Arthurs Seat return: mostly flat with a dash of climbing

Route: Thornbury to Arthurs Seat, return
Distance: 188km
Duration: 6 hours 43 minutes

Heading home along The Esplanade.
Riding along The Esplanade in Mt. Martha was one of the highlights of the day.

Whenever I ride with the eQuipo tranQuilo boys, I’m reasonably confident of holding my own in the hills. Sure, I mightn’t finish every climb first, but I’m usually able to finish in the top few. But when the road is flat I seem to find things rather more difficult. On several occasions I’ve been out riding with Fletch, Dougie and/or the Donvale Demon and found myself falling off the back of the bunch, unable to match and maintain the pace of the other guys.

And so it was with some trepidation that I approached Saturday’s ride down to Arthurs Seat and back — a nearly 190km ride, most of it pancake-flat. Part of me expected (and was hoping!) our six-strong group — me, Fletch, Dougie, the Demon, Marcus and his mate Chris — to take it nice and easy on the way down and smash it out on the way back, assuming we had anything left in the tank.

Of course, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Marcus (foreground) and Dougie (background) riding The Esplanade toward Safety Beach.
Marcus (foreground) and Dougie (background) riding The Esplanade toward Safety Beach.

Keen to show us that he hadn’t just improved markedly in the hills, the Demon spent most of the first 40km at the front of the group, driving hard. There were certainly times when I thought to myself ‘I’m not going to make it home at this rate’, and I know Marcus was feeling the same. Even with 120km left to ride, Dougie, Fletch, Chris and the Demon had a dip at the Mordialloc sprint, with Marcus and I sitting on 50km/h some distance behind just to try and make up the gap.

From Mordialloc we pushed on to Frankston and into the short but steep climb up Olivers Hill. I was keen to set a new PB on the climb and despite running out of gas halfway up, I managed to do just that — 1 minute 59 seconds. After regrouping we ploughed through the rolling hills of Mt. Eliza and headed to Mornington.

Taking a right turn on Bentons Road he headed for The Esplanade — a beautifully undulating coastal road that winds through Mt. Martha and drops you out at Safety Beach. Riding this section of road (in both directions) was one of the definite highlights of the day for me.

The Demon spent many of the ride's early kilometres on the front of the bunch.
The Demon rolls along the Esplanade.

At Safety Beach we got our first real taste of the strong winds that had been forecast for the day. With a stiff breeze blowing southwesterly off the bay the line closest to the curb became prime real estate. At the back of the bunch I tried to tuck in behind and to the left of Marcus. Given he was right up against the curb, I had no choice but to get acquainted with the breeze smacking me in the side of the face.

Through Dromana we rolled, the lone peak of Arthurs Seat looming large ahead of us. I was undecided: should I attempt a new PB on the climb and risk sapping myself of any energy for the ride home? Or should I take it easy and miss an opportunity to test the legs and get some good training in? I didn’t really decide until we were a couple hundred metres into the climb. I looked around and realised I had opened up a bit of a gap on the others and so my mission became a simple one: finish the climb first.

At every turn I expected the Donvale Demon to roll past me, spinning at the super-high cadence he’s recently adopted. But at every corner the road behind me was clear, and so I carried on alone. I wouldn’t say I gave it a maximum effort, but it wasn’t far off — it was certainly hurting, that’s for sure.

The view from one of Arthurs Seat's many hairpin bends.
The view from one of Arthurs Seat’s many hairpin bends.

The writing on the road — left over from last year’s Jayco Herald Sun Tour* — provided some inspiration and when I saw the words ‘Last Corner’ written on the road, I knew I didn’t have far to go. I kept pushing all the way to the tower at which point I looped back around and started descending. I was keen to ride back up with whoever happened to be last on the road, knowing I would appreciate some company if I was the slowest on the day. On Saturday it was Marcus who, through a long bout of illness, has lost much of the form that saw him take a podium spot in a C-grade race earlier in the Northern Combine season.

When we met at the top I told the Demon I’d expected to see him go first up the hill at which point he said he’d dropped a bidon just before the start line and had started the climb a little while after us. A look at Strava times later that evening showed the Demon had climbed Arthurs Seat in about 12 minutes 40 seconds — a PB by roughly 2 minutes. Despite starting the climb without any real intention of setting a new PB, I managed to shave more than a minute off my previous best, set in early December last year.

The Donvale Demon decends Arthurs Seat.
The Donvale Demon decends Arthurs Seat.

After regrouping at the top we all rolled down to Dromana for an extended break and, thankfully, some food. The prize for the least-healthy-looking lunch went to Dougie for the huge, cream-filled monstrosity (see photo below) he somehow managed to eat … and keep down on the way home.

After eating our fill (and possibly more) we rolled back through Safety Beach, on to the Esplanade once more and back out toward Mornington. As we headed toward Melbourne we all took turns at the front of the bunch, keeping up a reasonable tempo as we went. There certainly wasn’t the same degree of urgency on the way back as there had been in those opening kilometres to Mordialloc, but we were still moving along at a reasonable clip.

Back through Mt. Eliza we rolled, back down Olivers Hill and back through Frankston. Given we were heading north east and north between Mt. Martha and Frankston we weren’t copping the full force of the strong westerly. But when we got to Mordialloc and started heading northwest, the wind became a considerable factor. It was a hard slog out front in the wind, and full credit to Dougie, Fletch and Chris who did the bulk of the work. At times the bunch was only moving along in the mid-20s and working into the wind was less than pleasant.

'This is what you get to eat after riding 100km' -- Dougie
‘This is what you get to eat after riding 100km’ — Dougie, with Fletch in the background

But we pushed on and South Melbourne got closer and closer. Chris was looking super-strong on the front and on a number of occasions he drove so hard into the wind that he left the rest of us several hundred metres behind. He didn’t seem to realise though, as he was still signalling dangers to non-existent riders behind him.

We caught him eventually and pushed through together to St. Kilda, at which point things got rather gnarly. The wind whipped right up, the rain started to come down, and for several frustrating kilometres back to South Melbourne, we were getting buffetted by wind, rain and sand all at once. It certainly wasn’t the ideal way to end the ride.

Heading toward Safety Beach and the bay.
Heading toward Safety Beach and the bay.

By every other measure though, it was a terrific hit-out. With Amy’s Gran Fondo just a week a way it was good to get some of the team together and riding together in similar conditions. With any luck we won’t have the blustery conditions we had on Saturday but even then, riding the Great Ocean Road, with no cars, is bound to be a blast. It was also good to get in a nice, long flat ride too, in preparation for Bicycle Network’s Around the Bay in a Day in a month’s time. I got home after 188km feeling like I could easily have gone another 20km.

It was heartening as well to see that I’m climbing faster now than I was nine months ago. That puts me in great stead for 3 Peaks in March next year and is satisfying on its own as well. And finally, it was heartening to see that I was able to hold my own on a long, flat ride, without feeling like I was going to be dropped and/or hold up the group. Sure, those initial kilometres were fast and furious, but I managed to hold on. With a bit more training, I should be able to get closer to being a more balanced cyclist.

Thanks to the eQuipo tranQuilo lads for a great hit-out and thanks to you for reading. If you haven’t already, come and join the Climbing Cyclist Facebook page or follow us on Twitter. If you want to follow me (Matt) on Strava you can do that too. And if you haven’t already signed up for the free email newsletter — which you’ll receive whenever anything new goes up — you can do so by clicking here.

Until next time, stay safe on the roads.

*The winner of the Sun Tour stage that finished atop Arthurs Seat, Igor Silin, apparently completed the climb in around 7 minutes 30 seconds. Scary.

5 Replies to “Arthurs Seat return: mostly flat with a dash of climbing”

  1. Igor Silin did it in 6.57sec – ive recorded the stage (last acent, when Silin dropped everyone) and timed it several times to make sure it was correct. Measured it from the entrance gates until the actual finish line of the stage.

  2. Rode this last Sunday, it is a fantastic ride and if you want some extra climbing Two Bays is a good way to go on the way back, Or Arthurs repeats!

  3. Just a heads-up for anyone going down that way – I did this yesterday (Tuesday 11 Sep) with a pal and part of the Esplanade around Mount Martha-ish has collapsed; there’s a detour set up which directs you up and over Bradford and Hearn roads and round Mt Martha park instead. (We managed to sneak through in the morning on the way down but the road crew were there after lunch and had set up proper fencing.) Should add another 300m of ‘vert’ to your day.

  4. Nice post Matt, see you at Amy’s Gran Fondo this weekend. I’ll be riding with the Baum boy’s.
    Hopefully we’ll get favourable weather conditions…

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