Sally’s Ride : The Good, the Bad and The Brutal

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I woke up in my hotel room in Launceston early on Sunday morning feeling very nervous about my ability to do the 95km ride I’d come up for.  I could tell how nervous I was by the fact that when I looked at the clock it was just past 1am and I was wide awake.

I woke up regularly about every hour from there until when I got up at at 6.30ish wondering what the hell I was doing up here, and under what manner of illusion I was under to think that without any road riding since my Ulverstone Ride a few months ago where I had only just been able to maintain an average speed of 21km/hr due largely to the fact that the last 40kms were all downhill, and on a bike I hadn’t ridden for nearly 2 years, I was ready to hop on my bike and ride a 95km charity ride which had a requirement of maintaining a minimum speed of 20km/hr or get chucked in the sag wagon.

Thus it was that as I strolled to the bathroom and glanced out the window for the first time, I have to admit to a hint of elation as I saw a dense, low hanging fog shrouding the streets, and saw the heavy patter of rain on the roof outside … surely they’d cancel the event in these conditions, and I’d be able to escape back down home early with my honour intact?

At 7.30am I had all of my stuff in the car, and I waited nervously on the side of the street to see if the first wave of cyclists (those doing the 140km ride) would come past or whether it had been cancelled.  By 7.37am my hopes were rising and I decided it was safe to wander the two blocks to the starting line to confirm that it was all over, but just as I was about to round the last corner into the park, a skoda vehicle came towards me with its lights flashing and a hundred or so cyclists in hot pursuit … there’d be no cancellation today.

I wandered back to my hotel, trying to pump myself up for the day, reassuring myself that in the worst case scenario, I would take more than five hours, but at least at the end of the day I’ll have done it, and who cares if I’m last, doing it is what counts.  With this thought in mind, I had a lazy brerakfast (my start wasn’t until 9.30am), read the paper, and basically tried to ignore all the niggling fears running through my head.

So it was, at 9.30am, that I found myself nervously astride my racing bike at the start, surrounded by all these very fit people on very expensive bikes, ready to see just how well I could go. 

I did have plan.  I knew there would be a big pack and that I needed to stay with them, but I also suspected that given there were just over 140 of us, that there would probably be several packs, and there would be no way I could stay with the lead pack.  I needed to somehow position myself into the middle pack and see if I could at least get out to Legana in the shelter of a group.

My plan didn’t really go astray, all that happened was that after firmly placing myself in the middle of the pack at the start, things sort of went the right way for me with the lights, and by the time we were through the last set out by Riverside I had moved up through the groups and found myself very much in that first pack that I was trying to avoid.  I wasn’t too worried about this, because (a) I figured that when I dropped off this pack, the pack I wanted to be in wouldn’t be far behind and (b) we were crusing along at 30-40km/hr and I was feeling pretty good about that.  In fact it was about here that a suspicion started growing in my mind that maybe my 10kg racing bike, which I barely ever use, might be a tad faster than my 18kg road touring bike with big thick tyres, which I have always previously used, and maybe, just maybe, everyone in the world isn’t that much better than me.

This illusion only held as far as the short climb through Legana where I was quickly ejected from the back of the pack.  Determined to stay with the pack, I just managed to jump back on going down the other side of the hill, but then was prompty dumped again about 200 metres further on as the pack went through a bit of a surge.

Recapping, I was less than 20kms into the ride, I’d ridden on my limit the whole way to stay with the front pack that I wasn’t going to ride with and was now on my own, and when I looked behind me to see where the next group was, I found myself very much alone.  I settled into a pace, annoyingly just 50-100 metres behind the front pack, but holding steady as the kilometres rolled by and I pined for the security and ease of the pack, any pack.  A couple of kilometres later, an older guy came up behind me and we started working together to try and latch back on, and god darn in, we got so close.  I actually got within 5 metres of the pack when they surged again, and we quickly found ourselves once again sitting 50-100 metres back cursing them for their meanness.  The one positive about it though was that the last surge actually split the front pack dropping a further 10-15 riders which for a while at least we harboured hopes of catching.

We didn’t catch them, but the two of us got chatting, and kept a decent pace up together, and in what seemed like no time at all, we had reaced the Batman Bridge rest stop and quaffed down a banana and filled up the drinking bottle.  What’s more I’d done thirty five kilometres in little over an hour … my confidence was overflowing, and all my doubts this morning seemed ridiculous.

I was in fact so confident, that not 2 minutes after arriving, I saw a small group of seven riders from the bunch we’d been following head off up the road, keen to get in with a bunch, I launched off after them, but of course by the time I was on the road they were already 250 metres ahead, and thus began another long chase.  My advantage this time was that the first few kilometres were up hill, nullifying their group advantage, and as the group split apart I slowly manged to wheel in three of the slower riders.  Two more guys also came up behind me, and by the time we hit the East Tamar Highway there were about six of us loosely riding together.

A guy from Fairbrother’s took the lead into a horrid headwind, and I sat on the back recovering for a kilometre or so until I realised that no one was going up to spell him, so I came up front and took the lead through the section around Hillwood.  Just getting near the end of my legs and wondering why no-one else was coming up to help out as we were closing in on another group of six in front of us, we hit another hill, and my legs went to mush as everyone else ripped past me.  Suddenly I realised what had been happening: They all knew this hill was coming, and had been resting for it.  I really have to work on my cycling strategy a bit more.

I dug a bit deeper, and settled into a decent rhythm, passing everyone again, including a lady all dressed up in “Sallys Ride” gear who gave me a few words of encouragement as I puffed my way past.  I settled into the front group as we topped out of the hill and got chatting to a nice guy with an Irish accident who confirmed there were a couple more decent climbs ahead, .

After Hillwood, I settled in with the loose group of people that I was to cycle with on and off for the rest of the ride.  We by no means rode as a pack, one, or two often pushed forward or droped back, but we kept seeming to come back together due to the strong headwinds which quickly punished any rider out on their own.

I rode mainly with one of the older guys, who had big upright handbars due to his bad back, as far as Karoola, with the nice lady and her partner always a hundred metres or so in front of us, and his friend in between.  I stopped for some more water and lollies at the break station and waved goodbye to the old guys, and then figuring that the next section was all up hill and waiting for a group wasn’t going to do me much good, I set off after a quick break to face my now biggest fear for the day … the hill climing out of Turner’s March.

The hill lived up to its promise, and I had to fight for every turn of the cranks as I valiantly tried to catch my two previous cycling companions who dangled about 100 metres in front of me whilst not myself getting caught by the two (the lady and her companion) behind me.  I lost on all accounts and got to the top of the main hill after having just been overtaken by the lady and her friend, and being no closer to the two guys than when I was at the bottom of the hill.  I did have the legs to jump the 10 metre gap between me and the last two and to then sit on their wheels for a bit as I recovered my strength as we ploughed on into a fairly merciless headwind.

These two were amazing, and we first passed a group of four, then caught up to a few stragglers in one’s and two’s including my two old friends, and by the time we hit the junction with the Lilydale Road, we were a group of about 6 or 7, and I was actually out front doing a fair share of the work.  In fact they were all pretty impressed that I was maintaining this pace given my lack of road riding.  I was chuffed.

It was a blessed relief as we crested the final little climb to the top of Lilydale Hill and began the anticipated 12km’s of mainly downhill riding to the finishing line.  I was going to cruise this baby in.

We dropped one person coming down the hill, but then stayed together as a group coming into Newnham, and it was all getting pretty relaxed as we skirted down the bike lane, riding two abreast, until just near one of the shops when a young guy swung open the door to his 4WD in the bikelane just as we were coming up on him almost taking one of our group out, but fortunately a quick shout of “door” had given us the time to swerve.  This stuck in my mind as he didn’t seem too pleased with us, but really it was he wo had misjudged our speed, and he was standing in the bike lane.

I dropped to the back of the pack after this little encounter to take a swig of my drink, and just as I caged my water bottle, I got a huge adrenilin jolt as I heard and felt a 4WD zoom past from behind and almost clip my arm.  I was about to let loose a few mental spears at the stupid driver, when I watched in horror as he just drove straight into the group in front of me.

I don’t know if he meant to hit anyone, or just give us a fright, but he was well inside the bike lane and his side mirror and door struck that lady I’d been riding with since Hillwood right in the back, and I watched as she, and the rider beside her went sprawling down and skidding along the road right in front of me.  My concentration then speared onto not joining the tangle of bodies and bikes in front of me, and as I pulled to a stop and glanced off, I saw the car accelerating away.  I called out to the guys in front of me to get his registration number, but they were fixated on that poor lady, as she was just lying there on the road not moving.  I watched as the guy in the car went straight through a red light and then he was gone,.  You can hit a cyclist by accident, even if being really stupid and just meaning to give them a warning, but to then accelerate away and run a red light to get away … that’s the act of the guilty.

I thankfully had my mobile phone, and we had an amublance on the way in just a few minutes.  The lady (I do know her name but don’t want to say it) seemed OK.  A young, scruffy guy, in a beat up old vehicle, the sort you’d look at and write off quickly, was the one who stopped and he used his car to block traffic as we made sure she was OK to get off the road

The ambulance arrived quickly and after a few checks, they took her and her friend away.  I stayed behind and helped the police record the details of the incident and push the bikes to the nearby Mowbray Police Station.  Her bike was in remarkably good condition, though neither wheel turned. 

The Race Organisers, who I’d also called after the ambulance, were awesome and a doctor and coordinator turned up only a few minutes after the ambulance to make sure things were OK.

All up I was only off the bike for 30-40 minutes, but it was a lonely little ride to the finish line and I felt hyper sensitive to all the traffic going past me on the East Tamar Highway.

I ended up crossing the line in 4hrs 15 minutes, which still beat my targeted time for the day by three quaretrs of an hour, even with the long break.  So that was it, it was a day of the truly brutal and ugly: To hit a female cyclist in a cycling lane, and not even stop to see if she is OK, is the lowest of the low in my books.  But it was also a brilliant day.  I faced a huge fear of mine (a fear of coming last, of failing) and found, to my surprise, that at kilometre 90 when my race came to the end I was easily in the top quartile of riders on the road, and I had done most of my cycling either by myself or in groups of 2’s and 3’s.  I had earnt my place on the road, not just cycled around as a passenger.

I felt out of place at the end, with all these people sitting around celebrating.  I quietly ate my salad roll and then pedaled around to my car and set off home.

Today, I’d faced a fear, and come out the other side.  I’d also completed the second of the two physical challenges I had set myself as goals when I started Project 116.2 / 85.  That is to cycle the Ulverstone Ride and Sally’s Ride.

I have now got a whole smoregosboard of events I am thinking about doing in 2011, though I haven’t locked in any specific one’s just yet.  My goal’s right now are to achieve the goals I set myself back in September for 2010, culminating in my Christmas cycling trip up North and I think I’ll decide by New Years what my goals will be for 2011.

For now, my thoughts are with you Lady Cyclist.  Hope you get better soon.

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