Last weekend I lined up with 10,000 other fortunate souls to take on my first Around the Bay in a Day.
Despite being a keen cyclist living in Melbourne for the past six years, I'd never tackled ATB before.
Keen to correct that, I signed up for the 210km Sorrento return ride and downloaded a training plan from the Bicycle Network Victoria website...
Words - Tom McQuillan
...which I promptly forgot about. My last big sportive was this year's Peaks Challenge Falls Creek, and I was so scared about missing the 13 hour time cut that I left no stone unturned in my preparation. I went out on long training rides every weekend, bought a compact crankset to help me get up the hills, started shaving my legs and even went on a training camp (of sorts) with a few mates to recon parts of the course. The result on race day was that while I looked like this:
All the preparation I'd done meant I felt like this:
For Around the Bay on the other hand, my training regime involved commuting to work about twice a week and the occasional long ride on the weekends, only one of which was more than half the 210km that would be required on the day. Coupled with a winter leg-shaving regime best described as 'relaxed' (leg warmers are a godsend to those who can't be bothered shaving) and I rocked up on the day feeling like this:
Nevertheless, I was wearing my most comfortable kit (which you can read my review of here) and a pair of brand-spanking new socks that I'd been saving for the occasion - at least I could count on some good old-fashioned #sockdoping to help get me through.
I rocked up to the start line in the Alexandra Gardens at 6:30am on Sunday October 11th 'ready' to tackle the day's riding ahead of me. My goal when I signed up was to finish in a time of less than 8 hours and 30 minutes (including stops), in order to stay on track for my season’s goal of a sub-10 hour ride at next year’s Peaks Challenge Falls Creek, but as I got ready to set off that seemed a bit optimistic.
I was at least heartened to overhear a few conversations at the start line that indicated that I wasn't the only rider showing up a bit undercooked.
Before long we were underway and starting the long journey south. There was plenty of sunshine and a light headwind as the wave I started with rolled down Beach Rd, but the sheer number of riders involved meant that there were plenty of wheels to follow to help stay out of the wind.
Aside from one nervous moment when another rider's bottle fell out and rolled within centimetres of my front wheel, Mordialloc was reached without incident just over an hour later. Most riders stopped to refill their bottles at the park near the Mordialloc Pier, but I decided to roll straight onto the Nepean Highway, eager to press on.
The groups were more spread out on the Nepean and after a few tough minutes pushing into the wind, I managed to latch onto the back of a group of about 20 riders. Progress was smooth until we reached Frankston, where I promised myself I'd pull in and apply some sunscreen, as the forecasted cloudy conditions and showers were nowhere to be seen. As I approached what I thought was the turn into the rest stop, a Bicycle Network marshal shouted 'keep going!' as he signalled 100km riders into the rest stop. Thinking that this was an indication that there was another entrance for the 210km riders a bit further on, I passed the rest stop and kept going. Turns out he was just encouraging the group I was with. Whoops.
After negotiating Olivers’ Hill, Mount Eliza and Mount Martha, the only real bumps on the route, it was a fairly flat run along the beach down to Sorrento. After quickly pulling over to apply sunscreen in Dromana, I set off again looking for a fast group to help dispose of the remaining 20km to the halfway point and lunch stop. I managed to find one not long after, and after about TIME of some pretty breathless riding, I rolled into the Sorrento lunch stop bang on 10am.
After collecting - and very quickly eating - the delicious chicken sandwich and banana cake that had been provided for lunch, I was soon on my way again, glad I wasn't waiting on the ferry. A couple of km into the return journey, a group of about 5 guys wearing Victoria University jerseys roared by me. With the breeze now at my back, I quickly sprinted onto the back of the group. For the next kilometres until Mount Martha I was on the rivet, furiously pedalling in an attempt to stay in touch with a group moving at about 40km/h. More than once a momentary lapse in concentration meant that a gap opened up to the last rider in the group, resulting in me muttering few choice swear words, hating myself for not training harder, and sprinting in an attempt to close the gap I'd inadvertently opened.
After finally passing the group at the top of Mount Martha due to them stopping and waiting for a mate and not as a result of my climbing prowess, I can assure you, I backed off the pace for a few kilometres into Frankston. Before I set off I was expecting to be contemplating pulling out by this point, but as I rolled into the rest stop it was a glorious spring day, with plenty of sunshine, a temperature in the mid-20s and a cooling cross-tailwind. There was never any question of catching the train home, and instead I set my sights on my original goal of finishing in less than 8 and a half hours.
Things were still progressing smoothly for the following 20km to Mordialloc, but on the final run back into the city my legs started to lock up – a combination of my earlier attempts to keep up with fast groups and my lack of training – and I saw my average speeds start to drop. By about 10km to go I was pretty ready for it all to be over, but the lure of finishing under 8:30 drove me on. I stopped my Garmin as I crossed the line to see an elapsed time of 7:38:20 for the 194km distance of the ride, with a total on-bike time of just over 7 hours. I’m not sure who thinks the Sorrento return ride is 210km, but at that point I was just happy to be finished. Even with some conservative estimates on my average speed for the 16km I would have needed to get to 210km, I would still have made my goal of 8:30 with time to spare. Not too shabby considering how little training I’d been doing!
Thanks to all the organisers and volunteers at Bicycle Network for putting on a great event, and for the 10,000 other riders who could have stayed at home on a sunny Sunday morning but instead got out there and rode their bikes.