Leader’s Lowdown – Around the Bay 300km – Greg Boyd

300Km

Early this year Francis sent out an email encouraging we should all go along for the ATB300km – a new and longer route. Typically, ATB is very windy and then add in either too hot, too cold and often wet. Having previously completed the 210Km & 250Km routes, I was pretty much over the usual ugly Port Phillip Bay weather, the Geelong freeway slog, Ferry delays and the final raft of continual red lights on the last 40-50Km. After my 2017 ATB250km ride (battle?) I had pretty much reconciled the situation to NO more ATB’s due to a wet, fast and sketchy freeway run to Geelong, followed with battling through Km after Km of strong headwind.  With Francis’s encouragement, plus the thoughts of an additional 50Km unridden loop of Arthurs seat and Red Hill climbs with limited entries of just 300 riders for the 300km, I reconciled and thought why not? Maybe it would be third time lucky with the weather? As it turned out they later allowed more than 300 entries, regardless just Francis and I from Bike North had signed up.

It is probably easier to fly in/out to Melbourne but decided on road trip to visit family on the way. Hence, we left earlier in the week with a stopover and cruised into our accommodation located on Southbank on Saturday afternoon. The apartment had a great view and was right next to transport, restaurants, theatres etcetera. It was quite agreeable being a fly on the wall and looking out the window at the action along the Yarra river.

You may ask why Southbank and not Albert Park? For all past ATB’s, the ride start/finish has been Alexandra Gardens which is just a 100metres from Southbank. However, after booking accommodation early, the start/finish was changed to Albert Park. The corporate reasoning was to avoid the snarly finish through all the traffic back at Alexandra Gardens.  This did not feel like a good omen for ATB300-2018 and would make it harder for friends/family to attend. The start/finish was no longer a short stroll from the transport hub of Melbourne. Anyway, no biggie, still only a few km ride from Southbank.

Saturday evening was very enjoyable dining at Southgate overlooking the Yarra, plenty of buskers, entertainment and people. Southgate was pumping as was the music from the other side of the river. Curiously there seemed to be an unusually high number of brides wandering past, many without a groom! Took a while for the aha moment and join the dots when I realised the Musical Muriel’s Wedding was playing at the adjacent theatre!

After dinner and back at our apartment a quick final check of the bike and gear – all good. Also reviewed the 300Km ride notes for tomorrow and compared with the 250Km ride last year and concluded that I would need to keep moving with no time for leisurely coffee stops alongside the Bay. There would not be much time to spare before the cut-offs. Thence a check of the weather forecast which predicted 11 -26C, dry with little wind– definitely good! then adjust the manual wrist watch and alarm for daylight saving change and lament the hour of sleep lost, effectively meaning a wakeup call at 3am body time (4am clock time) Finally a few short hours of sleep before the alarm jarred me awake from a deep sleep – argghh! Looking out the window, it was pitch black and still people could be seen walking along the Southbank – some appeared to be dressed in staff clothing and I guess heading home from a long night of work!

Brekkie, then gear up and down the elevator to the ground floor. The concierge seemed to be a keen bike rider and/or follower of the sport and was determined to check the wind reports and apparently no breeze for the run to Geelong and thence some light breeze of varying directions and finally a light breeze as a tail wind for the run home from Frankston – bonus! Most unusual for an ATB ride – no rain, no big winds and nice weather! A couple more riders came down the lift, one was from Balmain and his longest ride to date being 100km including Three Gorges. He had signed up for the 210Km but was going to ride the 250km and planning on extending his longest ride distance record. I did not see him again and can only wonder how he went.

Outside and clipping in, the Garmin reported a mild 12C and the dark early morning (night?) was serenely still. After a few hundred metres of riding a parade of bikes with flashing lights could be seen, all heading toward Albert park. Follow the flashing red lights! Near the start line I was wandering around looking for Francis, but no sign and then a SMS – seems he is directly across the road from me at the start! It was a problem finding someone in the dark, even with all the flashing bike lights. After a while we are joined by his friend Martin, who Francis predicates will zoom off into the distance.

The start was scheduled for 05:30 for the 210, 250 and 300km. Francis and I concur that the 300 group really needs to be up front to be able to comfortably make the cut-offs, eventually we start about 10-15 minutes late and with the volume of riders we lose contact very quickly. I figure that we will probably meet up at one of the rest stops or at the Ferry and just keep peddling. The sun started to peek through about Werribee and I was rattling along in a largish group. This almost turned to tears with a large metal road plate across the road causing riders up front to brake and neglecting to call out said hazard. Luckily no one fell, but it was an underwear changing moment. Also, up front in said group was a rider in full resplendent GCN kit. Was one of the GCN presenters on the ride or just a GCN fan? I think the latter and I guess they may also need a change of underwear and maybe that is why said rider pulled in at the Werribee rest stop.

After Werribee we turned left and climbed the overpass leading onto the Geelong Freeway. In the distance a huge fog bank could be seen rolling in over the bay. Hmm, the Bay may have a weather trick up its sleeve! In 2017 it rained on/off along the freeway whereby a good cross/tail wind lifted speeds considerably. Today, no freeway tailwind but dry and we only had to deal with all the rubbish and broken car parts on the freeway verge. Could not help but thinking that the night before, surely, the organizers could run a street sweeper along and some other riders suggested why not close a lane of the freeway, which happened to smooth and debris free? Geelong arrival time was later and average speed slower to Geelong compared with last year on the 250km, and some time lost with a couple of ‘natural breaks’ and start delay but I was thinking this time lost should be compensated by the upcoming lack of later predicted nasty headwinds and gaining time back for the overall 300Km.

The Geelong rest stop was a relatively leisurely break and no sign of Francis. Again, I figured that we would probably meet up at the Queenscliff Ferry. After Geelong the 250/300 course veered off toward Port Arlington and the road became relatively empty and I was riding along the undulations by myself until after Port Arlington, I think around 130km, and guess who? Francis goes past hooked onto the back of a faster group. He drops off the group and says Hello. He had sent an SMS at Geelong, but I guess it came through while zooming downhill and I didn’t hear it come in. We ride together until Queenscliff getting there around 10:48 and expecting to hop on the 11am Ferry, but said Ferry is apparently full and we must wait for the 11:30 Ferry ☹ The delay at the start has meant we didn’t make the ferry #$@@**$$!!  A SMS comes in from Martin that he has made the ferry – obviously flying. On the plus side the fog had dissipated into a beautiful day. And still only light breezes – definitely nothing like previous ATBs

Not much to do but enjoy a leisurely lunch under a tree, top up the water bottles and saunter over to the ferry. In the past the ferry was the larger style with enclosed lower deck for vehicles and seating up top, but this ferry was much like the Berowra river ferry, sans cables, with an open deck and limited seating.  The deck was packed with bikes and riders – good thing it was nice weather! In hindsight I wonder if they had enough lifejackets for the number of humans on board – probably doesn’t bear thinking about!

The ferry arrived safely in Sorrento and we cruised along to Dromana in a convoy of bikes dodging dangerous poorly placed road signs and car doors. At Dromana another rest stop to top up bottles and empty bladders prior to the new additional 50km loop. At this stage we were about an hour ahead of the time cut-off. In hindsight a reasonable pace, especially with the start delay and additional time waiting for the ferry. Thence pretty much straight up the climb to Arthurs Seat. It is a steepish climb with some steep pinches and apparently the highest point in the region. Near the start we could see a chairlift going straight up!

As we pass by the chairlift station, there is a transient thought that I could pull in and take the chairlift, particularly when you could see mountain bikes wheeling into the chairlift station. I can only guess that there must be a decent single-track MTB descent down Arthurs seat. Anyway, we keep peddling on and by this time of day, the sun was beating down (27C) and halfway up I stop briefly to wash sweat from my eyes and pour water over my head and thence back to climbing. Francis powers on into the distance – he is riding strongly. Eventually the panoramic views at the top are definitely worth the climb.

Francis is waiting for me at the top of the climb and we roll straight into a beautiful descent through a Eucalyptus forest – noice!. Midway through the decent a sneaky little steep uphill pinch and then more descent and undulations with lovely farmlands into Flinders for a stop to refill drinks, a cold coke and a brief chat with a couple from Cairns, the woman was looking around and noted at this point a complete lack of females on the 300Km ride – true and well done. We roll through Flinders and past a long jetty with distant views toward Phillip Island and suddenly recollections of freezing on Phillip Is, but that is another story. We pass a sign in Flinders promoting the statistic they have the cleanest air in the world (as I guess does Phillip Is) which is blown up from the Great Southern Ocean. Thankfully no Antarctic air is blowing in from the south!

Thence more undulations, some steepish and being an open road some not so courteous car traffic and in one case a P plater who just about had a head on with oncoming traffic on a blind downhill right-hand curve! Another underwear change! Interestingly just a little early I had a conversation with a rider from Adelaide who thought that motorists during the ride where generally less responsible to cyclists than back in Adelaide. He reasoned that this was due to the Tour Down Under over the past 20 years, which has resulted in increased awareness and responsible driving toward cyclists. Likewise, the money brought in by the Tour Down Under had created a form of dependence on cycling which also increased awareness and responsible driving. Anyway, that was his theory and seemed quite reasonable to me.

Then a left turn to the last real climb of the day – Red Hill. Said left turn was easily missed as it was on a fast downhill and the signage was not clear. Apparently, several riders missed said turn ☹. Red hill was not as steep of a climb as Arthurs seat and basically a series of four steeper ramps joined by steady uphill gradients winding through Pine and Eucalypt forests – very peaceful. Halfway up one of the Red Hill ramps a hand cyclist had stopped for a rest, an amazing run on forearm power! He said he would get going in a few seconds. Earlier he had been flying along the undulations and downhill it was hard to keep up with his pace. I guess a more aero position but unfortunately gravity sucks going uphill.  Finally, a run down to Safety Beach. Francis was keen to keep the pace moving on, whereas I was happy to just peddle/pace home but ended up picking up the pace and slipstreaming Francis, who in turn was slipstreaming other faster groups pushing along faster than my normal cruisy pace. We were zooming past other 210, 250 and 300 riders!

We stopped briefly at Frankston for a water top and natural break. A brief chat with a motorcycle marshal at the Frankston rest stop who said he was really enjoying the day and not much work. The favourable weather had resulted in considerably less incidents/issues and made his day much cruisier than usual.

Thence a run back with a gentle tail wind, sadly interrupted by frequent #@$&*&*#!! red lights. It was ugly on the legs getting back up to speed and starting to feel the almost 300km. The constant stop and start probably wasted a good 10-15mins, anyway after all the stop start, finally a cruisy lap of Albert Park into the finish with Francis.

Best part of the ride was the additional 50km loop for the 300Km – beautiful views, lovely countryside and some shady forest, next best is the few Km after Port Arlington along the Bay.  From the question at the start of this dissertation, the answer to third time lucky is yes! Stats for the ride overall 25kph average, 27.5Kph moving average, 2300m climb and a long day in the saddle after not much sleep. Had a quick look at the results for the 300Km and from 435 entrants 137 DNF and we finished roughly mid-field in the finishers or if you include the starters in finish position then we finished in the top one third. The last rider to finish the 300Km field came in after 8pm – that’s a very long day in the saddle! If you have not ridden Around the Bay, then perhaps something for the bucket list. Ride safe.