Leaders Lowdown – Clare Classic – Greg Boyd

Ride Report – April 2018

Time for a road trip, the Clare Valley, South Australia and more specifically the Clare Classic (160Km) was beckoning and with a few detours and some sightseeing resulted in approx 4000km of travel. First planned stop was Tour de Cowra Easter weekend, but only managed to make the last day and as it was bike and clothes etc were hastily thrown into the caravan (nicknamed the Disco van @ Cowra) without much preparation or checking. Rolled into the Cowra van park on Sunday night ready for the Pinemount ride on Monday.  For April the weather was very hot (some would say extremely hot1) and I was keen to get the ride completed early before it warmed up too much. As it turned out Francis, John, Richard and Mark and some others had similar ideas and the pace was quite brisk. After about 15km my front derailleur cable broke (remember the hasty departure?) meaning no gears for speed and so very high cadence required! A few km short of Cowra I couldn’t maintain the super high cadence and the “elastic broke” whereby Francis and Mark pulled away and rode into the distance. A short time later John came along and we rode together back to Cowra for coffee. The 46 km took about one and half hours. After coffee a nice leisurely afternoon in the van park and some Interweb searching for a replacement cable. Curiously Cowra has nothing in the way of a cycle shop, nor Young anyway a slight detour via Wagga looked to be the best option.

Our next overnight stop was Hay to catch up with James and hopefully a sample ride around Hay. First thing Tuesday morning was a phone call with Wagga Cycle centre for a front derailleur cable. They said yes, no problem, we have and will fit the cable straight away which saved me the effort. Arrived in Wagga around lunch time, dropped off the bike thence lunch at the adjacent pub and afterwards picked up the bike – all very easy. So if you happen to be in Wagga give Wagga Cycle centre a go. 

We pulled into Hay just after Sunset and settled in for the night. Later in the evening I pulled out my bike and kit in preparation for a ride early next morning with James and Dan. Start time was before sunrise with a couple of laps around Hay, 30km in about 55mins of riding with about 20m of climb. Most of that climb was from the Caravan Park going up an over the bridge over the Murrumbidgee river. That said, once the sun came up the breeze added significant resistance. In the middle of the day the weather was still hot with temps nudging into the high 30’s – it was looking like the Clare Classic would be hot. 

After a couple of days at Hay we headed across the NSW western plains with short camp stops along the way. In general, flat and hot, nonetheless an interesting journey and not too much in the vein of cycling. Curiously, Balranald had a bike rack with a couple of old painted bikes chained up. I can only guess it was to give the impression of Balranald as being cycle friendly. The local café didn’t know anything about said bikes but checking around there seemed to be some riding routes around the Yanga National Park. While in Balranald we also came across a group in process of building a replica of Kingsford Smith’s Southern Cross. Apparently he flew in and out of Balranald and other remote locations in western NSW. 

Thence Mildura, Renmark and we arrived in Clare a couple of days before the event. A quick reconnaissance of the route and leg warm up, it looked like a good course. Along the course the occasional farmer had piled up Hay bales with appropriate ClareClassic painted daubed on. The ‘vibe” in Clare was relatively low key unlike Bowral earlier in the year which was alive. Morning was cool but quickly warming up to mid 30C. It had been very hot and dry on the journey from Sydney to Clare and likewise Clare was also hot and dry. Apparently South Australia was enduring the hottest and driest year for quite some time. At the campsite (a few Km from Clare) surrounded by fellow cyclists for the Clare Classic more seemed to be lining up for 110km option. I had expected many to be Adelaide locals but in my immediate camp area Brisbane, Glen Innes and Melbourne. The camp area had a swimming pool, but some bright spark had scheduled maintenance against the Clare event. Many a rider was lamenting the lack of a cool-off in the pool. You would think with the hot weather, packed campsite and event that they would re-schedule said pool maintenance, but no. In general, during our stay, it appeared that the township of Clare is really not that fully in tune with tourist/events, nonetheless a lovely spot. The old railway line has been re-purposed as a rail trail  and named the Riesling Trail and provides a gentle cycle option which is an ideal way to peruse umpteen wineries. 

 The evening before the ride various evening dinner events were on in and around Clare. We chose the convenient pasta dinner at the campsite. Sadly not the finest of fare and they also ran out before all were fed. No-one went hungry as extra Pizzas were ordered in for those that had missed out. That said, I must admit my internals were rumbling early in the morning of the ride. 

The night was cool and in the morning of the ride we were greeted with a clear sky and at 06:30 it was 10C. I should also mention that clocks had been turned back 30mins when we rolled into South Australia, so it was 7am Sydney time. It was not long before a warm (soon to be hot) northerly breeze lifted the temp into the 20’s. I filled both water bottles to the top as the forecast was predicting mid 30C.  The campsite was a quick 4 or 5km ride into Clare for the 8am start. After a couple of waves of riders I reached the wave lined up at the starter tape. In the group plenty of chatter as to why we are starting late on such a extremely hot day. I was toward the back of the group and unable to hear the instructions from the starter and hopefully nothing of great consequence.  Curiously the earlier main announcement on a large PA was clearly audible. We rolled through the main street of Clare with a number of spectators/supporters cheering us on and then turned right heading past the Country Club and started to cycle up a short climb of 5-6%. A lot of surging/slowing in the group and no-one calling slowing and it was somewhat nervous. At this stage I decided to head up around the outside and pass this somewhat risky start/stop group. Over the top the speed picked up and rattling along in the 40-50’s kph. However still no communication in the group and a few near misses. I had a few words with adjacent riders and finally getting some calls for slowing and pointing out hazards, but after about 15km somewhere behind me I heard the awful sound of bikes and bodies skidding down the road. At about this point I decided not much point riding in a group with poor communications and dropped back and just chugged along with some space to avoid incidents. 

We bumped along an undulating plateau and around 20Km we turned left into a solid crosswind and/or headwind with gusts of probably 30-40kph. On the horizon the ridge-line was covered by a wind farm. Hmm, maybe this area is known for wind?   An undulating road to the first rest stop at 34.5Km and by now the temp was up to 30C and I had used one and half bottles. Filled both bottles plus had a good drink hoping to keep fully hydrated to make the next stop at Clare. Which was due at 66Km with some climbing beforehand. We turned left toward the township of Blyth and  onto a straight road with the hot wind at our back.  A fast run through gentle undulations to Blyth through dry brown wheat fields and on our right was an old closed rail line.  Riding along at 40-50kph and no feeling of breeze was indicative that the wind was now at least 50kph. It was hot and baking and wasn’t long before we reached Blyth and at the intersection a large sign proclaimed last train to blyth happened in 1982. We turned left into a hot crosswind/headwind with the road climbing east toward Clare for our next stop at 66Km. Nothing nasty in gradient and I think the maximum gradient was something like 8%. The heat made it more demanding with my water bottles again running low. Once over the top a few lumps and bumps and I rolled into Clare with both water bottles empty. It was around 33C and the hot wind was very drying. The rest stop was littered with plenty of riders laying down. After 66Km my average speed on the Garmin was 32kph – phew! Some food, fill the bottles and drank as much as possible, then continue on another climb out of Clare with the wind tending to crosswind or occasional headwind. Once over the climb a technical descent with one particularly tight left hand corner, thence undulations  to Farrell Flat. A very solid crosswind was trying to knock out the front wheel and you had to concentrate to avoid any mishaps. Those with deep dish carbon wheels were saying it was somewhat nervous with the crosswinds and dust blowing in from the dry wheat fields. 

At Farrell Flat we turned right and now it was an ugly crosswind or head wind gusting to 50-60kph. Although a relatively flat run to the next rest stop at Mintaro the wind and heat made it hard work. Halfway between Farrell Flat and Mintaro I noticed a couple of riders being collected by a SAG vehicle. The section also had a sprint section and sorry, but I had little interest or spare energy in sprinting in the severe baking heat and burning wind. Again my water bottles were running low with the temp around 37C and rising. About 5km before the Mintaro rest stop my bottles were empty and even back at Farrell Flat the water was like hot tea. I was happy to roll into the Mintaro rest stop for food and water.  Across the oval the dust was swirling up in the hot gusting wind. The weather had been very hot leading up to the day, now the weather had really turned it on and was mocking us! I had done an earlier reconnaissance on this last section and the upcoming townships of Auburn and Manoora did not have any scheduled rest stops.  Likewise neither town really had much in the way of shops and doubtful anything would be open on Sunday. Given I had run out of water prior to the previous two rest stops and with the heat and wind building (gusting to at least 60kph) I began to contemplate my options. I thought about buying a couple of extra bottles of water and stuffing them into my jersey pockets, but with the heat it would quickly become hot tea. Later on cheekily thinking about about the conditions maybe some tea bags should have been handed out at the rest stops, then in about 15mins you could pull over under a tree and have a cuppa! Chatting with a few others, they had decided to head back to Clare. Given the very hot conditions and lack of rest/water stops this seemed to be the sensible option. I must admit I was disappointed that given the conditions the organisers did not think about an extra water stop or two. Pity, as my earlier reconnaissance of the the Auburn/Manoora/Mintaro loop had shown an enjoyable ride with undulating descent through the vineyards, turning left at Manoora and step-wise undulating climb back to up to Mintaro. I have ridden in stupid hot conditions and separately in windy conditions but this was both at once plus the wind was stupid hot and dehydrating. 

 Anyway, I decided to abort the extra Kms and head back to Clare. The climb was the steeper climbs of the course with 10-12% sections. The climb was littered with bikes and riders who decided they had endured enough. A few bikes sitting abandoned and toward the top of the climb a SAG wagon was full. I guess people were the priority and the bikes would be collected later. At the top the KOM sign, hopefully some had plenty of energy! Once over the top some decent lumps and bumps and now exposed to hot and gusty head/crosswinds pushing the bike about. I passed a rider, who I guess was on the shorter course had a cargo style bike with a seat up front and his son happily asleep in said seat. Out of curiosity I asked re his gearing and it was not that different to my solo gearing – certainly a strong rider! It wasn’t too long before we crossed the Riesling Trail again and turned right at Watervale onto the main road with about 15Km to Clare. I was thinking, just some undulations trending down to Clare, no problem. Sadly I forgot about the hot 50kph headwind which slowed progress somewhat. Plenty of riders from the various distances were crawling back toward the finish. I zipped past the campsite and a handful of Km to the finish line on the town oval. The actual finish line had nice cooling water spray, which most lingered for a while. I checked the Garmin and it was showing 40C. 

 Most of the oval was in the baking sun and the centre shade area was packed with supporters and riders. I just wanted to find somewhere cool but shade was limited. I grabbed a quick snack and just a chat or two and shared tales of the hot and windy course. I did not linger too long as it was baking hot or rather I should say I was feeling baked and just wanted to cool down, so headed back up the previous downhill undulations to the campsite, however the wind was now a tail wind which made the few Km back relatively easy.  It would have been nice to jump into a swimming pool, but it was closed so I just hopped under a cold shower and lingered for a long long long time. Happy to be back from the heat and wild winds in Kansas, oops I mean Clare and as Dorothy said  “there’s no place like home”. Fortunately no mechanicals with my bike over the 126Km ride (including the ‘commute’ to and from the start/finish) with approx 4 hr 45mins of ride time (it felt longer), 26kph average and 1415m of climbing with nothing too steep. I survived the day out, albeit a dry, hot and windy one! Later on at the campsite various other riders drifted in one by one to the campsite with tales of woe, such as, running out of water or ringing the partner for water or ringing the father to pick me up or lying under a tree waiting for the SAG or trying to find water and knocking on doors in Manoora for water. Sorry to hear their woes, but glad they made it back, albeit in a slightly dehydrated state. In light of this experience and about a couple of weeks after the event I did contact the organisers and had a good chat re the issues with water stops and the extreme conditions on the day. They have assured me they will have plans for contingency to deal with extreme conditions in future events. Chances are next year it will not be a heatwave and in contrast could be snowing! Nonetheless if you are thinking of an interstate Sportive give the ClareClassic a try, it is a great course. Greg Boyd
May 2018