This was the segment that started it all. A true blood on the lungs effort. And a stretch of road that leaves the conquerors gasping for air and coughing up their insides. It was the first truely difficult segment I thought I had a chance of getting, and without a doubt the hardest effort I have put myself through.
Located in Lower Plenty, Melbourne, the segment averages 5% for 1.3km on Old Eltham Rd from the junction of Main Rd and Bolton St, to the top of Bonds Road. It actually begins with a short wall that maxes out over 20%, then continues for some time as a false flat before tending uphill again, and finishing in another steep pinch well into the teens.
I found myself getting fitter and stronger at the start of 2015, and really gave the segment a go in February to claim a top 10. I was stoked, and even more so a few months down the track as I started to learn about the riders around me on that leader board. Over the year, and picking up speed, I had several more attempts, but would usually run out of steam before the top. But in early December, and with several of those riders engaged with the Tour of Bright, I headed out on an easy ride in preparation for the double everesting I was attempting the next day. That easy ride would have one hard effort – and I was determined to put in a fast time up to Bonds Rd.
From Fairfield i rolled out through Ivanhoe, Heidelberg, Viewbank and then down past the Pony Club and the mansions of Lower Plenty. My thoughts were running fast and thick – but not about the KOM – I couldn’t take my mind off the double. Could I do it? Was I prepared? A KOM attempt was really something to take my mind off the coming weekend.
There are 3 ways to approach the start of the segment – all of which rely on a good run through the lights. Perhaps the best is to line up the sequence from directly opposite with a downhill start, and run through the green light with speed. I really couldn’t be bothered with that, so I opted to roll through the intersection with a slow, left-hand turn up the incline.
The live segment was running with the KOM as the goal – I had to go into it hard, but not so hard as to destroy my legs on that awful wall. I somehow managed to keep my speed around 20km/h, and was feeling pretty good. It’s that steep you really need to muscle your way up. I wasn’t able to see how I was going at that point, but rounding the top and turning right, I was able to look down at the screen and see that Andrew Stalder’s time was a few seconds ahead.
Feeling defeated, I contemplated aborting, but decided I should at least set a faster time than I had before. With my heart rate already getting dangerously high (probably not the right adjective to use, effectively is probably more apt), I gritted my teeth and got my bike up to speed. Holding a good cadence and a speed in the high 30s, I glanced down again to notice that I had just edged ahead! Shit! That meant I had to keep going! I couldn’t give up at that point!
Every time I’d glance down, I’d see myself floating around the same time – 1 second ahead, 1 second behind, but no major gains or loses. It was feeling like a nail-biter and I could my heart going crazy. The next small ramp I got out of the saddle to edge up it as powerfully as I could whilst trying to maintain efficient – an attempt to save something for the finale.
That final pinch I really emptied myself – my heart rate was at it’s max, but I was determined to stay in front. That last bit can hurt with fresh legs – but I kept turning the gear over and threw everything I had over the last speed hump just before the apex. I was at the top!
But the segment was not over. Cruelly, the finish is not at the start of the high point f but continues for another 30m or so to just before the junction with Bonds Rd. And this is where I hurt the most. Gasping and wheezing for air, I was spent. I didn’t realise it at the time, but at that point, with a few more metres to cover, my heart rate crept up one beat per minute higher than I’d ever seen it. I could do nothing but shift in to a much easier gear and spin quickly, hoping it would be enough.
If I had a camera on me, I reckon you would have seen me throwing the bike as if I was in a track sprint. The segment was over – I didn’t see if I’d beaten the KOM – at last check, I was still back and forward with Stalds. I was lucky to stay upright – light-headed, red-faced and beginning to cough – I was immediately aware that I’d achieved something I hadn’t before. I’d really pushed through an effort that should have stopped me far earlier.
Paused at the top for some time, I limped back to Fairfield as best I could. It was the one and only segment I’d ride hard that day, but it successfully took my mind of the coming everesting. And the cough I had developed? I could not shake it. All the way home my lungs hurt. – I’d cough up phlegm, but it wouldn’t help. It made my eyes water and I was worried it would affect me the next day. In fact, the cough persisted until about midnight the day after – not long before finishing the first side of Henley Rd I was attempting the double on!
But, the upload was so satisfying. I’d earned the KOM by a mere 3 seconds. Sure, it’s only short – but quality riders have set some fast times up there, and it’s the stomping ground of the Peaks Cycles bunch – a top shelf KOM I would not likely keep. I did feel cheeky for borrowing it of Stalder whilst I knew he was away racing (one does not take KOMs of Stalds – they are only borrowed). But I was pretty happy and confident of holding it for a few days. Maybe even a week! I held it for just over 3.
Okay, a lot of words for a short segment, but the story doesn’t end there. I had the segment, completed the double everesting soon afterwards, and got back into my regular bunch rides. I reckon I was more chuffed with that KOM than I was with the double, but there was plenty of talk going around and I found myself receiving many congratulations and comments of craziness. With a much inflated ego, I made a mistake. I mentioned to a young speedster, Liam Garriga, that it would be quite funny to go out on Christmas Eve, steal some KOMs, and entitle the ride on Strava as “The Grinch”.
I thought it was a brilliant idea, and put in some attempts on Christmas Eve in the Heidelberg area. With no success, I found myself in the car heading to my sister’s home in the Otways for Christmas lunch when my phone buzzed in my pocket. A notification. “Uh, Oh! Liam Garriga just took your KOM!”
I outwardly laughed, but shed a bit of a tear on the inside – there was no way I would go back to try it again. As it turns out – Liam isn’t interested either, “About 20 minutes after the effort, I actually vomited whilst riding and had to stop… That’s how brutal it was!! Also developed a brutal cough!!” Next week I hope to present to you Liam’s attempt – it was clearly a cracker!
Part of me hopes that someone else does give this one a go – I am quite certain that it would end in more blood on the lungs.
The pain in numbers:
Average HR: 183bpm
Max HR: 190bpm
Average Speed: 28.9km/h
Max Speed: 37.8km/h
Min Speed: 17.3km/h (I don’t normally include this, but want you to see my starting speed for this one)
Average Cadence: 91rpm
Power: no power meter fitted at that time
Side note – I’d like to thank Andrew Stalder for two things here. Firstly for setting such a blisteringly fast time to chase, and secondly for mentioning the term, “blood on the lungs” on his own ride when he took the KOM. It’s riders like Stalds that push me to always try harder. Kudos.