Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Big Lap - Around the Bay in a Day

Here in Melbourne it is probably the ultimate citizen cycling event. Not the hardest; but certainly the one most people ask if you have done. It is the Around the Bay in a Day ride organised by Bicycle Victoria and run each October since 1993. I think this is the seventh (?) time I have taken part.

This year a group of six of us rode together - more or less - for much of the journey. Dave Wilkinson, backing up from his marathon debut last Sunday, had soft legs. Dave Weeks, backing up from a boys weekend, was just feeling a bit soft! Andrew Matthews was in his first Around the Bay; Bill Wood looked strong as always and Dave's brother Peter Wilkinson not only looked strong, but rode that way too.

Heading off from South Melbourne at 6am in the morning we headed to West Gate Bridge and the first "climb" of the day. It is pretty gentle and the views are great - especially at first light and with a full moon. The next 10k or so is a bit of a parade as we take off-ramps then on-ramps back and forth on the freeway then a large detour through the suburban (stinky) petro-chemical heart of Melbourne in the inner west. Thankfully the course this year - changed once again - returned us to the freeway at Altona rather than having to endure the back blocks through Point Cook like in recent years. This was a welcome improvement, though the rising westerly wind was not!

A touch over 30k into the ride and we headed through Werribee still in search of a perfect bunch going at the right speed. The occasional "too fast" group had gone past us, and we had passed plenty of slower riders. But it was like Goldilocks, and alas "just right" was nowhere to be found.

We rejoined the freeway and eventually settled behind a small group doing a comfortable 28-30kph for the next 15k into our rest stop at Point Wilson after 50k. The wind was noticeable but was not yet super strong; and so far we hadn't encountered any real rain showers.

After our quick "comfort stop" it was back onto the road where, only 8k down the road, Dave Weeks suffered his now customary ATBIAD puncture. About 60k earlier than last year, but just as frustrating for him nonetheless. (As an aside, I cannot recall Dave having any punctures in all the years we've ridden except for on this ride. He must save them up!)

Back on the road and in less than 10k we were on the North Shore just outside Geelong; and only 5k further along we entered Geelong proper and started to feel the breeze over our shoulder and backs. This was welcome relief as the wind had now picked up strength. It would be behind us, more or less, for the 30k run into Queenscliff and the ferry.

As we did last year, we hit some rain showers near Geelong. Not as heavy or as long as last time, but enough to make it a bit unpleasant. It was during one of these showers, as some of our crew were putting on rain jackets, that Peter Wilkinson and I slipped away off the front. Not a planned move, but before we knew it we were belting along with clear road in front and behind.

After climbing the Leopold hill then racing the next 4k at about 40kph I decided enough was enough and let Peter go. Unfortunately for him, 2k down the road he dropped his chain at the bottom of the next hill and I went past again. Fully expecting him to be back on very quickly I joined in a small group with three others for a couple of k's. Not sure where Peter was - but subsequently learning he was just making the juncture with our group - I attacked off the front so I could ride with a clear view of this narrow road.

It was not far to Queenscliff and I put the hammer down, riding at 38kph for the 11k into town. At one time, sensing another rider behind me, I gave the flick of the elbow to call him through, but was disappointed when I was left "out to dry" and still on the front :-(  I'm not sure I believe Peter when he says he couldn't come through!!

We made it into Queenscliff after 106.5k at just after 10am and in time to catch the 11am ferry!! The rest of the crew were with us shortly thereafter and we ate lunch while waiting to get on the boat. A few were starting to look a bit tired.

At midday, almost two hours after arriving at Queenscliff, we were finally on our way from Sorrento. The going was quite good as we continued to pick up what was now a pretty strong cross-tailwind. Within 5k or so we had picked up a bunch (led by some NAB bankers) and they set a good pace as we cruised easily through Blairgowrie, Rye, Rosebud and Dromana.

At this point you turn away from the beach and after a short trek inland arrive at the base of the only significant hill on the return leg; a climb up Balcombe Hill. It's 2.2km long at an average gradient of only 4% but is steeper (averaging near 6%) for a kilometre at the top after you have crossed over the freeway. So the key here is to ride steadily to begin with before putting in any big efforts. I was still feeling good here and with the tailwind thought it was an opportunity to test my legs. (The data from the Garmin tells me I climbed this hill at 20kph so in retrospect it was no surprise that most of my mates were a few seconds behind at the top.) A roaring descent later and it was on to the rolling hills through Mornington and Mt Eliza.

It was on another one of these small rises beside a vineyard that I once again slipped off the front of our group and so found myself riding the next 8k into our designated rest stop at Frankston on my own. With 160k or so now in the saddle I think most of use were feeling tired and the sausage in bread that Andrew bought us had never tasted better (thanks mate!) The wind would now be on our side and getting progressively in our faces so we knew this last 50k would be a challenge.

Dave Wilko and Peter had ridden by at Frankston and made their own pace home (pretty similar to ours as it turned out) - which is to say "not fast." Through to Mordi we once again found ourselves behind the NAB guys and with the buffeting crosswinds the group started to get a bit ragged. I certainly found it about all I could do just to keep in with them, knowing that to drop off would make it so much harder.

After Mordi we were well and truly on "home turf" but unlike last year where we really pushed it along here, this time the pace was rather gentle. Our "Mordi to South Rd" stretch, covered on our Saturday morning rides at 30-35kph, went by at just 25kph. It was a bit sorry, really. I was chugging down PowerBar Energy Blasts like there was no tomorrow (unfortunately they seemed to be having no effect whatsoever). Stopping at traffic lights - and these were now more frequent - was a real pain; the effort of reducing speed then having to gather it again taking a toll.

At St Kilda, with 200k covered a guy at the front of our group managed to do a full somersault. Not sure how, but I suspect wind and fatigue played a big part. When we turned right off the Beach Rd at South Melbourne to head into the finish it was sweet relief - finally the tailwind was back! But the traffic lights were now in oversupply so the final few k's weren't really any easier.

At a quarter to four in the afternoon - later than ever - we arrived at the finish line. Phew! This had certainly been one of the toughest AtB rides I'd done. Kudos to Dave Wilko who completed the course - and the double - a week after his marathon. Amazing stuff.

Now, what next ....

Ride Details
Melbourne-Queenscliff: 106.58km in 3:35.50h @ 29.6kph
Sorrento-Melbourne: 96.98km in 3:22.49h @ 28.7kph
Total: 203.56km in 6:58.39h @ 29.1kph



Photo Gallery


  1. Wow, 203.56KM and you are still smiling! Awesome!

  2. Another great post and great photos of a Big Day Out :)

  3. 29kph average is pretty damned good considering the pesky headwinds. I think the most I've ever ridden in a day is about 110k and that was 40 years ago!


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