18 October 2009, Melbourne
It was 5:30am and still dark in Melbourne as my brothers Tommie and Jamie, and I saddled up for the 5k commute into the city centre. The streets were quiet apart from the last of Saturday night’s party people. To wolf whistles and cheery calls of “Morning boys!” we passed stragglers from Melbourne’s hottest gay clubs in our figure-hugging 795 gear.
As we neared the city we were joined by growing numbers of cyclists all heading in the same direction. We passed through Melbourne’s sports precinct, through the shadow of the famous “G”, past the new Socceroos stadium under construction, the Rod Laver stadium, the velodrome and so on. The Aussies are very serious about their sports!
Then, as we crossed the Yarra River in central Melbourne, an unforgettable sight. Countless blinking LEDs streaming into the city from all directions and massing in Alexandra Gardens for the start. Over 15,500 cyclists were signed up and ready to go. The pre-dawn atmosphere was slightly subdued but with an undercurrent of grim determination in the face of the 210km challenge ahead.
The start was on time. After a few chilly kms temperatures and spirits began to rise with the sun. People began to smile. And with good reason! Thousands of us riding our bikes under the rising sun on St Kilda’s Beach Road. Mornings don’t get much better than that.
Tommie, Jamie and I stayed together and enjoyed the chat for the first 20kms or so. Plenty of eating and drinking in those early kms. Then Tommie started to get ants in his pants. Whenever a faster group passed he was out of the saddle chasing the draft. Jamie and I would follow the train for a bit but then drop off and settle back into our own pace. Tommie waited for us two or three times before deciding he was getting on a train to Sorrento and staying on it!
Sorrento is about 100km down the East side of Port Philip Bay from Melbourne central. There we would board one of a fleet of ferries criss-crossing the bay to Queenscliff. The plan was to meet our support crew there for lunch before beginning the return journey up the west side of the bay.
With Tommie gone ahead, Jamie and I took our sweet time and made it to Sorrento in a leisurely 4 hours or so. We were feeling good. There had been a slight headwind but that didn’t affect us too much. There were 15,500 riders participating in the event so there was always a group to tuck in behind.
After a longish wait at Sorrento we piled onto the ferry and made the 45minute crossing to Queenscliff where our devoted support crew was waiting. Thanks a million to Helen, Vava, Rosie, Eva, Clody, Robyn and of course Miss Sheelin Boop, the dog. Seeing you all there was a great encouragement, not to mention Rosie’s hang sangwitches!
Unfortunately for Tommie his heroics had backfired a little. He had reached the lunch rendezvous too early, and rather than wait up to 45 mins for everyone to arrive he decided to press on, once again falling in with fast bunches on the way back to the city. Meanwhile, well over an hour behind by now, Jamie and I clambered awkwardly back onto our bikes to work off the lunch.
The ride back up to the city was quite different. It was longer for a start, and not quite so scenic with long stretches of freeway where conversation was difficult due to traffic noise. On the plus side, the freeway was smooth and with a slight tailwind Jamie and I made some serious progress. For several kms at a time we were comfortably maintaining speeds of 40kmh+ Inevitably though the kms began to mount up and legs were tiring. Luckily we got another big boost about 50km from the city when we hooked up with our support crew again. More sandwiches, a cup of coffee and away we went once more.
Finally we crossed the West Gate Bridge and hit the city streets again. Now certain we would finish, we covered the last few kms in high spirits, despite a 7km sting in the tail – the route ended up being 217kms instead of the advertised 210! However, Jamie and I weren’t complaining too much as we crossed the finish line to the enthusiastic cheers of our dedicated support crew.
Tommie had finished about an hour and a half before us and was well refreshed by the time we all met up in the finish area for healthy burgers, chips and Coke. Job done. 217km. Total time 11:05. Ride time 8:13. Avg speed just over 26kmh.
The verdict? Around the Bay in a Day was a superbly organised event, and speaking for myself, a serious challenge. I’m delighted to have done it and would recommend it to anyone. Might even try the 250km route next time!
Also see Jamie’s Facebook album
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