Back in March, Marcus teased us with his tale of marathon racing in OZ. While over on the sane side of the planet, 24-hour and other marathon-format races are done in teams with each rider taking turns (RAAM being the exception to this), the crazies on the upside-down end of the world join in large packs and ride across the desert ensamble, apparently.
No small wonder, then, that Australia has the reputation it does for being imbalanced, if in a harmless and strangely amusing way. I half expected a Bowie knife and a Crocodile to play a part in this tale. Be that as it may, I present you the long-overdue tale of the Toro squad's Murray to Moyne 2011 adventure.
Yours in cycling,
Back at the end of March, you may recall a preview I put together of a little 527km in24 hours bike ride. In that preview, you may well have detected a hint of jollity, nay over-confidence, in the tone of my writing. After all, we had done this thing before, hadn't we? This time there was less pressure to finish (we already knew we could do it) and less fear of the unknown. We were just going to have a fun weekend with a few beers and a decent amount of riding. Right?
Well, Merckx must have read my article and decided it contained more than a hint of hubris. And, as the Classics scholars amongst the Velominati (of which there are surely many) will know, Greek tragedy dictates that where hubris appears, nemesis must follow.
So on April Fools Day, we headed up to Echuca on the border of New South Wales and Victoria. Oh, how we were full of good spirits, confidence and bonhomie!
We followed our time-honored tradition of mid-afternoon beers (no more than 3 at this juncture) at the Heathcote Pub and then arrived in Echuca just on 5pm. There was a bit of panic when it looked like our new custom kits weren't at the abattoir like we expected. Don't ask why our kit was to be collected from an ab' €“ needless to say we were a little wary at the prospect of a busload of shaven-legged cyclists rolling up to a meatworks to collect fancy lycra gear.
Luckily there was no one at the ab when we arrived. After some panic and more than a few phone calls, we ended up collecting the gear from the post office and hit an Echuca pub for dinner. Old School cylists' steaks and chicken parmigianas washed down with a few reds for us. Yes, new rule in the making – Carbo Loading Is For Pussies.
Saturday morning we wake to beautiful blue skies. As we knocked off our bacon and eggs (keeping it Old School once again) on the banks of the Murray River, we felt the merest hint of a zephyr coming from the South€¦
We arrive at the start and notice this little breeze again, but nothing too bad. Or so we thought. The ride begins. At 9:52am, with our destination 527kms away, we took off at an easy pace. Our team of 15 was primed and ready to go. As we left the relative protection of the township a sudden thought hit everyone simultaneously,
€œWHERE THE FUCK DID THAT CROSSWIND COME FROM?€
At this time, those of us who had done this ride a few times before (this was my 11th) knew a few things:
- The wind rarely changes direction or speed in these parts, ie. Once you have a wind you are stuck with it for the day.
- With this wind direction and our route, we had about 75kms of crosswind to deal with, 15kms of tailwind, and then 340kms of headwind.
- We were in a world of trouble.
For half of the crew, this ride suddenly took on a different tone €“ however the other half of our crew were blissfully unaware. Those in the know thought it best to leave them in this state.
I won't give you a blow by blow description of the ride. It is boring enough riding across flat northern victoria, let alone reading about it. A summary of each €œStage€ follows.
Stage 1 – 75k cross, 15 tail, 10 headwind.
The first 75ks involved quality crosswind riding and where possible, riding right up behind our support car (very much against the rules of this ride) – to give some cover to maybe one guy on the leeward side of the road. Riding in the cross wasn't too bad and at times we formed quasi-echelons, but this ended up proving a little too mentally draining for some of our riders€¦
At 75ks we turned right and North into a glorious, but ultimately, very troubling tailwind. I could give you some story about the wind speed being 30 or 40kph, but I would be bullshitting you. I wouldn't have a clue as to the actual wind speed. €œBloody strong€ is my best guess.
To give an idea of the wind, during the northbound tailwind run to Pyramid Hill we were sitting on about 42kph, barely touching the pedals and certainly not breaking a sweat. After the grind of the crosswind, this was a nice little break. However many of us were collectively shitting ourselves knowing that once we turned we going to start a 340k grind into this wind. And it certainly turned out to be a grind€¦
Stage 2 €“ 110ks of Constant Headwind
Boring landscape, cloudless sky (but not too hot) and a headwind that felt like it was emanating from Satan's backside. Nothing much to report €“ we got through it, partially relieving the grind by trying to name as many pubs as we could for each letter of the alphabet.
One of our support cars gave us cover here and there and that did incur the wrath of more than one marshall. One exception was a Yellow Jacket of Authority-clad motorbiker who rolled up to us. Expecting another talking to, we were surprised when he said,
€œI hope you blokes aren't drafting behind your Range Rover, but if you are, forfucksake do it properly and put up the rear window.€
Needless to say, this was the only directive of a marshall that we followed all day.
The ride dragged on and on with the stage finishing at around 5:30. This was our dinner stop – the appropriately French-named Victorian town of St.Arnaud. Except the pronunciation around here isn't the expected €œSanArnO€ but rather €œSAyntArnoD€. Hard A, T and D is the way you say it in Strine, mate.
Our very able support crew filled us with pasta, our (female) soigneurs had their hands full with massages and we had a longish break here in a flawed effort to get our shit together. There was still a general feeling of goodwill at this point. Even though we were just on halfway through, it felt like we had broken the back of the journey to Hamilton (our €œovernight€ stop). After this, we knew that the terrain becomes a little more undulating which perversely makes things almost easier as there is some variety to our riding.
However, we would ultimately find out that our thinking was flawed. If someone had told us then and there that we were not going to finish riding for another 11 hours, I think many of us would have jumped in the bus.
Stage 3 €“ 120k headwind in the dark
So we start stage 3 and night gradually falls. In short, the night riding took ForFuckingEver (this is the time equivalent of the weight measure known as a FuckTon).
In previous years, this part of the ride is usually the best €“ with good lights (most blokes had Xposures €“ they are the business) the dark is negated and riding along quiet roads (where we finally start to see some trees) is pretty nice. Unfortunately, this time the wind, which we expected to abate once night fell, did not fall like we thought it would.
I couldn't see the speedo too often but we knew we were absolutely creeping. A number of boys just couldn't hold a decent pace. I started running some numbers in my head when I saw a 24kph speed and realized we had 200k to go. The numbers confirmed that we embodied the definition of that genteel investment banking term, €œfucked and far from home€.
So Stage 3 progressed very slowly – if it wasn't dark, you could have tracked our speed with a sundial €“ and boys were starting to drop their heads. In that time-honored tradition, we tried to boost morale by talking about various sexual conquests from €œback in the day€. With many of the riders having known each other for 20+ years, there were extra points awarded if the story involved the now-wife of a mate not present. This tactic worked and we got ourselves through!
Sometime after 11pm we arrived in a town called Moyston (can you imagine being a girl from there telling people the name of your home town?). Riding time up until now had been around 13 or so hours and whilst no one was ever on the rivet, the constant grind of the headwind had taken its toll. We were hurting.
During this stop, blokes were doing a roaring trade in swapping pain medication and NoDoz pills. It turns out that mixing paracetamol, ibuprofen and caffeine helps. Next stop the Viper Room! So it was after midnight when finally we girded our loins (don't really know what that means, but it sounds good) and stepped out once more into the dark night.
I should add at this point that the relay and marshalls had long left us behind. For whatever reason we were the last team to leave Echuca. Given every other team was riding a relay €“ doing the whole thing is against the rules €“ we gradually fell further behind the field to the point where the ride director said you can either pack it in or you are on your own. We chose the latter.
Stage 4 – 97ks of more headwind and much gnashing of teeth
Into the final €œSaturday Stage€ and our speed dwindled even more. During these last 4 hours on the road, blokes were begging me for extra stops the whole time. Had to refuse a number of requests so we didn't lose whatever small amount momentum we had. And we were scarfing coke and lollies like we were at a kid's birthday party.
Our support crew was simply magnificent. Imagine driving your car at these speeds for this long? We cannot thank them enough for being there at every stop with food drink and good natured abuse when warranted.
We kept pushing and getting closer to the end. Realised things were pretty desperate when we started breaking down the distance from Moyston to Hamilton in 20k blocks €“ yep 20ks. When was the last time you did that on a bike?
To give an example of our mental state, with 50k to go, a relatively spirited €œphilosophical discussion€ was had between a few riders as to the benefit of stopping at Dunkeld which was 17ks away or whether we should “push on” to get to the Hamilton 25k to go distance markers. We were arguing over a difference of 8 fucking kilometres! This was one of many signs that the boys were running on empty.
On we went. To much relief and backslapping, we finally hit Hamilton at 4:40am. Most hit the showers and then straight to bed while a few of us grabbed some recovery fuel in the form of a beer and jumped in the heated indoor pool. It would be an understatement to say that this was a pretty rewarding beer (or two). Then off to bed for about two hours. Would usually have been one hour but daylight savings finished this night so we €œgained€ an extra hour.
Stage 5 €“ 97k and Finis
6:30am wake up feeling like hell.
6:40am €“ kicked out of our sleeping bags by our €œsupport€ crew. Breakfast and getting ready for the ride took a fair while. At this stage we didn't care about doing the whole thing in 24 hours. The organizers gave us a morning start time of 7:42 (couldn't start any earlier) so we would have needed to finish the last 100ks in about 70 minutes to make the cutoff. Probably a bit beyond us at this stage.
We begin. First thought on the bike: the first placement of backside onto saddle is not a pleasant sensation.
Traditionally, this part of the ride is a little bit (ok, a very very little bit) like the final stage of the Tour. We ride the first 40k or so nice and slow with our mates who opted to do the relay version. Plenty of laughter and swapping stories about the day before.
Then the plan is about 40k from a place called Kirkstall, the hammer drops and everyone races to the pub €“ just like being on the Champs D (sort of)! However, this year the Man with the Hammer had come to visit us numerous times in the dark the night before €“ and it turns out that after whacking us with his Hammer, he confiscated all of ours €“ so we had no hammers to drop. There was a half-baked effort from a few soldiers but really, we all just limped home.
Once we got to the one pub that is the sole commercial building in Kirkstall, all was forgotten. We had made it. Beers were poured hard and fast for about 30 minutes €“ the best beers you could ever drink. They really are. We then hopped back on our bikes, rode the last 20ks to Port Fairy and guess what? We then had a lot more beers for a very very long time. This was followed by a €œMad Monday€ lunch back in town. The last of the team managed to finish their Monday lunch at 3am Tuesday morning. This was probably as big an achievement as the ride itself.
Whilst it wasn't the hardest thing I have ever done on a bike in terms of pain, the mental grind of battling into a headwind for so long made it seem like just about the toughest. It's hard to describe how difficult it was at times €“ and going at under 30kph (or even 25 at times!) on flat roads makes us sound like pussies €“ so I won't try.
Turns out it was all worth it when you realize that all 15 riders who started made it all the way. And the grind is already forgotten.
We have ended up raising over $80,000 for charity and have memories that will last for some time. If you can, organize something like this €“ ride something really hard and long as a team, get everyone home and drink beer. Lots of beer.