Last weekend myself and a load of the usual crew made the annual pilgrimage to Lorne, Victoria, for the pleasure of taking part in Amy’s Gran Fondo.
The highlights are twofold. First, and most obviously, is the opportunity to cycle along 40km of the Great Ocean Road while it is closed to traffic (aside from thousands of other cyclists…), and then along more closed roads looping inland and back to Lorne and taking in more stunning scenery, solid climbs, fantastic descents, and, fortunately for the last three years, great weather.
Secondly, and more importantly, it’s a super fun long weekend with a supremely great bunch of guys (women are welcome, but I’m fairly certain that… well, it’s a boys weekend, so you probably get the idea…).
I’ve discussed the topic on other occasions, but a big draw of cycling for most people is the camaraderie that it offers with your fellow cyclists. It’s a great vehicle for enjoying the real pleasures of life – aside from exercising the body, it tests and/or nourishes the mind, can help bring equilibrium to the emotions, and gives rise to great conversations and consolidating friendships.
Even better than cycling is heading on a road trip to cycle somewhere else. Especially when somewhere else is awesome. The drive can be physically uncomfortable and exhausting, but it’s often just as good at bringing the good times.
So anyways, Amy’s Gran Fondo has added another awesome element to the weekend in the form of Cycling Tips’s Amy’s Wall, appearing for the first time last year. For anyone who doesn’t know, Amy’s Wall is basically a two-up drag-race where two cyclists smash their way from a standing start up 100 meters of an average gradient of 15% (maxing out at over 20%). That’s it.
It’s a wicked good atmosphere, and one that has added to the enjoyment of the weekend as a whole. It’s got a proper pro feel, with barriers lining each side, a huge sponsors arch, big screen, music pumping, and a packed crowd with such Australian cycling royalty as Phil Anderson and Peta Mullens in attendance. This year they also added a crit race for the women’s NRS series earlier in the day, so the weekend is offering more and more each year.
The real ride the next day is challenging enough for even the fittest of riders (if you’re fit, you just go faster, a-la-LeMond), but if you’re not worried about doing it in a specific time and you pace yourself, most people with a bit of cycling in their legs can knock it off. There are shorter routes, in any case, if 110km seems a bit daunting.
To be honest, you don’t fully appreciate the views along the Great Ocean Road in the actual event, as you are either on the rivet, watching for pot-holes, bumps, or debris on the road, or most likely, keeping an eye out for other cyclists doing something unexpected.
This is actually something worth keeping in mind with events like these. Mass participation rides are open to anyone who pays the entry fees, which means you are sharing the road with people of all fitness levels and, more importantly, varying abilities to ride a bike properly (regardless of how “pro” they may look or how expensive their bike is).
While a rare opportunity to ride a stunning road with no cars is a wonderful thing, don’t think that you can turn your brain off and just go where the wind takes you (actually, the wind was taking people all kinds of surprising places that day…). That’s what causes accidents. Of which there are always a few. It never fails to amaze me how many people don’t seem to understand the concept of keeping left unless passing, passing others safely (myself and others had our wheels chopped more than once), and generally riding responsibly, but I digress…
Anyway, as I was saying, for various reasons you may not get a full appreciation of the beauty all around you on the ride, which is why it is a very good idea to take a nice, easy spin up and down the Great Ocean Road on the day before, which not only allows you to have a bit of a look where you might not have the chance on the day, but you also get to get the full view on the return trip, which you definitely won’t.
On Sunday, with thousands of other cyclists getting sucked into riding at the pace of anyone who is marginally faster, it makes for a more difficult ride than the same distance and elevation on any other day while out for a ride at home would be. That’s what I, and those I was with, always find. We were (mostly) all smashed by the end of it. Went out too hard, continued too hard, and finished in a disheveled heap. Maybe it’s because we’ve all had a pretty busy winter which didn’t include enough riding (that was definitely a contributor), but like I said, it’s difficult to not try to go for a decent time on rides like these…
In general, it’s a ride worth doing. There is an Amy’s Ride locally here in South Australia, but it’s not quite as special as this one in Lorne, plus it’s on roads I’d ride on regularly anyway, and it’s doesn’t require a road-trip, which is kind of the point for us. 3 Peaks is phenomenal, but it’s a much more serious a weekend than Lorne, so if you have time for a great, fun ride that requires a weekend away, check it out next year.
All images: The Sticky Bidon