Well having read the wonderful report from Highlander there isn’t much to add to the overall Falls weekend – a hugely successful weekend from team ER and a thoroughly enjoyable weekend with outstanding company. A truly memorable experience. Thanks again for organising the lodgings Sat Nav.
The ride – well that is a very different story. Not being able to sleep the night before due to sincere concerns of being able to complete the challenge ahead (and having asked the group every question I could think of – twice) I finally pushed Ridley (my new bike bought 5 weeks earlier with a mid-compact 11-28 Di2 set up) out of the lodge with Highlander and headed to Wave 3. The anticipation intense, the threat of rain real but the adrenaline and excitement as the riders rolled out was immense – what an experience, especially as I crossed through the starters arch. I felt good, this was going to be possible if I didn’t take off like the eager puppy I have been in past rides (and tried to learn from the mistake)
Conservative and steady down the decent to Mt Beauty was my strategy but not one shared by a significant amount of riders – racing lines emerged by inexperienced riders and some felt compelled to use slim passing lines to nudge their way through corners and past riders, a rather white knuckled experience for a newbie like me. Beautiful decent and great welcoming into Mt Beauty – now the ride began. Time to strip down out of the warmers and prepare for the climbing.
I seemed to have made some early progress on the team so hit Tawonga Gap on my lonesome. I thoroughly enjoyed the climb and felt I was making good progress in good time and felt very strong as I hit the summit. No stopping at the rest stop (great advice Highlander) I did my part to earn the Bicycle Network promise of a free beer by not crashing on the famous crash corners and hit the flats ready to find a peloton to hitch a ride on. Alas it appeared that in searching for groups unsuccessfully I had created one without realising, and the tail was very happy to sit on my wheel without sharing the load. Single file was the play due to the headwind that had greeted us. But finally a peloton came past which I joined on to and rode the final km’s into Harrietville, slightly faster than desired but good to be on board. First fail – not hitching a ride to Harrietville.
After a bottle re-fill, refuel and a stretch/walk around Highlander and the 11hr group arrived to do the same, and strong encouragement of taking on fruit cake (good suggestion) was provided. Needing relief but not wanting to wait Highlander and I pushed out, although I had no idea that moment away began the Mt Hotham climb. I left Highlander at the base of the climb for some brief nature appreciation and then commenced the climb.
Overall I loved Mt Hotham – it does go for ever, I agree, and by the end the pain has set in. The first 10km were great, felt great, no cramps and didn’t get passed by any official riders. Stopped to help a rider who randomly hit the deck for no obvious reason and smashing his seat in half. Second 10km – what a great section but does seem to go on. Third 10km’s – ok that hurt. It lived up to its reputation, I thought I had conquered it only to drop into the valley and have to climb up again and that snake route to the summit seems never ending. Unfortunately 3km from the summit sudden CRAMP!! Both legs shot out straight and getting out of the cleats was a close call – cramp zone was muscle hugging the kneecap in the inside – never had this cramp before. 8 mins straight it cramped with no relief, causing me to look like I was doing some strange serenade dance to the mountain tops. Massaging the legs to attempt to gain relief a rider pulled up next to me, put four white tablets in my hand and said “take these immediately with lots of water”. A quick confirmation question proved these to be salt tablets and down the hatch they went. So much encouragement provided by passing riders “mate you are almost there”…”all the hard work is done”……cramping stopped, no power muscles effected over the top I went through the arches, what a feeling!!!! Favourite part of the ride. Wasn’t aware however that the Dinner Plains stop is actually quite an effort away.
Pulled into Dinners and tried to work out the lay of the land. Parked as far away from the action than I possibly could (by accident – fresher error) and commenced refuel, sat down to admire what was happening around me and bag drop/swap. Thought I would wait for Highlander and I was extremely excited to find him and so good to combine with him once more. I tried to get the wrap down the hatch and recharge the garmin when the 12hr rider call came over the speaker and the decision was made to get out there with them. My food intake to this point had not been great – just didn’t seem to have an appetite but still had good energy. Butt was KILLING due to new seat so Nurofen Plus now joined the party.
The next section I don’t remember too clearly. We started with the 12hr group which was awesome and mainly downhill and rollers is what I had expected – they did plenty of work and we were making good time. There were some royal dickheads in the group (non-official BN riders) who thought they were heroes but couldn’t hold a wheel or line. Highlander cracked it at one point and went off ahead of the group but we soon caught as the headwinds increased. Finally some knob jockey decided to cut us off the 12hr riders and dropped off the back, we couldn’t catch them again. The ride took a bad turn for me here – energy starting to go and pain had set in permanently, the heat took force which is never a good omen for me (heat and wind) and when sneaky peak hit unexpectedly my mind moved to a very negative space. I had underestimated the “easier” sections and no rollers of note and not much downhill. Plenty of wind.
With Highlander ever encouraging we pushed into Omeo and O-M-G it was good to arrive. Water refuel and an attempt to eat something that tried to resemble a scone (I was still trying to chew that thing as we rode off and had to spit it out so no food on board) while bumping into a friend I had not seen in 11 years we were off again. Highlander assures me this is the section of rollers, not the past section. With new found confidence I am ready. Butt on fire – I could hardly sit, inner abductors now cramping at regular frequency (but not effecting power and very manageable when not cramping) and doubt set in my concern turned to Highlander finishing. As I questioned Highlanders definition of rollers I voiced just how much pain I was in. Extremely stubbornly and very admirably Highlander kept me on his wheel and reassured me “mate we are going to finish this, we are going to cross this together” Highlander finally understood that I was officially broken, the game had changed now and extremely reluctantly and hesitantly Highlander started to head off solo. With the game now changed Highlander the machine was locked in once more and the trailblazer was off with many trying to hitch a ride on his wheel. My game = how long can I last. I still had so much time, perhaps I can do this – I will make it to Anglers and re-evaluate.
I hit Anglers, smashed a cold coke (sorry no beer Z man) with some more Nurofen and questioned – could I do this. I had little in the tank, my legs were cramping every 15mins and I couldn’t sit on my seat. A fellow rider said – you know you can walk up Falls and still cross the line given the time, we are so very far ahead and with that decision made…….bring it on WTF.
As I walked across the bridge to see a fellow Turra rider bleeding (but he was fine) I tried to clip back in and roll on….but couldn’t get into the pedals as many others also struggled with. The mud created by the water stations had completely filled in the cleats so when you could get in you couldn’t get out. Finally water from bottles used to clear the mud and I was away. A slow 10kms to bottom of WTF I turned left and there she was in all her glory…WTF. Beloka you got nothing on this. I hit the first stretch, legs screaming and cramps lining up for complete leg domination, turned the right hand corner and whack – 6 cramp bonanza!!! Time to commence operation walk across the line.
Well the walk went on for a lot longer than anticipated – that hill just never eases up. I tried a few times to re-saddle but each time no joy and now my energy levels were shot. I thought I’d wait until the gradient reduced (wow that took longer than I thought) and I was depleting further with each step. I finally remounted, make it 1km and now my back and ribs decided to join in on the cramps – 8 cramp fiesta but this time it seemed to hit hard and next thing I knew I was passed out up against the bank. Not sure how long I was there for but when I came too I wasn’t cramping so that was a win. A bit scary at this point.
Finally I reached the top of WTF – finally. Legs were ok again, my butt wasn’t screaming as I had just spent an hour walking and I was ready!!! Tried to clip into the cleats, no joy. Tried to clip in again…no joy. Thought this f’ing mud so got off bike, cramped (yay) and then checked my cleats. Well I didn’t have any cleats left – they had worn down to the base plate from the walking. I guess they are not made for walking. I thought this was game over but I wasn’t going to let that stop me so away I went unclipped (ironic given convo’s of the night prior). 1-2km in unclipped I came upon a couple who were on the side of the road offering hugs…I said “Not keen on a hug unless they come with a pair of cleats”…….and would you believe it, he had cleats. Only one set on him by they were the right ones. Excuses removed and the thought of this story as I crossed the finish line priceless – I was locked in, until Damian says “you sure you want these though mate, the next section is exactly the same as what you have just come up until you get to Trapyard Gate”…….officially bummed again.
Determined, stubborn and slightly delirious I pushed on – I thought, I just keep pushing and pushing to get to Trapyard Gate and the rest is easy from there. I called back on the confirmations that once you’ve made it there you’ve made it!!! It was a slow grind as I passed many upside down bikes and when I hit the next climb I thought – is this it. Lets do it. I commenced the climb and only 200m in a marshal came up behind me on his motorbike – “buddy how you doing? Feeling ok?” Feeling light headed and close to breaking point I responded “I’m feeling dangerous, bring it on – ooorah…..but have entered the pain locker” to which he responded “well I just wanted to let you know that the last SAG wagon is 1km down the road” Confused by this statement I asked “well what does that mean if I don’t get on the SAG Wagon” to which he responded “well then you are on your own”…….GAME OVER!!!! Doing the rest without a safety net and really knowing that only a miracle and the promise of the home stretch being truly easy coming to fruition would have allowed me to cross in time (if ever) as I had absolutely nothing in the tank left and now rain had set in with darkness approaching it was a no brainer. I made the call and was handed a cold coke and I admitted defeat at the foot of Trapyard Gate.
35 mins wait (with some very lovely and positive messages from my wife, PD and Highlander) and I was on the SAG Wagon and at Trapyard gate at 7:08. I could hardly walk and conversation was not a possibility much to the dismay of the gentleman next to me who wanted to share his stories of woe. Driving the rest of the course I never felt more relief that I did not try to conquer it – there is plenty of work left in the first 10km of the 20km return. Passing riders who we could see would not make the 13hr time was heart breaking but I was so glad I wasn’t with them. I finally reached Falls as the last wave of successful riders came in and one step off the bus and I projectile v’d with violence!!!! Highlander found me after waiting in the freezing cold for hours (what a legend) and we walked back to the lodge where I tried to eat but couldn’t so hit the bed hard.
Falls Creek 1 – UNick 0. Lessons for me – don’t ride a new bike to 3 Peaks, actually do long training rides for the event (and lots of commuting) as fitness is irrelevant to cramps, do not ride a mid-compact 11-28 on WTF, cleats are not made for walking, and I think I need to drink my fuel not eat as eating does not work for me (I don’t eat enough).
I was so very gutted to be so close and not finish but I know I gave it everything that I had – I will be back and I will cross that line. When, well that depends but one day I will complete the right of passage to the ER’s.
Massive thanks to Highlander for being the legend that he is and the awesome Peaks team for being such champs.
A small contingent of ERs headed down to Falls Creek, once again, to take on 3 Peaks. There were 8 of us in the ER lodging. Chris Houlihan (Hotlips) was there with 3 mates (Andrew, Mark and Trev) who had joined ER to prepare for this ride. UNick, Danny, Pigeon and myself made up the group. There were a few other ERs scattered around the village we would bump into over the weekend. I saw Laura, QT, and Gazza and I think some others may have been around too.
Nick and I decided to go down on the Friday and we took a fairly easy trip down. Nick did all the driving. Perhaps he was worried we’d end up in Adelaide if I took the wheel! Hotlips and crew also went down on the Friday. Danny and Pigeon came down on the Saturday. Apparently they only stopped 10 minutes on the drive down to refill water or something like that in a dry run for Sunday.
Of the 8 of us in the apartment, 3 had done this ride before while 5 were new to the experience. Friday we chatted about what to expect on the day. Saturday brought rego and a short ride to make sure bikes were ready to go. Then we had to consider the weather and plan our valet bag strategy. The weather was threatening at least some rain. Danny and Pigeon were going for limited stops and no bags. I think the rest of us were a bit more conservative with stuff to handle a wet first half.
Sunday morning brought further questions. Base layer or not, arm warmers or not. There had only been a few drops of rain overnight and cloud cover made it almost warm. Pigeon was going light but I decided to go with gilet and light arm warmers. It was certainly a lot warmer start than 2015.
Just a week before this ride a few of us had done the 170km Orange classic. Was that a good idea? While my legs seemed ok, I did get a cold from the Orange effort which was a pain. Nevertheless I seemed ok on the day.
Nick and I started in wave 3. For me this was further up than 2015 and that helped. Andy snuck into wave 1 and I think Danny was at the front of our wave. I would not see them on the ride. The descent to Mt Beauty was a little chaotic. Holding your line is a foreign concept to a lot of riders but everything settled down soon enough. Nick was off ahead of me and I settled in for the day’s work. Tawonga was no problem and I skipped the rest stop. I’d decided to use a 1L bidon on the front holder and I think that worked well through the day. I don’t like the feeling of running out of water or having to ration on a long stretch.
Whereas I had done the run to Harrietville almost solo in 2015 after starting further back, this year I found myself in the group with the four 11hr riders. That was wonderful. The 11hr leaders were very encouraging, and even began to organize things into a rolling group. The leader was a bit touchy feely to let you know he was coming alongside.
I arrived at Harrietville very quickly and felt very good. I left the rest stop with the group and onto Hotham. I soon lost the 11hr group. Not unexpected as I’m not the fastest up a climb as most of you know. I found Hotham a lot more reasonable on the second serving. 2015 had been a big challenge but I think knowing how long it is helped this time around. It still goes on forever but you know it will end.
I don’t remember where, but at some point on Hotham a rider wearing a 12hr tag passed me. I called out to him
“12 hour guy, are you on schedule?”
That was a bit of a shock as I thought I was going along better than 12 hr pace.
I had one small inner thigh cramp on Hotham but it wasn’t too bad and I rode through it. Into the Hotham village and I set off for Dinner Plain as fast as I could. I’m efficient in the rest stops now. I got my bag, dumped gilet and warmers, and grabbed my roll. Chicken is now an option and I found it easier to eat than 2015’s veggie roll. Good to have real food. Sun cream and pretty much, ready to roll. Nick tapped me on the shoulder and it was good to see a familiar face. Unlike me, he hadn’t been passed by the 12 hour group and seemed pretty relaxed. But they had arrived at lunch and soon the call went out that 12 hour riders were leaving in five. I wanted to get out ahead of them so Nick and I left the stop. Even so, they soon caught us. We hung on for a while until some guy wearing boardies and with his undies showing dropped in in front of us, then eased up, which split us from the group. That was a bit annoying as soon the 12 hour group would pull away from us on a little climb down from Dinner Plain. Known as “sneaky peak” apparently. Well named.
Nick and I kept together to Omeo but Nick was beginning to suffer along the way. After a quick water stop at Omeo where we tried to get a dry scone down, we set off to Anglers. I’d told Nick that it was sort of rollers after Omeo but in reality the run to Anglers starts with a bit of climbing. At some point, Nick informed me
“Highlander, FYI: Not fucking rollers”
Fair call. Nick continued to suffer and at some point he told me to go ahead. That was hard and I resisted for a while. I wanted to help him get to the line but my positive thoughts are surely not enough when your ass is really hurting. I decided to push on and hope Nick would make it through.
I got to Anglers Rest and was relieved to see the 12hr rides there. I just refilled water and went out ahead of them. I just made it to WTF before they gathered me up again. I was determined not to walk up the back of Falls. Strangely this time nobody was walking around me. The climb was too long, however, and I hopped off. I got a lot further than 2015 but I guess it’s still unfinished business for me. Got past the photographer at least. I eventually got back on. As I went further up Falls I started to see riders in the ditch huddled in space blankets. A bit freaky.
The last time I’d arrived at Trapyard they had run out of coke so for 10km I had been longing for that coke. It’s one of those tiny cans and I quickly drank a few swigs only for my stomach to violently spasm. I’m not sure I ate very well on this ride and my stomach was letting me know. I had felt that Trapyard was close to the summit of Falls but there are in fact 10km more to go. It’s a long hard 10km but I eventually got to the lake section.
The rain finally came in this section but it was short and not a problem. At some point I passed the 12hr riders who had pulled off to make sure they hit their mark. Shame on them for scaring me throughout the day.
I got to the finish in 11hr46m which I was happy with. I met Gazza over the line. He had done a sub 9. Wow! He kindly bought me a beer. I set about finding out how Nick was going. Nick had decided to jump on the last sag wagon going. That would be a hard offer to knock back and it was a wise decision in the circumstances I think. He had pushed himself to just shy of Trapyard gate. When he got back to Falls, he sent me a text “I’m spewing”. It wasn’t metaphorical. He had nothing left to give and you can’t really ask any more of yourself than that. Better to live to fight another day.
Andy and Danny had done sub 10 and sub 11 times respectively. Hotlips, Mark, Andrew and Trev all made it home with Trev maximising the value of his entry at 12hr50 odd.
We retired to the apartment for a filling meal cooked by Andy and Danny. Those stairs up to the apartment do test you. A night of recollection, post mortems and lessons learned.
After days of anticipation, the time had finally come for me to tackle my first big ride with ER and my longest ever ride. Time to see for myself if all the horror stories about the ride were true, having to deal with thousands of occasional riders at the start, how steep is the Bulli Pass climb, how narrow is the Bulli Pass shoulder and most importantly….will I actually make the distance?
As the elite (short and round category) athlete that I am, my advanced preparation included
Laying out muesli bars in advance so that my 4 year old son can eat them whilst I am not looking
Carbing up on a mixture of beer and schnapps
Being out way past my bedtime the night before (must have been at least 9:30pm before I got home)
As the morning arrived, I woke with plenty of time to get to Gordon. As per a usual OTP morning, some home procrastination left me needing to sprint the St Ives Alps to meet the 5am rendezvous. A quick dash along Park Avenue, stopping by Lucy in the final stages of a preparation, a promise to make sure everyone waits, and then I see them. More ERs than I have ever seen before. Some I know, some I don’t. A glimpse of the famous tandem that propelled blue and pink to 100km/hr and before I knew it bells were ringing and we were off. My timid calls of “wait for Lucy” went unheard and there’s another promise broken…..
The procession down the highway was more of a gaggle than a peloton, spirits were high, jokes a plenty, and a fast pace controlled by the tandem on the declines and whoever else on the inclines. Before too long the familiarity of the highway was replaced with Blue’s magical mystery tour, taking us through the dark corners of darling harbour, the back streets of Broadway and magically appearing at Sydney Park somewhere around the official start time. This was a good thing as the vast majority of us declined an official start and circumvented the park in its entirety. However, after magically staying together from Gordon to St Peters, the group was split at the last set of lights into St Peters and I watched the tandem disappear ahead. My only thoughts at this stage was where’s Manga??? The man who had promised to keep me company on a slow return trip. I looked at the fast and skillful riders surrounding me and hoped that my legs would keep up.
Now on the official Gong ride, the trip done the Princess Highway was like riding through a ghost town, where were this other cyclists? Had we gone the right way? Did we beat the start? Who knew, but the police were out in force to keep us on the right side of the traffic cones. Before too long, we caught up to the tandem and a few other ERs. We enjoyed a leisurely few kilometres as a big group, enjoying a good laugh and enjoying a beautiful morning on the bikes when suddenly WHHHHHOOOOOSSSSSHHHHH, Highlander flies past us all in pursuit of the highlands. Dragon quickly whispers in my ear, “don’t let him get away”. At first, I thought Dragon had my best interests at heart, it was only a few hours later when we arrived at Wollongong that I realised Dragon’s No 1 priority was getting to the Westpac hospitality tent before all his colleagues at his food. Never one to say no to a challenge, I sprinted off to catch Highlander, with Dragon in tow. As it turned out, there were a few more ERs in tow as well.
As the ride progressed into the shire, Highlander and Dragon and a few others started to disappear off into the distance. Myself and an ER unknown to me (but I am sure I have met before), riding a pale blue bike started to increase the pace. Before I new it I was alone without ER support but the pace was good. Soon I caught up to Dave (Top Gear?) and his mysterious riding partner. The mysterious riding partner kept a high pace as the three of us kept rotating at the front, the speed was blistering and up the climb into Waterfall, Top Gear hit Bottom Gear, I slowed for a gel and our mystery colleague disappeared into the sunrise. Dave and I took the opportunity to relax a bit and slowly Highlander came into focus ahead of us. For a short time we were actually ahead of Highlander and then we found a much needed rest spot. To our surprise, there was a haggle of ERs waiting for our arrival. I was happy to be reunited with Manga who had promised to climb Bulli with me. Spirits were high as we re-filled water bottles, creamed ourselves all over, and rapidly departed leaving UNick in the bathroom.
The talk at this point was of slow escorts down the decline into the national park. Luck was on our side as all the coppers were taking a well-deserved coffee and doughnut break, leaving us free to tackle the descent at rapid speed. As it was my first time down this slippery slope, I decided against ludicrous speed and actually used the brakes here and there. As we surfaced at the bottom, Manga admired the road surface and I admired the scenery of the Royal National Park, almost as good as the North Shore. It got even better when we passed a road marking showing that we left the shire. As a group of 4 or 5, we cruised through the National park. This was some good riding which suddenly popped us out at the beautiful Otford Lookout. A quick stop, photo opportunity and we decided that bananas were high on the agenda.
As we rode off, we realised that the wind had picked up whilst we were in the park. The undulating coastal rode was tough, riding into a strong southerly made it tougher. Whilst I took my dose of HTFU, I heard more stories about the miraculous bay ride some of the ERs had completed only a few weeks before and how that is the only definition of what should be considered windy. The scenery was beautiful and we rode straight past two pubs. Not sure why we didn’t stop for a beer. After all, it was 5pm somewhere in the world. As we continued on our merry ways, Boycey grouped us together for a team shot over the sea cliff bridge (or whatever it is called). Stay tuned for more information.
We continued along the undulations until a late call of “Bananas” directed us to the next stop. At this moment, UNick took his revenge, organising a quick group getaway whilst Top Gear and I were still enjoying a well-earned banana. I work hard over the next few klms to catch the ER group. Top Gear wisely takes it easy and digests his banana carefully. We are now heading into a strong headwind along the coast and it is hard work to catch the group, so as Murphy dictates, as soon as I caught the group, I was quickly thrown of the back unable to keep up with those experienced HMAWOTN. Luckily for me Manga sees my distress and decides to keep me company. At this point, I rephrase my lack of energy as “a strategic slow down on the hills to conserve energy for Bulli”. Manga patiently slows for me at the top of each hill, and soon Dave has caught up to us. Finally we get through the last of the undulations and arrive alongside the suburban beaches of the gong. A few klms riding along beachside cycleways soon gave way to a poorly marked main road. Of course we missed a turn somewhere and were left to find our own way through Wollongong. Some silly buggers had even followed us into the abyss of nowhere. Dave and Manga had a quick conference and soon appeared 1km away from the finish. A slight uphill, round the bend and the finish was in sight. As I raised my arms in glory through the finish, the poor chap attempting to overtake me on my left hand side got a pleasant slap in the face. I guess that 1m clearance rule should apply to cyclists too.
We grouped up with some more ERs just past the finish line, learnt that Dragon had gone straight for the free hospitality, UNick had gone straight for a message and the rest of us were left debating when is the right time to go for breakfast and if anyone actually knew the way to Bulli. Time for a quick photo shoot and we were off. We decided to follow Scotty as he displayed the most confidence in Wollongong geography. Our trust was well placed as we soon rolled into the Bulli Café. The owner, quickly sensed the situation and we saved his customers from too much lycra by offering us a special deal on bacon and coffee. The only condition being, we had to wait and end around the corner where none of his customers could see us. Luckily, their coffee and bacon was brilliant, the service was might find, so no one seemed to mind anyone. Now all we had to do was wait for Dragon who said he would meet us there no later than 11. We waited, we waited and we waited, and decided to leave without him. The brave bunch tackling Bulli and the return was Highlander, Pigeon, Boycey, Wilson, the Teflers (both Matt and Scott), UNick and me. What was I thinking that I could keep pass with this bunch.
A short time later we arrived at the base of Mt Bulli, the hill of hills, the road with no shoulders, the nemesis of many an Easy Riders. As the gradient raised I quickly shifted to my lowest gear on the hope that if I cruise I might make it to the top. One by one the ERs went past, then the hero riders who could ride, and then the hero riders who could not ride. The last one of these overtook me at pace, just as the first 20% ramp came into sight. “Oh Sh1t”, I heard him say as he rode past, obviously he didn’t do any research into what he got himself into. I continued in my low gear at a steady pace, only tried once to find another gear which wasn’t there and soon re-overtook the last of the hero riders. First 20% ramp complete was a chance for a breather. Highlander and Boycey were in sight ahead of me and I could maintain a constant distance between us. This was a bad strategy, for as the shoulder disappeared, the cars starting queuing behind them and then I had to deal with the second 20% ramp whilst getting a good mouthful of exhaust fumes. Just as I was starting to die from Carbon Monoxide poisoning (it had nothing to do with 3.5klms at an average of 9%), I could see the signs indicating the top of the climb. This was the time to get out my seat and just manage to pedal. Slowly, slowly, slowly I rolled over the crest knowing I had conquered the mountain of Bulli. Smiles all round at the top of the hill, time for a quick drink and we were off.
Boycey led us onto the freeway and I had my first taste of cars flying past at 110klm/hr. It wasn’t even less pleasurable than I would have ever thought it to be. With Boycey out in front and a tailwind behind us, we had nothing to worry about. We were soon cruising at twice the speed of AFFT (Average Fat Friar Tuck) speed and the klms were flying by. After what seemed like an eternity, Boycey handed over the lead to Wilson who maintained the same crazy pace, the only difference being that Wilson hit all the sticks so they gave second wheel (yours truly) something to bunny hop over at high speed. As we continued along the freeway, we all took turns at the front, rode like the wind, enjoyed the scenery and had some fun. Then a busted up Commodore sped past with some lout yelling something out of the window. No idea what he said but I am sure the meaning was “welcome to the shire”. Strava later told me that we had traversed Wilson’s Wonder Sprint. The things people will do to get their own Strava segment. Soon the fun was over and we found ourselves back in Sydney Traffic.
Scotty showed us the way to the servo stop and gave us a wonderful tour of the backstreets of Sutherland, this tour amazingly got us to the right spot and were soon going over the Taren Point Bridge. I had a big smile on my face at this moment as the reality that I might just actually make it sank in. My legs were still moving and I was still breathing, two good signs when you are riding a bike. UNick, Wilson and I soon had an interesting discussion on which right was right. We agreed that our right was wrong but we could still go right and then go left later and that would make everything right. Scott, Boycey and others showed their disrespect for our logic by riding past and just turning right in the right spot. Sometimes, people just look for the simple option. All this discussion on the difference between right and right was far too much for Scott’s bike. His rear derailleur cable snapped at Kogarah leaving him with two gears. Hard and very hard. Scott, being a true HMOTN, was undeterred and continued to lead the way. We soon exited the shire, and a huge sigh of relief was had by all. Before long we were back at St Peters and battling hard against the Sydney Traffic.
Navigation by committee was working well and we soon found ourselves smack in the middle of the George St. The good of the situation was this was one of those places were 8 cyclists could travel faster than a Lamborghini. Some quick thinking detours around some well-established detours got us back to the bridge and we were all relieved to be back on familiar ground. Even more exciting was the prospect that we just had one little highway to go before we arrived at the pub. Strangely, the North Sydney climb seems harder than normal after 180+ klms. As the pub neared the pace quickened. We lost the Teflers along the way. A major hero ride by Scott to travel from Kogarah to Chatswood with two gears, seriously tough effort. Spirits were high as we arrived at the Greengate although there was one small problem, the traffic would not let us across the road. DON’T THESE PEOPLE KNOW CYCLISTS NEED BEER! We transformed from ERs to frogs with bikes and we dodged our way across the highway. Jugs of beer quickly spread around, and the amber fluid went down fast. We were soon joined by some more happy drinkers in ER kit. Not sure exactly how they got to the pub but they bought more beer so all was good. Laughs and chuckles all round and the celebrations of well enjoyed round. Gordon to the Greengate Via the Gong, tick!
The last leg was the strangest, Greengate to the Gordon. Didn’t seem as hard as the other way. Still don’t understand why the return trip was only 1.4klms when the way there was 204klms. Lucy came to my rescue to help me tackle the St Ives Alps and get home. We all love our bikes but after 200+ klms and 4 beers, nothing tackles those hills better than a ute!.
Big thanks to all the ERs that I rode with during the day. I always had great company along the way and the riding was in awesome spirits. The teamwork on the return trip was superb and definitely a trip to be done again.
The bongos were thumping last night, a steady beat, well below 140, stirring the troops who were primed to march a different route to their usual soft commute, a route only a hobbit would love.
YHC waiting for the alarm to go off in the middle of the night…. the many multitudes of ERs being drawn by bonds of friendship and wistful sadness .and lets face the bloody drums….and then
sparrows farted ( YHC could not be sure it was sparrows )
Rolling out of the garret into a pitch dark night , YHC was mostly solo .. .. Billions of stars overhead + an extra B1.
Surfing off the upper reaches of Monte Colah and down to Turra where a dawn service was due to start.
A cloud free chill, clammy with a hint of anticipation.. ( and the weather was pretty good too )
The ER troops were already on the pedal , rolling up to the launch it was wall to wall egg and tomato, obviously the word had got around, and all the cracks had gathered to the fray..lights flashing, voices hushed and plenty of the usual back slapping and bonhommie. Roll call and Laurie briefing the multitude to fight fair , no kicking or scratching the usual terms and conditions.. everyone after Andrew , Keith and Grant became another ER..and the boys lead us out.
YHC enjoys this part of the ride, a 4 km gentle slope ever downward .. cruising in convoy, into that magical piece of forest Browns water hole.. YHC slips a chain, and without further ado is at the back of the peloton waiving a lanterne rouge..some things never change.
Laurie’s briefing said there would be a regroup at the top.. there was. ( Kind of a new experience for our HMOTN ) Rolling out a group which was now about 50 strong, left plenty of time to regain a little breath and say hello to GottaRide.. only she gotta ride a moped..not too embarrassed to wear the colours though. ( quick plug here, if you are looking to dope your bike.. please opt for an electric one )
The ER traffic jam processed to the LCNP stopping normal traffic and turning just a few heads .. B1 would have enjoyed the irony of filling the park with an ER gridlock. So far the pace was sociable, banter the order of the day, Ravi and Comet in the bunch, moon blue as it was big overhead. Then just when you think all is sweet, you hit the wall, the Fullers Slap. It is vertical, with a little horizontal thrown in, pleasure becomes pain, and all the hobbits laugh as they take the front of the group and dish it out. ( only in their minds as hobbits are generally much too nice to laugh ) Satnav was on the fixie. didn’t seem to miss a beat. YHC coughed up a lung. but discreetly rolled to the front of the regroup ( to take a few pictures ) not going to be dropped with half a ride left. ( Meanwhile Andrew and the boys had peeled off to go back to school )
Chatswoo to the city is well worn OTP territory so how come the hobbits have a windy little track past a grotty little shack on the way to find the top of Tindale, this being YHC’s first hobbits ride navigation was surprisingly complicated. By now of course the ER peloton has swelled past 60 and even blind Freddy could follow the procession. No doubt the devil would take the hindmost, but there would be plenty of company.
It was a swift transfer through Narrem Burn and a traffic disaster at the top of Crow’s Nest, once onto the downhill stretch there were a few very relieved faces until it became the usual coffee sprint, ( Schleckie had his traffic light greener working overtime ) 58 ERs get entangled in the shambles of Miller St, Schleckie is first in the coffee queue ( I made that bit up as I have never seen the tail lights of Schleckie by this stage of the ride some things never change )
Photoshop was not required to fill the space around B&T, it really was wall to wall egg and tomato some faces there that I had not seen for a very long while, and of course some who could not make it. ( Highlander , Flash you know who you are )
Stragglers rolled in and sat on laps, planters, or stood around gassing in the usual ER way. Vic and his happy crew turned out about 100 coffees in double quick time, I was well to the back of the line up and was sipping before I had the breath back.
Coffee and company, connection and caring mates, B1 you would have really enjoyed this ride dammit, we really miss you already.
RTG, Dave Wright, Old Spice cheered Half on his big launch on Friday.
Glebe and the upper room at Gleebooks – what a track, a village, a city village no less, bikes galore, and what a grand sight as our learned academic elders appeared from the inner city mist, with unruly grey curls bursting forth from their erudite scalps, and took their place at the front (except Half of course, you will be pleased to hear he is retaining that lovely clean cut north shore patina, must be his French shaving balm).
Next, in the wake of these academic giants, came some lovely keen young things, bright, bubbly, a touch of unpolished hipster here and there, leaning forward to catch a glimpse of the famous political theorists – and oneoperative – on the track.
Thirdly, observing both our learned academics and their smitten young adherents, were a large swag of washed out middle aged northern European hemp jacketed senior lecturers – with a bewildered, forlorn look, as if they were hoping to catch a bit of the genius that seems to flourish at either end of the academic lifecycle before them, but that had abandoned them in their listless middle years.
And yep, you got it, right up the back, the three ER podium girls in their bags of fruit keen to see their man compete and to knock back the Gleebooks refreshments.
The race started with Half in the hot seat on his super light carbon “End Of”. What ensued was initially chaotic, something like a cross between a 60 minute Madison and an Olympic Sprint, with Half himself confused over the particular chair he occupied at the Uni.
But the race settled down once John Keene, riding “The Death of Democracy”, a crusty old iron tourer with panniers and a giant wicker basket, took the lead, in an energetic 10 minute burst. Half jumped in his slipstream and drafted him for about 5 minutes, before slingshotting off up the Col de Radical Resistance and through Citizens Gap like a man possessed.
Half had just got the top, and took a breath to start his descent, when Geoff Gallup appeared, presidential in his pace, relaxed on a flat bar belt drive internal hub outfit. The wily practitioner of the old give them the centre left trick, took the lead at a very measured pace, keeping a careful look out mind you – as he said more than once – both left and right. “Watch Right” he called, “It’s time”.
The sprint to the finish saw Keene and Half clash briefly, with a rising challenge from Keene, but Half recovered his equilibrium. Gallup and Keene pulled back on the rhetoric and let Half take the whole prize, yes the whole lot – I kid you not – the kit and caboodle – the flag, all stages, every colour jersey – and the podium.
If you didn’t know better, with all the harrumphing and back slapping, you would have thought the race, not just the bike race, was well and truly rigged. Unbelievable.
Not to be critical of Gleebooks, because they did fill us up with wine and beer, but you have to wonder: where was the promised effervescence? You might be able to take the socialist out of the chardonnay, but heaven help you if you try to separate a thinking ER from his champagne.
Regardless, after that performance, Old Spice predicts that it might be the end of representative politics, but we haven’t seen the end of Prof Half yet, not even half of it.*
All in all a terrific night at the velodrome.
* Mrs Half has, and she said we should be grateful for small mercies.
With six (6) Easy Riders on the Fluffer this morning, a ride report is justified. It was Anna Police_Biscotti’s first ER Fluffer and her timing was impeccable with glorious weather as well as an ER peloton comprising Doc, Magoo, Blue Stratos, Happy and Ginger.
The glory days of 20 plus ERs on the Fluffer are long gone after Big Goaders relocated to NZ. Also, many ERs have already ticked off 3 Peaks Challenge and Around the Bay, as such, it is understandable that the effort to get up extra early for the Fluffer has become less compelling. These days, 3 ERs on the Fluffer is considered a good turn out as often Ginger rides solo.
Although, Doc, Blue and Happy are considered fairly regular participants on the Fluffer, Magoo only turns up occasionally. Based on Magoo’s recent impressive racing achievements, keeping the peloton together should Magoo decides to ride at warp speed would be a futile exercise. However, Magoo assures Ginger that she is tapering before spending 8 days at the AIS in Canberra next week, hoping to be selected as a member of an elite road racing team that will get the opportunity to race in Europe. Magoo also turned up with a brand new bike. It’s a Specialized roadie naturally!
At 5:16am 5 ERs rolled onto Mona Vale Road from the St Ives car park at a nice comfortable pace. Blue joined us at the Ku-ring-gai Wildflower Gardens just before the descent. Ginger was dropped on the ascent to the St Ives Show Ground. Thankfully, the peloton slowed down to enable Ginger to get back on.
Despite the overnight thunderstorms and rain, the road surface was nice and dry. The descent from Terry Hills to Church Point was enjoyed by all as only four cars drove by. Although the pace was brisk, everyone managed to stay together and chatted.
Doc joined the Fluffer even though she had to be in Camden by 11am to set up a spinach experiment in one of the farms there. She told me that if there are too much weeds among the spinach, the experiment won’t work. In fact, the experiment had failed three times due to weeds.
At North Narrabeen, the ER peloton took a left turn to cut across the caravan park fronting onto Ocean Street which is a flat road that the local cyclists love to fang along at warp speed. Luckily, Magoo resisted the temptation to spoil their party.
The sunrise was pretty spectacular, as we took in Long Reef, Dee Why, Curl Curl, Freshwater before arriving at Manly for a brief stop. Apart from cyclists, Manly beach has become quite a happening place with lots of groups doing boot camp, running, or simply out for a stroll with their pets.
Fortunately, due to school holidays, there was very light traffic along Sydney and Spit Roads. After turning into Parrawi Road, Magoo and Happy took off racing each other to the top. Parrawi Road offers fantastic views of Middle Harbor all the way through the heads.
The ER peloton rode through Balmoral, Mosman, Cremorne, and Neutral Bay along the back roads avoiding Spit and Military Roads. Eventually, the ER peloton arrived at Milsons Point and Anna Police_Biscotti had to ride back to Lane Cove. After riding across the Bridge, Magoo went missing whilst Doc, Blue, Happy and Ginger enjoyed a well earned brekky and coffee at the Yahoo Cafe. It was nice and sunny and life is good.
Any ERs who are yet to do the Fluffer should make the effort to get out of bed early to experience one of the nicest rides in Sydney.
PS It’s Happy Luke’s birthday tomorrow. Drop by the Google Cafe to wish him happy birthday!
With the numbness in my body slowly subsiding & my eyeballs finally stopped rattling around my skull, I thought I’d give a ride report to share the exquisite pain endured before during & after this iconic race/ride. Rightly called the ‘Hell of the North’. It was a very tough ride & I feel Like I’ve been riding on a jackhammer for 4 out of 8 hours. The race was 165 kms of which 52km is cobbles – 27 sections rated from 3 to max 5 stars in difficulty. We also did an extra 5kms when following a bunch of Scotts who took a wrong turn.
But firstly my thanks to all who helped me have a crack at the ride. A leave pass from my beautiful tolerant wife who came to watch (shop), another stunning performance by my Giant bike, my old school mate from London who brought my bike to Roubaix, Brownie built wheels that withstood the punishment (unlike me), mtb training from Briony, Admin, binners & Zlatko’s bridge, advice & encouragement from many & disbelief that I’d even survive from others. Having a fellow ER & hobbit – Highlander join me to share the pain was special & an added bonus.
Although reasonably fit, my preparation was hampered a bit by sore shoulders I’ve had for the past year & annoyingly in the last 3 months has extended to my left elbow & although I can push down I have been unable to lift anything heavier than a beer with it. My main fear was not being able to hang onto the bike as that is a common reason why many do not finish. I also hadn’t ridden for 4 weeks & ate & drank lots of good uk & dutch & french fare. I gained 4 kgs.
Advice from an aussie pro-cyclist who had ridden it was ‘try & hang the f**k on’ – and then he went on to explain he didn’t finish it. A Dutch pro-cyclist I also met said ‘after ze 1st 2kms of cobbles ze will be wanting to make peace with your god’. Encouraging stuff given we had 50km of it!
Anyway excuses out of the way, I was determined to give it my best shot.
Now the Paris-Roubaix pavé consists of centuries-old farm tracks where uneven cobblestones stand proud with jagged edges, while many of the cobbles are missing, leaving gaping holes perfect for buckling wheels. It all adds up to a very bumpy ride, especially on road bikes. Mountain bikes would of course be more comfortable, but they have suspension & they’re rather frowned upon. There were lots of these though & around the 80km mark I got bumped off my bike by one who had swooped up the bank & tangled his handle bars in mine & I landed heavily on my left side & my handle bars got twisted, my hip has a huge bruise but worse I think it broke my timing chip.
This is the 3rd year of this ride & last year 1,500 riders started, but only 900 finished. 300 were never seen again presumed buried in the infamous Arenberg Trench. Of all the cobble sections that one was truely a nightmare – wet, slimy boulders with bikes flying in all directions. We followed an ambulance down the track to pick up one of two people who had i later heard had broken their legs. 2/3 of the riders bailed before half way & rode down the spectator path. My mtb training held me in good stead & I gunned it (12km/hr) down the middle. I was amazed watching the wheels on the bikes in front of me slip 10-15cm to the side each way every few meters.
What Bike & wheel tyres?
We tried hiring bikes from 3-4 different European/UK sites and soon as you mentioned paris -roubaix they turned us down, I suppose fed up with only getting a pair of ‘Bucky’ handlebars back at the end of the race and not much else. So we decided to take our own bikes – mine a Giant Defy Advanced 3 (2012 model) and Highlander his Trek Domane (2014 model) which were both supposedly up for the task. Double tape for the handle bars, double gloves, & double nicks to cushion the blows, but most importantly we needed wheels that would withstand such a brutal challenge.
Queue Brownie, some Belgium beers and a ‘grand design’ plan to build wheels fit for purpose. We learned a whole new vocabulary about tubes, tubeless and tubular with a min of 32 spokes, and ‘panzer’ treads etc. We chose Mavic Reflex wheels with 36 spokes and Vittoria Corsa SC 28mm ‘tubular’ tyres. The wider the better to try and not get caught too much in the crevices and tubular to minimise pinch flat punctures of which stories have people getting 11 or so of these. Thanks mate as we had no punctures & I really punished them by riding every section down the middle.
Race day: in ER lingo the PARIS-ROUBAIX for me was slightly more strenuous than a 3 Peaks challenge, but with 50km of it on rubble only fit for a mtb. Unlike the 3P though I feel like I’ve been run over by a French tractor, & my thumb & middle fingure of my right hand are swollen & feel like a hammer has hit them & I cant grip anything with it. Ironically the pave therapy seems to have fixed my left elbow. The race does not ride from Paris but starts well north of this at a place called Busigny. It does finish in Roubaix though.
Conditions were fine all week but on race day the nightmare unfolded & it rained, was a bracing 7 degrees and winds hit a gusty 25 knots. I was up at 4am & rode through Roubaix in nice weather to catch a 5am bus to Busigny. But 4 kms from busigny it started raining. I met Highlander at the start line at 7.30am. I wore thermal socks, booties, leg & arm warmers, long finger gloves & a waterproof gillet with zip back pocket so phone, pumps etc did not fly out. Some riders were just wearing shorts, thin tops and track-mitts in hardy Belgian (Flash/Turnip) style.
The first few kilometres took us through the streets of St Quentin and out into the rolling countryside of northern France. After only 12kms we hit the first pavé & we went from cruising along a wide tarmac road to suddenly hammering down a rough track just two metres across with bottles and pumps flying off bikes and bouncing around on the cobblestones. We heard cursing in 20 languages & added some Aussie of our own. Lots of riders got punctures and were forced to stop and every time we hit pavé another few tyres would go and there must have been a rider fixing a flat every 100 metres. I saw 4 riders crash during the day – 5 if I could’ve watched myself come off. I was travelling at 20km/hr – but luckily had double niks & a good jacket on so only had bad bruising. There must’ve been many many crashes as everyone else i spoke with either had one or saw lots.
Meanwhile, riders still moving started shaking their arms to try and counter the shockwaves coming up through the forks and bars. The pain and punishment metered out by the jagged stones was relentless. My elbow hurt real bad & had gone numb and I was struggling to hang on. Repeat the above for 20 more pavé sections.
After about 70km, we hit the Arenberg Trench – one of the longest, hardest and most famous treacherous sections of pave on the route. One pro rider once famously described this as like “riding across a ploughed field, covered in rocks that had been dropped from a helicopter”. Just add water & it was like a slippery slimy rocky river bed.
The cobbled sections kept on coming, and the constant switch from tarmac to pavé to tarmac and back again felt like interval training.
At 85km we stopped for lunch & was looking forward to some French cuisine. i was starving & could’ve eaten a meter long baguette. They only had quartered oranges & waffles in plastic packets. I inhaled 8 of them.
At this stage both highlander & i thought it wasn’t too bad after all & the rain had stopped.
I was wrong & the relentless pounding started to wear me down. Highlander though was still strong & it was good to have him with me. I cramped up bad & had to get off to stretch. Both legs cramped on every stroke for the next 40km & i was starting to doubt I’d make it.
I had one last card to play- the Z card. As we rode through the pretty town of bourghelles i spyed a pub & rode up the footpath into it. Highlander came back to find me ordering 2 belgium Leffe beers. They worked & the cramps dissipated.
With 20km it started raining with gusty winds that at one stage blew me off riding along the crown & into the tyre rut beside it. We then hit the other famously long and hard pave section the Carrefour de Arfour which wasn’t too bad but at 3.7kms long was very very tiring.
With the Carrefour done, it was just 15km to the finish with just one last stretch of pavé and the ride finished with a half-lap of the legendary Roubaix Velodrome. To my delight my wife, and mate & his wife were there to cheer me in. We were exhausted but elated.
A little swoop up the concrete banking & the intention was to finish together so I stopped peddaling so we could join up but heard highlander say thats not a good idea so dropped down to finish over the line. Before i got off my bike my mate handed me a Belgium beer & it tasted so good. A kiss from the wife & then I visited the open shower cubicles where all the greats have a plaque on them. I was in awe.
We’d covered the course (& it covered us) in around 8.5 hours. The weather was not ideal but we hadn’t punctured and we made it safely. Highlander had to leave with his tour group whilst my mate had booked us into a restaurant over the border in belgium. I could hardly sit down on the train to it & was very very weary.
Blue & pink we saw a tandem doing it so you’re up next. Satnav there were quite a few fixies so book that trip now. The most bizarre though was a cycle scooter. Two normal bike tires with a flat section low down between for one foot & the other pushes like a scooter. No idea if they made it.
The next day we followed the professionals which was a real treat although they got it easy and had good weather. We got a picnic lunch, wine & a great spot on the arenburg trench. I grimaced every time they hit the cobbles & watched one riders wheel break in 2. If only he’d used Brownie I thought. Another rider broke his collarbone & rode one handed the last part.
The next stop my mate had lined up was a pub in a lovely town where he’d stopped in yesterday to have a beer whilst hoping to have seen us go by. Guess what – the same pub I had played my Z card at & we missed each other by just 20 mins!
The Last stop was the roubaix velodrome where we caught the tailenders arrive.