Members of the Armidale Cycling Club are now finalising their preparations for their assault on the 50th anniversary Grafton to Inverell cycle classic, a 220km test of speed and endurance. Their last hit out will be the re-scheduled handicap race on Dangarsleigh road this weekend.
From left to right: Mick Hoult, Andrew Kirk (club champion), John Scott-Hamilton, Rob Tindale and Phillip Thomas. Not in photo is the club president Andrew Swan.
First run on September 16th, 1961, the race includes a massive climb over the Gibralter Ranges that will test legs, mechanicals and fortitude. The course climbs over two and a half kilometres in total, including a long, uninterrupted climb of almost 1000 metres as the road twists skyward in 20km of painful switchbacks. with no respite. It is this climb that forces the selection of the best riders – you can’t win the race here but you can certainly lose it. The winners will be found in the leading group as it crests this mountain.
Local club members have been training long and hard for this event, although nothing can quite prepare you for the agonising run into Inverell after putting your body into the red climbing up from the coast. For the time poor amateur racer, the focus of the day will be getting up onto the table lands in good enough shape to complete the race, although there is no shame in reverting to the sag wagon for those who have pushed things too far.
We are still waiting for the grading to be done – although I think the Armidale riders will all be in C grade. The big climb I’m not worried about – it has kicks of 8-10% but is mostly a steady grind of around 6% rather than a specialist climb. If you can put up with the suffering in the first 5km just after the bridge when the pack is nervous you can usually finish with the bunch as they settle down after that. It all depends then on how the bunch breaks up – if its 7 or so climbers it’s possible to catch them back up on the descent after the peak, but if it was 10-15 general purpose riders then you can’t let them go.
I’ve done the race before, I know in my mind that the hour it takes to climb the Gibralter ranges is tough, but bearable. You know it’ll be over after that hour, that the real race of the survivors starts after that.
If we are lucky, we can deliver Andrew Kirk into the leading bunch heading into Wire Gully near the end of the course, where his hillclimb kick can be used to full advantage. He’s got a jump on climbs that has been hard to match this year. It would be great to have everyone from the club in the same grade so we could get some team work going.
It’s a long race, I’ve got my own home made fruit and nut slice prepared, strawberry jam sandwiches and gels. There’s no way you can stop and be competitive, you have to grab your bag and eat on the run just like a major stage race.
This is my second season of racing and this is the second time I have done this race (I am keen to do it again because the race is 50 and so am I). Last year I did more training (almost every day) but this year I approach my training differently. Unlike last year for 2010 I have built regular rest days into a season based training system that has changed emphasis as the races I have focused on have changed.
A recent holiday with the family down to Tassie posed yet another distraction and despite me hiring a bike in tassie to keep training the R&R, beer, food and spending time with family was too hard to resist and consequently I have done less riding than I intended. All in all this paints the picture of the plight of the aging weekend warrior – that plight was well demonstrated in last week’s handicap race on long swamp where I was unceremoniously busted coming home.
This year I have invited my brother to ride the race with me and if it all works out we will ride with other Armidale club members. My brother has been a rider for many years and on accepting the invitation to race the GtoI this year has been training within the Sutherland Club out of Cronulla. Two weeks ago I visited him in Sydney and rode a 130k route with him on the roads south of Sydney that wind through the national park. We did this to syncronise our fitness for the purpose of riding together in the GtoI. All is looking pretty good there and we were at that time of the ride, almost achieving the pace that is required if you want to ride the GtoI “comfortably”. He is continuing to train at a pretty high km/week rate >/= 300k/week with some intensity work mixed in. I am doing much the same and will continue to do that until one week out from the race. At that point I will drop off the intensity and maybe lower the kilometers some – leading up to the race.
Some riders I know will survive the race on sports drink and water only but I prefer to have the bananas and the something else solid available. There is a tradition of having flat Coke available at the last feed station and although this is considered good practice I will not be doing it again. If you do have Coke it is very important to ensure it is flat as if it not it will explode out of your bidon as you ride (Ref Pete Creagan). It is also pretty important to ensure it is cold as warm coke is not that palatable.
The mountain is daunting because it presents a serious approx 18k climb 70 ks into a long and hilly race. So it is easy to make a mistake and knock yourself out on this challenge and have little left to offer the rest of the race. If that happens then getting home in time could be hard to achieve. So the prospect of climbing the Gibralter is to me an important part of the adventure. The challenge is achieving a measured effort that gets you to the top in good time, in the company of other riders (and hopefully with a good few behind you) and with legs that feel they can maintain good pressure on the pedal through the rest of what is a challenging course.
Geoff Straub will be riding for the Madonna Blake Witness team, probably in support of Chris Jongewaard:
Good luck to everyone involved.
Local riders not riding for the Armidale Cycling Club
Peter McDonald has been called up to ride the Japan Cup for Drapac-Porsche on that weekend.