The Argus Cycle Tour: a trip down memory lane

Me in my first Argus on my Hansom Mountain bike.

Deep down I think it’s right to rename the world class race, affectionately known as “the Argus” to “The Cape Town Cycle Tour”. It makes sense to bring its name in line with other world class events named after the cities in which they were hosted such as the London Marathon and the Boston Marathon. The content of the recent press release that Mark Renshaw and Mark Cavendish will be racing the 2015 Cape Town Cycle Tour bears testimony to this truly world class event.

But, and this is a “big but”, I think for locals, especially locals like me, it will always be known as “the Argus”! There is just so much emotion and memory attached to “the Argus”. To the majority of Capetonians, it’s the only cycle race that counts. You can compete at national championships, but you’ll always get more attention from your result in the Argus, than a great result at a less well known event. It’s the Tour de France of funrides, and for many amateur cyclists its the only race that counts.

Argus Heritage

I had the privilege of being invited to send in some of my memories, anecdotes, photos and memorabilia from the period 1988 to 1997 by the heritage team at the Cycle Tour. This blog is a little trip down memory lane to my first Argus.  I did it when I was 11 years old in 1993, and this year I will be competing in my 21st Argus.

My Argus journey started in 1992, when I helped my mom, Lesley Watson, crush cans for recycling at the finish area in Maiden’s Cove. I don’t know what it was, but as a 10 year old who enjoyed riding his BMX and mountain-bike around the neighbourhood, I figured that this race was something that I could do, and wanted to do! It was a beautiful day that day, and I think there was something magical about riders coasting over the finish line, not looking too wrecked, on the one side of the recycling station, and the beatiful views of the Atlantic Ocean on the other. As the cool breeze blowing off the sea refreshed the recyclers (and indeed, the cyclists), I set my heart and mind on doing the Argus the next year.

Starting to train for the Argus and plotting routes

For me, the Argus isn’t just the race on the second Sunday of March. It’s everything else that goes along with it, including the training and the anticipation of the the event as as the big day draws near. Some of my fondest childhood memories have to do with training for the Argus. On one of my first “training rides” (I think it was in the April holidays) I rode until I saw “skyscrapers”. I came home to tell my mom I thought I had ridden all the way to Cape Town. I later realised that the buildings I saw were only the ones you can see in Wynberg from Alphen Road (we lived in Bergvliet). I still vividly remember the plants on the side of the road I now know to be Southern Cross Drive as I stopped to catch my breath. It was there that I first encountered the feeling of the onset of glycogen depletion that, little did I then know, I would become intimately acquainted with on many occasions from that day forward. 

David, Brian (my brother) and me stopping off at my  mom's friends in Fishhoek on the way to Simon's Town.

David, Brian (my brother) and me stopping off at my mom’s friends in Fishhoek on the way to Simon’s Town.


Plotting training routes – great fun for a kid!

My brother and I and other friends would often ride out to Simon’s Town, hang out with the penguins at boulders, buy a Magnum for R5.00, and cruise home when we wanted to. No cell-phones, just freedom.I’d like to thank my parents, and friends’ parents for giving us the freedom to ride our bikes! I think the spirit of adventure that took root then is something that has stood me in good stead for life. Another fun thing was plotting routes and calculating distance using a map-book and a piece of string (those were the days before the internet, and googlemaps and Strava). Oldschool. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Some of the routes we plotted are still some of my favourites, and as I gear up for my 21st Argus I am making a point of training on those routes, and yes, climbing the Strava leaderboards! 

Bridge Cycles

One of the best things about the lead up to the Argus was spending lots and lots of time after school hanging around Bridge Cycles. Fayaz and Fayzal were such legends and always took the best care of me, my brother and my mom. It was great to go into Bridge and plot what our next birthday or Christmas present was going to be.


Funrides were a big part of the build up to the Argus. I did my first funride with David and his dad, Richard in September 1992. It was the 48km UCT Cycle Tour. From what I remember it was relatively easy and it was freezing cold at the end. David won a prize in the lucky draw. As I looked back over my cycling stuff, I was amazed at how many funrides I did before my first Argus. I have such fond memories, in that initial period before my first Argus, and also in the years that ensued, in coming home completely exhausted and lying on the couch pleasantly trashed! There were a few sayings out there. If you could do the Three Passes Cycle Tour 55km, you could do the Argus and the time you got for the Rollercoaster 92km (which was exactly a month before the Argus) was the time you could expect in the Argus. I just finished the Three Passes, and did the Rollercoaster in 4h18. One of my favourite and most inspirational memories of these funrides was being passed by the top groups of cyclists doing the longer route as I rode the same stretch of road while completing the shorter route. I was always amazed at how super fast they could go past me, and how big their calf muscles were.

My first funride

My first funride


This was beast (92km). A big confidence builder ahead of the Argus.

This was beast (92km). A big confidence builder ahead of the Argus.

Entering the Argus

The entry procedure in 1993 was very different to today, but it was a lot of fun. I remember being so stoked to get my hands on my entry form. I was at Pick n Pay with my mom and there was a pile of them at the end of each till counter. It was a magical document that promised loads of awesomeness! I couldn’t wait to get home to complete it. I filled out all the fields, read the entire agreement, and then got my mom to sign on my behalf. This was the deal with all the fun-rides as well, your mom or dad had to sign on your behalf. Then, I went to the post office, bought a postal order to pay the entry fee, slipped it in the envelope and posted it into the big red post box! This was very very different to how I entered this year (I did it off my iPhone in 5 minutes and got the confirmation straight away). I think I preferred the old way though. Then you would wait to get the magazine and find out your seeding. In the early years I remember coming home from school each day and eagerly checking the post box to see if the Argus magazine had arrived and to see what group they had put me in. In 1993 I started in “P” which was the only group for Western Province Pedal Power Association members.

The EXPO and the GIRO

In 1993 the registration was held in a big shed at the V&A Waterfront.  Back then the Argus was the final stage of the Giro del Capo. Those were the days of Andrew Maclean and Willie Engelbrecht! The place was humming with excitement about the race on Sunday and talk of the Giro. Watching the 5.5km individual time trial up signal hill was awesome.

Everybody say HOOPLA

Some time after I entered, my dad decided to enter the Argus to support me. We were in different groups, but it was rad having him along for the ride. We packed the bikes on the back of his car and cruised through to town for my first Argus. What a vibe! It’s the only morning of the year where everybody going to town is transporting bicycles. It was very exciting for an 11 year old. At that time there were about 15 000 cyclists who lined up for the big ride. I shouted HOOPLA for the first time and hit the road to try and do the Argus as quickly as possible. The thing about the Argus is that you will never know how awesome it is unless you do it. From before the start, to after the finish is is just insanely amazing! Some special memories from my first Argus stand out.

  • We FLEW down the Blue Route in a massive bunch. Yoh! What a vibe, looking at my computer (Cateye Vectra) and going 50km/h and hardly pedalling.
  • Getting to Jubilee Square and thinking that I got the first 40km for free thanks to the massive bunches.
  • I distinctly remember taking a big gulp of breakthrough corn syrup (my supplement of choice back then) just before Smitswinkel.
  • I got LOADS of attention from spectators all along the course (I think because I was so small and was riding a mountain bike). I specifically remember a number of spectators shouting “go bokkie” as we passed the Soetwater refreshment station.
  • On that, I remember not stopping at a single refreshment station.
  • I cruised along Misty Cliffs while chatting to an older guy that I had met at the funrides. He thought a sub4 was on the cards; it hadn’t even crossed my mind up until that point.
  • I crested chappies thinking, “I am doing this thing!”
  • Near the top of Suikerbossie, I stopped briefly to catch my breath and have a drink. Unfortunately a big man who obviously was not used to unclipping his cleats slowed down next to me, stopped, stayed clipped in, and took me down with him into the fynbos. I was fine, but my computer no longer was working. I was so obsessed with an accurate average speed reading that I spent some time trying to fix it, before cutting my losses and carrying on.
  • I crossed the finish line in 4h02 and handed my finish card in as soon as possible (because, you know, you’ve crossed the line and the race is over but, surely the sooner you get to the finish card people the better, right?).
  • Waited for my dad. He started after me, but he also took a little longer out on the route.
  • Maidens Cove was as awesome as it was in 1992.
  • I was so chuffed with having done my first Argus!!!
  • I found out that Wimpie van der Merwe had SMASHED the course record in a time of 2h16 in a special aerodynamic supine recumbent. The highlights package was awesome! The guys just overtook Willie and Andrew and the lads in the Giro. The looks on their faces was priceless.

    In those days you got a badge. One day I will sew this on to a tracksuit top.

    In those days you got a badge. One day I will sew this on to a tracksuit top.

My first Argus certificate. I remember thinking. 6th! Who are these other guys?!

My first Argus certificate. I remember thinking. 6th! Who are these other guys?!

As I prepare for the Argus this year, it is these, and other awesome memories that come to mind. I am very very grateful to the Argus organisers, the Rotary Clubs, and the PPA for all they have done to contribute significantly to my life, and to the lives of many other cyclists! Thank you.