September 15, 2015

Amy's Gran Fondo 2015

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Amy’s Gran Fondo might look like a perfectly pleasant roll along the Great Ocean Road and up into the Otway Ranges but if you start near the the front it can be anything but. It’s not technically a race but, as I was reminded on Sunday, if you don’t want to race, you shouldn’t start near the front of the field.

I knew it was going to be fast, and I knew I wouldn’t be able to stay near the front for long, but that didn’t stop me from trying. When the pace picks up and you’re right there amongst it, it’s hard not to get swept up by the collective racing mentality. Even if you don’t have the legs to match that mentality.

I’d gone into the ride with a clear plan: take it easy and enjoy the scenery, weather and the chance to ride along the Great Ocean Road with no traffic. But when the countdown ended and we rolled out into the ‘neutral zone’, there was no time to admire the scenery. It was all about holding the wheel in front, holding my line, and hoping for the best.

Mere meters from the very front of the race.

Mere meters from the front of the race. At least to begin with.

There was a crash to my right inside the first 500 metres of the neutral zone — not a particularly confidence-inspiring start. Another crash, this one much bigger, left several riders on the deck after about 20km. This was turning into anything but the relaxing cruise I was after. I was keen to get through the opening 38km in a group if I could, but my first priority was just getting through it in one piece.

I’d started the ride with my CyclingTips colleague Jonathan but it wasn’t long before I’d dropped from the group he was in. I kept telling myself it was worth going into the red to stay with the group; doing so would save me energy later on, I surmised. As it turned out I didn’t have the strength or the fitness to be able to maintain my position.

I’d get myself in a good group for a few hundred metres and then, when the road tilted up slightly, I’d parachute out the back, scrambling desperately for wheels. Inevitably I’d get dropped, telling myself to wait for the next group from behind. I’d latch on to that group then promptly get spat out the back once again.

I had the words "hold the wheel!" on repeat in my head in those opening 38km.

I had the words “hold the wheel!” on repeat in my head in those opening 38km.

I saw Jonathan again briefly after 22km, saying ‘hi’ as the group I was in joined his. And then I was out the back again and I didn’t see him again until the end of the ride.

At the 32km mark I had averaged nearly 39km/h and I was paying for it. The vast bulk of my training in recent months has been endurance-related so I simply didn’t have the top-end to respond to the frequent accelerations in those early stages. And that’s to say nothing of the fact the endurance training I’ve been doing has been by foot rather than by bike.

With five or six kilometres to go before the day’s main climb, having been spat out the back of yet another group, I finally sat up, alone. It occurred to me that I’d been so focused on holding the wheel and fighting for position in various groups that I’d barely looked up and taken in my surrounds. I spent the next few kilometres trying to enjoy the fact I was riding on a closed-to-cars Great Ocean Road in perfect weather.

A rare moment of quiet reflection.

A rare moment of quiet reflection.

Since the start of the ride I’d been looking forward to the Skenes Creek Road climb. It would give me the opportunity to ride my own tempo without worrying that I should be saving energy by sitting in a group.

I found an easy gear and spun my way gently up the roughly 10km climb, reminding myself to enjoy the ocean views while I still could. The last time I did Amy’s Gran Fondo I’d passed a whole stack of riders; this time around a whole stack passed me. I focused on my own ride, trying to recover after the exhausting first hour.

View from the early stages of the Skenes Creek Road climb.

View from the early stages of the Skenes Creek Road climb.

I’d been hoping that I’d find myself in a good group at the top of the climb, to roll through with on the flatter section that followed. But I would be disappointed on two counts — no such group materialised, and the ‘flatter section’ wasn’t nearly as flat as I remembered.

Each time I’d get in something resembling a coherent bunch, we’d hit a short rise and I’d be unable to follow the inevitable acceleration. The short rises (like the groups behind me) kept coming, and I didn’t have the legs to maintain my position in a bunch for any more than a kilometre at a time.

Tackling the rolling roads after the Skenes Creek Road climb, waiting for a group to jump on with.

Tackling the rolling roads after the Skenes Creek Road climb, waiting for a group to join.

It took until two-thirds of the way through the ride for me to find a group that I could stay with for any length of time. I’d stopped briefly at the drink stop in Forrest to top up my bottles (noting that I barely recognised the town from the last time I’d been there) before setting off alone again. A group rolled through two kilometres later, 73km into the event, and with a bit of effort I was able to scramble on to the back.

Mercifully, the road flattened out shortly afterwards and I could enjoy a few easier kilometres spent sitting in the bunch, conserving my energy for the closing section of the ride. It didn’t take long for the rollers to return, however, and each time the road tilted up I’d be fighting for position again, desperate to stay with the group to “save some energy”.

What had been a sizeable group of 20-30 riders when I hitched on thinned out every time we hit another roller. And then, when we hit the final 12km of the ride, the group, and my legs, exploded.

The road tilts up again as riders disappear up the hill ahead of me.

The road tilts up again as riders disappear up the hill ahead of me.

It’s not entirely uphill from the 98km mark to the finish line but it’s not far off it. The combined exertion of the opening section on the Great Ocean Road and the battle to stay in the group I’d been in had taken their toll. As the road ramped up my legs gave in and I was down in my lowest gear, grovelling my way up the final hill.

I crossed the line roughly 3 hours and 50 minutes after starting the ride, wasting no time before beginning the welcome descent back into Lorne. It had taken me roughly 20 minutes longer to finish the event this time around than in 2012 but that was to be expected. Last time around I’d been in decent form and certainly hadn’t been training for a marathon.

The final kilometre to the finish line.

The final kilometre to the finish line.

It’s easy to get caught up in finishing times, average speeds, staying with a fast bunch or even trying to beat your mates. And while these are all worth considering, to me, there are other things that make Amy’s Gran Fondo an important part of the Victorian cycling calendar.

I’ve already mentioned the car-free Great Ocean Road — that’s a huge drawcard, particularly if you take the time to enjoy it — but the beauty of the ride is as much about when it falls.

Held in mid September, Amy’s Gran Fondo always seems to mark the start of spring and the emergence of awesome warm-weather riding. It was a true delight being able to leave the arm warmers, leg warmers and rain jacket behind and enjoy the feeling of sunshine on skin. And while there was a little bit of wind around, particularly at the start, it didn’t diminish the enjoyment one bit.

Rolling back into Lorne.

Rolling back into Lorne.

In closing I’d like to say congrats to Brendan Canty who dominated the men’s ‘race’, attacking solo on the Skenes Creek Climb and riding the remaining 70km(!) solo to be first over the line and finish with the best time.

And in the women’s event, it was great to see Peta Mullens rocking the national road champion’s kit en route to a comprehensive victory. It’s interesting to note that Peta took home considerably more in prizemoney by winning the Amy’s Wall hillclimb event on Saturday and Amy’s Gran Fondo than she would have if she’d won the Amy’s Otway Classic National Road Series race held on the weekend!


And finally, for those of you that love challenging yourselves on steep climbs, here’s something worth checking out. Last time I was in Lorne I tried climbing one of the many ridiculously steep streets in the town called Francis St, a climb that quickly got the better of me, as I wrote a few days later:

The bike and my knees were creaking as I tried to wrestle my way up this wall of road. I was at my limit just trying to keep the bike moving and eventually I couldn’t. I unclipped just before I was about to topple over, defeated by the climb.

This thing is seriously steep. I’m surprised the bitumen doesn’t run down the road when it’s hot. Putting my bike by the side of the road I pulled out the trusty Gradient Level app on my iPhone to see just how steep the street is — 37.1% at the spot I stopped. That’s ridiculously steep. And it’s not just for a brief section — there’s probably 50-100 metres there that look like they’re above 30%.


On Saturday, on a whim, I decided to give it another shot, not thinking for a second that I’d be able to get up it. But somehow I did. It definitely wasn’t easy — it’s almost certainly the steepest bit of tarmac I’ve dragged by bike up — but it would seem that it is doable. And in case you were wondering, I was running a compact chainset (34-tooth) with an 11-28 cassette.

Thanks very much for reading. If you took part in Amy’s Gran Fondo over the weekend I’d be interested to hear your story from the day. Did you also get sucked into pushing yourself in the opening kilometres, only to pay for it later? Or did you have an entirely different experience? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Until next time, ride safe!

Click here to see my Strava file from the ride.

33 Comments

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  1. Paul / Sep 17 2015

    Enjoyed that recount Matt. Yes, the neutral zone never changes, straight on the rivet. This course is much easier to do well on if you can climb as you’d know. If you can reach the top of Skenes Creek rd ahead of a pack and some strong guys, they will pick you up and the rest of the ride will be much easier. If you’re struggling with the climb and the rollers, you’ll be spending plenty of time alone.

  2. MT / Sep 16 2015

    Hi Matt…enjoyed your ride report. What are your thoughts on seeding riders wanting a UCI qualification based on time from the previous year”s time rather than age group ?
    I think doing it this way see better times & more opportunities to form workable bunches, particularly from Forest to Dean’s Marsh. Regards.

  3. Leonie / Sep 16 2015

    Great story. That feeling of being gently left behind by scores of passing groups is very familiar! I found the coastal section quite fast-paced and a little aggressive in attitude from some riders. Like you, I couldn’t really find a group that suited me until about 70-93km when I rode with a bunch of blokes. My energy levels were good all the way and enjoyed the climbs. This was my first AGF (F45-49) and I took 4 and a quarter hours. Pretty happy with that all things considered – I’m splitting my time between the bike and the running shoes too.

  4. Hayden / Sep 16 2015

    This was my first Amys too despite years of holidaying and practically growing up at Lorne. I now live in WA and group of us came over and revelled in the glorious weather. We are all in the 45-49 age group and I have to say the roll down to the Skenes ck turnoff was my fastest ever journey (car, bike, motorbike!)… We averaged 42kmh and then it exploded up the climb. I lost my bunch but managed to pick off a few youngies from the earlier groups. Aftercresting the KOM was arguably the toughest section of the course undulating down to Forrest. At some point the 50-54 leaders pushed past me and I was literally spinning out my compact 50/11 setup to stay in touch… To no avail. After Forrest I found myself in a bunch of about 8 working hard to reel in a larger group of 40 or so in the evil Northerly wind. All of the burned matches became evident on the ramps out of Dean’s Marsh to the finish. My brain was saying ‘go’ but all I was getting was two strips of fire across my quads. The skin behind my right knee was starting to sting (did i mention I’m a below knee amputee?). I hauled myself across the line in 3:25, happy with the result
    But unfortunately 9 places short of the UCI cutoff for my age group… It was a fantastic event and great to see Lorne taken over by and embracing cycling for the weekend!

  5. Luke Mc / Sep 16 2015

    Matt – great write up as usual. I resisted the urge to break any records to Skenes Creek and actually enjoyed to view on the GOR. Amazing to be able to do that on closed roads. Blessed with the weather as well. Probably could have been a bit smarter in the middle of the ride and ridden more in groups. Finished just under 4 hours. Proved how much more work I need to do to get ready for 3Peaks

    First time I’d done the ride. Easily the best organised ride I’ve been on. Nothing was left to chance. I hope the organisers of ATB take note. This will be an annual event for me.

  6. Leigh / Sep 15 2015

    Matt, curious as to what age group you were in and what kit you were wearing!
    Cheers

    • Matt de Neef / Sep 15 2015

      Hi Leigh, I started right near the front of the 19-34 group and I was wearing black and red CyclingTips/Scott kit.

  7. Alan Lim / Sep 15 2015

    Hi Matt, Again. Keep up all the good work!

  8. Hammers / Sep 15 2015

    Great write-up Matt. First time doing the course for me too (although I’ve done a lot of riding on the GOR before) and I have to say it was brilliantly run. I’m very much looking forward to doing it again with some mates or on the closed roads next year.
    Not really interested in going for a time, I was in the recreational category right down the back and whilst it was a little slow to start off with, after about 5km you could spin along quite nicely at around 35km and enjoy the tailwind and scenery along the GOR. That first section to Skenes was epically good, as was the climb up Skenes Creek Road, which I’ve never done before.
    You’re also right about seeing the same faces over and over throughout the day too!
    Given I was riding to the start and from the finish to Aireys Inlet where we were staying, I was conscious of not smashing myself, which made my enjoy the ride all the more. In fact, it was one of those rare days that I felt myself get comparatively stronger throughout the ride right up to the finish. When lots of people were struggling, I was still cruising away, which was an awesome feeling. So if you’re more inclined to sit up and enjoy the ride (and a yarn), come hang down the bag with some of the hairier legged plebs like myself 😛

  9. Kym Petersen / Sep 15 2015

    Oh god, this is like I have written it – it all rings true! I think I also used up too many bikkies in the ‘sprint’ to Skenes. That first climb I did with the heaviest of legs and my usual ‘spin’ just didn’t eventuate. Watched my fast ave spd just plummet! I did work very hard to stay with a bunch but like you, each time the road travelled up I got shelled out the back and waited for another to hoon by to try and latch on. This is how it generally went for the 4hrs and 6mins I was out there for! That last 10km nearly broke me….Next time (if I can manage it) I will be better prepared for those climbs!
    Thanks for a great write up, you’ve described the ride and the beautiful scenery to a T.

  10. Fat Fossil / Sep 15 2015

    Don’t stress over the performance side of things Matt – unless that’s been both your focus and plan.
    Given you’re not fat and not a fossil – you have nothing to worry about – yet?
    Scenery wise – my advice is – hang glide the Great Ocean Road before you die!
    I used to! You never get tired of it.

  11. Dave Hunt / Sep 15 2015

    That was my 3rd GF and its always a toughie. Tried to get there early to get up front in my age group but they must have been lining up since dawn as i was down the back. Still managed to avg 38 or so down to Skenes Creek but once over the climb heading to Deans Marsh the suffering started. Its a cruel finish to Benwerrin for sure. Great job by the organisers and a quick get well to the riders who were lying on the deck in certain states of disrepair, and the poor bloke getting CPR on the climb..hope he makes it.

    • Matt de Neef / Sep 15 2015

      Yeah, that final climb really drags on doesn’t it?! Re: those crashes, you might find this interesting: http://cyclingtips.com.au/2015/09/the-ethics-of-riding-past-a-crash-does-being-a-bystander-make-you-morally-responsible/

      • Dave Hunt / Sep 15 2015

        Thats a good read…i dont stop in races…but in these events if it happens right in front i do…yesterday i came across 2 crashes that had riders stopped so i kept going. Same as the guy getting CPR i shouted out but they said to keep riding..i appreciated the thanks for asking but was still a hollow feeling watching it all…

        • Rowan K / Sep 19 2015

          Hey Dave, I was riding with some others who also have advanced medical training but they had more than enough people to circulate through CPR and without adrenaline (epipens that they were asking for) there was nothing you could do other than get in the way (thats the way we were viewing it therefore didn’t stop). Don’t beat yourself up, they had enough people there to do what was necessary and if they needed it there were many doctors in the race who would have stopped to help. No need to feel bad, your offer was above and beyond what was expected, and you should feel good that you offered but were not needed!

    • Margaret / Sep 16 2015

      We talked to one of the organisers after the race, and he said the guy getting CPR made it and was conscious and talking! What a relief. The organisers had a defibrillator apprently, and they sent that up

  12. Simon Burge / Sep 15 2015

    What is it with the “Yeah, I’ll take it easy at the start” thing that never ever happens?

    From Lorne down the GOR and up Skene’s Creek went well but … A combination of quad cramps that first started about 70km in and the dregs of a cold left me disappointed with being about half an hour slower than last year, but a day or two later and now I’m happy again.

    You’re right about needing to slow down and take in the views! I’m glad I reminded myself of that this year. That view over to the left about a third of the way up Skene’s Creek is just breathtaking.

    Another great write-up, and thanks for the “G’day” when I was limping along in a world of pain. A kind word never goes astray!

    Francis St. Hmm. Something to look forward to next time I’m in Lorne!

    • Matt de Neef / Sep 15 2015

      No worries! I was desperately trying to hang on at that point! And yep, give Francis St a crack. It’s a doozy.

  13. Simon Wile / Sep 15 2015

    We must’ve been in the same bunch at the start and towards the end Matt, you finished 4 places/16 seconds ahead of me and your ride description pretty much mirrors my own experience of the day. I’m a bigger guy in a CG jersey.

    Couldn’t have asked for better conditions except for my own conditioning!

    So easy to get caught up in the pace and excitement and not sit up and look around. Great photos! keen for Donna Fondo soon!

    • Matt de Neef / Sep 15 2015

      Thanks Simon! It’s funny how you see the same people over and over throughout the day. They pass you, you pass them, rinse and repeat. Giro Della Donna should be great!

  14. Marcus / Sep 15 2015

    I too got sucked into riding too hard too early – 40kph down to skenes, but I had that “oh no” feeling in the first few hundred metres of the climb and could barely manage a tempo pace going up. After that, any time the road went upwards my legs turned jellylike – I dont remember seeing double digits on the final 10km climbing to the finish, even on the flats. Can’t recall ever being so empty.

    • Matt de Neef / Sep 15 2015

      Ha! I saw you whiz by on that first section – you were flying! I can certainly relate to that “jellylike” feeling too! 😉

      • Marcus / Sep 16 2015

        You should have yelled out – it would have given me a great reason to stop smashing legs and take it easy! Watch as I completely forget these words of advice at DD15…

  15. Cameron McDonald / Sep 15 2015

    Great review of the/your day Matt. I was a first-timer on Sunday and experienced a strong sense of accomplishment when I (eventually) rolled over the finish line. Ive been riding semi seriously now for about two years and it was certainly the toughest but most rewarding day I have spent on a bike. It was a pleasure to be able to ride on the those roads whilst closed and you really need to remind yourself every now and again as to that fact because you tend to get to caught up in racing/concentrating on the road ahead. The weather was great, albeit a bit of a shock to the system after a long, cold winter. Thank god for the aid stations. I really enjoyed the Skene’s Creek Rd climb and it was nice to have a bit of intel about it prior after reading your website. The final stretch from Deans Marsh to the finish at Beniwerren was mentally tough and with the stragglers I was with, it resembled a ‘march of the zombies’ scenario with everyone silently in their own little sufferfest. Kenn to tackle it again next year!

  16. jules / Sep 15 2015

    looks like a great ride, actually I’ve done most of it, just not at AGF. you’re dead right about the lack of top-end Matt, without specific training for that you can have all the general endurance you like but you’ll get spat out when a bunch accelerates.

    • Matt de Neef / Sep 15 2015

      Even though I knew I didn’t have that top end, I tried anyway, and ultimately paid for it! Ah well – it’s all good fun!

  17. Brendan Edwards / Sep 15 2015

    I thought you were renown as the Climbing Cyclist, not the getting dropped on a Climb Cyclist?

    Great write-up as usual & bravo on Francis. Has been on my wish list for ages.

    • Matt de Neef / Sep 15 2015

      Ha, well, I certainly don’t refer to myself as The Climbing Cyclist. 😉 But yes, I certainly got dropped plenty of times on Sunday, almost always when the road was tilted upwards. Luckily I’ve got the spring and summer to work on that!

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