Leader’s Lowdown – 2018 Bowral Classic – Greg Boyd

Maxi Classic 175km (178.7km)

Following on two weeks from riding the Around the Bay 300Km course was the Bowral Classic and I clicked the box titled “maxi-classic”.  This would be my third Bowral Classic and the new course for 2018 would make it feel like it was a new ride, albeit with some familiar sections. Thankfully the maxi-classic reduced the amount of out and back riding with the course comprising something akin to a large loop. This would be the last of my three Classic rides for 2018. In April the Clare Classic with heatwave and gale force winds then in August the Noosa Classic with biblical rain and thunderstorms including hail and by the way I couldn’t be bothered doing a write-up of the Noosa wet wet wet. So what weather would Bowral dish up? Maybe three out of three with bad weather?

We travelled down to Mittagong early with the intention to enjoy the Southern Highlands for a few days before and stay a few days after the Bowral Classic. Initially beautiful weather but the Friday and Saturday before dished up huge thunderstorms with plenty of rain, wind and small hail. Consulting the weather forecast for the day of the ride did not provide much joy. More rain and thunderstorms, it looked like it might be three out of three for Classic bad weather! Saturday afternoon I pulled out the “inclement bag of gear” with all the extra gear needed for a day of riding in the cold and rain. The organisers had also sent out a couple of SMS messages alerting us to the potential weather issues and come with flashing lights.

Saturday evening was a final pre-ride catch-up with Mark and Robert over a meal at the Royal Hotel in Bowral. Plenty of apprehension about the possible upcoming wet weather but as the evening progressed the weather forecast looking more promising. From a previous forecast of 50mm rain it kept dropping and was looking like just 5mm of rain. On leaving the Royal Hotel the moon could be seen peaking through a gap in clouds and the rain had stopped. Fingers were crossed for Sunday

An early wake-up on Sunday morning and firstly check outside – 11C, cloudy and no rain. Then a check of the weather forecast and from last night, it had changed from 50mm rain with thunderstorms to maybe a 0.5mm of rain. It was looking like the weather “gods” may be on our side. The inclement bag was packed away, but to be on the safe side I tossed a lightweight rain jacket into my back pocket and put on a new gilet that was more weatherproof than my old gilet. The plan was to meet Brian at the front of the Mittagong van park at 05:45. I was a tad late and Brian was ready to go.  A few bikes were already heading toward Bowral and seemed that others had the same idea of commuting to the start. A slightly lumpy ride through the dark up and over the edge of Mt Gibraltar to meet up with Robert and Mark at Bowral for a coffee at Janeks at 06:00, which was adjacent to the start line. As we rolled into Bowral the sky was lightening up and no rain! The coffee was most welcome and in no time at all we were lining up for the start to the beat of loud music and our announcer sending each wave of riders off. At the start a lady named Susan had joined our group, I think our paths had probably crossed on other rides but could not remember when or where, probably another bike ride. A few days later I recall that it was probably one of the Fitz rides. So far, cloudy no rain and around 11C – looking good.

Off we roll around 06:45 for the first 60Km loop out toward Wombeyan Caves and then back through Bowral. The initial gentle climb leaving Bowral takes us up Centennial Rd allowing the legs and brain to wake-up, soon to be followed by Greenhills road with the aptly named nasty 17% climb of Mt Misery. Even this early in the ride riders are stalled on the climb. Previous years on Mt Misery I have seen riders vomiting and cramping. Not a long climb but definitely hard, short and sharp. Mark and I ride along together until stopping at the turn around on the Wombeyan Road. Probably 10Km before the turn-around the lead neo-pros blast past with their police escort heading back toward Bowral. They started 15mins before us but are probably now more than 30 mins ahead. We stop at the turn-around, toilet stop and grab a banana have a chat and after a while Robert and then a while later Brian and Susan arrive. Susan decides to turn around straight away and keep going. Some bananas for Brian and Robert, a quick chat for the four of us, then we head back toward Bowral via the lumps and bumps. The day is starting to warm and we see the first glimpse of the sun peeking through the clouds 😊 the weather is pretty much ideal cool, not much breeze and no rain.

As we head back toward Bowral our next challenge approaches, firstly the climb up the old Hume Highway and then the KOM (Oxley hill), which is just after Bowral. Oxley Hill is a 1.3Km climb with an average of 11% but with bottom and top less steep the main part is more like 12-13%. Bowral is shrouded in mist and we roll past the previous start point toward the KOM. Mark is ahead and powers up and around one quarter of the way up the @#*%$@# zip on my new gilet will not budge and I am boiling hot. Nothing to do but make a frustrating stop and commence a fight with the new gilet zip. Visions of ripping said gilet apart started to form and then finally it frees. I continue with the zip down and some cooling air is available – phew. Thence a steady ride to the top, certainly a solid climb especially after Mt Misery and the earlier 60Km to soften up the legs. After a re-group at the summit we head off toward Berrima and within a km or two the mist https://photos.bikenorth.org.au/i.php?/upload/2019/01/02/20190102053816-47e32d03-sm.jpgclears.

A ‘sneaky’ little climb coming out of Berrima causes some “grumbling in the ranks” after which we ride through a few undulations toward the Lunch stop at Moss Vale. The countryside was looking stunning and the recent rains had certainly greened up the land. Just past Berrima, Robert commented on a strange buzzing sound from his bike, when in the big ring. Among the four we passed around various theories. I couldn’t hear said noise, but I was on the left side of Robert and later when I moved around onto the right I could hear and then see that the end of the front derailleur cable, sans end cap, was digging into the tyre – potentially a puncture causing scenario. A quick stop, bend of cable and problem solved. The lunch stop at the Moss Vale showground was well set out and a local club was running a sausage sizzle, gold coin donation. Mark generously bought a round of sausage sangers. Plenty of snakes, GELs, bars and fruit cake were on offer but sadly I was looking for something in the line of real food. My brain was thinking something like a burger with works, sandwich, kebab or maybe a meat pie.

Next section was through the main street of Moss Vale where the Police duly stopped the traffic for us and thereafter we headed out through the town into the undulating green hills for a loop out through Exeter and Bundanoon.  The route followed roughly along the main Sydney-Melbourne rail line on quiet back roads lined with hedges. Some hedges were so precise and straight I could only imagine some million-dollar laser-guided, computer-controlled trimmer was used. After Bundanoon we had a couple of short steeper climbs and then a roll into the Exeter rest stop. Mark, Brian and I stopped, but Robert rode on. I could only guess he was keen to get home as it was now about 60km to the finish. A quick top-up of the drink bottles and off toward Fitzroy Falls. Mark was just in front and up one of the hills he pulled away and over the other side I could still see a white jersey a few hundred metres ahead and assumed it was Mark and I just paced along at the same speed as the white jersey ahead which strangely was proceeding slower than earlier in the day. Yet again the countryside was stunning with dairy cows contently grazing among the greenery.

Near Fitzroy falls, the grassy slopes merged into Eucalypt bush and the road headed more upward. The white jersey I had been following slowed even more and on an uphill I caught up and it was not Mark! Darn and looking behind no sign of Brian, so I picked the pace up again, maybe Mark is not that far ahead. Approaching Fitzroy Falls my stomach was after some real food as the sausage sanger didn’t really go down that well and I was not particularly interested in my pocket full of sugary carbs. Given I was now seemingly on my own, I thought what the heck, let’s stop for some  real food at Grandpas Shed in Fitzroy falls. I thought I would see Brian go past but either he slipped past while I was inside buying or perhaps he was further behind. Anyway, real food was appreciated and had a nice chat with a gent from Nowra who had travelled up through from Nowra via Kangaroo Valley for a Grandpas Shed sausage roll.

Then back on the bike and turn left toward Robertson for the last two climbs. Curiously just before this turn-off is a large sign pointing to a Sailing Club and Yacht Club – images of sailing boats negotiating the 800m high Fitzroy falls jump into my brain – strange indeed, must be a long ride! However once around the corner we are soon riding alongside a lake – that now makes sense. At the first steep ramp the riders ahead could be seen zig zagging across the road. Looks like some fun coming up! This 10Km, or thereabouts, was very scenic with initially spectacular views over Fitzroy Falls Reservoir (no sailing boats to be seen), then along the ridge line panoramic mountain views toward the east. Further along this ridge section Police motorcycle cops were patrolling back and forth, and one motorcycle police rider decided to have a chat and ask how I was going. I said, “all good” and then “how about we swap bikes?”  some laughter and he then accelerates off to chat with another rider. Then we are plunging through some wet sclerophyll forest and thence lumps and bumps through beautiful farmland and a brief section along the main road into the next rest stop at Robertson.

At the Robertson rest stop, initially no sign of the guys and then I spot Brian. He says Robert and Mark have headed off about 5 mins earlier. I grab a cup of coke and a couple of GELs for my pocket and I head off with Brian, firstly a couple of bumps, then a fun fast descent to East Kangaloon and onto tourist road. Brian said I should ride on, but he looked like he might need some encouragement and I thought I may as well chug along with Brian to the finish.  We rode along with a chap from Goulburn and discuss the coldness of Goulburn and his upcoming Sydney to Gong ride. At the Kangaloon turn-off the corner marshall is busy with phone addiction and barely notices that we pass. After rolling through a flat scenic green valley and then travel along tourist road (goes to Macquarie Pass) which has eucalypt forest overhanging over the roadway forming a tunnel-like ride – all very peaceful.

We are now approaching Glenquarry and the brief respite of flattish road is now over and the road is heading upwards – the last climb of the day. This climb is made of several sections with small flats or downhill before the next section of uphill. The first section is a classic country road winding around a hill and on the ridgeline rows of trees can be seen forming a windbreak – certainly no lack of hedge or equivalent in this part of the world.  Near the top a section freshly mowed grass has a bunch of ducks and we happily crest the first section. After few hundred metres of slight downhill we turn right into the final climb of Range Rd, at about 160Km, which has a nasty initial ramp of about 14%. Halfway up this initial ramp Brian needed a sugar hit and the spare GEL in my pocket gave Brian some more energy to get going back up the climb. We rode steadily up the rough and bumpy road which had now flattened to a reasonable steady climb lined with hedges and stone fences. Range Rd has the occasional steeper bit and then steady uphill. Three quarters of the way up the climb we meet a rider struggling along without too much idea of where he is, I show him the profile taped to my stem and point to the ridgeline a few hundred metres ahead as the top and then whoosh-ka he is off.

Likewise, for Brian and me, not far to the top then downhill and flattish run back to the finish. The steep descent results in the speed on the Garmin flashing up to 88kph – refreshing to have some speed after the last couple of climbs. Then some gentle undulations to the finish and a couple of laps of the velodrome.  No sign of Robert or Mark and I was now cooling down, so nothing to do but ride back to Mittagong. Relatively uneventful return to Mittagong apart from a crazy magpie swooping me going over Mount Gibraltar– something you could do without at the end of the day, but thankfully he was just swooping and not trying to have a peck. Unlike the morning, no other bikes heading back to Mittagong. I dodge the crawling bumper to bumper traffic through Mittagong, noting that McDonalds car park is full of cars adorned with bikes. I loop around the back of Mittagong, past Lake Alexandria via back streets to the Caravan park. I must admit by now I was feeling a bit cold and probably should have stopped to put some kit on, but this is soon remedied with a long hot shower and a decent meal – with real food! Overall, including the commute to/from the start/finish, the distance for the day amounted to around 197Km and 2600m of climbing. Overall average speed was 23.7kph. The Maxi Classic is a demanding but great course and much better than the previous Bowral course. The weather it turned out excellent. One out of three Classics with nice weather.

Greg Boyd (Oct 2018)