September 18, 2012

Amy's Gran Fondo 2012

Image: O’Nev / Veeral Patel

In just two years, Amy’s Gran Fondo has established itself as one of the most popular mass participation rides in Victoria. And on Sunday, myself and nearly 4,000 other riders descended on the seaside town of Lorne, most of us there to ride the event’s full distance of 120km.

The event had great appeal to me for a number of reasons, not least the fact it afforded me the opportunity to ride on the stunning Great Ocean Road without having to worry about car traffic. I was also looking forward to the opportunity to attempt a new PB on the Skenes Creek Road climb but most importantly, I was looking forward to a great ride with the guys from Team eQuipo tranQuilo.

There were seven of us from Team ET: myself, the Donvale Demon, Dougie Hunt, Matt ‘Fletch’ Fletcher, Marcus Nyeholt, Tim Dugan (who came down from Sydney especially) and Dave Shaw. For the first four of us in that list, the enjoyment began well before we took the start line on Sunday.

After meeting in Lorne at noon on Saturday for the compulsory rider briefing (with narration by Phil Liggett no less) we headed back to Dougie’s family’s holiday house in Point Lonsdale. It would be nearly an hour-and-a-half’s drive to the start the following morning but it meant we didn’t have to drive more than 2 hours down from Melbourne … and we didn’t have to pay for accommodation. Thanks Dougie!

Fletch seemed to enjoy our quick spin the day before Amy's Gran Fondo.

Fletch seemed to enjoy our quick spin the day before Amy’s Gran Fondo.

After getting settled in, the four of us — Dougie, Fletch, the Demon and I — went for a quick spin around the streets of Point Lonsdale and Queenscliff. For me it was a chance to see how I was feeling and how I might go the following day. I’d been off work sick since Thursday and feeling ordinary since Wednesday. Even as we rolled out of Point Lonsdale that afternoon I was feeling pretty ropey and more than a little concerned about how I’d cope when the pace hit the following morning.

After rolling back to Point Lonsdale at a rather pedestrian pace, we checked out the short climb to a nearby lookout (which just happened to be a Strava segment) took some photos and headed back to Dougie’s. He’d talked about creating a Strava segment on his street (which has a climb a few hundred metres in length) and so a couple of us had a crack at setting a reasonable opening time on the segment.

I was keen to see how I would feel when I got my heart rate right up so I went for it … and felt alright. And despite averaging nearly 40km/h up the climb I was no match for Dougie who, somewhat fittingly, took out the KOM on his own street. I wonder how long it will be before someone drops in and tries to take the KOM off him …

Point Lonsdale lookout.

View from the Point Lonsdale lookout.

My alarm went off before 5am on Sunday morning and rather reluctantly I rolled out of bed and started getting ready. The longish drive to the start line was made more pleasant by the fact I was driving along the Great Ocean Road … and by some Kanye blasting on the car stereo. Arriving in Lorne at 7am, just before the road closed, we got ready and, after a bit of stuffing around, made our way to the start line.

At about 8:10am it was our turn to depart and together the six of us (we weren’t sure where Dave was) took off. Even before we got to the end of the neutral zone (and the start of the timed section) 1.5km out of Lorne, it was clear we wouldn’t be taking it easy to appreciate the stunning coastal views.

Dougie leapt off the front straight away, a few of us followed him and I realised that if I wasn’t feeling up to scratch, I would be falling off the back within the first few kilometres.

Ready to roll!

Ready to roll!

Thankfully I was feeling healthy and strong and I managed to stay with the others as we worked our way around the coast toward Skenes Creek. At times we stayed together in a bigger bunch, at other times we set off in search of a faster group up the road. But for the every one of the 38km to Skenes Creek we pushed hard. Hard on the short climbs, hard on the descents, even harder on the flats.

Despite the amazing scenery and the fact we had the honour of riding on a closed-to-traffic Great Ocean Road, many riders seemed uninterested in appreciating the surrounds and more interested in putting other riders in the hurt box.

This is fine — after all, it was a race … sort of — but at least once the need for speed seemed to cause an unnecessary emotional boilover with two guys swearing at one another about who was going to sit on my wheel.

Image: O'Nev / Veeral Patel

Image: O’Nev / Veeral Patel

At Skenes Creek Road, we took a right turn and began the biggest climb of the day, our average speed in excess of 36km/h thus far. I had always planned to go as fast as I could on the climb. If I could go under 30 minutes that would be a bonus but, realistically, I thought it was a little beyond me — the only other time I climbed Skenes Creek Road it took me 40 minutes.

As soon as we started climbing I noticed that the riders who had looked so strong on the flats and downhills started to fall away. I found a steady tempo as quickly as I could and tried to maintain the pace as I ticked off the kilometres. As I climbed, I passed more and more riders, some looking like they were just taking it easy — there was more than 60km to go, after all — and others who looked like they were in all kinds of bother.

One thing I love about the Skenes Creek Road climb is how variable the terrain is. You start climbing on one of the country’s most amazing bits of coastline, wind your way through lush, green farmland and then find yourself riding into rainforest. If that wasn’t enough, the views throughout the climb are simply stunning. On several occasions you can look to your left (or slightly behind you and to your left) and see the Southern Ocean spread before you. Magic.

One of the many great views from the Skenes Creek Road climb.

One of the many great views from the Skenes Creek Road climb.

The further I climbed the more riders I passed. I managed to tag on to a small group of guys who were climbing about the same pace as me and together the four of us pushed on toward the top. When we reached the ‘KOM 1km’ sign I lifted the pace slightly and pushed as hard as I could. As I crossed the line I looked down at my Garmin and saw that I’d gone under 30 minutes. I was stoked with the effort and surprised I’d been able to push so hard given I’d been sick most of the week.

On Saturday night the four of us had spoken about whether we should ride to a particular plan. In particular, was it worth waiting for the whole group to summit the climb if we were spread across the road? We sort-of decided that the ideal situation would be to wait — the remaining 60km would be much easier with a bunch of guys to work with — but ultimately agreed that we’d make a decision when the time came.

Within 4 minutes of waiting I was joined by four of the other eQuipo tranQuilo boys — Fletch, the Demon, Dougie and Marcus — and the five of us decided to push on. We’d lost Tim somewhere before the start of the climb and we still weren’t sure where Dave was.

If I’d known just how frenetic the pace was going to be for the remainder of the race, I would have savoured those four minutes of rest at the top of the climb a little more. No sooner had we saddled up than the heat was back on and I was working hard to stay with the group again.

More views from the Skenes Creek Road climb.

More views from the Skenes Creek Road climb.

As we covered the beautiful rolling terrain between the top of the Skenes Creek Road climb and Forrest I learned something that will be obvious to people that have done a lot of racing: when the group’s going hard you really do have to concentrate 100% of the time.

I’m used to being on rides where you can sit up every now and then and enjoy the scenery, chat with the guys and gals beside you and generally relax. A couple of times on Sunday I found myself losing concentration for only a second or two but that was enough to lose the wheel in front of me. I’d look back at the road and realise there was now a couple-metre gap between me and the rider ahead and I’d have to push hard to jump back on.

And it wasn’t just to hold wheels that I needed to concentrate. The many descents throughout the back half of the course were some of the most nerve-wracking and dangerous moments of the ride. We’d be descending at 65km/h on windy and occasionally damp roads and there would be riders flying past on all sides, sometimes jumping in front with no warning, almost always riding closer than I was comfortable with.

At the time I chalked this up to inexperience riding at ‘race pace’ in a big bunch, but Fletch — who’s ridden more than a few races — felt similarly uncomfortable. There seemed to be a bit of a trend, at least in the group we were in, to slow right down on the short climbs, and then absolutely bomb it down the other side, regardless of how safe it was (or wasn’t).

Perhaps I’m overreacting but I know I felt unsafe at times and that I wasn’t alone in that feeling.

Image: O'Nev / Veeral Patel

Image: O’Nev / Veeral Patel

If I’m honest, the final 50km of the ride/race were a bit of a blur. I remember taking several right turns, riding through a couple of small towns and looking up briefly a couple times to check out the wonderful scenery. But what I remember most was seeing a constant blur of back wheels just ahead of me, occasional flashes of the Demon or Fletch’s faces in my peripheral vision, and the constant rolling hills that drew us ever closer to the finish line.

From talking to Dougie — who’d ridden the event last year — and from looking at the course profile I knew that the final 10km of the race was largely uphill. Dougie had even mentioned a couple of sustained pinches at 8% or above which had hurt him last year.

As we approached the final 10km I saved something in the legs, thinking it would be 10km of sustained climbing to get to the finish line. In reality, it turned out to be a lot simpler. Sure, the first few kilometres of that 10km stretch were uphill, and sure my legs were starting to cramp, but I found myself passing riders without too much hassle. And then as I rounded a corner, expecting the climb to continue, the road would flatten off. Or better still, it would head down instead of up.

Image: O'Nev / Veeral Patel

Not far to go! Push push push! (Image: O’Nev / Veeral Patel)

My goal at the start of the day, health pending, had been to complete the ride in under 4 hours. As I started the final 10km I knew I was comfortably inside that target and after I’d hit a couple of descents, I started to think 3 hours 30 minutes was within reach. When the road flattened off and the few guys around me sat up and rested, I pushed on, driving as hard as I could with my new target in mind.

Unlike the previous 8km, the final 2km of the ride were quite solidly uphill and driving to the line hurt quite a bit. But all the pain was forgotten when I looked down at my Garmin as I crossed the finish and realised I’d completed the course in less than 3 hours 29 minutes — an average speed of 31.1km/h. What an amazing feeling.

The day before I had been questioning whether it would be a good idea to even participate in the event. And when I took to the start line 4 hours seemed like an ambitious but manageable target … if the team and I rode well together throughout. To have beaten that goal by more than 30 minutes was tremendously satisfying.

The Donvale Demon (left) just after crossing the line.

The Donvale Demon (left) just after crossing the line.

Fletch rolled in a minute after I did, the Demon came in a minute after that, and Dougie was another three minutes back. Marcus crossed the line a short time later:

Name Skenes Creek Road climb Overall ride time
Matt de Neef 29m40s 3h29m
Matt Fletcher 32m29s 3h30m
Donvale Demon 32m28s 3h31m
Dougal Hunt 31m31s 3h34m
Marcus Nyeholt 33m40s 3h41m
Tim Dugan 34m38s 4h00m
Dave Shaw 42m09s 4h14m

 

One of the biggest highlights of the weekend for me was the ongoing banter between Dougie and Fletch about who would beat whom on the Skenes Creek Road climb. Both were adamant they had the other’s measure and weren’t afraid to say so. Despite having done only a handful of longer rides in recent weeks, Dougie managed to beat Fletch by almost a minute on the climb, much to Fletch’s dismay.

A big factor in Dougie’s victory might have been the epic ride he did just four days before Amy’s Gran Fondo. Worried that he hadn’t done enough climbing in preparation, Dougie ventured out to The Basin and climbed the 1 in 20 not once, not twice, but 10 times in a row!

Now I know what you’re thinking — there’s no way cramming in a bunch of climbing a few days before an event is going to help. And yet, it seemed to do the trick for Dougie. Even if it was only a psychological boost, it saw the D-Train pound out the climb in a great time of 31m31s, no doubt at his trademark low cadence (Dougie shall henceforth be known as the Grinderman).

And despite his loss to Dougie on the KOM, the day was far from a write-off for Fletch. He managed to finish within the top 25% of his age category, landing himself a fancy UCI World Cycling Tour medal. A great effort from Fletch, who posted this gracious tweet after picking up his medal (click the link to see the medal):

Another highlight of the weekend was seeing so many friendly and familiar faces. On the Saturday we bumped into Gus, Justin and Gareth from The Conversation (where the Demon and I work), on Sunday we spent much of the race’s second half riding alongside the likes of Josh Goodall, Tim Lier, Jem Richards (aka Eat More Lard), and later in the day we bumped into Mark Maiolo, Brenton Kaitler (of 6amers fame) and overall winner of the event Tom Leaper (well done Tom!).

And speaking of friendly faces, thanks to everyone that made a point of saying hello throughout the day– it was much appreciated. Thanks too to all the volunteers for their time and energy and to all of the enthusiastic spectators that lined the course, cheering us on as we rode past — it was a most welcome and inspiring gesture. And thanks, of course, to the Amy Gillett Foundation for putting on a well-run, challenging and most enjoyable event.

Congratulations again to Tom Leaper for his victory in the men’s race (in a terrifyingly quick time of 2 hours 52 minutes) and to Miranda Griffiths who defeated all comers to win in an equally scary 3 hours 2 minutes in the women’s race.

And well done to all of the eQuipo tranQuilo guys for such great results. I’m pretty sure we all exceeded our expectations and, more importantly, enjoyed ourselves on the day.

Me? I’m trying to work out if the ride could have gone any better. I overcame my illness just in time, I beat my previous best on the main climb by more than 10 minutes and I finished more than 30 minutes ahead of my target time. Add to that the fact that I had a blast riding along some of the best roads in the state with a terrific bunch of blokes and you’ve got a pretty amazing weekend.

Thanks to Mark Maiolo for sending through the video below. Watching this just makes me want to head down to Lorne and ride the course again!

Thanks to Dave and the team at Epsom Rd Studios for providing the following two images. To find and order your photos from the ride, head to the Epsom Rd Studios website.

(l-r) The Demon, Dougie, Marcus and Tim lead Team eQuipo tranQuilo. (Image: Epsom Rd Studios)

Yours truly approaching the finish line. (Image: Epsom Rd Studios)

Yours truly approaching the finish line. (Image: Epsom Rd Studios)

Further reading:

20 Comments

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  1. Bruce / Aug 18 2013

    Dangerous descending is a real problem in participation rides, even behind the front end.
    for example, in last year’s TDU ride, on every material descent there was a crash.
    ‘We’ all need to be more responsible, and speak up when other riders are irresponsible.

  2. Josh / Sep 20 2012

    Thanks, Matt, was a great day and good to see so many familiar faces, it adds a feeling of community to the sense of occasion the Gran Fondo already delivers.

    Regarding the descents, though, I hardly touched the brakes all day*. I did see a great many people taking what I regarded as bad/dangerous lines through the corners. Perhaps there could be a article, “The Descending Cyclist” covering descent skills.

    * no, really – I probably used them more in the bunch than coming down.

  3. Fletch / Sep 18 2012

    What a great weekend that was. Congrats again on your ride Matt. Look out people, the Climbing Cyclist is now developing super form on the flats! I loved the event – such an awesome opportunity for cyclists to ride in one of the most picturesque spots in Australia, in the safety of closed roads and with A-grade rider support. The best part for me was the form of my mates, the majority of whom have only started riding in the last few years. They inspire me no end. I did think some riding by others on the day was a little sketchy – especially people taking excessive risk on the descents. There really was not a lot of respect or organisation in the bunches. I do agree that this is not something you’re likely to see up the pointy end or in a ‘real’ race, and its probably a chance for organisers to educate less experienced riders as part of the well-organised rider briefings. My only other suggestions are that they consider moving it to a Saturday, so people can enjoy some recovery time down that way (especially interstaters) and that they consider reducing the entry cost because I think it turns people off other fund raising for the event.

    • Matt / Sep 18 2012

      Great points Fletch – thanks!

  4. Goonie / Sep 18 2012

    Nice work, and nice writeup.

    With regards to the riding standards, I guess that the further towards the front you were, the better the riding standards were. Partly it’s simply because they’re more experienced riders, and partly because towards the front the fraction of people who know each other increased. The fact that you’re going to be riding with somebody next week is a great incentive to not weave in front of them or do something similarly stupid!

    • Matt / Sep 18 2012

      Yeah, good points. I’d be keen to hear what it was like closer to the front of the field. Anyone?

      • Goonie / Sep 18 2012

        Well, here’s my take from half-way between yourself and Tom Leaper. Ended up riding in a very large, fast, but pretty well-behaved bunch for 100 of the 109 times kilometres.

  5. Nic / Sep 18 2012

    Massively jealous mate. I’ve done a heap of riding along the GOR before and it’s absolutely stunning. Definitely have to do this next year. You’ve inspired me.

  6. Ross / Sep 18 2012

    Next time you are in Lorne go and try out William St (runs off Mountjoy Pde/GOR), the top bit is ~25% gradient! It’s a Strava segment too!

  7. Trevor / Sep 18 2012

    Great write up Matt, and a fantastic event organised by the AGF. I totally agree with your concerns about the descent on the back of the Skene’s Creek climb. Given that most of the riders would have been unfamiliar with the climb & descent, it was pretty nerve-wracking with people taking erratic lines through wet & dangerous corners. Many of them were probably pretty fatigued from the climb by then. I hope that the AGF place more emphasis on this in their material next year, and that they place a number of marshalls approaching these descents. I came across a lady who had taken a bad fall on that descent. There was a lot of blood, however she was alert and talking & receiving assistance. Thankfully a rider had stopped to slow everyone down & she was getting help. I feel very sad for her & hope she recovers soon. All up though, a fantastic event by the AGF.

    • Goonie / Sep 18 2012

      Personally, I thought they made it pretty clear at the briefing – in fact, after actually completing the ride I thought they were laying it on a little thick compared with the actual technical difficulty of the descent. Yeah, it was a little bit greasy in parts, but there were few bends that actually required much braking.

      The real problem is riders who a) don’t ride within their limits, and b) don’t respect the safety of others by giving them riding room and allowing for the differing skill levels.

    • Goonie / Sep 18 2012

      Sorry to monopolize the thread, but some good news – the Foundation has just tweeted that the rider who fell is now on her way home from hospital.

      • Chris / Sep 20 2012

        Yes that is great news! I rang them up to inquire about how she was doing. They said she hit the brakes too hard and went over the handle bars.

  8. Ross / Sep 18 2012

    Great write-up Matt. I was lucky and didn’t see any sketchy riding from anyone. I was pretty cautious on the descents but thought they were mostly pretty tame.

    The race organisers and marshalls did a fantastic job too I thought and I made a point of going to the info booth at the Village to let them know.

  9. Chris / Sep 18 2012

    “And it wasn’t just to hold wheels that I needed to concentrate. The many descents throughout the back half of the course were some of the most nerve-wracking and dangerous moments of the ride. We’d be descending at 65km/h on windy and occasionally damp roads and there would be riders flying past on all sides, sometimes jumping in front with no warning, almost always riding closer than I was comfortable with.”

    A fair comment. In this section, of the course, I passed a girl lying on the road. Not moving and with what looked like a majory head injury. Two ambos were on the way but I don;t know if she was dead or alive. It was crazy out there on those downhill sections. I saw two riders go down overall.

  10. Callum Dwyer / Sep 18 2012

    You might say there’s an excuse for some risk taking in Gran Fondo where prizes up for grabs. But other mass participation events where there is no prizes, it’s just plain embarrassing to see people racing a charity ride or similar.

  11. Aaron / Sep 18 2012

    Nice job! You killed it! That Skenes Creek climb looks like a beauty.

    I’ve also found on big rides that there’s a tendency to climb slow, then descend fast and irresponsibly. I try to be a little more cautious on those descents, making sure I am aware of all the riders around me.

    • Matt / Sep 18 2012

      Thanks Aaron! Yep, Skenes Creek Road is a beauty. The whole Great Ocean Road region is phenomenal. Well worth checking out when you come over. ;)

      • Aaron / Sep 18 2012

        Add it to my itinerary list. :)

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