Welcome to the fate of the 24hr road rider.
We started as five. We ended with three. Welcome to the fate of the 24hr road rider.
They said light winds. Yes "light", they said. It was a cold start as we rolled out of Woodend into those light winds on a beautiful Saturday morning. We were heading NW into the wilderness and onto unfamiliar roads. We would be riding together like this all day and all night. "How much sleep did you get?" someone asked at the end. I didn't even think sleep was an option on the Oppy.
The Fleche Opperman All Day Trial (or "The Oppy") is a 24 hour team time trial held annually by Audax Australia. The Oppy is an event for teams of three to five ride with each team riding a minimum of 360km. The choice of route is entirely up to the team as long as it finishes in a designated location. The event is named in honour of one of the Australia's greatest cyclists, Sir Hubert Opperman, whose amazing endurance feats in the 1920s and 1930s earned him international recognition.
Our team of five had chosen a 525km route heading northwest out of Woodend to the fringes of the Mallee before heading east to the Murray and up stream to the finish at Rochester. The forecast was good. Light winds but a likely warm to hot day and, as a result, a reasonably mild night. There were over twenty teams in total but two of the teams were aiming for an insane 780km to break the record of 770km set in 1993.
The mercury was rising nicely but so was the wind and we were riding right into it. The next few 100kms straight into that headwind were starting to take a toll. We took the opportunity to refuel at each little stop - our support car having enough food to feed the entire Tour de France peloton let alone our fellowship of five. Marty, in particular, was running on hot cross buns (his final count was ten of them) and any kind of lemon drink.
We were now well clear of the hills and were on the long, flat and very straight roads of Victoria's north. The traffic was light but there was very little shelter from an unforgiving headwind aside from the rare little clump of trees. Everyone was working hard and some of the team were starting to feel it.
High-vis gear donned, lights on, and we were off into the advancing night. The roads were almost devoid of traffic and we made good progress. Although it was dark, I don't think we missed much of the scenery. Tail lights of the odd car took what felt like hours to disappear out of sight, such was the straightness and flatness of the roads. We only saw a single kangaroo the entire trip. A brief side trip to the top of Mt Wycheproof, the smallest mountain in the world at 43m, was a short interlude to the good progress we made all the way through to Kerang. By now it was the aforementioned 3am doldrums and I no longer had any appetite for food. The head was foggy, my hands, feet and especially my bum were all sore. We had all resorted to getting out of the saddle on these flat roads (where your cadence never changed) ever five minutes or so, for a little relief. Although it was never that cold, it was amazing how chilled we all felt whenever we stopped for just a little bit of time.
The support crew plied us with coffee and the caffeine effect was dramatic. By now we were back into the headwind, although it wasn't as bad as before, and Marty was putting in monster pulls on the front. We were at the stage were we were breaking the ride into the 30 to 40 kilometre sections between each small town. By the time we hit Echuca, the first signs of daylight were appearing in the sky and my appetite was back. We only had 25km to go but it was smack into a stiffening headwind again. Happily, though, we were a good 30 mins ahead of schedule.
Other teams started appearing, some looking fresh as a daisy after a night in a motel. Not so us, we were all battling the effect of a lack of sleep by now but the growing brightness in the sky energised us. We briefly rode and chatted to another team before pushing on towards Rochester and the famous status of Sir Hubert. Before we knew it we were in Rochester and the 525km was done! The rest of the original crew and the day and night support were all there to greet us.
We had ridden for almost 24 hours but we had done it! After a quick photo stop at the statue, we headed off to the Audax breakfast and tried not to fall asleep face first into the scrambled eggs. Fortunately, the access to a hot shower helped to revive us but we were glad that someone else was driving us home! Talk now turns to 600km for 2016....
As for those record attempts. The wind put paid to their amazing efforts and I'm sure they will be back.
Thanks to the awesome support from Marty and Mark R's family, to all my fellow team mates - Marty, Rigs, Masty and Mark R - and our respective families for allowing us to enter into such nonsense.
Total distance: 527km
Elevation climbed: 2004m
Ride time: 19hrs 26mins (over 24 hours)
Ride data: http://www.strava.com/activities/268262090