Coming down Towonga Gap in the Victorian high country is one of the real treats of road cycling in this part of the world. The Gap is not really a high climb, probably around 400-500 m in elevation change at around 6% gradient, and coming down towards Bright, on reasonably quiet roads, during spring, as I have done a number of times, is just beautiful.
Four years ago, I’d been invited by a work mate, Bob, to go on what we called a ‘pre-peaks’ ride weekend. Each year in the high country, there is a gran fondo, run by the Bicycle Network called ‘3 Peaks’. It starts at the top of Falls Creek and climbs Towonga Gap, Mt Hotham and the dreaded back of Falls Creek to complete an awesome loop, rated one of the, if not the hardest one day rides in Australia. Getting to the end is certainly the first challenge, but a number of us wanted to break the 10 hr finishing time (which awards you a special jersey), hence this training ride. The official event starts in March, so in the preceding November, Bob had arranged this ride, to cover the full 235 km distance, and 4.5km of associated climbing.
The first 30 km of the ride is pretty much all downhill. It’s a bit hairy, and I’m not the fastest descender, but we all regrouped in Mount Beauty, ready for the climb up Towonga Gap…the first of the ‘three peaks’ for the day.
All was going well. At the top of Towonga Gap, we regrouped once more, and started the descent down towards Bright. It’s not a steep drop, and is again around 400-500 m of elevation change, but it is a pretty treacherous ride, as there are many blind corners and off camber bends. Bob was have a great day out, and was going particularly hard. Again, me not being the fastest, held back, knowing we also had a long day ahead.
Coming around turn seven, I think it was, all I saw was a bike strewn across the road, a drink bottle, and a missing rider. It all looked very incongruous, and I had not really processed what I saw, until one of the guys called back, alerting us all to Bob, who was laying in a ditch on the side of the road. He had lost control, hit an earthen embankment, and landed on his back.
Fortunately there was no spinal damage, however it was serious enough, with his spleen copping a lot of force. I wasn’t to see Bob again for a number of weeks, and he wasn’t back on the bike for many months.
It’s said that every cyclist, at some point, whether they be a triathlete, roadie or mountain biker, will crash. At the time of Bob’s incident, the reality of this statement was rammed home hard. We did continue to ride the full course that day (after Bob had been airlifted to the local hospital), but I think all of us rode much more carefully. Riding is a real pleasure, but it is also a privilege which is not to be taken for granted.
When I was riding in another gran fondo in Tasmania, the event organizer, warned us to be careful on the descents, and said that however ‘you don’t become a real cyclist until you’ve crashed seven times’. I’ve been very fortunate not to have had any serious injuries, but certainly I am comfortable enough to say that I am, by this definition at least, a real cyclist (a number of times over actually).
Here in the southern hemisphere, we are coming out of Autumn, and it will soon be Winter. It’s been particularly wet, and the roads are quite slippery, with the gravel equally so.
I consider myself a fairly careful rider, but, as mentioned earlier, the reality of cycling is that you will crash. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gone over twice, actually twice on my last two rides. The first was riding on some single track in the You Yangs mountain bike park, going straight, when I should have gone left, and the second, turning on some gravel outside of Lara.
These were fairly tame crashes (certainly not in the Bob league, nor the worst I’ve ever had…more embarrassing than anything). I’ve taken lots of skin off before, and the worst thing with these, is more the mess it makes of your jeans afterwards.
But, like a warning shot across the bow, these little scrapes are always a good reminder to take it easy on the road, not to take anything for granted, and prepare for the worst.
On a brighter note, I went for a great ride this morning, 90% on gravel from home, along the surf coast, past the famed Bells Beach, through Torquay and back home, all without coming off…really! Not once.
I have to say, that riding in the dark, over roads that have been storm damaged from recent heavy rains, made me very cautious. Plus my knee was still bloody from the day before…there was no way I wanted to go over once again and open that wound up again.
I have a lot of K’s to clock up between now and the Ohio RAAM Challenge. Here’s hoping that any inevitable crashes are just as minor as these. My son and wife run, and I would also like to run with them, but there is just no way I will risk a sprained ankle or other running injury, especially anything that can be avoided.
Last week was a pretty quiet week for me. I’ve completed an indoor training plan that I was following, and decided (I think my body decided for me really), I would have a down week. I did however complete two long rides this weekend, but I made sure I did not push overly hard. Next week I plan to go a bit heavier again, and start to build the K’s on the weekend.
As a side note, I did finally get that coveted under 10 hour jersey for the 3 Peaks ride. I ended up having to do the ride four years in a row to get it. Perhaps that is a story for another time, and says a bit about endurance of another kind maybe…