The toughest organised group ride that I will do this year was held yesterday – the Amy Gillett Gran Fondo. This was the second time I have done this ride, and it is a glorious event. It’s tough not so much in its distance (109km + 11km descending back to the finish village) but in it’s climbing – over 1800m of vertical. The real tough bit is the 9km ascent of Skenes Creek at an average of over 6%. Even though it is tough, it is glorious. It is the only ride that I do where they actually shut entire road off to car traffic for the cyclists. And more importantly it is run for the first 40km along Victoria’s Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Apollo Bay.

This year my aim was not to blow up with cramping and manage to get to the finish in a semi respectable time. It is also a race, so you are timed along the route with no real opportunity to cheat – as there are no other roads. The top 25% of riders in each category qualify for the UCI Gran Fondo World Championships with the opportunity to compete for a Rainbow Jersey. That for me is a pipe dream. The key for me was hydration, hydration, hydration. My physio and sports masseuse have been telling me how dehydrated I have been over the last couple of months. The other thing was to be better organised so that we gave ourselves as much time to prepare for the ride in a relaxed fashion. This meant a few things:

  • Grab accommodation at the event hotel for a couple of nights beforehand and the night after the ride. This meant no hurry to check in or check out while getting ready for the ride.
  • Get a ride in the day before to loosen the legs and blow the cobwebs out.
  • “Carb up” the night before at a restaurant, pasta being the dish.
  •  Leave “The Pok” (AKA our son) behind with his Grandparents so we could get a decent night’s sleep.

My riding partner as usual was my brother Marc, and this year we brought our support crews, our wives. They also prepared well for the ride by promptly finding a Spa to book into and source the best place to grab coffee.

Two of the three usual suspects were also in attendance backing up last year, Big Carl, and “Liberace” Dave. Sadly Dave’s wife Sue, also part of the Melbourne riding crew, has been carrying an injury for much of this year and has been off the saddle. She was not happy, and hopefully will join us again for this ride next year.

The Sunday weather forecast issued on the morning of the ride was for 10 – 18 degrees celsius, and only a little wind. Perfect riding weather, and as one of the volunteers said “A great day to be alive!” The Amy Gillett Foundation put on a great event, and there is a real buzz around the event village and particularly on the start line in Lorne.

AGGF 2013 - Start Line

I must admit that I was a bit nervous before the start of the ride, and in our start group it was only my brother and I. Carl was further ahead and Dave was way back. But it was exciting with all the riders around and all revved up by the guy with the microphone. We had to do the obligatory pre-race poses, as any post race shots would have had us looking a bit disheveled.

Usual Suspect 1 – Me

AGGF 2013 - Me

Usual Suspect 2 – My Bro

AGGF 2013 - Pulus

As we set off, my Garmin went on the blink. It was going crazy picking up all the other speed and cadence sensors and this was not what I needed at the start of a ride. It kept on resetting itself and I had to get my bro to ride 100m ahead of me along with our start group just to get it locked in. It had done this once before on a big group ride, so not happy as we ended up faffing about for the first few kms. But it got sorted and we got in the groove cruising along at a cool 32kph. The first 20km is bumpy, and the first 40km before the Skenes Creek climb already has us climbing 450m. The bumpy coast is awesome, it is the Great Ocean Road and we had nothing but clear skies to the horizon. We even had a slight tailwind.

When we got to Skenes Creek it was not as daunting as last year, this was now the second time I would climb this ride. The key is to get into your cadence zone, put your head down, and pedal. And pedal, and pedal. I was saving myself for the rest of the ride so didn’t ride as hard as I could have. This climb after all comes in just before halfway. I was faster than last year, but not as fast as I wanted to go. We had agreed to meet up at the first hydration station 5km after the top of the climb and my bro had been waiting for me for a few minutes. We were both alright so we set off for the first bit of real fun. The descending to the back country of the Otways allowed me to get up to over 70kph – AWESOME!

The next stop was the town of Forrest which is home to some awesome MTB trails and most tempting of all is a great pub with its own micro-brewery. The locals even tempted us with a sausage sizzle. But we stuck to the carb bars and gels, and sadly the amber fluid would have to wait until after the ride.

AGGF 2013 - Forrest

The final third of the ride is where we rode some long and flat exposed sections in the Colac – Otway farmland. As we passed the final rest stop at Dean’s Marsh, we were both feeling good and the onset of cramping had delayed itself. The final 15km to the finish line is nasty with a whole bunch of uphill climbing again for another 250m of vertical with it sometimes topping out at 12% briefly in parts. My bro took off slowly away from me, and I could still see him when we got to the 1km to go banner. It was at that point that I was umming and ahhing about whether to get out of the saddle and smash it. I did with only 500m left and regret not “dancing on the pedals” as soon as I saw the banner. I ended up finishing only seconds behind my bro and relinquished bragging rights to him for another year.

The return to the event village is an awesome 11km descent back to Lorne where you clock 45-50kph average the whole way. Our wives caught us as we got back to the town and we headed over to the village for a well earned bowl of post riding pasta and some laughs. Carl was already there and caught up with us and we waited for Liberace Dave to join us too. The village was cool, and I chose to indulge in a french crepe.

AGGF 2013 - Village

We even stuck around for the winner presentations. There were some real whippets in the group, and some future stars of Australian cycling. Phil Anderson, the Australian Cycling Legend and also an ambassador to the Amy Gillett Foundation, was also on hand to do the presentations.

AGGF 2013 - Winners

All up it was a great event. My nervousness about a repeat of last year’s cramping blow up was dashed, and while my preparation was interrupted by house moves (life), a wicked chest infection, and a lingering throat infection the hard work on the bike before the ride paid off with an enjoyable Sunday afternoon. Big thanks goes to the Amy Gillett Foundation for the great work they did for this event, but also the work they do as advocates for cycling safety.

Extra special thanks to our able support crew who put up with two sore and very tired cyclists. We had a great time and now I am looking forward to the final big ride of the year – the 250km Around the Bay in a Day. Five weeks to go and counting.

And I am looking forward to telling my boy about the big ride.