Monday, January 25, 2010

Cutting it fine

Well, I've done the Alpine Classic 200km. Not without drama though. After more than 13 hours on the road, I made it to the finish line with just 19 minutes to spare!

It was quite a ride. I made a good start and was over Tawonga Gap and up Falls Creek (60km) in good time and good style. A short break at Falls for a snack and I was back on the road, cruising through for the climb up the other side of Tawonga. The descent back into Bright (130km) is one of the better parts of the ride, and after seven hours of elapsed time I was pretty happy with my progress. A short break in Bright to cool down and have a bite to eat and it was off to tackle Mt Buffalo.

Here's where things became slightly more challenging. It's a tough climb and it was the hottest part of the day. I slowed considerably on the way up, stopping every kilometre or so to catch my breath. At this end of the field, at this time of day, at this distance into the ride, many of my fellow riders were feeling the same pinch, as onward and upward we ground, aided by the occasional shouts of encouragement from riders returning at speed from the summit.

By the time I made the control at the top, time was getting on. I knew from my previous descent of the mountain that Bright was at least an hour and ten minutes away, although likely longer for a tired rider. I had an hour and thirty minutes to beat the cutoff.

As spectacular and as speedy as the descent is, it was largely lost on me as I counted down the minutes remaining with no sign of the bottom. My heart went out to the poor buggers still struggling up the grade, many of whom had no chance in hell of completing the ride in time. I was pretty determined to avoid that fate. Porepunkah finally drew near and it became apparent that I had about 20 minutes to cover the remaining ground to Bright. But how far was it? My best guess was ten kilometres, which was clearly going to be beyond me at that time of the day.

So I was pretty relieved when I rolled past the sign flashed past saying "Bright 6km". I was back in the game. Another rider sensed my plight and dragged me along for a bit at speed before he flagged and I took a turn thundering along the final stretch. Eventually Bright drew into view and I knew I was going to make it. The actual finish was a bit of a blur, partly because I was completely spent and partly because my eyes seemed to be a bit misty for some reason.

I've wanted to do the Alpine Classic 200km for years, and have never thought I was up to it. I'm tremendously happy to have finally done the ride, even if I did finish by the barest of margins. It was a fitting finish to a tremendous week of riding. As for next year, well the 130km distance is looking pretty good.

721km so far this year.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


The last couple of days of the Semaine Federale are, for me anyway, a chance to take things easy ahead of the Alpine. After riding nearly 300km in the last week a couple of easy days aren't going to do any harm and will hopefully leave me a bit fresher for the big event. The final day of riding in the Semaine involved a mere 20km jaunt out to Boynton's Winery just outside of Porpunkah. The temperature was reached a top of 41 degrees in Bright, so contemplating strenuous exercise was probably not a good idea anyway.

This last excursion was a journey which was to take seven hours - possibly not the fastest 20km in Audax history, but to be fair to our group of four there were many distractions. After a leisurely breakfast on the deck of the Bright Football Club, the outward journey went well enough - we were the first to the winery, where we had a rest on the deckchairs and a natter. We rode a few kilometres up the road to the Bright Berry Farm where we devoured some lovely boysenberry ice cream and another long chat. Back to the winery, where another hour or two were spent over the odd glass of bubbly and some gentle relaxation before we managed the 2km ride to the popular Rail Trail Cafe for a delightful spot of lunch.
On the way back we dropped in on some friends staying closer to Bright and another hour was delightfully spent. By the time I made it back to ride HQ I was well and truly the last rider home most of the day had gone in a blur of ease and conversation. Just two of the seven hours that has passed had been spent in the saddle. But still, not a bad way to end a lovely week of riding.

508km so far this year.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Bike polo

A mob of Melbourne hipsters put on a bike polo demonstration for us today. I was astonished at how small the court was, and how well they played. There was a chance for audience participation, but my hand-eye coordination is the reason I ride a bike instead of playing ball sports.

My heroes ride slow.

I spotted my first pair of shaved (male) legs in Bright today, a reminder the Alpine Classic will very soon be upon us. It's also a reminder too that huge egos of the lycra brigade will soon be arriving in town. Though most audax riders are humble and interesting people, some of the folk this ride attracts seem never to have learned the lesson that being a good bike rider and being a decent or fully-formed human are two different things that don't necessarily travel together. It's an epidemic among racing cyclists, who seldom smile or wave or acknowledge the rest of us when out on the road. There will be plenty of shaved legs and bright team jerseys and attitude in town this weekend. And I'm forecasting an undersupply of humility and perspective.

Riding up a few hills on a $8000 carbon fibre bike doesn't impress me greatly. If you're thin and fit and young, it would be more surprising if you couldn't. My cycling heroes do better than that.

Try Lan Yin Tasi (top left). She's 84. Every year for the past 26 years, she's cranked out 200km to raise money for multiple sclerosis research. She does it on a single-speed bike, in a dress and high heels. That's pretty impressive.

Or how about Bram Moen's mum? She covers 6000km a year, just like me, but she's 84 and just got a flash new bike. Or Scott Cutshall, who lost about 150 kilograms and rode himself back into health.

I guess there will be a lot of rich white blokes - the mainstay of competitive cycling - in Bright this weekend who think they're pretty special. The shocking truth is, they're not.

421km so far this year.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A bastard called Buffalo

Mt Buffalo is the final major climb of the Alpine Classic 200km. I've never ridden it, although I've heard chilling tales and looked into the dead eyes of those who've tackled the beast after 130km of riding in the midsummer heat. One friend, absent from the Classic this year due to an ever-expanding list of almost-credible excuses, rates this his favourite climb. But there's nothing like finding out for yourself.

Like the other rides I'm doing this week, the 72km round trip up Buffalo and back was meant to be a confidence builder. And that's exactly how it started out on the lower slopes of the 1695 metre mountain - the day was cool and the going not too hard, just a steady pedal up the nicely-graded road as it winds upward and upward. After about an hour of this, it's hard not to start wondering how much further is to go, especially as a steady stream of early starters are coming the other way yelling greetings as they blur past. No clue from road markings or signs. No sky visible through the trees signalling a crest. Never mind, I tell myself, enjoy the views and push onwards.
After two hours, with the top nowhere in sight and the second water bottle rapidly emptying, it's hard not to become a little dispirited. I hadn't eaten, thinking two hours would nail it and was starting to get hungry. Finally the top of the climb came into view and an undulating four kilometres across the top took me to the lunch stop, my confidence not built so much as challenged.

A quick bite to eat and back on the road. Mindful of the cool temperatures, I bought myself a local tabloid newspaper, hoping that a thin tissue of lies stuffed down my jersey might hold off the chill of descending. And so it proved: I stayed tolerably warm during the thrilling descent back towards Porepunkah. Two and a half hours of upward toil was gone in less than 40 minutes of descending. I took the opportunity of enjoying the last five kilometres into Bright, imagining the thrill and relief of an Alpine finish. Here's hoping. Sunday will tell.

Rest day tomorrow. I need it.

421km so far this year.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Making peace with the beast

I'm no climber, but even thin, fit people on light bikes tell me Tawonga Gap is a beast of a climb. I'm not sure why I dislike it so much, but it's always been my nemesis in the Alpine Classic and I wasn't overly looking forward to riding it today. The western side is the first climb of the Alpine, and it certainly gets the blood, sweat and tears flowing, but the eastern side is a real bastard: a five hundred-odd metre upward grind averaging 6.4 per cent over just seven kilometres, particularly cruel if you've already done a bit of riding and the weather is hot, conditions which are pretty normal at the 100km mark of the Alpine Classic.

The second day of the Semaine Federale offered a trip over the Gap to Mt Beauty as the 'medium' difficulty option. I was ready to take my medicine, but to my surprise, Tawonga Gap and me seem to have buried the hatchet. The weather was cool and overcast today, so maybe that had something to do with it, but I floated up and floated back - if anything about a sweating granny gear grind can be called floating.

Playground of pain.

I rose late, enjoyed a more modest breakfast and gave it some time to go down, so the outward journey was unremarkable except for the unseasonally chilly temperatures on the way down the Mt Beauty side of the hill and the fact I dropped one wordless wheelsucker on the climb and passed two folk on mountain bikes. At the lunch stop I discovered I had forgotten my brightly-coloured lunch ticket, so had to stick my hand in my pocket. After a most enjoyable and relaxed lunch in the cafe it was back on the road with chattering teeth hoping the first climb would warm me up a little.

Happily that's exactly what it did. Concentrating on not wearing myself out - there is a similarly gruelling climb of Mt Buffalo tomorow - and sticking to a steady pace, I found the return voyage much easier than the outbound trip. This steady pace saw me cheerfully at the top in just over 40 minutes, just in time for a bright red Hyundai i30 hatchback with NSW registration plates XBE023 to pass within 30cm of my elbow and speed off into the distance.

The descent into Bright was a blast, even with a little rain which made the corners slick, and I was happy to complete the 62km with two difficult climbs in just under three and a half hours on the bike. I was even happier to spot a bright red Hyundai i30 hatchback with NSW registration plates XBE023 in the main street of Bright while heading for a post-ride beer. It was clearly their lucky day, because I opted to leave a polite note on their windscreen, rather than carving it into their shiny new paintjob. All in all a righteous day's work.

344km so far this year.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

And so it begins.

After my last giddy post it's perhaps not too surprising I was up bright and early for the first day of riding in the Semaine Federale. It was cooler today than yesterday's 35 degree heat so I pulled on a long jersey before heading over to Ride HQ next door for breakfast. And what a spread there was: sausages and bacon and eggs and toast and juice and more. I lounged around and ate far too much before sorting myself out for a flat 60km to Myrtleford.

There's no official start time on the Semaine Federale rides, so after watching a few folk get away early I set off about 8.30am. Distended stomach notwithstanding, I followed a couple down the excellent Rail Trail, although many riders for some unknown reason chose to stay on the road. Soon after leaving Bright I was on my own and making steady progress into the headwind, the long sleeved jersey discarded as the sun came out. Just outside Myrtleford I picked up a couple of other riders, but they apparently weren't feeling social or don't appreciate large bearded men drafting them to escape the wind, so I let them continue on their wordless way.

Both the 100km and the 60km rides today appealed and although the 100km was tempting it's a bit dangerous to go out too hard on day one. The urge to ditch the plan was never stronger than at Myrtleford where the ride signs showed only a flat and easy 20km to the Lake Buffalo checkpoint. I stayed strong and repaired to the bakery for a cool drink. There were more riders about here: with 100 riders, three ride options and no set start times, people tend to spread out a bit on the road. I had a chat with the famous Leigh Patterson (pictured below), chucked my lunch in my musette (10.30am is a tad early for lunch after a huge breakfast) and got back on the road.
The ride back was made even more agreeable by the tailwind. More riders were evident now, particularly families taking advantage of the rail trail and the bike parking at the Rail Trail Cafe at Porepunkah was well and truly full. The last few kilometres were fast ones, even dodging the growing bike traffic as the Rail Trail neared town. We have a harder ride tomorrow - over the evil Tawonga Gap - so nice to have an easy day to start with. Happily, I'm back in time for an afternoon nap before the riders' bar opens at 5pm.

281km so far this year.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Ready for the Semaine Fédérale en Australia

The Semaine Federale stars tomorrow. A week of Audax rides out of Bright in the lead up to the Alpine Classic. It's the first time the much-loved event has been held outside of France. I signed up about a day after the event was announced and in an act of uncharacteristic forward planning booked my accommodation a year in advance, which was just was well. I snared the last rooms in Bright for the Alpine weekend.

I'm in Bright now, like a kid waiting for Christmas. I left Hobart Thursday night, took the Bass Strait ferry Friday morning, stopped over in Lancefield Friday night for a pre-ride ride with the mighty Lancefield Lairs and arrived in Bright this evening - Saturday after another three hour drive. Despite being a full day before I told them I would be here (my planning and logistical skills aren't really that great, especially when I'm working well in advance) the lovely folk at Pioneer Garden Cottages were able to fit me in.

I unpacked the bikes, I bought two because you can't be too careful and went to register for the event. The lovely ride organisers gave me five maps, covering the week's rides, an armband and a brevet booklet for the checkpoints. Breakfast and lunch are laid on daily. All I have to do is to turn up each day and decide whether I want to do the 100km hard ride or the 60km medium ride. The 6-10km easy ride might be taking things a bit easy. My wife arrives Thursday to come for a few rides and soak up the amazing atmosphere of Bright at Alpine Classic time and three of the Lairs will be joining us for the night before and after the Alpine. Even the weather forecasts look ok.

How good a week is this going to be?

(Photo is a random shot I took during the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.)

Sometimes the outcome is inevitable

Too good to pass up on, check out this mad carbon fibre wheel failure. The link comes from Cycling Weapon of Mass Destruction, which is one of my all-time favourite cycling blogs. A guy who really loves bikes.

214km so far this year.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Do not ask for whom the bell tolls

Cadel Evans reckons drivers licences are too easy to get and too hard to lose in Australia. I agree. Bad motoring killed 1500 people on Australia's roads last year. All too often a cyclist dies because a driver is speeding, inattentive, impatient or drunk or more than one of these factors.

More than 178,000 people have died on on Australia's roads since records were first kept in 1925. That's the population of Geelong, our 12th biggest city, where Cadel was speaking. It's such a terrible cost.

76km so far this year.

Friday, January 01, 2010

And that was the year that was.

It wasn't a bad year, 2009. Here's hoping 2010 is a cracker for everyone.

I managed to crank out 6,047km on the bike, my second best year on record at an average speed of 21.6km/h, a slight improvement on previous years. The magic 6,000km mark wasn't achieved in the usual frenzy of November and December pedalling, but achieved via a little more consistency and slow and demanding hill riding in preparation for the Alpine Classic and the Semaine Federale in just two weeks. The distance came through 178 rides, 282 hours in the saddle and yielded a new top speed of 86km/h. Another Alpine 130km, another Oppy, another Mallee Routes. My first permanent and my first time trial in years. Some briliant off road riding and some challenging hills late in the year for a bit of variety. In March I rode 881km, my best month since I started writing my rides down in 2005, and in August just 112km. The rain didn't help much, Tasmania had it's rainest year in 70 years, though I know it's not a good excuse it does tend to reduce the impulse to get out there.

I set myself some goals this year, which I'd quite conveniently forgotten until now: 7200km on the bike, well that didn't quite work out; a top 1,000 finish on, not even close - it seems theres a lot more people on it this year; 180 rides, well nearly; average speed of 22.5km/h, at least I'm heading in the right direction. A vintage Oppy, the Alpine Classic was great, but I don't think I qualify for an Audax Australia award this year.

I don't think I'm going to set any hard and fast goals for this year, though I'd like to improve on last year. I've made plans to the Alpine, the Oppy, some touring in September, a trip to watch the World Cycling Championships in Geelong the same month. I want to qualify for the Year-Round Randonneur award by completing a 200km ride every month. There's a start.

Blog-wise, the year wasn't too bad either, 37 posts -which is down a little on the average in the four years I've been blogging here. The site had 6700 visits from 4400 visitors from every continent and a host of countries, mainly Australia, the UK and the US, but also Namibia, Afghanistan, Peru and Latvia among a host of other wonderful and far flung places. To everyone who read or offered a comment or linked or said something in person, thanks. May 2010 be safe and prosperous and may each of your rides seem somehow downhill and with the wind at your back.

0km so far this year.