Thursday, September 22, 2011

Genovese Kinglake Swim (oops, I mean "Ride")

I guess the title of this post tells you that Sunday 11 September was anything but a lovely day's riding in the beautiful countryside. Which is a shame as this ride should be exactly that! A few thousand people enter this event, billed as a "Spring Classic" expecting to be treated to a great day out. Unfortunately, this year, the "Spring Classic" proved true to its European origins and Belgian-style weather prevailed and only the Flahutes survived.

To borrow a description of the interwebs, "Flahute racers focus on such classics as the Ronde Van Vlaanderen and Paris-Roubaix, those tough northern classics filled with some of the worst roads and weather imaginable in bike racing. The only thing tougher than the races themselves are the guys that win them. They are the real Flahutes." Yep, they'd have enjoyed this day!

Dave Weeks and I were the only hard-men of our riding crew to venture out to Whittlesea for this event. But about 15k from the start we found ourselves in the middle of the biggest traffic jam you could possibly imagine. Not your average "leave it till the last minute to get there" jam. No, this pickle was caused by some stunning roadworks which had reduced the road to a single lane of the each-direction-take-turns kind. So what had looked like a nicely timed drive to the start became a slow-motion crawl which saw us arrive long after the start. By the time I completed my regulation pre-event bowel evac we didn't get underway until 50 minutes beyond the appointed start.

By this time it had started to rain, really rain, and it took us about 7k just to catch the sag wagon. At least now we were in the event proper and would have the psychological advantage of passing slower riders as we picked our way through the field. And there was a steady procession of them as we wound our way through the fantastic towns of Arthurs Creek, Cottles Bridge and St Andrews. A local had even painted a large yellow "Cadel's Hill" just out of Arthurs Creek (where his mum lives).

By the time we reached the start of the Kinglake climb it was starting to pour down, but this is the highlight of the event and I was riding well so I wanted to really test out my legs. At the base of the 7k climb I upped the pace to a level not far off my maximum. It felt great to pass so many people; though in reality, they were just out having fun like us. This was one of only two times in my life where I'd describe conditions as riding "against the tide" - so large were the torrents of water cascading down the hill in front of us. The sunglasses came off and were tucked in the pocket for now.

About 3k into the climb Dave came rolling past me for a turn at the front. At that point I was just starting to feel the effects of going out (too) hard and with 4k to go it seemed a very long way. I had also somehow managed to convince myself that I had dropped Dave earlier on in the climb so to see him again looking strong was a double blow. I quickly lost my momentum and with it about 20m. About half a kilometre later I recuperated enough to claw back onto Dave's wheel and just sat there.

Every time I have ridden the Kinglake climb I have travelled well on the less steep part but suffered when it kicked up for the last 2-3k. In November last year when Weeks, Wilko and I were riding here I was right with them until this part when I lost contact. Doh! I feared it was about to happen again ... and was pleasantly surprised when it didn't. With less than 2k to go I went back to the front to try to set the pace again, hoping I could discourage any last minute attacks. Of course, all this was going on only in my head and Dave just sat there content to ride to the top!

The weather was particularly ugly up here and visibility was poor. But from memory we knew there was a small coffee shop to which we quickly retired. It was somewhere here that the flahute in us said goodbye and the middle-aged bloke checked in. With very little discussion - and no debate or disagreement - we decided to take the shorter ride route back into Whittlesea; cutting out 50k from the distance. After all, we'd already proved we were tough (hadn't we?) so no need to underline the point!

Of course, once we made our way back onto the road, my teeth chattering loudly from the shivering cold, we began the rise towards Kinglake West and it started to hail. Ok, we got the message, we were pussies, but we had plenty of mates up there. We blasted along the road here and it wasn't long before we were making the descent into Whittlesea.

In the dry, like last year, this is a 70kph blast. Heaps of fun on a wide road with gentle bends. On this day it was a 60kph hold on for dear life as the wind and rain buffeted you. I've done scarier things on a bike, but not many, and was glad when the road levelled out and we had only flat ground to ride.

Rounding the corner into the finish I felt proud of what we had done but a little hollow. Strangely enough the sun was out now (though the big black clouds were clearly visible on the hills) and it was hard to imagine that conditions had been so bad a short while previous. An extra 50k would have been nice; but 70k was good nonetheless.

Just need some extra distance in the legs prior to Around the Bay in a month!

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