One couldn’t get much further from Shropshire, England than Adelaide, South Australia (in more ways than just lat-long) and yet here is another Velominatus, shaving his legs and going for his first 160km test ride. I can’t resist the far flung symmetry of these two great guest articles. 3500 riders, closed roads, Old Willunga Hill, what’s not to like?
Yours in Cycling, Gianni
Amy’s Ride has been run here in South Australia for the last 4 years and is a community ride set up by the Amy Gillett Foundation and Bike SA in remembrance of the ex-Australian Olympic rower & elite cyclist Amy Gillett, who was killed by a motorist while out on a training ride with her national team teammates in Germany 6 years ago. The idea behind the ride, and the also the foundation as a whole, is to promote safe riding and driver behavior towards cyclists. They offer a multitude of distances to suit anyone from the casual commuter to the most competitive CafÃ© Racer with a couple of unique opportunities to ride some sections on closed off roads that would normally either be inaccessible by bike or fairly hairy dicing with traffic. As one of the Velominati the only option was the full 100k ride, which when added to the ride to start line as well as a picturesque route through the hills on the way home would get me beyond the mythical “century” mark of 160.93 kilometres for the very first time and would easily account for my previous longest ride of 115km’s. Having only made the transition to an actual “cyclist” around the same time the previous year, this was my first proper organized event (i.e. entry fee, official jersey & support out on the road) and that combined with the distance that I’d be covering over the day had me getting pretty keen in the weeks leading up to it.
Went out for a couple of rides early in the week leading up to it as part of my normal routine but then let the legs rest from Wednesday onwards, which ensured that by the weekend the anticipation was getting ridiculous. Saturday night was spent making sure the preferred kit options were washed, the brand new cleats were positioned properly and the steed was gleaming and silent, all while trying to avoid sweating buckets in unseasonably humid conditions for what is supposed to be the driest state in Australia. Plenty of water was being consumed in anticipation of what was meant to be a humid high 20’s, low 30 degree day while jealously eyeing off the bottle of vino that the Mrs was demolishing without me. An hour highlights package of stage 18 from this year’s tour had been downloaded to set the mood in the morning while going through the pre-ride routine and it was early to bed to get in a decent night’s sleep. Rose just after 6 (I’ll claim journalistic license and call it V past), showered purely for the purpose of a fresh shave of the guns, although in accordance with Rule #50 the stubble was left unmolested. Fueled up with a solid bowl of cereal, a banana and a particularly tranquillo espresso as well as more water as the humidity & cloud cover were still present whilst getting set for the ride.
The official start time was meant to be 8.30am although with in excess of 3,000 riders registered they’d already advised getting there early to get a decent position in the marshalling area. An easy spin on the 10ks to get to the official start of the ride with many a nod and greeting as little groups of similarly clad riders began to join up and trundle along together. On arrival at about 8ish the amount of people milling around the fenced off marshalling area as well as in and around the sponsors tents upon the oval nearby was simply awesome. A veritable sea of pink and white event jerseys along with a few randoms thrown in the mix. They’d sensibly split the marshalling area up based on projected average speed and I decided not to be too ambitious so chose a decent spot in front half of the 25kph section which was the second within the line up so the rollout wasn’t too cramped. Official welcomes were done and then after a quick safety briefing we were off.
One of the big features of the ride is that they closed off a 3 lane highway called the Southern Expressway for us to accommodate the 3,000 or so riders that are still in the process of stringing themselves out and to help it along there’s a sporty little 3.7k climb at 4.2% (creatively called the SEXY climb after the road). The average gradient can be misleading as the first kilometer is very gentle and then you suddenly find an 8% wall facing you, at which point many riders around me seemed to find reverse. I found a rather classy and rule compliant looking rider resplendent in his vintage Peugot jersey to follow and we made our way up the climb without too many difficulties. Once over the top the one downside to the 3 lanes of road appeared as people spread out all over the place & there were some pretty significant pace differences between those comfortable at speed in the drizzle that had developed and those happy to just coast along. The chaos and disorder wasn’t helped by a bunch of late-teen tearaways that seemed determined to jump through any half gap that appeared with little consideration for the fact that the others around them weren’t actually partaking in their race of 4, how no-one went over on what was a pretty greasy surface at that point is a miracle.
We came to the end of the closed section and upon joining the traffic again everyone made half-hearted attempts to ride only two abreast as a very long snake of riders wound its way through the back roads of Adelaide’s Southern suburbs on the way to the first refreshment stop (mountains of free bananas, banana bread & buckets of sports drink powder) at about 25ks before a very picturesque 5-10k section rolling along the beach front and down towards the stunning McLaren Vale wine region.
Was pretty chuffed to tag on with 4 lads from a city based bike shop that the Mrs used to work next to who made it clear they were happy to take the wind for we mere humans (as an aside, these guys looked fucking pro in their team kit, only possible violations were the various sock colours and lengths, but they were so well matched I think even Gianni would approve) and we started flying past little groups of riders at about 40kph with the 4 of them rotating in front of us refusing all offers of turns on the front. The last section of this beach front road finished in a sneaky little climb 500m climb and all it took was a collective flick of their right hands, the chains slid down a couple of cogs smaller on the back and they simply disappeared up the road. After about another 5 or so k’s of pretty forgettable roads we came to the second refreshment stop in the town of Willunga where basically every rider pulled over for in preparation for the second, main climb of the day up Old Willunga Hill. While stopped I caught up with Tom, who I’d arranged to meet at the finish & ride home with, so along with his mate we set out again and headed out of town for the climb.
Old Willunga Hill has a bit of a reputation in these parts (even warranting a couple of visits in the TDU “Queen” stage each year), and while a length of 3km at 7.6% won’t scare any pros, it’s by no means a cruise. Once again they’d been able to close the climb off for us so that we could get the full pro feel using all of the road, a sensation added to by the presence of proper professional’s names painted all over the road. Some prior research armed us with the knowledge that the first half is the steepest and as you go up the grade does lessen somewhat, but for a rider of my proportions and climbing skill, whether it is 10% or 6%, it still makes you suffer like the baby Jesus on the cross! 14 minutes later I roll the wheels over the awesome gold KOM crown painted at the top of the climb and another climb has been added to Mikael’s “must improve” list.
Once I made it to the top, Tom and I waited for his mate, before heading off on the rolling 40k’s or so through some beautiful looking farm and wine country heading back to the finish in McLaren Vale. Our little group was split on the next closed section, which was a pretty technical 3k descent at an average of -6.9%, as my “climb and descend like a stone” riding style for once seemed to be an advantage! Hat tip has to go out to the organizers for managing to have this section car free as we heard later that a couple of riders had actually had a very near miss on a recon run a few weeks previously when one of the young locals driving up the hill flew round a blind corner half way across their lane and disaster was only averted thanks to quick reflexes from all parties. We regrouped at the last feed stop and figured we’d cover the last distance together as we seemed to be back to about the same level as the finish line, so assumed the run in would be reasonably flat. This assumption was blown out of the water about 3 corners later when we came to a wall of about 800m in length and easily in excess of 5-6%, the groans & expletives that could be heard assured us we weren’t the only ones unimpressed by what we were facing and Tom’s mate was very quick to add “Guys, I’m cooked, just go and make sure you save me a beer at the finish.” Up and over the two of us went and on through some more rolling roads through the vineyards heading down towards the finish, and the beers we’d just been reminded of. The clouds and rain had well and truly disappeared by this point and we were cruising along in glorious sunshine at a solid 30-35kph catching some drafts here & there salivating jealously over some serious carbone inducing machines straining under engines that were a long away from 2 months from peaking.
As we got to Mclaren Vale we rolled through the town center along the bike path that led to the finishing kite just after 12.30pm. We stepped off the bikes in to a party atmosphere with people scattered between lining up for the lunch that was provided, the line for BEER (or other beverages), perusing the wares of some of the sponsors tents, queuing for a massage or just relaxing on the lawn soaking up the atmosphere and relaxing the guns. It was a great chance to catch up with other riders that had been missed out on the road as well as family or friends who’d used it as an excuse to spend the morning in one of SA’s best wine regions.
The homeward leg of the trip was largely uneventful, although some comic relief was offered up when going back over a portion of the ride route a couple of volunteers packing up the signage offered us a lift to McLaren Vale assuming we were still struggling home! Thankfully the climbing involved was of the gradual kind allowing us to keep up a reasonably solid tempo without having to go too deep in to the red, although we mustn’t have been in too bad shape as we both set best times on the last climb of the day. Victory salutes were shared as we rolled beyond the magical 161km mark and the subsequent strange looks from the passing motorists revelled in.
I rolled up to the front door just after 3 in the afternoon expecting a hero’s welcome, instead reality bitch slapped me across the face as the Mrs just casually asked “Can you get changed pretty quick? I want to go visit so and so.” Right then, I suppose I’ll have to wait for plaudits from those that truly understand…c’est la vie velominatus.
Rule #74 contravention below: