I left off with the finish up the Reefton Spur timed climb. Although I didn’t remain in contact with the front bunch, and despite cheating myself of a little bit of time by getting on the front early, I still did very well. Not quite the top ten I’d been targeting, but 12th was very close.
Some quick stats from the climb on Strava (the Cycling Tips timed segment has slightly different results):
Distance: 20km @ 3% average gradient (there are some short downhills)
My Time: 43:28s
Average Heart Rate: 176bpm
Average Speed: 27.6km/h
Whilst I am somewhat disappointed to have been spat out the back of the lead group, I definitely didn’t blow up, and managed to best my time from last year by one and a half minutes!
Back to the narrative at hand. Soon after the left turn at Cambarville, I found myself in a nice little group of 3. I warned the other two of the looming steep pinch and technical descent before the proper drop into Marysville. They seemed to be labouring somewhat, but I was feeling pretty comfortable again – something that would change later in the day, as these two really had some legs left for the finish!
That pinch is really something – after sitting at comfortable gradients for 20km, throwing a ten percenter into the mix is a tad rude. And to keep you on your toes, the minor descent that follows has a couple of rather dangerous turns that lead to some riders not finishing the event last year. Fortunately, despite hooking along at a high pace, the three of us came through clean for one last little hill before the fun bit. I’m going to call it “the drop”.
The drop in the course begins at the turn off for Lake Mountain. Rather than turn right and continue climbing towards the summit (a ride I did with James Morton at the start of the year), the Giro Della Donna route takes you straight down to Marysville. And it is ridiculously fun! Last year, I stayed in contact with the front bunch until here, before being dropped like a sack of potatoes as these very skilled riders took away at speed. This year I was feeling much more confident, and despite the lack of descending practice, I felt very sure-footed on my new bike. I stayed with the other two just fine – pedalling for speed whenever the gradient eased off too much. 56km/h was my average speed, maxing out at almost 78km/h (by no means a cracking time down here). I’m pretty sure I could descend much faster again, but was very happy to be a good thirty seconds quicker than last year.
After many, many ripping corners, a couple of tight and sketchy ones spit you out into Marysville, having dropped over 600 vertical metres in just under 9km. And just like last year, I could see the front bunch exiting town. But this time, they were not so far away!
I spoked to the other two and suggested we work turns to catch them up before the Acheron way. With a decent section of flat before some nasty and steep rollers, I was confident of utilising my pace line training from Darwin to bridge the gap. And I felt great! After my first turn, Julian behind me was struggling to move forward. But he did, and the two of us towed the other rider along to catch the front bunch easily. As it turned out, we needn’t have tried so hard! They were all sitting up, having a drink, eating some food and pulling over to pee! Whilst I was pretty happy to get a rest myself, it looked as though the racing was over for the day!
Now cruising along with the front bunch again, a couple of “kick you while you’re down” rollers were much easier ridden than last year. With a peloton of about 15 riders, we turned onto the Acheron Way, perhaps the most beautiful road in Victoria, and moved along at a fairly easy pace. Last year I grouped up with two other riders to absolutely smash this section as a bit of a team TT, and had no chance to appreciate the magnificent scenery. With mountain ash towering overhead, I had a chance to have a chat to those around me, but was under no illusion that this tea party would continue.
Perhaps a couple of kilometres before the Acheron Way hits gravel, some loud calls in the group alerted us to another bunch catching. The pace remained the same, and when I looked over my shoulder I was stoked to see a green NBRCC kit hauling at their front. It was Ben! It felt great to have a mate now up the front with me, but I was starting to get some serious leg cramps. I’m not sure if it was from the nerves or the lack of climbing prior to the event, but my muscles were none to happy and I was now very concerned about hanging on. On top of this, the gears on my bike were not behaving, and I was continuously pulling to the side to prevent myself causing grief for those behind me, with my chain undecided as to which ring it preferred to sit on.
With at least 20 riders now up the front of proceedings, it felt as though things were getting a little tense as we approached the gravel. The Acheron Way has a 13km section of unsealed road, and in this direction, the first 7-8km climbs quite steady, averaging only 3%, but including some rather steep switchbacks. I had myself position in the top 5-6 riders at this point, and it seemed like those of us in the know were quick to react to the sudden increase in speed. Within a few hundred metres, Ed Green, second overall on the KOM, had punctured, and the field was stretching out over this narrow section of road. The Izalco mini felt extremely sure-footed as I picked my way around larger rocks, around corrugations and on occasion over potholes – I was positive it felt smoother than last year, but again, maybe it was just the bike.
That climb kinda felt like a selection process, and it didn’t stop for the remainder of the gravel. The hot pace up the climb brought it back to about 15 or so riders, and I could see Ben having a blast on this terrain that he excels on. With the course going slightly downhill, it was just a matter of keeping enough space between you and the rider in front so as to be able to easily react to obstacles, but not so much as to lose contact. I heard one rider next to me bottom out his rim, but his tyre remained inflated, and others clearing potholes by means of neat bunny hops, but on the whole, it seemed exceptionally controlled, with Canty and Stalder driving out front and calling the nasty corners early and taking them easy. At one point I stole a glance at my Garmin and saw we were doing 47km/h, and on later inspection realised I went even faster than that. On gravel, on a road bike with 25mm tyres. It was fucking rad!
It didn’t stay that fun for very long, however, with a severe acceleration as soon we hit the sealed tarmac at Cement Creek and the remainder of the climb up Mt Donna Buang, a seemingly distant 9km at 6%. Ben and I looked at each other, looked up the road and made a very easy decision not to follow at that pace. So the front runners would escape once again, but I was content to sit with Ben and try and hold decent power. At first 240 watts seemed reasonable and fast, but then 220 was not manageable, and finally I had to tell Ben that I would see him at the top as I dropped back off his wheel to hold just under 200 watts for the last 6-7km.
As Ben pulled away, I could still see riders in front of him, but was not confident that I would “come good” at any point, and basically saved myself for throwing down anything I had if any riders crept up behind. But apart from cars, there were no riders to be seen behind, and soon enough, no more in front. It was a bit of a struggled labour for those remaining kilometres. I was feeling great in terms of food and water, but the muscles in my legs just wouldn’t fire anymore. And it really felt that this was the case because I was riding uphill. Had it flattened out, I’m pretty sure I would have got my power back up. As it turned out, I was nearly 2 minutes slower up the tarmac ascent than I was last year. And last year I felt even more shattered!
Onwards and upwards. With one kilometre to the summit, the gradient tilts up some more, and I found myself searching for one more gear to make things a little more comfortable. But I’d opted to leave the 11-25t cassette on the bike, rather than going for the 28 (how soon you forget about gears!), leaving me to grind a little more out of the saddle. 100m to go and I got a wave and words of encouragement from Stalder and Canty, already making their descent of the mountain. Soon enough I rounded the final left hand bend, heard a trumpet playing and saw a crowd of volunteers there to cheer people on. I don’t think it looked all that impressive at the speed I was going, but I still dropped it into the big ring for the final 30m and under the finish banner. Finished for the day, and finished with a massive block of dedicated training. Not being given a number, I counted everyone I could see that had finished in front of me, and am confident I was the 15th rider over the line. Not a bad day out at all.
And apologies if anyone thought I actually won the event based on the feature photo here and that has been kicking around on Face Book. The guys in that picture are an amazing collection of mates that regularly organise exceptionally challenging rides, continually pushing boundaries, and now that I live away from them all, continually making me jealous. I should have worn that kit!
I’ll soon get around to more of a reflective write-up of the event, and include many of my thoughts on the training leading in, and how it helped on the day. You can look at my stats from the ride on Strava.
Speaking of Strava, if you follow me there, you may have noticed my training has ramped up even more since the Giro. Partly addiction, partly dissatisfaction with my last performance and a desire to ride even faster. I’ll soon have to find another event to enter.