Come on, don't deny it - we've all done it before: playing the "my bike is better than your bike" game at the start line of an event, eyeing off the calibre of contenders. Today I resoundly lost this challenge as the quality of machines were reaching stratospheric levels. Carbon bling everywhere!
The event was the 2012 Amy's Gran Fondo, organised by the Amy Gillett Foundation to raise road safety awareness for cyclists around Australia. It's a 120km course starting in Lorne, heading west along the Great Ocean Road and back via the Otway Ranges from Skenes Creek to Deans Marsh. All on closed roads with no traffic - it's an unmissable event. It's also a feeder event for top finishers into the 2013 UCI World Cycling Tour. Hence the bling bikes, deep dish wheels and race-ready riders everywhere!
Being surrounded by 4,000 eager riders raised the excitement levels, and we were all chomping at the bit to get underway. Waves of 200 riders departed at 90 second intervals and in no time we were clipping in, heading off for 120 kilometres of amazing roads. The first 1.5km were considered "neutral" before the official timing began. The pace was still hectic as we found our legs and began forming groups of similar capacity.
We departed the canopy of trees and began our traverse of the Great Ocean Road, a stunning stretch of roadway winding along the rugged southern ocean coastline. For a while we had company in the form of a helicopter hovering over the ocean at eye level, it really felt like we were in a stage of the Tour de France!
The first 38km were chewed up in good time and then the challenges began. No opportunity to sit on someone's wheel and stay out of the wind as we trundled up Skenes Creek Road at whatever pace we could muster. This was a 9.5km grind at around 6% all the way up. I was aiming for a sub-38 minute time, with a 35 minute marker as my ultimate goal. To have crossed the top of the climb at under 34 minutes was adequate vindication for all the work I've been doing lately, and brought a welcome sense of relief.
The next 50km of undulating roads were simply blissful. We managed to form a decent group of about 15 riders who all worked together to keep the pace at a fast simmer, rather than tempestuous boil. A few more energy gels later, we reached the base of the final ascent to Deans Marsh and we were all back into every-man-for-themselves mode.
I had previously ridden this section of road, and as such I knew that there were occasional moments of reprieve along the final 7 kilometres. The legs felt quite good after 100km of non-stop riding and I attempted to leave nothing behind. In no time I'd reached the top of the climb and the glorious finish marker, to which my left hamstring decided to celebrate with a massive cramp!
As I was stretching out the muscle, Matt of Climbing Cyclist fame called out so I stopped to exchange war stories and see how he went - obviously with all of his efforts lately he made it look easy, and his times reflected these efforts. Good to see he was repping the LAID Cycling kit too!
The final neutral descent back to Lorne was blissful, and so was the hamburger which was devoured in record time - those guys in Lorne know how to put together a decent feed!
A few minutes after getting back to town, my official times were posted via the Subaru tracker iPhone app, and to see the clock stopped 3hr30 was a huge surprise. I'd beaten my target time by 30 minutes and finished well within the top 25% of all finishers. Unfortunately I just missed out on making the top 25% in my age group so there's no commemorative medal for this year - that'll be next year's goal.
Many thanks to all of the organisers and volunteers for the day - they created a wonderful atmosphere and the logistics to close 120km of roadways would have been immense. I hope the work they've put in is returned to them tenfold, and that Australian roadways are made safer for all users as a result of their efforts.
Here's a bit of footage from my handlebar camera, before the batteries went flat http://youtube.com/watch?v=Yg5KlmeEBJs