Further Race – prologue

FurtherBy popular demand (my mother) I’ve decided to breath a bit of life back into this old blog. It’s been quiet on here, not because I haven’t been cycling, but because I didn’t really know how to write something interesting about for example coming 5th out of 5 in a crit race. But then Camille McMillan came up with this crazy idea of Further Race and asked if I wanted to ride. Camille and I became friends since those days on the Transfagarasan when I was volunteering for TCR5 and I wanted to help him build up his startlist, so without giving it enough thought, I said ‘Sure, I’ll come and ride!’.

But did I want to ride? 500+KM through the Ariège in the Pyrenees, lots and lots and lots of up, combination of tarmac, offroad and hike a bike, and after IPWR I thought my conclusion was that I preferred bike touring over bikepack racing. Did I really want to ride? Oh well, I committed now, and I wasn’t going to be the dickhead to pull out. Also, the pictures Camille teased of the route and the combination with the Rally convinced me that it would be a cool event no matter how I got on. Well, spoiler alert: I didn’t win. I didn’t even finish. I pulled the plug after a sad and hard fought 180-ish kilometers that took me a day and half to cover. One might say I didn’t get on well. But fuck, what a great time that was.

IPWR day 6: Canberra

And that’s Melbourne to Canberra done and dusted! I’m so happy to have finished, and to not have to wear my stinky clothes anymore, and to not have to sit on my saddle sores, and to not have to wake up at a ridiculous time, etc. That being said, it has been a wonderful time though, and I’m very happy with the last couple of days.

The last day itself was unfortunately a bit of a low note. I would be traveling more than 100KM straight north and obviously that was exactly where the wind was coming from. That was far from helpful, whenever there would finally be a bit of downhill again I couldn’t even freewheel for a bit. But for once the wind wasn’t even the main thing I was struggling with. I spent the majority of my day feeling extremely frustrated and mad that I was riding on this highway. It wasn’t necessarily the drivers being dickheads, it was just that the highway had heavy traffic (so there wasn’t a lot of space for the drivers to manœuvre around me), the speed limit was 100km/h and there were lots of sections where there was not a proper shoulder or the shoulder would be near unrideable. Cyclists should absolutely not be allowed to ride on roads where fast passing traffic is within arms reach! I was so frustrated about the fact that Australia didn’t have their cycling infrastructure in order when there’s easily enough room to make a proper bike path a little ways away from the road. More than once would I have about 50cm wiggle room and a big truck passing me at high speed and the draft would nearly knock me into the gutter or whatever was next to the road. It also made me think about Mike, when I was approaching the place of his accident. And it got me quite emotional, hoping that he wasn’t experiencing the same kind of stress on the road just hours before he died and that he was in a happier frame of mind. It was good to have his spirit bike shrine to look forward to, it gave the ride a sense of purpose. That, and of course the finish line that was finally looming.

Once in Canberra I was still shaking off the stress of the highway, when I suddenly saw an arrow on the road with IPWR underneath it. Well, that was a welcome help! Only moments later I came across a guy in lycra. “Are you Louise?” Turned out that local dotwatcher Graham had come out to welcome me to the city and ride with me for a bit. And then another moment later I had a flat rear tire, my first of the ride. I was very grateful for Graham to be there, because even just his presence brought my stress levels down to a point where I could really be blasé about the flat. Had it happened half an hour earlier on the highway, I may have very well given up right there. It was also helpful Graham had CO2 canisters, so the flat was fixed within minutes. We chatted a little bit about the race and things in general. After a while he let me go on by myself and finally half an hour later, more than an hour than planned, I finally rolled up to the Parliament House. It took a while to find Myfanwy, but eventually we found each other and had our tracker exchange. Myfanwy is now well on her way to bring it home to Sydney for team 3G1B.

I’m now staying at Rowan and Antonia’s house and will most likely make my way to Sydney somewhere tomorrow. Can’t wait to start my week of relaxation and recovery!

IPWR day 5 – Cooma

Wow, what a day! I knew I was in for another huge day of climbing, but the Snowies sure delivered! It’s probably not even my slowest day on the bike, but it’s for sure in the top 5, maybe top 3. I ended up with the most elevations meters ever on a ride, but that also meant an average of 18,3km/h at the end of the day. Funny enough it was only today that I was absolutely 100% sure I was going to make the finish line.

Cabramurra was about 80km from the motel, and the first goal was to get there for lunch. So I departed early-ish again, to cross the state border into New South Wales and start the long climb. It’s nothing like the Back of Falls though, I think the steepest parts were about 12% and they didn’t last too long. That being said, with the state my legs are in, I would only just about manage to keep grinding in the lowest gear until it got flatter. The weather couldn’t have been better for the climb. It was warm, but overcast and the breeze was maybe blowing in the wrong direction, it had a nice mountain coolness to it. But most of all, the scenery was so good, it was an absolute pleasure to suffer through it. Especially the dams up on the ridge gave some wonderful views.

Up on the ridge was also where the wind became more problematic. Without the protection of the trees I’d sometimes get thrown around on the bike. And once I was in Cabramurra with my big lunch (chicken nuggets, steak sandwich, potato wedges and best of all: a fresh fruit salad) the wind picked up even more. It made descending a lot more sketchy than necessary. I was also reminded of the fact that I needed to be careful for wildlife on this descent when I nearly hit a kangaroo. I was going at high speed when I saw the kangaroo hanging out really close at the side of the road. We made eye contact and he got startled and for a second I thought he was going to jump in front of me, but I was already passed, thank god.

The ride towards Cooma was then a near endless up and down, but luckily with more downs. I wanted to try and put the hammer down a little, because so close to the finish I didn’t feel like I needed to spare myself. So for the first time this trip I changed the Garmin from showing the route (it was just one way all the way to Cooma, even I wouldn’t get lost) to showing my basic info like speed and such. Well, that was a painful eye opener. Bike packs + tired legs = always slow speed even when you think you’re hammering. But, I still managed to push it and got to Cooma a little before 7pm.

I was going to stop there for the night, because then it will be a relatively easy 100KM into Canberra tomorrow. It also gave me the opportunity to complete the family reunion part of this trip and meet up with Phil, Lisa and James. They had a 90 minute drive from Merimbula to come see me at the parcours, so it was great it wasn’t just a quick wave, but we could actually sit down and have some Thai food (me slightly underdressed in my smelly cycling gear). I still can’t get over the fact they were willing to come all this way! I’ve now virtually met every Aussie family member (except for some of the kids).

Tomorrow I get to hand over the tracker to my team mate Myfanwy, who will bring it home to Sydney. That means my part will be done and I get to enjoy some clean clothes and time off the bike. The trip has been great, but I’m glad the end is in sight. 🙂

IPWR day 4 – Corryong

I was only for a little while, still trying to assess how the body was holding up after yesterday’s effort, when a car came past and I heard my name. Turned out it was my mum’s cousin Gerard who lives in Albury. I never met him before, but he’d been dotwatching everyone, so it’s great he could come out and say hello on the road! He is into bike touring himself and said the route into the Snowies is absolutely wonderful. That definitely helped, I wasn’t sure if I was looking forward to the next big day of climbing yet, but now I got a little more exciting. He also said the weather should be nice for at least the next couple of days.

After saying goodbye, I was back on the road again. I was keen to make it to the foot of the Snowies today and since there wasn’t too much climbing involved, I pedaled as easy as I could, trying to get some recovery on the bike. And surprisingly that actually worked. Granya Road would still be an obstacle, not very steep but it kept climbing for a good while. But tucked into my lowest gear, just easily pedaling, it was very manageable. And the area was gorgeous, so it was by no means a punishment to be talking my time there. The descent was also really fun, not too steep, nice sweeping corners with clear view and hardly any traffic. That’s how I like them.

The rest of the day I got bored out of my mind though. I went along the Murray River for a good 60km, but the surroundings got so boring after maybe 30 minutes that it really started to get to me. Except for cows and dry farmland and the river, there was absolutely NOTHING between Granya and Walwa. Not even a sign every now and then to say how far to go, so all I was left with was to keep pedaling until the blue line of Garmin was at the next little bend in the river. Every 90 minutes I stopped to check, because surely I must almost be there by now, to discover I actually only cycled for 20 minutes. When I finally got to Walwa, I’d be taking much longer than I should have. So I went on to get my sugar fix, and went back into time trial mode. It was 4:30 and I wanted to make it to Corryong before it was completely dark, still about 50km to go. Totally doable if the road wasn’t too undulating, and it wasn’t, so I made good time to my finish for the day and I finally got to meet a fellow racer on the road! I’d been chasing BombWhisky from the start, and I finally caught up. I got a room at the pub and we had a good time talking about the race.

So as for the body update:

  • I’m walking like I’ve got a stick up my arse, but pedaling is still decent.
  • Saddle area is surely not a good sight (I prefer not to look at it), but the pain is definitely much less than yesterday.
  • The strength in my hands starts to fade. I can still handle a knife and fork like a real human being, so I hope I finish before the nerves in my hands will fully give in.
  • My feet have been bothering me a lot today. Not sure if it was because it was so hot, but they were on fire and I had to take multiple breaks to take the shoes of for a second.

Other than that, some bits and pieces are stiff, but nothing too bad. Which is good, because I’m actually nearly done. Tomorrow is gonna be another big day, climbing through the Snowies, but by then it will be a matter of easy(-ish) pedaling to the finish. Onwards and upwards!

I think this is what I might be climbing tomorrow. Not sure though, could also be a random hill.

IPWR day 3 – Beechworth

I’m way too exhausted for a bedtime story today, so I’m just gonna leave you with a picture of Strava summarizing today’s effort. I feel physically spent after all these climbs, but great to see Jaye and Roz (Uber Dotwatchers), Gary and Olga (loveliest friends of my parents, who double as substitute parents) and Rosie (one of my Aussie cousins) up the road today. Would not have been able to get through today without their love.

Also, here is a picture of the valley looking over Mount Beauty and the descent of Falls Creek. The better part of my beautiful hell on earth from today.

IPWR day 2 – Omeo

Again I didn’t manage to get my target. Was planning on getting as far as Anglers Rest, but stranded about 38 uphill km short in Omeo. Not sure yet if I should change my targets, or if I should stop being a pussy and keep pushing til I get there.

If I didn’t spend as much time at Bairnsdale Bikes in the morning though, it was a good chance I would have decided to keep going. Bairnsdale Bikes was the shop that invited me to come yesterday evening. I was going to stop there to get a pedal check (all good now) and to have the drivetrain looked after (spins perfectly). But as soon as I got in, the owner Daniel offered me to have a shower, which was bliss. Excellent shop!

Once everything was sorted, I went on to tackle the Great Alpine Road. At first I didn’t like it at all, I guess it’s only Great when you ride something with four wheels. The shoulders were quite rough and there was heavy traffic passing at high speed. At least it was a wide shoulder, so it wasn’t really unsafe or anything. And past Bruthen, the road became quieter and a lot more enjoyable. Especially because I had it in my head somehow that it would be a 100km continuous gradual upwards slog to Omeo, but I was actually treated to numerous very fun downhills.

So the riding was generally fine. I wanted to keep some reserves for my legs in anticipation of the Back of Falls, so every time the road would turn upwards I’d immediately shift back to spin nice and easily, Froomy style (except, you know, a little bit slower). This worked quite well, I managed to stay clear from any burning lactate. What worked not very well was my nutrition, as in I started to feel a bit nauseous at the thought of solid food. I managed to force feed some KitKats and two energy bars and together with a lot of coke and chocolate milk, that was all my fuel today.

By the time I got to Omeo, I noticed my body was starting to take a toll, so food was definitely a priority. Then I saw the Snug as a Bug hotel, I was sold. I wanted to get a room here. It was still a bit early days, but hopefully some rest would help me to eat a bit more again. Also, when I stepped outside to get food across the street (which I managed to eat, still with slight reluctance, but not as bad), I was surprised at how cold it had become now it was dark. I was happy not to have to bivvy at Anglers Rest, and it would also be a good chance to recharge all the electronics.

Body update:

  • It’s going surprisingly well with the legs! Sure they’re a bit sore, but not by far as bad as it has been in the past after two days of riding. Tan lines are looking good.
  • The saddle area. Hmm, it’s very sensitive, but just about doable.
  • Fingers are still working, no sign of ulnar palsy yet. I’m not wearing gloves and didn’t mount aero bars, so that’s a bit surprising. But let’s not celebrate just yet, it could still come.
  • Overall just a little bit sore, but nothing major. Well, except for the eating thing maybe, let’s see how it goes tomorrow.

Time for an early nights sleep, to make my way to Back of Falls as soon as possible.

IPWR day 1 – Briagolong

I started today with the aim to get as far to Bairnsdale as I could, some 300KM away. Of course that meant that I actually wanted to really make it to Bairnsdale, but somehow before the ride my legs didn’t really feel strong, or maybe it was just my mind trying to manage expectations. So anywhere close to Bairnsdale would be it.

But then I got to Noojee and starting talking to a guy who was being a marshall for the local bike race The Baw Baw Challenge (I only had to ride the first, supposedly easy half of mount Baw Baw and it was a nasty little bitch, so I’m sure it was a real challenge). I told him I was trying to get to Bairnsdale and then he told me that he was from Bairnsdale and he was going to watch Paris Roubaix there tonight and that he was sure the guys would love it if I came too. Well, that was as good an incentive as any, because I really wanted to see that race!

Progress during the day was pretty good, my legs felt alright (so if the legs were fine, it was really just the mind playing with me) and I had a lovely tailwind to go with it. I was on schedule to make it there between 10 and 11pm, which would be well on time for the final of the race. But when the dark fully set in, my eyes became really droopy. I found out there was a little campsite not far from the route in Brialogong which would probably be my last escape before I wouldn’t have a choice but to push on to Bairnsdale (still a good 2 hours away). Realizing that if I would go to that bike shop, sleep would come even later, I made the call to stop here and get a good few hours of rest.

Not a bad call though. I’m at a really basic camping with a couple of young Aussie families and it almost feels like a holiday now. 😉 I just wish I had brought a blow up mat after all, but I think I’ll still find it easy enough to get some sleep.

Oh and some basics from today:

– Mount Dandenong is fan-tas-tic! Riding up there in the break of dawn made it my best sunrise ride so far.

– the rolling terrain after Moe was a bit boring, with dry farm land and kettle for miles on end. But the fact that it was relatively flat (the flattest part of my route I think) and I had a tailwind, made it completely tolerable.

– pizza in Heyfield was awful (but it did the trick)

– something is not quite right with my left pedal. I can still use it OK, but I’ll need to have it checked. Maybe at that bike shop in Bairnsdale when I get there tomorrow.

I’m gonna sleep so well under these stars! Sleep well, or for my Dutch friends: enjoy your spring Sunday!

Back at it again – IPWR 2018

Roo sign

Not gonna lie, slightly worried about kangaroos.

SURPRISE! I’ll be riding the Indian Pacific Wheel Ride, formerly known as Indian Pacific Wheel Race this year! Or actually, by now it’s not much of a surprise to most of you . But for some reason I never got around to writing something about it on the blog, but here it is.

The whole idea of signing up came quite spontaneous. The entire Indipac (+/- 5500KM self supported set route from Fremantle to Sydney) wasn’t really on my to-do list. But when the relay team option was announced, my interest suddenly sparked. With the distance significantly shortened, it would allow me to take part in the race, while also being able to visit my Aussie family and my friend who recently moved to Sydney, all in a three week holiday span. I didn’t feel like actively putting a team together though, so it wasn’t until I saw on Facebook that a team was looking for a 4th member to ride section 3 from Melbourne to Canberra, that I decided to give it a go.

Ever since then, the preparation was a bit tumultuous. First there was trying to organise a team of cyclists who don’t know each other and who all live in a different time zone. That wasn’t even the hard part though, we were getting close to the application deadline for stage 1 but it was still relatively smooth. A big obstacle came when our team captain and designated section 1 rider had to pull out due to health issues. We were just a few days away from the closing date of stage 2 of the application, so then it was all hands on deck to find someone to replace him. Luckily the organisers were giving us a bit of leeway for the deadline and eventually we managed to find a new team member who didn’t get a place in the solo event and was willing to ride as part of our team.

In the nick of time we managed to get our act together and all lights lit green. But then we received the big news: due to an inquest into Mike Hall’s death in last year’s edition, and possible outcomes of this process that only recently became clear, the organisers had to cancel the race. This was a really hard blow.  The news only came about a month before the race start on March 17th, and I felt like the organisers owed us a bit more information than this. Initially I completely lost my enthusiasm and interest to ride the race. But when the news settled, and rationality came back again, I realised that the decision for Jesse and Sarah must have been extremely difficult, and the reason we were fed so little information must have had legal causes. Also, the rest of my team showed to be a bunch of troopers, who were joining many other participants to ride the ride (we no longer wanted to call it a race) as intended, so I did the only right thing and followed suit.

So that’s that, in less than 4 weeks I’ll be leaving to Australia for a nice holiday with my family in Melbourne, with my friend in Sydney, and a little bit of cycling in between. 😉 I’ll soon post a bit more about where to follow our progress (there will still be a tracker website) and some more information about my team.

TCR No.5 report 6 – CP4, Romania

Today marks day 3 of checkpoint 4 being open and so far we've had 7 riders come through and 6 of them up the road expected to come through during the night. From tomorrow onwards the mid pack will start to come in and it will probably be a lot more crowded.

At the moment James Hayden has about a 4 hour time gap on Bjorn Lenhard, who came to the checkpoint late afternoon yesterday respectively. Both of them had a fairly quick stop with us of maybe 30 minutes, before they got back on the road. In third position is Jonas Goy, who arrived around 2am and had a 5 hour kip in the Wendy house (is what I think the British call it… a little house with a slide for children to play in). From then on it got a little more exciting. Geoffroy Dussault's dot had been stationary for quite some time in Sibiu 100km away from the checkpoint, and in the morning he was overtaken by Nelson Trees. Nelson broke his front wheel a couple of days ago, causing him a couple of places in the race. But he cut back on sleep and managed to work his way back to 4th again. Not very long after Nelson left, Geoffroy Dussault, Rory McCarron and Mathias Dalgas entered very shortly after one another, all in completely different states of mind. It's so interesting to see how riders respond differently to having just ridden 3000km with the knowledge they still have 1000km to go.

Mathias Dalgas packs really light

It's been difficult for us to closely follow the race as internet is really, really sparse, so all we could focus on was the riders in near proximity of the checkpoint. I do know that the heatwave (they call it Lucifer apparently?) has taken its toll on a lot of riders, causing a bunch of them to either scratch or seriously take it back a notch. The first women have passed checkpoint 3 though, and are likely to arrive late on Sunday or early Monday morning. Can't wait to see them!

Chris and Paul geeking over Bjorn's bike

Meanwhile at our hotel things have been slow (internet in particular), but fun. Volunteering obviously means a lot of waiting around, but there are definitely worse places to sit on your arse all day. The hotel has a creek running at the back and a little campground right next to it, which turns out to be a popular weekend destination for Romanian families. It's been very crowded around the hotel and there's a constant smell of barbecue or campfire coming from the campgrounds. The hotel is sort of hot on the whole bear theme, but apparently the media team really saw a mother bear with her cubs after sunset the other day, so I find it a bit surprising that everyone is so comfortable to be cooking food in the open air and then sleep in a tent next to it. When in the States, the campgrounds were really strict on leaving all your food and items with strong scents in the bear box and not in your tent or car. But maybe that's just American hysteria, because so far there have been no reports of bears hovering around the tents here (sadly). Hopefully better news tomorrow. 😉

Oh, and let's not forget: Marianne Vos won the European Championships today, HELL YES!

TCR No.5 report 5 – CP4, Romania

First mission is complete, I made it to the checkpoint! After a lovely night's sleep at the Old Mill, I forced the savory breakfast in. I usually can't really handle any solid food so shortly after waking up, but I knew that I needed it and I had no clue if I'd able to get any food on the climb. The morning had the kind of hotness in the air that predicted another scorching day, but at that moment it was still quite okay.

The climb itself was absolutely lovely. It was going to be the longest and highest climb I've ever done, so I just settled into a rhythm and worked my way up. The climb went really well, it's never excessively steep and the views will keep you distracted. I did make the classic mistake at some point to congratulate myself a bit too early, thinking I was nearly at the top, when I realized the 'fun' part still was to begin. The picture above shows the last 5km, fully exposed to the sun.

Then a not so fun tunnel (I hate tunnels…) and a 15km descent down the south side of the Transfagarasan took me to the checkpoint location, where I met Chris and part of the first shifts crew. Chris works for Apidura, one of the race sponsors and responsible for checkpoint 4. Paul was also there, who you might remember as the person I copied the route from that took me over the rough gravel track after Brad. He was feeling a bit guilty, which was of course completely unnecessary, but I might still accept that beer from him. 😉

The media car following the race leaders came in late last night, because we were expecting James and Bjorn to arrive during the night. In the end they decided to take a rest before they got here. I imagine at least James and maybe both of them must have had a very rough ride along the same road that stressed me out so much on Wednesday, because the race organisation communicated earlier this morning that they strongly discourage the riders to use this road. James is now on the parcours towards the checkpoint and should be here in probably two hours, with Bjorn likely to arrive somewhere in the afternoon. The fun is about to begin!