Last weekend hundreds of cyclists descended on the alpine town of Bright for one of Victoria’s most popular and most prestigious amateur bike races — the Tour of Bright. While most of the attention was focused on men’s and women’s A grade, there’s far more to the Tour of Bright than the pointy end of the top grades.
In this guest post Josh Goodall documents the lead-up to his first Tour of Bright and how the weekend eventually unfolded.
It seems like an age since the hammer dropped. It’s warm, it’s humid. My legs are on fire, my lungs are raw. The mountain goats on the front hardly seem to be breaking a sweat, but around me, one by one, people are cracking, dropping wheels, losing contact.
I’m still with the bunch but starting to feel light-headed. I think I’m going to be sick. And we’re only halfway round and halfway up the first climb of the first stage of the 2012 Tour of Bright. But, it’s all happening exactly according to plan.
Rewind. How did I get here?
David Heatley, head coach at Cycling-Inform put the idea in my head in late 2011. In conversation he’d innocently suggested ‘why don’t you enter the Tour of Bright?’ At the time I thought he was joking, and perhaps he was: I was 108kg at the time; way too heavy. Or perhaps David was talking to someone else and I misheard.
But it was too late — the seed was planted and it sprouted and grew, and in early 2012 I decided it was going to happen.
The Tour of Bright is a popular event and it was clear there’d be a sprint just to enter. In theory entries open at noon three months in advance, but Cycling Victoria’s website isn’t the most reliable so I was checking it regularly.
At 11:57am precisely the bip-bip of an SMS alerted me. I was ready to go and within seconds I was signed up for men’s C grade. And then I started to panic – what had I done?
I gave David a call, since this was all his fault, and got him on board as my coach. We had 12 weeks to get me into shape – if not to do well, then at least to finish with a general classification time that wasn’t a total embarrassment. I hired a PowerTap training wheel and commissioned one to keep while David wrote my training program.
Stage 1: The Gaps Loop
Flash forward, back to the race. I glance at my Garmin and do a quick calculation: if I can keep this up for two more minutes we’ll be done. My strategy for stage 1 was simple: get over Rosewhite Gap with the bunch, then try to stick with them to the Tawonga feed zone, after which we’re just uphill to the finish.
Today is warm and muggy. It’s 30°C and scattered showers in the area are making for uncomfortable conditions. It’s hard to stay hydrated when the bunch is surging hard every few minutes, and I heard about a crash early on so I’ve spent the past hour just trying to stay out of trouble near the front.
We’d shot out of Bright at a high clip – if I was expecting a neutral start, we didn’t get one. From the gun it was 40km/h and the speedo touched 50km/h before we were out of town. Lots of surges, lots of jostling for position. ‘If you’re not going forward, you’re going backwards’, as David says.
I think some of these guys have been racing too many crits – they’re all elbows and shouting. Still, among the bunch I’ve identified enough riders that seem to know what they’re doing. The Canberra Vikings and the Saint Cloud guys seem to be working well and I try to stick near them as much as possible. But I definitely haven’t had enough to drink.
I tell my lungs to keep it up. I keep the legs turning; the burn feels hard and heavy. If I give them a moment’s pause I know the lactate balance will implode and they’ll never restart. My heart rate ramps up, deep into the red zone. But two minutes later, merciful Zeus! – we are over Rosewhite Gap and I am still with the bunch.
I’ve put in the biggest 10 minute effort of my life. I know I’ll pay later but right now I also know that all the pre-dawn training rides and obsessive calorie counting have been worth it. It’s one of the best moments I’ve had on the bike, but there is no time to enjoy it – we’re descending and I have to keep up!
Coming down Rosewhite was … interesting. There are some people who clearly need to practise their lines. Nonetheless I make it safely to the right-hander and the undulations towards Tawonga.
Lots of attacks and surges come after but I hold on, each time telling myself ‘if I’m hurting, everyone else is hurting too, they’ll back off soon, just keep going!’ Still, by the time we reach the feed zone I’m dehydrated and cramping. I slow right up to grab water bottles, sculling most of one on the spot to wash down a gel. I lose contact with the main group but it doesn’t matter now: we’re at the base of the final climb.
I don’t have much left in the tank but somehow I scrape in a personal best effort climbing Tawonga Gap. I’m surprised how many riders I pass on the way up. But it’s even warmer than it had been earlier, I’m feeling horribly nauseous and I can’t eat anything more.
But the legs keep turning until the hilltop finish looms and oh my word, my lovely wife is there shouting me home delightedly. I have completed stage 1 of the Tour of Bright in 2 hours 55 minutes, 5 minutes faster than I expected. I sit down, utterly smashed, shotgun my recovery musette and don’t get up for 10 minutes.
I am 59th on the general classification.
The Strava file for Josh’s ride in stage 1 can be found here.
Stage 2: Individual time trial
It’s later in the same day and I’m warming up for the individual time trial, using David Heatley’s tent, his Kurt Kinetic trainer and a time trial bike borrowed from a very kind friend. David asks, concerned, ‘Have you had enough hydration?’ It’s still warm and the sweat is beading out all over me, and my answer of ‘it’s … adequate’ sounds hollow. And so it proves.
I arrive at the start line with legs primed, and the friendly and efficient commissaires slot me neatly into the launch sequence and hold my saddle. The Tour of Bright’s ITT is done pro style, with a ramp and a digital countdown. The adrenaline rises rapidly as you come up to the line; it’s like being on stage and suddenly the spotlight is on you! 3 … 2 … 1, a whispered ‘good luck’ from my launch controller and I’m off, my heart rate rising rapidly, settling into the gear and my, er, interpretation of an aero position.
This is the first opportunity in hours I’ve had to check in with myself. All the bustle of recovering from stage 1, prepping equipment, warming up and the start means I’ve hardly had a moment’s pause. But now, suddenly, I’m on the road, all alone with just my thoughts and my legs for company. And this is the point where all the stress and fatigue from the morning comes rushing in and I realise my recovery has been underdone.
The first hill rises up. I shift gears in the wrong direction and have to change back in a hurry. This is the trouble with being a time trial newbie: you screw up on the simple mechanical stuff. I’m looking down at my power numbers, and they’re okay but below what I’m capable of. And that’s the story of the first half of the TT: my power seems off.
I know, I’m just knackered from stage 1, but I’m under threshold when I want to be slightly above. Up one of the hills I’m passed by a very small, very light person. I decide I shall have my revenge on the way back.
I do the turnaround really badly. Actually, that’s a lie. I do it slowly to rest my legs. I’m only cheating myself, and I know it. I take more than a minute to ramp back up, but going back I’m really flying. I get in a good flat-back tuck, I start to feel more of a rhythm happening, and I get my revenge and pass Mr Mountain Goat. Phew!
But with only a few kilometres remaining I feel a familiar and unwelcome twinge in my hamstrings. It’s still warm, and I’ve lost even more sweat in the past half hour; my hamstrings are on the brink of cramping.
I do something I’d hoped to avoid and ease up to take a drink and shake out the legs, losing many seconds in the process. Eventually — it seems like an aeon — the cramps pass and the 1km sign looms. I turn the cranks harder; it’s time to dump all the remaining energy out, and I cross the line knowing there was nothing left … at least not today!
My time? 25 minutes 30.40 seconds — half a minute faster than my goal. My average power is definitely down but I’ve still gone 2.5 minutes faster than on my reconnaissance effort from 4 weeks ago.
All that and my GC position remains unchanged — still 59th!
I’ve learned my lesson. I limp back to the rental unit where my wife plies me with food and fluid and this time I try to get it all down. Tomorrow we are climbing Mt. Hotham.
The Strava file for Josh’s ride in stage 2 can be found here.
Stage 3: Mt. Hotham
Mt Hotham is my favourite climb of them all. I have ridden it many times and never failed to enjoy the sense of achievement and the stunning views at the crest of the summit road. When my hair turns white and I’m finally gone, please scatter my ashes up there. Although preferably with a view along the Razorback to Feathertop, not towards the water treatment plant, thanks.
Today, on the start line, I am less apprehensive than before. I know, now, that I can keep with this bunch. I had a good sleep and the right breakfast and the weather is mild. During the briefing I eye up the bunch, pick out the best people to roll turns with. The start is gentle this time, fast later.
Again there are many attacks and surges but I have no trouble holding on until Harrietville. This is where the real contenders attack, and the rest of us go into Gran Fondo mode; here now for the sport but not the win.
I settle in to climb with a friendly group and work with them … at least I do until the Meg where they drop back and I’m on my own for a while. I’m hoping the main bunch of Masters 4/5 will catch me, for a free ride through the false-flat, but that only happens near the water zone at the Buckland Gate after which it doesn’t matter anymore.
Even CRB Hill and the Diamantina and the summit road seem easy today. I get chatting to fellow travellers and I’m just enjoying the sunshine and loving the pace and the work all the way to the top.
The first time I climbed Mt Hotham my time was 3 hours 30 minutes. Today I am 25kg lighter, much, much stronger and I’ve set a new personal best: 1 hour 48 minutes. No, not stellar by Tour of Bright standards, but my GC position slips by only one notch.
Today even the descent of Hotham is a treat; a joy. Traffic is light and I’m descending my favourite mountain on a fast, stiff bike in sunny weather. It’s my final reward for three months of hard training and massive weight loss.
The Strava file for Josh’s ride in stage 3 can be found here.
My final result? Out of 92 starters in men’s C grade at the 2012 Tour of Bright, I finish 60th. For some, that would be a catastrophe. Not for me. My first road race was only a few months ago. This feels like a triumph.
Would I race it again? You bet. The Alpine Cycling Club puts on a terrific event and I’m not surprised the Tour of Bright sells out instantly. Yet it still has an intimate, club-racing feel; it just happens to be hard-fought and run on some of the most majestic roads in the state.
Next year, due to the oversubscription, there’ll be more structured entry conditions that really just cement its position as our top amateur race; a grand tour for the rest of us.
Have you got a climbing-related cycling story you’d like to share? Maybe you just rode your first mountain on the weekend? Or maybe you’re on holidays in the French Alps, climbing every col in sight. Either way, we’re keen to hear from you. Please get in touch with Matt via email.