September 11 is a significant day in history for all, but for cyclists it was also the day they would pit themselves against the elements and the climbs to conquor the Genevese Kinglake ride. Facing some of the worst condidtions in a long time, the boys from LAID Cycling have the following tale of how event unfolded through the eyes of our king of the mountains, Mark "Woof" Mayo.
The good news is that the season of cycling has begun! The bad news is that it started in the worst conditions ever experienced on two wheels by yours truly.
We were promised a 40% chance of under 5mm of rain, so with that optimistic forecast we packed the bike carrier and made our way to the town of Whittlesea, host of the 2001 Genovese Kinglake ride - a 120km loop of stunning countryside 40km north of Melbourne, including the challenging 7.2km climb from St Andrews to the town of Kinglake.
With a crisp breeze greeting us in Whittlesea, we ummed and ahhed over clothing options and how much fuel to pack. As always, GC contender Serge felt the need to pack half a GNC store into his jersey pockets, which in hindsight was probably a wise idea. Little did we know how much energy we'd be expending simply staying warm.
We shuffled into our start zone and queued through the gate to begin the ride. At this stage there were smiles all round with lots of cheery banter between the lads. At this stage we were all dry and relatively warm.
The pace was quite moderate for the first few kilometres, and gradually increased through the sweeping roads of Athurs Creek and St Andrews, occasionally punctuated by a short, sharp hill. The first major challenge to greet us was the cheeky pinch of Wild Dog Creek - a climb that Phil Gilbert would spin in the big ring without breaking a sweat, but found us busting lungs in granny gears just to reach the top. We re-grouped and re-fuelled at the top before another short descent and onto the main climb for the day.
It was at this stage that the weather started to turn. Dampness on the road created a few hairy situations on the tighter turns, and didn't instill much confidence in many people's group riding ability. Nevertheless we reached the start of the ascent and everyone found their zone and spun their way to the top (some faster than others).
Another welcome respite greeted us at the town of Kinglake where we regrouped once again. The moment we found a shelter, the heavens opened and solid rain pounded the town. The sound of the drops over the tin rooves was enough for the voice in my head to shout "f*ck this" and I was seriously considering taking the shortcut 70km route option to get us out of this torment as soon as possible.
The locals were bemused at why cyclist would put themselves through this. With the rain hitting the roof and temperatures well below desireable a freezing cyclist begged the question on everyones mind "is there a warm fire around here somewhere?" With briliant timing and delivery came the response from a local "nah mate, we put those out a few years ago". You couldn't help but muster a smile.
After hearing from a resident weather expert pointing at his iPhone saying "it'll pass soon ands that's it for the day" Serge had made up his mind. So, in the first showing of Serge's single-minded desire to claim the "most combative" award he announced his intent to complete the full 120km route. Serge was full of hope and regurgitating the experts advice said "We'll take it easy, this weather should break soon anyway". Famous last words on both statements.
"We'll take it easy" soon transpired into a heated 45km/hr zoom between Kinglake and Glenburn. Every attempt to jump onto Serge's wheel resulted in another push of the pace, further increasing the speed and the heart rate. Thankfully the rain had stopped by this stage, but disappointingly it had been replaced with missiles of ice in the form of hail. The pinging sound of each ballistic as it hit our helmets drove us onwards. We were halfway now so there is no turning back!
We pulled into the rest stop at Glenburn to wring out our gloves and booties. We were saturated from head to toe and the sentiment from riders around us was of sheer disbelief that we were continuing in this weather! We witnessed a few fallen comrades that succumbed to the weather, now wrapped in blankets and trying to get core temperatures out of the frozen zone. Many thanks to the SES volunteers manning this station for all of their assistance and smiles in such adverse conditions!
From here on, it was a non-stop express to the finish line. No more breaks and no more words - it was all business now! It took a while to get the pace back up and felt like a constant battle against lungs and legs to keep going. The ever-present hail and rain soaked us again, and stung our faces as it pelted us from above. Every kilometre that ticked over was a minor victory against the elements, and one step closer to a warm change of clothes and a hot meal.
The following 20kms seemed to roll into one as we trundled past the Flowerdale rest stop. Another 10kms to go until we plateau'd at the top of the Flowerdale climb with the promise of a wonderful descent back to Whittlesea. Although shorter than the Kinglake climb, the sweeping bends lull you into a false sense of security, believing you've reached the top on more than one occasion. The "caution on descent" sign at the top was like a message from God and our sentiments increased in direct proportion to our speed as we revelled in the wondrous phenomena known as gravity.
Crosswinds made for an interesting descent, and more than one rider was seen being blown more than two metres across a lane in the terrible gusts. This was certainly no time to relax and take in the surroundings. Thankfully the lanes were wide and traffic was low, which allowed us a moderate respite from the pain. At least the heavens parted and we had a glimpse of the spring sunshine.
We passed the "10 km to go" sign and were indian-gifted with a massive headwind. Flat ground/small ring style and we pushed through the wall of gusting torment. We took a moment to reflect on the previous 100km and shook our heads at the pain we put ourselves through. Slowly the kilometres dwindled and we saw the finish banner. Arms on each other's shoulders, we finished wearily and with a sense of massive relief. It was all over! We looked back over a post-ride protein shake and agreed it was the toughest day we've ever had on two wheels, and will not even consider doing something like this again if the weather forecast hints at such bad weather.
But who knows... maybe we'll have forgotten about the weather by then... But now that we're dry and have had a chance to analyse our results, we've achieved Personal Bests up the Kinglake climb, and finished the ride an hour faster than last year. Pain is forgotten but those kind of memories last forever!