Amy's Gran Fondo Event Update
Off the coast of Victoria, the Southern coast of Australia takes a turn for the dramatic. The Great Ocean Road is one the world's standout seaside drives. It is perhaps rivaled only by the Southern Mediterreanean in terms the quality of the views. So despite the wind, and traffic, it is a very popular biking site. However, the idea of being able to ride it with traffic closed? That's a cyclist's dream. So when my travels brought me to Sydney, when my mates told me about Amy's Gran Fondo, it wasn't hard to convince me to make the trip to Lorne, VIC to participate. Being from Boston, MA I must be one of the furthest from home who partcipated!
I really think Amy's Gran Fondo should be an international destination event, given the chance to ride Great Ocean Road, the professionalism with which the event is run, and the overall experience of visiting Melbourne and the Australian South Coast. Safety is paramount, but the overall experience is fun, with a great village and excellent camraderie (riders, volunteers, organizers, public safety) to go with the fantastic scenery. It's similar to the Pan-Mass Challenge in that regard. It's also a great way to experience Australian cycling culture - it's quite a site to see probably 800 or so Aussies scrambling to get a flat white or long black before and after the ride.
Also important, Amy's Gran Fondo supports a really important cause. Amy Gillett was a world class cyclist when German driver lost control of her car and drove head first into six members of the Australian women's cycling squad. Five were injured serious, and Amy was tragically killed. Her husband, Simon Gillett and the Australian Cycling Federation started the Amy Gillett foundation to support the rehabilitaion of her teammates, fund a scholarship program for promising young riders like Amy, and support projects aimed at road safety. As an avid cyclist, I don't think we can do enough to promote cycling safety and awareness.
Amazing Ride / Course
Amy's Gran Fondo is big event, even thought it's only in it's second year, one of the largest in Australia and a UCI qualifier, and I can see it continuing to grow. It's a tough ride on well-designed course.
Starting in Lorne, Amy's Gran Fondo carries 110km. It has what I believe is an HC1 climb, a 12km grinder on Skenes Creek Road, and a challenging uphill finish on the road going into Lorne. The ride starts with a winding 40km along the Great Ocean Road. The ride has a great ambience a the start line, and then it's a beautiful ride with waves crashing into the beaches, cliffs and rocks.
It feels like you're riding in a peloton as you start in a group of 200 (out of 4,500 riders total). At 40km or so, you turn onto Skenes Creek Rd, the big climb of the race. Skenes Creek is about as pleasant a 12km climb as you can imagine, because it's one of those steady grade ones where you can get in a groove. But it's a bear to say the least, around a 500M increase in elevation. From there, it's wavy with some fun, but reasonably safe descents over the next 30 kms to Barwon Downs. From Barwon Downs to Dean's Marsh it's fairly flat, and I got in a great group with about 10-12 other riders and we rode in a line sharing the workload fairly well.
We were flying (for me, anyhow), and the camraderie was excellent, with everyone thanking someone who took a good turn at the front.
Finally, the finish from Dean's Marsh up to Benwrrin is probably the steepest of the race (or at least it feels that way). It's shorter than Skenes Creek, but very tough especially after nearly 90km of hard riding. Overall, for me, I finished in just under 4 hours, which was my goal (my first competitive ride).
I consumed a huge breakfast, seven gels, three bars, and two large water bottles during the race. This was just barely enough as I was near bonking and cramping at the end - I went over 2,200 calories for the ride. You'll pretty much need to eat like a crazy person early in the race - you're going to need the energy.
Had to keep the wife happy so after an afternoon spinout on Saturday, I took my wife to the Kennett River part of Great Otway Natoinal Park. We saw tons of koalas and kangaroos. Blanket Bay is also supposed to have a lot.
Lorne is where the start and finish for Amy's Gran Fondo was located so we stayed there. It is about 90 minutes from Melbourne. It's a coastal town with a few medium sized resorts, a few good restauraunts, and some nice boutiques. We stayed at the Mantra, which was OK - but watch out for the fees they load on to the basic room rate. They charged us $50 for a late checkout and 2% to pay with credit card. However, it's supremely convenient as that's where the check-in/safety briefing is held, and they are the only place that runs breakfast starting at 5:30 AM for the riders.
Amy's Gran Fondo is an amazing event as they shut the road down for the ride. If you are going to ride Great Ocean Road on another day, be careful. Australians are reasonably repectful of cyclists, but Great Ocean Road is windy with lots of twists and turns, and has a lot of tricky angles for a driver trying to avoid bikers. There are also a enough drivers pretending to be James Bond or a rally car champion to make it downright scary. Despite the cold, it is a ride best done in the early morning, after the sun is out but before traffic picks up. Amy's Gran Fondo is the only day the road belongs to the cyclists.
There are shorter, easier rides for those who don't want the full 120km hill climb/peloton extravaganza.