Sunday Times - follow this link:
Please note that private vehicles (including taxis) will NOT be allowed close to the stadia, so if you are planning to travel to the stadia in your own or someone else's vehicle, be prepared for a long walk (and potentially problems finding your taxi pick up after the game).
It seems like it will be a long journey to the stadia, but then with excitement at fever pitch and national pride running high, this is all part of the experience!
Let the games begin!
CAPE TOWN STADIUM
Park and Ride fees: Free at railway stations and the University of Cape Town. Parking at Kronendal Primary School sports field in Hout Bay and Camps Bay High School expected to cost between R10 and R30. Pay for parking ticket on entry. An extra 7000 parking bays available at 25 railway stations.
Rail travel is free for match ticket holders.
A free shuttle bus for match ticket holders will run between the Civic Centre bus station and the Cape Town Stadium in Green Point. Service will operate from six hours before kickoff until four hours after the final whistle. Buses will leave every three minutes, depending on demand.
The Hout Bay bus service will run from Hout Bay to the Civic Centre bus station along Atlantic Seaboard via Camps Bay, Sea Point and Cape Town stadium. It will operate from four hours before kick off until 2am. Cost of journey to be based on distance travelled.
Main transport hubs: Hertzog Boulevard outside the Civic Centre in the CBD, within easy walking distance of Cape Town station; the Golden Acre bus terminus; station deck minibus taxi rank; metered taxi rank and long distance bus terminal.
For those who don't have tickets to some or all of the games, today's Sunday Times also provides the following update on 'fan fests' (free viewing zones) around the company. Note that in addition to these 'official fan fests', there will also be other fan zones such as the MTN fan zones, for which entrance will be charged (and where facilities such as parking and food/drink outlets will be more formalised)
Follow this link: http://www.google.co.za/search?hl=en&q=No+tickets%3F+No+problem+at+free+fan+fests+%2B+Karen+van+Rooyen&btnG=Search&aq=f&aqi=&aql=&oq=&gs_rfai=
"More than 260000 soccer enthusiasts who cannot attend World Cup games need not worry - they will be accommodated at 10 official "fan fests" around the country. Entrance to these facilities will be free, and fans are encouraged to come early to enjoy the entertainment.
The venues, which will operate on match days, are:
Cape Town's party will be at the Grand Parade, which can accommodate 25000. It will be open for 12 hours from 11am. Signs will indicate the walkway from Hertzog Boulevard, and there will be park-and-ride facilities. "
35 000 people cycle this picturesque bicycle race from Cape Town in March every year. It is just over 100km, around the peninsula and close to Cape Point, then along Chapman's Peak drive, back to Cape Town. People are grouped into starting groups depending on their seeding based on previous cycle races that they have finished (only 60% of the field is seeded, and the unseeded riders start latest), and the groups start from the Cape Town City Centre. The route goes up and down on the highway past Groote Schuur hospital, Cape Town University; along a very social section through Fish hoek, Kalk Bay, Simonstown; then onto the quieter part of the route past the Cape Point nature reserve and then through the tiny village of Scarborough; towards Kommetjie (with one of the best beaches on this planet - but you can't stop here); then onto the magnificent and energy sapping Chapman's Peak, down towards Hout Bay, over a sneaky hill called Suikerbossie towards the sophisticated set in Camps Bay and Clifton; and then on to the finish, where you can get yourself a beer. International entries are normally accepted well after the closing of the event for locals (in 2008, you can enter right up until the Saturday before the race!) Locals log on to their website within a few days to weeks after the entries open if they want to get a place.
The winning time for is 2 hours 32 minutes (for men), and about 1300 people do the race in a sub-3 hour. The average time is 4 hours for men and 4 hours 40 minutes for women. I'm not telling you MY time. Average age is 40 years - that's where I am on par with average. If you finish within 7 hours, you get a certificate.
All funds raised go to non-profit organisations: Rotary, and the Pedal Power Organisation.
Equipment: Bicycle - although this is a road race, there are many people who do it with a mountain bike. No helmet no ride.
When Driving from Blouberg Strand to Cape Town you drive over the Milnerton Lagoon. I must say its something worth seeing. Its absolutely beautiful and everytime I went pass there you always seem to get people wind surfing and kite flying and so forth.
Well I did a bit of research and for those sporty people. Check out the link below for sports activities to do at the lagoon.
The Cape Argus Pick 'n Pay Cycle Tour has already gained international recognition from the UCI, becoming the opening event of the Golden Bike Series, made up of 10 races held in Canada, Switzerland, Italy, The Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Spain, Germany, France and South Africa. Many people regard it as the jewel in the crown of the prestigious series.
Just like the Two Oceans Marathon , its set on a similar route and boasts spectacular scenary.
Equipment: Your Bicycle , and your cycling gear.
The FIFA 2010 Soccer World cup hits our shores this week. Come and enjoy the party!
There is still lots of affordable accommodation available - shop around and haggle! Many of the hotels will be just too please to have you. Foreign vivtor numbers have been disappointing due to the world wide economic situation and although match tickets have been snapped up by locals, hotels that were expecting an influx of foreigners are largely empty.
Newlands is one of South Africa's favorite cricket and rugby grounds. The famous Green Point Stadium was built for the 2010 Fifa world cup. The Cape Argus cycling race is a big event and so it...