Perfecting the Art of the Bonk

The wall, hunger flat, bonk. I’m sure there are a lot of other terms, but there is nothing so horrible as running on empty in the middle of nowhere, no food, money, and of course no glycogen.

I am the master.

Over 15 years ago, I was training for my first long distance ride. I’d packed a bit of food, and had ridden probably only 100 km or so, feeling quite good. From memory I’d ridden around the Bellarine Peninsula, on a crisp winters morning, and hit Horseshoe Bend road, an iconic stretch of ashphalt in this area, that allows you to head south onto Torquay and the sumptuous sand and sea, or back to Geelong. Feeling strong and good, I decided to add what would be an extra 50km or so to my trip, go down to the front beach, and head back along the Surf Coast Highway, and home. No warning signs, and having eaten, no need to worry, or so I thought.

That’s the thing with a hunger flat. Unless you are attuned to how your body feels leading up to a crash, you have actually no idea its coming. Just after turning off, heading south, my legs started feeling heavy, and fatigue started to build up, and eventually become overwhelming. From strong to struggling within minutes.

The last 50 km of my ride that day, had to be the longest (literally and figuratively) I’ve ever ridden. At the time I had absolutely no idea what was happening. Worst of all, as the brain solely works on glycogen, I started to really struggle mentally, having to stop myself wobbling onto the wrong side of the road. A couple of times, I actually had to stop and lay down.

But of course experience is a good teacher. The next week I rode around the bay, I used some syrupy goo, that was the forerunner of more modern energy gels, that I picked up from my local bike shop.

Problem solved….well, sort of. I tend to forget things.

Over the last few years, as obvious as the problem is, and as easy as it is to prepare for, I’ve gone through exactly the same process, actually, I don’t know how many times.

Hunger, a slight feeling of numbness, a slight feeling of disembodiment, coldness, are all, in my case, things I have come to recognize as the onset of the dreaded bonk.

This Saturday was a cold winters day here in Geelong. I headed off around 8:30 am, not early, but then I’d had a pretty full on week at work, and was in no mood to go much earlier.

I’d ridden on my trainer the night before, until around 10:30 after work, so my legs were still fatigued, so I decided to do a relatively flat ride north to Werribee, and then head back south to Geelong. A loop of around 120km or so…not a particularly long, but still a decent ride.

The ride north is not that picturesque, and the road is a coarse gravel type which is fairly unforgiving. The main attraction is that the roads are quiet. It was cold, not freezing, but hovering around the 8 c mark. Uneventful.

I had a tail wind on the way out, but once I hit Werribee I knew it would be cross to head wind. Going northwest, back towards the highway to home, oh no, that feeling. I’d actually considered before heading off taking some food, or at least some money, but you know, I’d had a good breakfast, I felt good, what could go wrong?

The rest of the ride wasn’t terrible, but still, by the end, having to climb back up Scenic Road to my house, (which only totals a climb of 100 m or so) was just miserable.

Without going into detail, to burn any fat you need glycogen. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and in the liver, and normally there is ample stores as long as you don’t push too hard. Why on this particular day I ran low…well who knows.  Regardless of those things out of my control, no food, money, and no towns on the way home anyway were all my fault.

Home at last, I grabbed about 10 cakes, ate lunch and collapsed for the better part of the afternoon. Never again (I’m sure there will be an again).

great ocean road

The Un-matchable Great Ocean Road

If Saturday was crap. Sunday was going to be better.

The forecast was for a nice westerly, and as I hadn’t been in the vicinity for a long time, my chosen destination was Lorne, around 60 or so kilometers from my home, along the Great Ocean Road.

This is just one of those rides that is difficult to match.

 

lorne foreshore

Possibly the best destination in cycling – Lorne

Lorne itself has grown from a sleepy village, to a bustling tourist destination. For a cyclist, rolling along the Ocean Road, climbing up to Cinema Point, Big Hill, past Urquart Bluff, through Point Lonsdale is just sublime.

My ride today was overcast, again cold, battling against tourist buses, but reminds me of why I ride. It just doesn’t get better.

From Lorne, in fact just before the village itself, my route took me right, up the Lorne Deans Marsh road. This is a great climb, which rises around 400 m or so, over 10 km. From the top of Mt Benwerrin, you head back down to Deans Marsh, a small township with just a handful of shops, but importantly, a spot for me to refill water, and take in a few treats…food, glorious food.

munchies at deans marsh

Learning from my mistakes – slowly

I’d packed some lemon slice, some food bars, and gels. Perhaps I had overdone it, but there was no way I was going to bonk two days in a row.

From Deans Marsh, the wind picked up, but in a good way, and I sailed back to Geelong with a predominantly tail wind.

In all it was a 140 km + ride, along one of my all time favorite routes. Even the forecasted rain held off, and I finished in a balmy 12-13 c. Best thing was that a got to around 1700 m of climbing over the course.

It had been a good weekend. Two days of good long rides (albeit with a bit of suffering). Earlier in the week, I had managed a few trainer rides, and the week before, a couple of longish rides of 120 km + each, so in all not a bad two weeks.

Its time though now that I have to step things up a bit. 2.5 months to go until Ohio…so time for some crazy stuff to begin. Next week I have some ideas, but I’ll wait on the forecast to really nail down my plans.

Until then…

The Return to the ‘Dirty Dozen’

dirty dozen profileFinding decent climbs in the local Geelong area can be a bit of a challenge. Where I live, it is fairly hilly, but to really get long sustained climbs you need to go farther afield into the Otways, or north towards Melbourne, and into the Macedon ranges, or if you can, out to the Dandenongs.

Nevertheless, undaunted, we had charted a nice challenging day of climbing in the Brisbane ranges, taking in a number of sharp nasty climbs that criss cross the country side here.

Two weeks ago, we’d had a failed attempt at this ride, when I earned two punctures. In the intervening time, Wiggle had come to my rescue. And so, with new tubes, patches and tyres at the ready, it was time to return to our Anakie startline, and the beginning of an expected 6 hours of pain.

wiggle delivery

Wiggle delivery day is a good day

7 am at this time of year, is never going to be warm. In fact it is bloody cold. Heading towards our start, it was hovering around 1 c as I drove out to our meeting spot. There was frost on the ground, and fog blanketing most of the area, as we hoped out of our respective cars, kitted up, and generally prepared for a long morning on the road. Fortunately there was little wind, and so we ventured out in the post dawn sunrise.

There were five of us this time, three newbies to the region, who had never ridden these roads before, and Byron and I, who unfortunately knew what was ahead. Now, none of these climbs are long. Each of them are probably at most 2-3 km in length, but don’t be fooled, each of them are quite nasty little hills, each tipping up at least to 15% gradient, and at times reaching 23-24% for a few hundred meters.

In total, the length of the ride was planned to be 130 km, with just under 2,000 m of climbing. Nothing to be sneezed at.

Heading out we immediately turned west down O’Neils Rd. With barely enough time to get warmed up, we were right into it. O’Neils is a classic example of a climb here in the Brisbane Ranges. About 1 km is length, it rises perhaps 100m. Although short, it pitches up to 21% towards the end.

Nice way to start the morning! I actually got a PB on this climb somehow when I look back at Strava (which perhaps doesn’t say much for my last rides here).

After O’Neils, we turned  south again, and then after a short distance, west up along Pringles Rd (2 km at 6%), then ‘Bride of Godzilla’ (1 km for 7%), before being confronted by the beast itself – ‘Godzilla’ (1 km rising to 23% gradient). This hill definitely does my head in. It starts out reasonable enough, but then as you turn left, you’re faced with just a wall, and unless you’ve ridden here before, its just not clear when it will end. Its not true that I hate this climb, but, well, actually I do. It’s never easy.

This part of our ride, was an out and back, so we turned back towards the east to do a reverse ‘Godzilla’. Not quite as fearsome as the westerly version, but it’s still not nice as it climbs about the same amount, just over a slightly longer distance.

From this point, you head north through Maude, and back towards Anakie. On the way, just to ensure no part of the day was going to be easy, we rode De Motts road, just out of Stigleitz which climbs around 200 m or so, over 6 km.

Finally we arrived back at Anakie. Having done half the climbing for the day, we had only 50 km under our belts. The bulk of the distance, and the hardest climb was to come.

rolling brisbane ranges

Rolling along just before the ‘Hell of the West’

After a water top up, a few energy gels, and fighting the urge to settle down in the local general store, under the nice warming sunlight that was finally coming out, we rode north towards the ‘Hell of the West’.

start of the hell of the west

Don’t be fooled by this photo, this is just the start of the ‘Hell of the West’

Glenmore road is one of those secret little hills, that not too many riders (or in fact anyone) knows about. In fact I’d never heard of it until a couple of years ago, even though I have lived in the area all my life, when an intrepid rider (who I can’t find on YouTube anymore), climbed this hill 84 or so times in a row to claim an Everest Challenge.

Now, I’m just happy to do this climb once. It’s about 1.5 km in length but gets to 23% gradient a couple of times. In the area, as you can see in one of the pictures above, the general terrain appears pretty flat and so the last thing you would expect is this nasty little number.

Riding down, the descent took longer than I remembered, and just reinforced the pain I knew was about to follow.

Hitting the base, there is a small bridge, which marked the turnaround point, to head straight back up…and I mean up.

meredith rest stop

Rest stop in Meredith

I was very happy to reach the top, chomp down another energy bar, and head off with the gang south again back towards Anakie. Of course, it wasn’t going to be that simple I’m afraid. By then, the wind has blown up slightly, at our backs at least, which meant we were going on at a nice clip. Until we turned west, off towards Meredith. Then it was up another climb (the name of which escapes me), before reaching Meredith township, and the awesome Back Creek Cafe for the biggest and baddest hamburger to refill the energy banks.

By now we’d done 110 km, broken the back of the day, with just a leisurely 20 km to go…oh, but with three final climbs to do.

Stopping for a big lunch always fills me with a little bit of dread. I’m just never quite sure if I’ll get moving again. I did try to just eat small, but how can you refuse an awesome parmigiana burger and fries. 1/2 hour later and we were off, gingerly.

Actually it was a cracker of a ride back. Up and down into Steiglitz, up again out of the gully, through the old mining town, then back along De Motts road for a second time, before the final descent into Anakie.

What an absolutely brilliant ride.

5.25 hours moving time, and 6.75 elapsed over the 130 km. It was just a fantastic training day, and general riding day with a good crew, and in the end  under a beautiful winters sun, with the mercury hitting a balmy 10 c or so. Can’t complain at all. And no punctures!

Overall my training for the week, had been on and off again. I’d done a couple of indoor sessions, and pumped out 130 km on the Saturday, riding up over Granite road around the You-Yangs. So just over the weekend, I’d clocked up over 260 km, making up for the limited training through the week.

Today (Monday) is a public holiday here. I’ve nothing particularly planned, perhaps just a light ride later in the afternoon…or a bit of Zwift action…not sure.

I’ve now got under 3 months to go (gasp), but I’m feeling really good. My riding may have been inconsistent, but yesterday just felt great. If I can tough out the winter, and get a few long rides in, I think I’ll be in good shape to make it around Ohio, perhaps not a fast time, but hopefully good enough to survive the 640 km!

Cheers.

Cycling Training Plans and Adaptability (Best laid plans of mice and men)

atop mt anakie with mates

Atop Mt Anakie during the Dirty Dozen

Sometimes you just have to go with the flow. My big goal over the last couple of weeks, was to ride what we called the ‘Brisbane Ranges Autumn Dozen’ – the ‘BAD’ ride. We intended to ride around 130 km of roads, over 13 (a ‘bakers dozen’, I suppose) of the biggest climbs in the Brisbane Ranges, which are just north of Geelong. This included the infamous ‘Godzilla’  – a beast of a climb, which hits a nasty 24% near the top.

The morning started really well. It’s dark later this time of year, with winter pretty much here. So we (Byron, Steve, Bill and me) gathered at 7 am at Anakie, lights on, straight to the first climb which was just 10 km or so away. O’Neils Rd. It’s not terrible, with a great smooth surface, and a great warm up covering 2 km or so of uphill effort. So far so good.

Next was Pringles Rd, which is just a grinding hill, not steep, rising perhaps 100m or so over 2 km. But this leads onto one of the first real challenges, ‘Bride of Godzilla’, just east of Maude. And then – puncture. Annoying, but manageable. It happens. Stone removed, tube replaced, tyre pumped with Co2…done. On my way again.

godzilla cycling monster

Starts innocuous enough, but turn right and then Boom Godzilla!

Having climbed ‘Bride of Godzilla’ it was time for Godzilla itself. This nasty hill sits just south of Maude. First you head west along Perdrisat Rd, past the road signs warning drivers of what nastiness there is ahead, and it immediately heads down at around 15% before it flattens out, crosses the Moorabool River, and pitches up again. It starts out easy enough, with a gradient of 6% or so. But then as you turn south again, it quickly hits 15%, and just before the top, right as you a gasping for air,  forces you to grind away at 20-24% of lung busting efforts, until it releases you.

Well, I got half way, and…yep…puncture.

Not so easy to fix this time. Not only did I get a puncture, but my last remaining spare tube wouldn’t go up. So patches it was…but when I tried to patch it, the glue refused to take. Aaaaaargh. 1/2 hour later, I was gingerly on my way again having had to hand pump the tire (I’d also run out of Co2 cylinders).

To say I was not a popular guy with the group is a bit of an understatement. Not that they would say so.

I was totally defeated, feeling like every bounce in the road, was my tyre going back down again. My buddies coerced me into at least riding back to Anakie along DeMotts Rd. This is another nasty little hill, which was on our ride plan for the day. From the top it drops back down to the start, and I was intent on just jumping in my car and heading home.

As I said, sometimes you just have to know when you’ve had enough…but then again, sometimes fate takes a slightly different turn, and changes a negative experience into something just that little bit special.

Feeling a bit more confident that my tyre was going to last, after a short break, we headed north with the plan to ride to the top of Mt Anakie. This was only 5 km or so away, and if I got a flat, I knew at least I could walk back.

We weren’t at all sure in fact if you could climb Mt Anakie. Well, in reality you can’t really, or at least shouldn’t if you followed the rules. But with a little fence climbing, off road riding, in fact you can, and we made it to the top of the highest point in the area.

Fair to say, as Mt Anakie did not have a Strava segment, it certainly did by days end.

So, there you have it, the Bakers Dozen turned into the Brisbane Ranges climb of 8…not exactly as planned (thanks to me), but a very satisfying (if reduced) day in the end.

Mt Anakie beckoned for a return visit with the right type of bike.

sequoia challenge

Atop Mt Anakie again, this time on the Sequoia with more traction

My subsequent week had been a pretty quiet one. My training again had suffered with a lot going on at work, and a general lack of motivation. I’d had just the one indoor ride through the week, and knew I had to do a couple of good rides on the weekend given it was officially just three months until I head off to Ohio.

Jen and I had spent the night on Friday in Melbourne seeing a show, so Saturday afternoon, I decided I’d tackle a couple of the climbs in the Brisbane Ranges again, this time on the Sequoia so I could set the KOM on the Anakie climb.

So I rode from my home this time, and went straight to Anakie, which is about 40 km, then jumped the fence again, and raced up the gravel and dirt, before climbing the second fence, and riding the rest of the way to the top.

I pushed pretty hard, and broke the KOM by 5 mins. Now, this sounds great, except it was only set the week before by the four of us, while each of us waited for each other. So needless to say this record will not last. But at least it gives me bragging rites for perhaps a few weeks, until one of the guys heads out there themselves.

The next climb was back along O’Neils Rd, and then home, clocking up just over 90 km’s. It was a comfortable ride.

Today (Sunday), my friend Byron was heading across Port Phillip bay to hold his daughters birthday with the rest of his extended family, south east of Melbourne. As he was looking for a riding buddy I went along with him (On a very brisk winter morning. Now when I say brisk, I mean bloody god damn cold), riding to Queenscliffe, catching the ferry to Sorrento, before climbing the back way to the top of Arthurs Seat.

The ferry’s leave Sorrento on the hour, so as soon as we reached the top of the climb, I left Byron to his festivities, and I was off again, to make sure I made the next one. But just down at the base of Arthur’s Seat, I had a massive hunger flat (damn Byron…pushed me!). After a few lollies, I was off again, and was able to pick up enough speed to make it to the ferry in time (just).

Dont pay the ferryman

The Ferry at Queenscliffe

Cramming down some sausage rolls, Mars bars and coffee, and with 45 mins of rest on the way back to Queenscliffe on the ferry, once we birthed, I rode into the wind, back through Oceangrove, Barwon Heads and into Geelong and home. This was a total distance for the day of 170 km.

In the end, although a very quiet riding week, I racked up around 300 km. Not huge, but a couple of solid back to back days riding.

In training, I always try to create a pretty structure training program. In fact, I generally put these into a spreadsheet, by date, distance and time. In reality though, paradoxically I find it very hard to follow any documented program, and end up stressed out that I haven’t done what was written.

The last two weeks have been anything but structured, both by chance, in that I got a couple of mechanicals, and with just life being what it is. In the end, when I look back, I’m happy though with where I am from a preparation perspective. It’s also given me the chance to discover a great new climb (and create a KOM which are few and far between for me).

So perhaps I won’t plan next week at all!

(well that’s not going to happen…in fact next weekend is a long weekend in Victoria, and the plan is a return to complete the Dirty Dozen…weather permitting. It just has to be done).

Bike Racing and Rest

Thanks Jens Voigt

As someone who tries to train with a reasonably good structured program, I always attempt to ensure that I have a regular schedule, with in-built intense workouts, including lighter work, but difficult intervals. Clarence Bass who writes about bodybuilding, calls this the dumbbell approach to training.

One thing however that I do particularly take to heart, and embrace with fervent enthusiasm are –  rest days. I say this with tongue firmly in cheek, as there is no doubt that sometimes it is very easy to skip a ride on a cold or wet day. But of course there is some seriousness in this as well.

At the moment, I have been taking a Monday of the week off, as this follows the weekend, which at this stage is my only opportunity to do some extended rides. This weekend for example, I didn’t go crazy, but did do two 100+ km rides, over gravel mostly, and so I feel pretty fatigued, and will welcome a day to rest up, which is where the real fitness is built.

In fact, for the past two weeks, my Tuesday session in-doors has been very light as well (perhaps this just reflects my age). Come Wednesday however, I’m back on the bike (indoors still, unfortunately) and ready to go hard, feeling new enthusiasm fueled in part by a sense of guilt, but also a large part being fear (which is always a good motivator).

When I worked locally, without any extended commute, I took no rest days, riding to work each day. In reality this is actually a  poor way of training. You don’t get better on the bike, you get better in-between rides ensuring you get good food, adequate rest, keeping hydrated and making sure you get enough sleep.

Right now, my sleep is definitely suffering, so this makes my Monday rest day even more important.

I’m also a big believer in cycling my training (no pun intended). Each four weeks, I take a down week, and whilst still keeping a bit of stimulus in my weekend, I go only 60-70% on the bike to ensure that I recover ready for another hard block of training. I think personally this is as much mental as it is physical (if there is a difference), just to freshen up and get ready for another round of longer rides.

Rest can come in many different forms of course. It can be just not riding, and not doing anything at all…which is the ultimate form of rest, but for me not really very appealing.

Or it can be more active recovery.

bicycle islands

My trusty steed in the Cook Islands

I’m a big fan of the latter. I went to the Cook Islands after an event in New Zealand last November. My wife and I hired bikes, and we rode the island a few times (they are not very large – Rarotonga is just 30km in circumference, and Aitutaki, where the above picture was taken, is very much smaller). It was a great way to rest, and train at the same time, not to mention see the island and enjoy the scenery.

Even when I’m home, just sitting on the trainer, and pumping out 30km at a low wattage, it does wonders getting rid of the lactic acid, and tight feelings in the legs.

keg cycling.jpg

Now, if I can just work out how to strap this to my bike…the perfect hydration tool

In my spare time, I love to brew beer, another passion of mine. Now, drinking beer after a long ride is definitely not recommended (dilates the blood vessels and puts pressure on already inflamed muscles…blah blah blah), BUT, well….actually the two just don’t go together, however remains a recovery process for me regardless. There’s really no good reason to put this here.

 

gravel bike games

Bit of Gravel Grinding around the Bellarine Peninsula

I’ve had a good week on the bike. Through the week I rode in my first organised ride on Zwift, arranged by a friend of mine, and two great rides on an Autumn weekend.

Yesterday (Saturday) I rode some back roads around the Bellarine. It was just great (one puncture, but fixed quickly and painlessly), and allowed me to try out my Garmin with a loaded course, so I could check out how it gave me directions. This is something I will be relying on a lot in the U.S. Although it was just over 100km, as it was a lot on gravel, it actually took about 4.5 hours. One thing I am loving about gravel grinding is exploring areas I’ve just never been to in my home area, exploring new roads I’ve never been to, even when I have lived here all my life.

Today (Sunday), I rode up to the foot of the Brisbane ranges, trying to get to the top of one of the hills here, but in the end, weaving my way back through to Lara, past the You Yangs, and into Geelong. Again, it was just fantastic to get off the normal paved roads, and see familiar surroundings from a totally different perspective.

Both rides were 100km+, not huge, but some good time on the bike, and enjoyable, with light favorable winds, no crashes,  and some late Autumn pleasant weather.

This week, I’m gearing up for the BAD ride – the ‘Brisbane Ranges Autumn Dozen’, a ride arranged by Byron, climbing 12 of the steepest hills in the Brisbane ranges. It will be the last weekend of Autumn here, before the inevitable decline in weather. I think its going to be about 140km of pure pain, taking in O’Neils road, and of course the infamous ‘Godzilla’ – Perdrisat Rd near Maude – both east and west version. This will be something to write about next week for sure.

 

 

The Right Cycling Gear

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Cycling the Peaks Challenge Tasmania

A couple of years ago, I’d ridden the Peaks Challenge ride in Falls Creek for the fourth time, finally breaking ten hours.

Soon after, the Bicycle Network announced two new rides, one on the Queensland Gold Coast, and the second in Tasmania, far to the south. There and then I committed myself to a solid year of training so I could ride all three in one year, and ensure I was the inaugural rider in each of the events – and become part of the ‘Peaks Elite’ as it became known –  the first group of people to ride all three in one year.

This was a significant challenge for me from a training and time perspective, but also, each ride represented a very different climatic challenge, and therefore gear preparation required.

The Falls Creek Challenge is in March, and typically starts off chilly at the top of the mountains, but ends up generally as a fairly warm day, albeit comfortable. The only exception was one year, where the heat got to 45 C on the road (according to my Garmin anyway), with a very unseasonably warm day, and ending as a very difficult one as well. I cramped very badly on the last climb, and suffered terribly, but made it…just! (thanks to a rider who had finished or pulled out, who was handing out ice bags half way up the last climb).

The Gold Coast, being in Queensland, and north, I fully expected to be hot, but instead it started very cold, and ended up as just a stunner of a day, with temperatures just perfect for a long ride (probably low 20’s C), with a nice refreshing sun, but not too hot.

Tasmania, I knew would be a wild card. Unpredictable, possibly cold, or warm, the ride was in November, which for us is heading into Summer. Absolutely beautiful scenery awaited, and I couldn’t wait to ride to the top of Cradle Mountain, which I had visited many years before, when it was freezing.

As it turned out, it was a miserable day, with fog obscuring most of the scenery and blocking any decent views. It was wet and cold. I had entered the ride heavier than I wanted, and I was getting over a bad chest cold (probably the result of a lot of over training). I was not in the mood, and on the first hill, had to drop right back to save my energy. I nearly pulled out on what was the best part of the ride to the top of Cradle mountain. I pushed through however, still making the full distance in 10.5 hours, not bad considering how out of sorts I was, but far outside what I had been able to do on the previous two rides that year. I even had to do the walk of shame on one of the last hills which had just crippled me…

What saved me, apart from my training, was the preparation in my riding gear, and planning for all eventualities.

Of course any rider knows that they need to check the weather reports before going out. But you just never know, and the best insurance against bad weather is to make sure that you prepare lots of layers, each not taking up too much room in your back pockets, but providing the coverage you need, and can be put on or taken off piece by piece.

For Tasmania, I had taken a couple of arm warmers, and a rain jacket. Plus I had taken a couple of full length gloves. I took the chance with my bib shorts, knowing I can put up with cold legs. I was also wearing a singlet, which folds down to nothing if I had to take it off. Pretty basic and nothing you wouldn’t expect any rider to take with them.

For the RAAM challenge in Ohio, I just don’t know the climate very well at all. As I will be riding unsupported, my plan is to use an under seat bike packing bag, which has a capacity of 13 litres, allowing me to carry lots of spare clothing. At this stage, I plan to take knee warmers, which will turn my bib shorts into 3/4 length pants, some arm warmers, plus a full sleeve top, if it becomes particularly cold, along with a light rain jacket. I’ll also again take two sets of gloves, a cap for my head, and from a clothing perspective, that’s probably about it.

From a mechanical point of view, I’ll be carrying two spare tubes, CO2 cylinders, tyre levers, tool kit, a couple of light batteries (I use Ay-Up lights, which I’ve used since 2010, and are great), and charger for my phone and GPS computer which I will rely on for directions (the battery lasts around 12-14 hours by itself, so I’ll connect it up permanently to a battery). I will use a top tube bag to hold all of this extra stuff, along with credit cards and money for emergencies or a split tyre!)

My main concern will be food and water. I expect to be riding for over a day, realistically 25-26 hours, so I hope that I will be able to call into shops or fill up supplies on the way. I haven’t done it yet, but I will be downloading the full GPS course, and will mark out places to buy food or get water on the way.

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Riding up the back of Falls

Its a far cry from what I carried up the back of Falls Creek. Certainly I had some simple tools and tubes, but the rest I was able to make best use of drop bags with food, gels and the like, spread across the course.

Lastly, I will put on two sets of rear lights for visibility, plus likely one on the back of my helmet.

Oh, I almost forgot, I will be taking a hi-vis gillet for the night. I have one already, but I’ll get some reflective tape sowed onto it for extra visibility.

If the weather report leading up to the event doesn’t look too good, one last piece of preparation will be to take an extra pair of bib shorts…I just can’t stand riding for too long in wet pants or socks, and not to mention the chaffing that is associated with it.

My riding this week has gotten back to a more normal pattern. I did a number of good rides on the trainer through the week, and a nice long ride around the Bellarine Peninsula yesterday. Today was just an indoor session. It’s Mothers Day here, and of course I had to make breakfast and generally be around, as I thought it would be unreasonable to go for a long ride on such a day…

This week, I’m going to start to build a bit more distance. Possibly I’ll commute to work and back through the week which is a fair distance (will total 160 km or so), and continue to do some long distances on the weekend.

I’m still a few months out, so I won’t be doing anything dramatic, but from now on, the focus will be on some longer rides.

Mud, Sweat and Tears (Gears)

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.

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Bob in a ditch at Towonga Gap

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.

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Crash #1, single track in the You Yangs

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.

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Crash #2 just outside of Lara…no excuse really other than incompetence

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…

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Yes, I did make it under 10 hours after all…four tries later

The Road to Manali

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Very proud of this photo of  Kate Leeming and me just before descending down Rhotong Pass

Last year, I finished up where I had worked for over twenty years. It had been a hard decision, but there was an opportunity to take a voluntary redundancy which I just couldn’t refuse. Being in the IT field, the chances of me getting another job locally was possible, but more than likely I knew my opportunities would need to lay elsewhere.

My kids are pretty grown, so I could take a chance, and I needed the change.

What I would end up doing, I really didn’t know, and I only had vague notions of what I wanted to do anyway.

Whilst I was sorting this out, I booked in for a trip to India to ride the famous Leh to Manali highway (look it up on YouTube – you’ll find it under ‘Worlds most Dangerous Highway’) just before the monsoon was to hit in June.

What really drew me to this ride were two things. I had always wanted to ride in India, including up to the highest motorable road in the world  – Khardung La (although I think this is under dispute), but there was also the opportunity to ride with Kate Leeming.

I had read a number of books by Kate, and heard her speak about her adventures riding around Australia, being the first person to ride across Africa, as well as the enormous trip she is planning, which is to ride across Antarctica (yes, you read that right).

Kate is just downright inspirational…I know this is an overused word, but you don’t meet people very often (at least I don’t) who really get out there and just make things happen, and raise money and awareness around things that matter (in Kate’s situation this includes riding 22,000 km, providing support for initiatives to assist in improving health and education,  including the empowerment of women – and ‘breaking the cycle’ of poverty in Africa).

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At the top of Khardung La – Highest motorable road in the world

Meeting Kate and the other riders in Delhi in June (coming from winter to 30+ C was a challenge in its own right!), the next day we flew to Leh, a high desert city (3,524 m elevation) in Ladakh, and the start of our trip.

On the first day, our bikes had gone missing in action, but it was a great chance to stretch our legs, walking to the local temples, and acclimatizing to the altitude, which was something I had never really experienced before, excepting one ride I did up Mauna Kea in Hawaii, where I had gone from sea level to over 3,000 m in a day, and suffered!

When our bikes arrived, and we had put everything together, we climbed Khardung La, the highest point we would reach for the whole trip, and spent the rest of the day, apart from dodging trucks, motorbikes, people and cows, descended back down to Leh. It was just awesome, and this was just the start of the trip!

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It was just like I had hoped it would be…riding doesn’t get any better

From Leh, our ride proceeded south, through small villages such as Pang, camping in the middle of vast plains and valleys in tents, all the time supported by our guides. It was dusty, dirty, hot, cold, windy, sunny, rainy…and fantastic.

Two weeks later, we reached Manali, after coming down Rhotong pass. To describe the last day is very difficult. Just imagine that you have spent the previous number of days in dry, dusty desert, with a very thing atmosphere going over some of the highest passes in the world. Then you start descending, where everything becomes green…there are actually waterfalls, and trees, and for every kilometer you travel, you can feel the humidity growing, and the oxygen flowing again through your body…oh, the oxygen!

For me, the road to Manali was a very significant one. It signified something very important to me. I loved cycling. I loved travelling. This is something I knew I wanted more of, and was something I knew I had to do again. It provided a clear break from my old world of work, and my job I had been in for so long, and was a path to a new start, and hopefully a new set of experiences.

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Me, Kate and others on the trip looking over the Himalaya

Nearly a year on now, I look back with a sense of gratitude in being able to do this trip. When I came back, I got the job I’m now in just a couple of weeks later. This wasn’t an easy decision either, as I really thought I might take an extended work hiatus, and perhaps study, but it was a good opportunity.

Since this trip I have also been to the Cook Islands for a holiday with my wife (there was a spot of cycling involved there as well, but as it was our 25th wedding anniversary, I had to keep this at a minimum, oh, other than cycling in the NZ Cycle Challenge for 320 km around Taupo 🙂 )

I wanted to include this post, well, because I am proud of it, but also to provide a little more perspective and context on why I am doing what I am doing, and where I have come from.

I really believe that you get to do things, really cool things, with really cool, inspirational people if you prepare, and give yourself over to a goal…it doesn’t matter what. Now, it goes without saying,  I’m certainly no great cyclist (surprise?). But I train and prepare as well as I can.

That’s not to say that I don’t get stuck in the everyday stuff like everyone else (I think one of my other posts was called the ‘Daily Grind’, or something like that for goodness sake), but these trips and challenges give a bigger picture and context.

Tomorrow I’m planning to ride with a mate for the morning. It will be a great ride. I can only do that because I’m prepared. I’m prepared, only because I have a goal.

That’s what I got from the road to Manali.

(Ship) Wrecked

To say that my cycle training over the last couple of weeks has suffered a bit, is a little of an understatement. The week before last, I literally did just one training ride through the week, which was a failed attempt at a threshold session on Zwift. It lasted under an hour. The long work commute had really wrecked me, and I ended up just getting home and crashing into bed most nights.

One saving grace, was that Easter was upon us, and the family had planned a weekend away in Warrnambool, a seaside town around 200 km away from home. It’s located on a particularly beautiful, windswept and treacherous stretch of water, that has become known as the Shipwreck Coast. This 130 km piece of coastline, which officially goes from Port Campbell to Port Fairy (which places Warrnambool pretty much in the middle), has claimed around 638 ships, of which, less than half have been discovered.

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Lochard Gorge along the Shipwreck Coast

My father was particularly interested in the wrecks of the Shipwreck coast and had many books. In particular, I knew the story of the clipper –  ‘Lochard’, which was wrecked just off Mutton Bird Island, not far away from Warrnambool in 1878. There were only two survivors, plus paradoxically, an undamaged huge porcelain peacock, bound for Melbourne, which is now on permanent display at a recreated period village known as Flagstaff Hill, within Warrnambool.

My plan was to ride to Warrnambool on Good Friday, which I knew would be into a headwind, but luckily as it turned out, it was not particularly strong. So I headed off just after 7 am, aiming to be in Warrnambool by 2 pm to meet Jen and the rest of the family.

The ride went well, and although I’d had a dodgy week, I felt strong. As much as I could, I dodged the main highways, and went inland (although I did go through Colac), through Cobden, and then into Warrnambool. It was dry, overcast, and a great riding day, and I finished on time, clocking up just under 200 km, still feeling fresh. There’s long gaps between water stops, but given it wasn’t a hot day, and I was riding well within myself, I simply found a house with a tap out front, and filled up.

Lunch was just a bunch of energy bars, so I could keep moving.

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Warrnambool, is the finishing destination for the famous Melbourne to Warrnambool bike race…the oldest one day cycling race in Australia, and the second oldest in the world, starting in 1895.

The second day at Warrnambool, I did a reasonably short recovery ride, around Tower Hill, which is a local extinct Volcano, and through the gorgeous local town of Koroit, which lasted for just a couple of hours.

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Shirley lying down next to the memorial at Woolsthorpe

On Sunday, after a breakfast of eggs (of the chocolate variety) and mocha hot cross buns (which are now officially my favorite food), I did a ride north to Woolsthorpe, and on some back roads, getting thoroughly lost, racking up 100 km in the process. It wasn’t quite meant to be that long, but it was a really great ride, and with the tail wind on the way back, felt great.

I had planned to ride back to Geelong on Monday, but I backed out (a strong easterly had kicked up, which is very unusual, and disappointing…can’t the weather just do what I want?), and instead I crammed the bike in the car (I’d left the keys to the roof bike rack at home) with all our luggage, and decided instead to take Ena out for a gravel ride on the Bellarine rail trail.

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Ena taking a rest at Drysdale

Look, the rail trail is just a flat path, not very exciting, and not challenging, but it was a really cracking ride. I felt just great, and it was a lot of fun. I’m not sure if it was the break, the extra calories, or a mental thing, but I ended up having just a great time by the end of the Easter holiday.

The week following Easter, I took a rest day on Tuesday, and then did some indoor training sessions right up to Friday night, and this morning (Saturday) I rode up the Alp d’Youies (the You Yangs ride) for a 75 km round trip. It felt good, but admittedly, I didn’t push hard. Reason being, is that tomorrow I have a 125 km gravel session up through the Brisbane Ranges with my friend Byron, which I am really looking forward to. It’s an early start, as we both need to be back early (we’ll be meeting at 5 am). Hopefully the rain will hold off.

Next week, ANZAC day is Tuesday, so I’m looking at what I can do to make the most of it, nothing planned as yet, but I’ll leave any details to the next post.

Just one last item, through the week, Lochie Kavanagh completed the Indian Pacific Wheel race. As in my last posts, this is the 5,500 km race across Australia. Lochie is the youngest rider at just 18, and had completed the ride with just three months of cycling under his belt. Not just three months training, I mean three months riding, ever! (he completed the Three Peaks ride, a 250 km one day ride through the Victorian high country the week before) What a fantastic effort, and incredibly inspiring. He’s lost two front teeth in the process, but I’m sure a lifetime of memories.

What I loved in the interview was Lochie talking about how much he hated the Nullabour, his philosophy of living in the moment, and smashing the back of falls climb in under two hours…just awesome.

Filling in the Gaps

Like most cyclists (I think this is a fair generalization), I record my rides on Strava.com (no affiliation in any way :)). It’s a great way to keep track of your workout history, and also see what all your mates are doing, and spy on their latest efforts over the local segments.

I also like to occasionally look at my heat map and check how many of the local roads I’ve been on. For those that don’t know, this is a map overlay of any area, and which roads or paths you have traveled, roughly colour coded with the number of trips you’ve taken over them.

I’ve become pretty proud of my heat map, and how its been build up over the last few years. It’s predictable, in that my daily commute shows up most predominantly, but I have slowly started to add longer and longer rides, over more and more out of the way roads. Without a doubt however, there are lots of gaps.

When I first went into my local bike shop fifteen years ago, when I wanted to start riding again after a long hiatus, I just wanted to buy a bike. I had no idea actually what sort of bike. Just doing research back then, it became a bit overwhelming…hybrid, road, mountain…I had no idea what I wanted. I just knew I wanted to ride. One of my first questions when I went in the shop was, could I get a mountain bike, but with drop bars. In my minds eye, I wanted a solid bike with thicker tyres for any type of road, but still have the ability to go on road, and stay aero. The shop attendant smiled, and said, well no, not really. Some people do do this, but they are a bit weird, perhaps a hybrid is what you are after. I ended up buying a mountain bike, and rode this for a number of years, mostly paradoxically, on road.

Well things have changed (or perhaps have gone back to the past when there were just ‘bikes’). Adventure bikes (nice marketing term), have really started to take off. I follow a number of other blogs, facebook groups, and instragram accounts of people getting off road, riding for long distances, on a combination of mountain and road bike.

What really drew me back to looking at this, was riding recently on some fire trails, and logging tracks through the Otways (see one of my previous blog posts). Riding these on a mountain bike, which is what I did do, is certainly possible, and enjoyable no doubt, but these are not mountain bike tracks, with jumps, huge bumps or anything like that. They are just not sealed tracks, but have lots of ruts and loose gravel…they scream out for a lighter road bike, but with nice thick tyres to handle the loose surface and distribute the riders weight.

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Me and Ena

So, fifteen or so years later, yesterday I picked up my road bike frame, with mountain bike wheels. It’s a Specialized Sequoia (again, no affiliation). I took it for a little test ride out the back of the Barrabool hills yesterday, and it isn’t hard to find gravel around where I live, and gave it a test run. All I can say is that it was great fun. Knowing that you can handle any terrain, and not worry about sliding all over the place is incredibly liberating, especially in the wet, which is what it was yesterday afternoon.

I’ve called it Ena, after my grandmother. It means little fire, which suited her well. It was a stormy day yesterday, with thunder and lightening, so perhaps there’s some synchronicity in that. (mind you, I soon realised that riding a metal object, on wet roads, with lightening wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve done).

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Some local reasonably tame gravel

It is amazing, that once you get out with a different mindset, you do also start to see so many other options that you were blind to previously. I have ridden past so many tracks and trails that I’ve never noticed before, that scream out for a gravel grinder. Also whats fantastic, is that it’s bloody hard work! I rode just 50km yesterday, and was knackered (I had done 50km earlier in the day, so I do have some excuse I suppose). But, it now opens up lots of new training options. Also, its just about a reset in training. This allows me to do some stuff that’s just a bit different than the same old roads I ride each day, allowing me to mix it up mentally.

Other than my excitement this weekend, there’s not much else to report. I’ve kept up my Zwift training through the week, which has become a bit harder (I’m into the final few weeks of some FTP training I started) both in terms of intensity, but also mentally after a fairly stressful week at work. Today is Sunday, and its a miserable day, with high winds forecast later in the afternoon, so my plan is to do some more training on Zwift. Other than doing one of the preset workouts, I find it less intense that on road, but I’m due for a quieter week anyway, and my legs are still recovering from the gravel effort yesterday.

It is Paris Roubaix tonight…so I’ll have to somehow keep myself awake for that one, and push through a sleep deprived night. I think it finishes at after 1am, and I need to drive to Melbourne at 6:30am, so will be a real challenge, but there is only one Hell of the North after all.

So in summary, as you can probably tell, I’m very chuffed with my recent purchase, and can’t wait to get Ena out again, and start to fill in some of those gaps in my heatmap.

 

Perspective

As I touched on in my previous post, like thousands of people around the world, I had been captivated by the Indian Pacific Wheel Race. Professional sports, inhabited by professionals, run by corporations, focused around revenue, dollars from sponsorship, product placement, has a place. It provides the best performance and competition possible, delivering it to the widest audience.

What has become known as the ‘peoples race’ –  the Indi-Pac has no prize money. By and large the participants are ‘normal’ (well, sort of). What it does provide in comparison to professional sports is true inspiration for the average person. I’m sure I was not alone thinking, hell, perhaps I could do that.  It created drama through the tactics and supreme endurance – in the truest sense of the word. Well, as you can obviously tell, it sucked me in.

My week was pretty average. Catching the train everyday has become a real grind, and my riding each night has become a chore. So with those few spare minutes I had, I followed the tracker of each rider, read their bio’s and fantasized. It re-energized me.

I was mesmerized, especially when I learned they were riding the ‘Back of Falls’ ride, which I have done many times. Its a beast of a ride, for 30 km its full of pain climbing from Anglers Rest to the very top of Falls Creek. This was after already thousands of kilometers being covered from Fremantle to the Victorian High Country. I’ve done this with 220 km in the tank, but nothing like they were attempting.

Then, just out of Canberra the worst thing happened. Piercing the dream, reality hit. The second placed rider Mike Hall had been killed. At 6:20 am he had been hit by a car.

Without knowing the circumstances, there is no judgement here. But every rider knows what it means to feel vulnerable. Every rider knows what it feels to be exposed.

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Of course I never knew Mike. I had barely heard of him prior to the race. But during the race, I had learnt of his winning rides on the Tour Divide, and the TransAm. He had become a large part of my consciousness over the last couple of weeks. His loss has hit me as a cyclist. Vale Mike. My ride this morning, as short and prosaic as it was, was dedicated to you.

As I mentioned, my week was pretty average. I trained each night on the stationary trainer, except Monday as my rest day, and Thursday, because, well, I couldn’t get motivated. Friday was good though…I completed the training session I had failed at the previous week, and I completed two good longer rides this weekend. My plan was to ride to Lorne, but well, that didn’t happen. In Victoria, Daylight savings has ended (sad emoji), which will mean lighter mornings.

I had also hoped the extra hour on Sunday would be something I could make use of. But well, no. I’m happy I completed two 100 km rides. Not great times or huge distances, and they were pretty flat courses around the Bellarine. But still, I felt good, and the weather was nice…I was out, I was riding, and hey, I was able to do something I love.

On Saturday night, one really cool thing I did do, was go see ‘le Ride’, a film staring Phil Keoghan from the ‘Amazing Race’ fame. They reenacted the 1928 Tour de France, on 1928 era bikes, retracing the route around France, where a team of four Australasian’s (three Australians and one New Zealander) competed for the first time. This was when the Tour was a true endurance, covering hundreds of miles a day, over gravel. It was designed to maximize the drop out rate.

It was a really cool film. One of the 1928 racers involved in the story was Sir Hubert Opperman, who finished the highest place of the Australasian’s, gaining 17th overall (only 40 of the original 160 riders finished the race!). ‘Oppy’ later on went on to win the Paris – Brest – Paris, when it was truly a race,  among many other endeavors.

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I rode to the birthplace – Rochester  – of Hubert Opperman a few years ago, this is the statue of him there

Lastly, although a bit of a bleak week, my friend Byron arranged for me, what was to become the best present ever. Byron has just completed the ‘Tour de Cure’ to raise money for cancer research. Over the past few years, this ride (travelling this year from Mt Hotham to Hobart in Tasmania) has raised 30 million dollars for cancer research.

For the last few years Jens Voigt (famed 17 time Tour de France rider) has ridden, and he and Byron put together a short video wishing me all the best for the Ohio RAAM Challenge which Byron sent to me on Messenger.

Chapeau guys, this was a real treat.

Straight to Facebook and Instagram! If I had a more expensive WordPress account, I’d publish it here…but there is a link to my Instagram account where you can see it, from the main page.