The Year That Wasn't But We Made It Happen Anyway
Bicycling South Africa|November/December 2020
How did that happen? Will our grandchildren believe us? Filter out the almost overwhelming doom and gloom from the most miserable year in recent memory, and there’s actually quite a lot to be cheerful about – if you ride a bike.
Tim Brink
Queen Elizabeth II, reflecting on the most challenging year she’d ever faced, officially and personally: “1992 is not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. In the words of one of my more sympathetic correspondents, it has turned out to be an annus horribilis.

2020: “Hold my beer.”

Cycling matters were going swimmingly in early March of 2020. The Cape Town Cycle Tour was a wind-free success, Team NTT was winning a race or two, Wout van Aert was back after his horrific 2019 TdF crash, and Remco Evenepoel was continuing to plough a Merckx-esque win-everything furrow through professional cycling.

We crowned a new SA road champ in the slender shape of sprinter Ryan Gibbons, who would carry the national flag on his back to the Champs-Élysées six months later. Daryl Impey and Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio had carried their exemplary 2019 form into the new year. The stage was set for a great South African Absa Cape Epic, with a clutch of local teams in with a chance of winning stages and overall.

And then, cough by dry cough, Covid’s destructive tendrils started suffocating sport, and the world in general. The Cape Epic was the first major cycling casualty, forced to cancel less than 12 hours before the riders were due to line up for their UCT time trial…

If ‘holding my beer’ was a sport, Covid was to become the undisputed world champion – virtually overnight, and uncontested for months.

The debilitating effects of world-wide lockdowns have been well documented, in the sporting arena and on a far broader stage. But there are just enough flame lilies on the post-apocalypse cycling landscape to buoy us: it will all be okay, and cycling might even exit this period stronger than ever.

2020 could just be our annus mirabilis.

INDOORS ROCKS! Indoor training had already become slightly more popular pre-lockdown, with apps such as Zwift and Rouvy empowering riders to stave off the boredom of hamsterwheeling by making the experience interactive, and more fun. Logging on to Zwift and finding a group of 20 or 30 riders to suffer with had made hour-plus rides manageable; and the controlled environment meant interval training was safer, and far more scientific – if you don’t have to watch where you’re going, you can hit your numbers far more reliably.

Lockdown opened up this world to many more riders. BL (Before Lockdown), if you hopped on early on a Saturday morning, there would be two or three thousand riders whirring away in Watopia. Almost overnight – by the end of March, anyway – there were 30 000-plus, every day of the week.

Clubs and communities grew to such an extent that one’s Zwift inbox overflowed with invitations to rides and races. Those lucky enough (or with enough foresight) to have invested in an IDT pre-lockdown came out of Level 5 fitter and stronger than before. But that was just the short-term benefit; we discovered that working out in the garage was actually good for us, and a legitimate way to ride a bike.

Though gradually granted more freedom to explore the outdoors, many riders kept up much of their indoor programme – partly to maintain some social distancing from overcrowded public spaces, partly because the chances of being hit by a car or being bike-jacked are understandably lower; but mostly, because we’ve learnt that indoor riding is actually damned good fun.

WE DON’T HAVE TO RACE TO ENJOY CYCLING

Once we were allowed to pedal in the real world, the joy of just riding a bike was palpable. Smiling eyes everywhere (on those polite enough to wear masks), as the five-kilometre radius ruled out overreaching and forced us to explore our own neighborhoods.

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