L’etape Australia, The Ride – 1 Dec 2018

Well that was decidedly harder than I had expected.

After my big touring days, I thought that 108km with 1500m of elevation gain without luggage would be relatively straightforward. I also had delusions that my Cyclocross bike with knobbly/ touring tyres would be equally as fast as a road bike. It seems this was not the case!

I woke up before my alarm, and was ready early so I got to the start line early and got a position quite close to the front.

Right from the start we had hills. My legs were feeling a bit heavy and I could feel the accumulated fatigue from the last week. But I knew there were not many women in front of me and I wanted to keep it that way, so my pace up the hills was a much higher effort level than what I’d been doing for the past week at touring pace 🤣

I kept this up for about the first 30 minutes, then we got to a proper long climb and I settled into a tempo pace that I could sustain. I realised that I’d probably been a bit over-enthusiastic with my initial effort level.

By this point a bunch of riders had passed me and this continued to be the case throughout the ride. Every so often someone would ride with me for a while and chat, which is always one of the highlights of this sort of event.

We then turned onto Eucumbene Rd, which was very exposed. Actually pretty much the whole route was very exposed, with the landscape comprised of grasslands and boulders. But Eucumbene Rd was pretty awful as there was a strong crosswind the whole way, and it was basically flat.

It was at this point that I started to feel moderately awful, and the feeling continued pretty much the rest of the ride until the Col de Beloka. I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why I felt crap. I was drinking enough, I had a few things to eat and that didn’t help. My right glute felt a bit tight and over-used but not crampy. Otherwise, my legs actually felt fine.

In the end, I decided it was a combination of the altitude (750-1200m throughout the ride) plus the heat (maximum 36 degrees, but even the bulk of the ride in the high 20s was way hotter than sub-10 degrees that I’d been riding in for the past week) plus my accumulated fatigue, plus going too hard at the start. So I attempted to settle into some kind of rhythm and recover from my earlier efforts.

I decided not to stop at the first feed station, as there were so many people stopped and I had plenty of food and water. This was also a great chance to get back in front of some people 😀

By now I was counting down the kilometres and it was still 50km to go! It helped to break it into sections – 25km or so to the base of the big climb, do the big climb, then 20km or so back to Jindabyne mostly downhill (or so I thought!).

The crowds on the roadside were fantastic, I appreciated that it was a very long and hot day for them as well, so I tried to wave to them all and especially the kids. I got through the towns of Berridale and Dalgety, then I decided I really needed to get off the bike and stretch. Boy it felt good! Soon I saw a sign indicating 5km to the next feed station. Hooray! I decided I needed some sugar and anything I could get with caffeine, as well as some salty chips. I had some banana, a couple of snakes, several handfuls of chips, and half filled my water bottle with coke. Thank goodness for the black magic!

I knew that Col de Beloka was coming up soon, but I’d been a bit lazy in my ride preparation so I didn’t actually know how far away it was. I could see a big climb coming up and thought: finally we are there! But no, this wasn’t steep enough. It was just another long climb. Then I saw the signs, it was still a few kilometres until Beloka.

Right before I started the climb up Beloka two kangaroos jumped across the road in front of me. Good thing they were a little way in front so I just had to slow down. By this time it was literally the middle of the day and 35 degrees so I did not expect to see wildlife!

I start the climb up Beloka, get into my easiest gear and just focus on pacing myself, picking the least steep line, keeping my breathing steady and trying to relax my hands and shoulders. In between all this, it didn’t take long to realise that practically everyone else was walking up the climb. There were about three other people I saw riding, and even them I caught and passed. I wonder how they felt being passed by a chick with knobbly tyres on her bike. I have to say, I felt very happy to be riding. I kept coming back to my little mantra: I am a lean mean cycling machine. I’m faster and more efficient cycling than walking.

I was very grateful for the reprieve in the middle of the climb to catch my breath and get my heart rate back down. The second half of the climb was also steep, but didn’t seem quite as extreme as the first half.

I knew there was another feed station at the top of the climb, but with my high heart rate and the extreme heat, I thought that if I stop I’ll be in trouble. Coming up the climb I was dripping sweat everywhere. I got some in my mouth and it tasted like pure salt, more salty than sea water. After the ride I saw my face and my gloves were covered in salt strain, more than any other ride I’ve done. Incredible.

So at the top of the climb I sprayed my water bottle on my head and back, which cooled me off, then I kept going. It was only 20km. And mostly downhill.

Ha! There were a lot of fun downhill bits, but there were also two to three more long climbs to do. I just kept within myself, and actually the feeling of awfulness that I’d had most of the ride was now gone. So I enjoyed the last section a lot more. And after all the riding I’ve been doing I’m feeling confident on this bike descending even at speed.

Finally we turned in Jindabyne and reached the finish line. I was in no way tempted to turn left and do an extra 62km up to Perisher and back down. Kudos to those who did!

I’m very pleased that I decided to do the ride instead of the race, particularly considering what bike I was on and the amount of riding I’ve done in the last week or more. Although I had been looking forward to the ride, it was probably the least enjoyable of all the rides I’ve done this trip – probably due to the challenging weather conditions and my poor pacing at the start. Feeling like everyone is passing you all day is way less fun than just riding by yourself at whatever pace works for you at that time. I did enjoy riding and particularly descending on fully closed roads all day though! And there was great support for the riders from the community and the event organisation throughout the day.

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