So the furthest west I’ve ever ventured is ANZAC Parade, only kidding but the furthest I’d travelled into deepest darkest NSW (without the aid of wings and a jet engine marmalade sandwich) was Blackheath. So I was in truly uncharted territory winding my way through the Blue Mountains to Bathurst with 24 or so regular Maroubra Cyclery [MC] riders to compete in the Blayney to Bathurst Autumn classic.
This was in fact my first road event or 'cyclo-sportif' if you like.
Since buying my roadie last year, I’d not had a ‘racer’ since I had a paper round in the mid- 80s and after graduating from delivering the morning papers I was quickly distracted by the chunky attitude of the Mountain Bike, and stayed on that path ever since - a veteran (in more ways than one) of most all the MTB rides and races that NSW and ACT has to offer from the Convict 50 and 100, to the 3-Ring Circus, Capital Punshment.
Yet in the past year I re-discovered the road and with it the fun of the weekly MC Bunch rides.
I was late to sign up to the B2B MC weekender, rookie error, as the towns accommodation was somewhat stretched, so I fired up Airbnb and found a room in a cracking 185yr old Church Hall partially restored but with bags of charm, an interesting host with an old Kona hybrid to look at instead of where you might put a TV, along with an old 80’s Porsche - which he was keen to take me up Mt Panorama in – tempting, but so was the pub with Team MC for some pre-classic beers and banter.
My early night was thwarted at 2am with some enthusiastic scratching, gnawing and bits of 185yr old roof insulation (i.e. straw and dirt) falling on my face! Either way that possum wasn’t welcome and got a blast from my torch and scurried off.
I needed my sleep, though thankful we had some more of it, and didn’t have to be up at 5am to get to the bus to the start - as at MC dinner in the pub the night before a herculean effort of the grey matter and the use of the condiments to represent (not the offside rule) but the possibilities for to-ing and fro-ing the MC posse of riders, bikes, cars, vans, utes meant we could all get to the start, while still leaving enough cars back at the motel to grab the ones left at the start.
So there we were, all fired up at the start line the MC bunch the first to roll out leading the 25-35km group of riders. A beautifulAutumn Morning, crisp, but only arm warmer crisp with no Giletrequired.
The roll out was sedate, even by my standards, but I wasn’t complaining there was 110km’s to go, a tad more than the regular 40km MC weekly bunch rides I was used too.
But the casual vibe and the calm didn’t last – soon our formation was challenged by some yellow and orange clad weekend warrior, delusional in a move that could only be described as a “Peter Sagan” style moment, yep that he could breakaway with 104km to go, he soon got reeled in.
Then the bunch started to break up and everyone settled into their own rhythm taking the undulations of the first 30km through the beautiful countryside, wind in the ears and mostly on our backs.
I got dropped, collected, passed and caught up as the MC riders fanned out. It’s good as you always get to work with other riders, there’s a comradery in that – a shared passion for the open road, the countryside, no distractions just everyone having a good time and (for the most part) pulling their weight taking their turn at the front, working together.
That’s what I've realised - you don’t experience this on all the MBT rides I’d done – sure you chat and meet other riders along the way – but you don’t often work together like you do on the road, it’s a more solo effort on the trails.
While the B2B is not so strong on spectators, the views with the colours of autumn in full swing is a real treat for us city folk, yet every so often you’d see a farmer with a quad bike full of kids at the end of his drive waving us on with a nod, a smile and a thought bubble that said “..and the point is?”
At about the 40km mark as I closed in on a bunch of riders with a past glory of ‘Kangaroo Valley 2015’ blazoned on their backs, we had our very own Skippy mob appear – what are the chances? About half a dozen Kangaroo’s swung onto the road just ahead of us, then back into the bush hopping alongside matching our steady 35kmh for a good few minutes.
Now, you don’t see that very often along ANZAC Parade (a week later I saw the YouTube clip doing the FB rounds of the rider in the Riverina get wiped out by one, ouch!).
As I closed in on the first drinks station I saw our own MC mob up ahead, I’d caught them! Ok, maybe not - only by their own grace as they were helping out another rider with a mechanical.
Now folks this is why I ride with MC, as half the MC shop team had pulled over to help a rider from another ‘bunch’ with a mechanical and in doing so wiped out their time benefits – he was of course known to the shop, but it was Team MC that had stopped with him, en-masse to help him out – now that’s a no-drop, zero attitude ‘tude for you.
Anyway, I’d caught the lead MC bunch, (who was I kidding) I was soon dropped and enjoyed some sweet flowing rolling hills and sweeping descents at my own pace, all leading up to the killer kick at the 80km mark which I was all too aware of - a 5km climb up Cow Flat.
How ironic, though it started out quite manageable the next marker announcing 4km to KOM – then at 3km mark I was starting to run out of gears, 2km and the gradient kicked again over the stated 8% I reckon, the final km marker was handwritten – desperation all round. A few were already walking. No way, not I!
Topping out and a welcome surprise in the face of HC, Directorof Proceedings & Photography who was waiting, clicking away capturing one-by-one the MC crew cresting after their triumph of slogging up ‘the climb’ – great moment to capture, eye’s stinging and squinting with sweat and relief.
Triumph aside the Cow Flat vista could have been better – given all the effort. I was expected to be greeted by milka cows, a few mountain chalets, a passing paraglider or A380, but no, some scrub and piles of road base.
But then all the toil is forgotten – the sweeping decent is a real treat. I made sure I descended with no one in front or behind me – so I could fully enjoy picking out my lines across both lanes, a totally closed road in NSW and what fun. I was very tempted to cycle back up for another go.
The ride in was but a blur, the countryside makes way for the outskirts of Bathurst, more riders from the short course joined the route and a few more spectators sitting on their lawns giving everyone a welcome cheer.
There was a short nasty little kick up to Mount Panorama, then the race track itself and a sweep into the finishing line and the pit stops for the MC bunch to regroup and share our experiences over a can of fizz and a gifted sandwich.
The 2016 B2B was a blast, I totally recommend, but I’m sure not half as much fun if you’re not doing it the MC way – so I’ll be there next year with bells on!