04 August 2017
AMYS GRAN FONDOby MATT CHARLESWORTH
We had the option to go long, go short or go gravel… so we went long! But, not too long. “Gran Fondo” is an age-old term that originated in Italian cycling culture meaning “great endurance”. We were well aware that our endurance was far from great so we opted for the 45km Medio Fondo instead. The shortest but most feared race across the weekend was Amy’s Wall; A 110m climb up the infamous Bay Street. At its harshest, the gradient is 20%. If you’re not mathematically inclined and can’t remember your Pythagoras Theorem, let’s just say it’s really bloody steep. We were resting up in our Cumberland Apartment when we heard the cheers coming from outside. It was so close we could have watched from our balcony if the apartment was facing South. Unfortunately, we had to put up with ocean views instead… The mini-event was held under lights and filled the town with party music. It was a thrilling “warm up” to the event schedule.
It was race day! We rose with the sun to hail the transfer bus into Apollo Bay. Usually the jaw-dropping views speed up the journey; however, this time was much different. I recall the feeling of butterflies in my stomach as I analysed the Great Ocean Road as a cyclist; the undulating hills became all too real and it didn’t help Dad voicing exactly what I was thinking; “it’s not just around the corner hey”. To say that Dad and I have a competitive relationship is well and truly an understatement; this race was quite literally on for young and old. The plan was to stick together, soak in the views and then make a break in the final leg to see who could cross the finish line first, but the race didn’t exactly go as planned.
Alongside 430 other participants, we took off down the Great Ocean Road with fresh legs and over 40 kilometres ahead of us. The cycling enthusiasts lead the pack on their advanced carbon-fibre frames but riders of all experience levels made up the peloton on road bikes, hybrids and even mountain bikes. The route was completely closed to all motor vehicles. Our only concern, the small sections of rubber that connected us to the bitumen; it felt so simple, yet so exhilarating. At the 15km mark we began the first ascent, climbing for almost 2km up to Cape Patton Lookout. The sweeping corner sits 50m above sea level and was the break spot of choice for many riders. I waved Dad through, “I’ll catch up” I said over my shoulder. I stopped for 10 minutes or so to capture the breathtaking scenery. I quickly jumped back on the saddle knowing fair well that I had plenty of ground to make up on Dad.
From this moment on it was gung-ho. I merged into the slipstream of Gran Fondo riders and stuck with them, keeping a close eye up ahead looking for any sign of Dad. Occasionally I would glance down at my fitness watch; down one hill we hit 54km p/hour and during one climb my heart rate even hit 193 beats p/min. I was absolutely hammering! There was no way I was going to let Dad beat me.
We passed through Kennett River and Wye River and still hadn’t passed Dad. “Where is he? Is he still in front of me? Is he really as fit as he said he was?” I fussed. We began another climb at the 32km mark and was forced to fall away from the group, my legs were spent. Exhausted, I stumbled through the last 10km dreading that laugh and point as I cross the finish line. I just knew I’d never hear the end of it.
Greeted with cheers entering the main street of Lorne, I finished in a time of 1h 51:43. But, it wasn’t until later that I spotted Dad on the sidelines. “Did you beat me?” I asked still in utter disbelief. Thankfully, my worst fears were put to rest. It turned out Dad stopped for water in Kennett River and was a full 25 minutes behind me. What a relief! We both found my over-estimation of Dad’s ability very humorous and recalled our experiences over a well earned pie from the bakery.
The picturesque coastline is probably the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about this Gran Fondo but its true identity lies much deeper. The race raises much needed funds for the Amy Gillett foundation to achieve safer cycling conditions in Australia. This year over $112,000 was raised to support their “a metre matters” campaign. It was a pleasure to participate in such a fantastic event. I’d like to thank the organisers for everything except the extremely sore bottom.