Route: Eltham to Geelong via Altona and Werribee (including World Championship circuit)
Duration: 4 hours 53 minutes
According to every cycling manual and advice column I’ve read, I would be crazy to do any more training between now and next Sunday. This last week should be used for ‘tapering’, to give my body a chance to recover from my most recent training effort and to prepare for the onslaught that next weekend’s 3 Peaks Challenge will deliver. In that sense, there’s not much more I can do. Apart, of course, from eating lots of pasta this week and not feeling the slightest bit of guilt.
A friend of Sharon’s and mine recently opened a restaurant in Geelong and for some weeks we’d been meaning to go down and check it out. We decided that yesterday evening would be the perfect opportunity for such a trip and with Sharon working until lunch time it gave me the perfect opportunity to get in a long one-way ride.
Riding from Melbourne to Geelong is one of those things that I’ve always wanted to do but I’ve always been put off by the fact that in order to do so you need to be willing to do a fair few sidesteps along the way. For those that aren’t aware of the regulations or for those that live outside of Melbourne, you can’t cycle on the West Gate Freeway and the bridge of the same name – the initial stretch out of Melbourne. Instead you have to take a bit of a complicated route through West Melbourne that requires a little bit of planning. With the requisite amount of planning complete, I was ready to tackle the Melbourne-Geelong ride and meet Sharon for a hopefully-lovely dinner.
I set off from Eltham at around 10.30am and took my usual Eltham-city route out along Lower Plenty Road, Rosanna Road and Heidelberg Road until I reached Alexandra Parade. I rode across the top of Melbourne Uni and out past the zoo toward the Princes Highway. When we were younger our family often took this route to get to Geelong so I was familiar with the roads thus far but the next section was far less familiar.
After following the Princes Highway for several kilometres I turned onto Millers Road in Brooklyn – who knew there was a Brooklyn in Melbourne! – and rode south toward Altona. Without wanting to incite any East vs. West violence, I’ve always found Melbourne’s east to be the more picturesque and hospitable end of town. To be fair, I did grow up in the East and my exposure to the West has been quite limited, but I don’t seem to remember too many refineries in the neighbourhoods of my childhood.
Just before hitting the ‘beach’ at Altona I took a right onto Queen Street and followed that out to Seabrook (I had never heard of Seabrook before this ride either) and then turned left onto Point Cook Road. For those that aren’t familiar with this part of town, imagine miles and miles of housing estates in various stages of completion and you’re most of the way there.
At Sneydes Road I took a right and followed that over the freeway into Werribee, a part of town that I’m more familiar (though not necessarily all that endeared) with thanks to a couple of appearances at Around the Bay in Day. The Princes Freeway from Werribee to Geelong is fair game for cyclists so I headed in that direction and joined the main road. I’ve ridden on the Princes Freeway a couple of times before and on both occasions I had a delicious tailwind that made 40km/h feel as easy as 20km/h. While I didn’t enjoy such a tailwind yesterday, I was still able to sit above 30km/h without too much trouble and apart from the constant traffic noise and the fact that the Melbourne-Geelong road is flat, straight and boring, it was a nice quick run toward Corio Bay.
Before heading off on the ride I had been reminded by a couple of people that it was the weekend of the Avalon Airshow and that there was likely to be plenty of traffic on the way down. Luckily I was riding past in the middle of the day so the crowds had already filed in and the most obstruction I had to deal with was the constant noise from impressive-looking aircraft dipping, flipping and barreling above me. In fact, it was actually quite a nice way to break up the monotony of that long, straight road and I enjoyed what little of the show that I got to see from the emergency stopping lane.
Several hours after leaving home I reached the start of the Geelong Bypass where I veered left, taking the old road into town. My Oma lives in Corio, one of Geelong’s northern suburbs, so this section of the ride was also very familiar and in no time I was turning left onto Bell Parade and heading toward Western Beach and Cunningham Pier. After the drudgery of housing estates and freeways the sight of boats moored on Corio Bay was a godsend. The sun was shining, the water looked beautifully inviting and I generally felt good.
I rolled onto the grass at the entrance to Cunningham Pier and gave Sharon a call – she was just leaving Melbourne and was about an hour away. With that in mind I got back on the bike and headed toward Moorabool Street – time to check out the course that hosted the 2010 UCI World Championships course late last year. If you want a great description of the course check out Robbie McEwen’s preview on YouTube but here are some thoughts of my own:
- The Challambra Crescent climb is brutal! It’s not overly long but at around 20% that final section is more than challenging with 100km+ in the legs.
- The Queens Park Road/Aphrasia Street climb is also brutal! This climb isn’t as steep as Challambra Crescent but it still packs a punch. I was pretty happy when the road flattened out.
- The riverside sections are quite gorgeous. Not that the riders would have had a chance to spend much time looking at the river on the day!
- It would have been far better to ride the course without lots of traffic. For one thing, there are a couple of right-hand turns that are quite nasty with plenty of cars around.
In the end I think I did the course in about 40 minutes or so, taking it quite easy. I would be interested to see how quickly I could do it if I was going full bore and without traffic lights, but I suspect I wouldn’t be troubling the pro riders too much who were, if memory serves, completing laps in around 23 minutes.
After returning to Cunningham Pier and the end of the course I tossed around the idea of going around again. In hindsight it probably would have been worthwhile taking on a second lap, training-wise, but with Sharon set to arrive shortly I instead opted for a ridiculously-priced muffin and Powerade combo which ended up costing me $9. After a while Sharon arrived and after stowing the bike and getting changed we headed out to a much-awaited dinner.
So, after 21 episodes and many months of training it’s time to rest up and wait until next Sunday. I failed in my mission to ride at least 150km on one occasion but on the plus side I did manage to notch up 100km+ on 7 occasions since coming back from New Zealand – 4 more than I had been aiming for. By this time next week we’ll know whether the training I’ve done is enough or whether I really needed to do a bit more.
With any luck, the next time we speak I will have made amends for last year’s failed attempt and dragged my sorry arse around 235km of Victoria’s greatest cycling territory. The more I think about it, the more I realise that the training I’ve done will only prepare me half of the battle – the physical part. I’m confident that I’ll be able to get to Dinner Plain without too many hassles and I’m fairly certain I’ll be able to get to the start of the Back of Falls climb (the aptly-named WTF Corner) as well. By that point I think the battle will well and truly have become a mental one. Whether or not I finish the ride will depend on my state of mind – if I can put the pain and suffering to one side I’ll make it. If I’m mentally weak by that point, it could be curtains.
As I mentioned last time, it’s not that I won’t be giving it everything I’ve got – I haven’t come this far to fail – it’s just that I’m a realist about how hard it’s going to be. As corny as it sounds, it’s in those tough moments that I’ll be drawing on the words of support and encouragement that all of you have given me in the last few months. It means a lot that you have read and enjoyed my aimless ramblings and I’ll be giving it my all to be able to say ‘I did it!’ this time next week.
Wish me luck!
6 days to go.