To start with, I’m so glad I decided 2 months ago to give the Great Ocean Otway Classic a go; it was a great day!
I woke to light rain falling and some ominous clouds (maybe I should have bought that rain jacket to go with my new thermal underlay last night). A quick check of the BOM radar showed that the front was passing and the next one might not hit till 3pm (hopefully after I finished). With the car packed last night it was a matter of nice large breakfast of oats, vita brits and a banana and then driving out the the start in Torquay. The roads were very wet and the rain persisted for until just before Torquay. Thankfully the clouds parted and by the time I was getting dressed in the car the sun was even starting to peak between the clouds.
Meeting up with the other members of the dodgy knee team, Natasha (knee reco 5 months ago) and her dad, Jack (no ACL) we made our way to the allocated starting area. To keep the roads and riders safe groups of about 30-50 riders were let go in intervals. After waiting about half an hour we started at approx 7:50am
The first 20km or so to Moriac was a bit of mess. Lots of people trying to find groups, others flying past going to hard to early, and a nice cross/head wind depending on the road direction. This was my first time ever riding with more than one person so the fact I was in a bunch of about 20 people was quite a thrill and I really enjoyed the social aspect of it. Probably because of my lack of knowledge I found myself leading the pack on false flat into the strongest head wind of the day; I didn’t mind, at this stage my legs felt strong and I was on a buzz.
We made a quick stop at Moriac for a toilet break and after about 10 minutes we were back on our way. After about 10km, and some people with less knowledge of pack etiquette than me surging and breaking them apart we finally found a perfect pack for our speed. We stayed with this lovely group of gentlemen from Melbourne (a group of friends who have done the ride the last 7 years) all the way to the Birregurra rest stop. We spent a little more time here having a bit to eat, filling our drink bottles and stretching the legs. My legs were still feeling great, amazing actually; only my cardio had let me down a little bit when we tried to stay with a fast pack.
The next 20km to Deans Marsh was lovely, the sun was out, the wind had died down and the road was relatively flat and smooth. As we rolled into Deans Marsh I was getting a little hungry but we had already planned to stop and have lunch here so it was perfect timing. Here I realized my phone was about to die so stopped my strava tracking and turned off in case I needed it for an emergency (see track below). We had a true athletes lunch of pies, sausage rolls and hot chocolate/coffee; all of which was a poor idea considering the main climb was just around the corner. The climb is 11km up Benwerrin Hill, an average of approx 4.5% and peaks over 12%. If you arent a regular/fit cyclist it will test you mentally and physically.
Tash decided to get a head start on us since she felt her leg strength was going to let her down. Jack and I started a couple minutes later and within the first kilometer of the climb I had set a new PB for total distance (81km). Jack dropped me soon after as he powered up the hill, I was left to myself to battle the climb and enjoyed it immensely… once I finished. I must admit on a few sections I felt very close to stopping but my main goal of the whole ride was to do this climb so I kept pushing. I really was wishing for a lower gear at stages but I would click up a gear and get up out of the saddle whenever it happened. I passed numerous people, numerous people passed me. In the end I was extremely happy with my effort and completed the climb in somewhere between 45 and 50 minutes. Tash’s legs never failed her, completing the climb in the same time I did. By the top of the climb my up out of the saddle tactic combined with the already covered distance meant my legs were spent.
The descent down into Lorne was uneventful for us but some poor sod had ridden straight into the guard rail on the last hairpin. Turns out he mangled his knee pretty well and needed surgery that night. We didnt stop in Lorne and pushed straight into the Great Ocean Rd. By this time the weather was magnificent, everyones arm warmers were off and the sunscreen was being applied. Big Hill out of Lorne went okay but I dropped my chain half way up and lost contact with Jack and Tash. After then every hill seemed to get harder and my legs dead earlier. I finally caught Tash at the Great Ocean Rd Arch and with someone to ride with I got a little bit of vigor back. All of that disappeared at the small hill in Aireys Inlet; I cracked and slowed to a crawl barely making it to the top and the cafe there for a break. Stretching out I felt like I had nothing left, I was so sore and stiff it reminded me of my field days in the military pack marching.
After a sugar hit we pushed on, Tash was in “autopilot mode” also feeling it in her legs. I must admit I wish I had an autopilot mode like Tash, she was going as well now as she was at the start (all that cycling training in her youth was paying dividends). I struggled to stay with Jack and Tash and once we hit the last major climb (3km long) out of Angelsea I was dropped quickly again. I don’t remember much of the climb apart from the fact that I did it far slower in a lot more pain the the Lorne training ride. After about 5km from the top I caught Jack and Tash who were going very slowly waiting for me 🙂 The last 15km was a non event with Jack and Tash pulling me along in their slip stream letting me skip turns on the front.
After 5 hours and 20 minutes we crossed the line as a team and I had completed my first Fondo.
Overall the organizers did a great job; with the route well patrolled, plenty of support from volunteers and police and also a nice goody bag at the end.
Maybe next year with a bit of training the 205km route might be an option.