Cycling in the Winter Sunshine

Now a few years into “retirement”, and having finished renovations to our Noosa apartment, it was time to enter some of the Grand Fondos around my new Queensland base.

Last July I had completed the final day of Velothon Sunshine Coast, a three day event based out of Maroochydore - an enjoyable 90km in the hinterland west of the town. This event is based around a pop up clubhouse in Cotton Tyree Park on the foreshores of the Maroochydore River.  It was an enjoyable experience but I decided to give it a miss this year and look at the two events that start much closer to home.

Noosa Strade Bianche

The first of these is the Noosa Strade Bianche. It is in the vein of the famed L’EROICA in Italy, strictly for steel-framed cycles with downtube (or bar-end) shifters. The whole event runs over three days and starts with Criterium racing under lights on the Friday evening. This is followed by a Piccolo Fondo and Vintage Bicycle Show and Shine on the Saturday, and a choice of three ride distances on Sunday:  Grand Fondo -144km, Medio Fondo - 87km or a Nuovo Piccolo Fondo of 48km.

I elected to enter the Medio Fondo. With 1100m of climbing, and a fair bit of gravel, I though it would be achievable if I put in a bit of riding in the lead up to the event.

My 7yo Surly Disk Trucker was going to be the steed for this event. Ash did a great job of converting it to downtube shifting, and the bike looks so much neater. It didn’t take long to get used to it again. I learnt on this bike during my early years of riding, being my first geared bike (although the Surly has an indexed nine speed with a triple on the crank!). It moved up to Noosa in January and had since done a bit of exploring around the local bike paths and more favoured rides. However not a lot of riding was done as I needed to be around in Noosa to assist our builder (and it was a fairly wet Autumn).

Preparation begins

Dolores and I flew up to Noosa on the Thursday before the first weekend's rides and we stocked up on all the necessities before taking a long walk along Noosa’s beaches. On the Friday I took the Trucker out for a spin to Tewantin and up Gyndier Drive, a lovely section of closed road just over 3km at 4%. It is also used as a local hill climb circuit for the local petrol heads on occasions. On the Friday evening I rode down to watch the vintage bikes racing at the local Crit circuit. The Girraween track is just short of a kilometre long, with a bit of a hill up to the finish line. About 20 riders rode the event on their classic bikes, covering two laps in 15 minutes. Everyone seemed to enjoy the event, with the winner taking home a bottle of red. 

On the Saturday I took an easy and fairly flat ride out through Tewantin again, but continued further west to ride back with some of the participants of the Piccolo Fondo. Later we called into the Marina (the base for the event) and I picked up my registration packet (only one small frame number to go on the bike). I looked at the bike show and some of the swap stands, whilst Dolores partook in some retail therapy in some of the frock shops. That afternoon the bike was given a final check over; the number was attached, chain lubed, tyres pumped and tool kit packed with a couple of tubes and CO2  canisters. 

Weekend 1 - Strade Bianche 87km Medio Fondo

The Sunday start time for the 87km Medio Fondo was 7.30am, with the Grand Fondo heading off half an hour earlier.  I decided to head off from our apartment at sunrise to watch the first of the riders roll out.  The morning (at that stage) was a relatively warm 11 degrees and it was an easy flat 7km ride out to the starting location at the marina.  There was time for another coffee and some chatting with fellow participants, while gathering some rays from the sun. 

About 50 riders took off for the Grand Fondo. Being 144km in distance, and approximately 2200m of climbing, it includes all of the ride that I did, with a 55km loop to the north through Kin Kin.  There is a warning on the entry for this ride that says: 'This event is not for beginners', and after experiencing the relatively shorter ride I can really see that this is a true statement. 

Our ride was also sent out in groups of 20 or so, and I was in the first group to roll. By the time we started, a lazy westerly had begun to gather strength and it was down to seven degrees by the time we hit Gyndier Drive. At that stage I dropped back from the pace of this group as these guys were generally on classic bikes with limited low gears, and climbed a bit faster than I wanted to match. As I had only a few rides of up to 50km so far this year, I needed to spin a bit and save my energy to be able to make the distance. At the top of the climb there is a turn onto Sunrise Road and then Henderson Road, which leads to about 8km of rolling terrain. It was at this point that I slotted in with some riders from the second wave who would have been sent off two minutes behind me.  

The next turn is onto the first section of gravel road, Cooroy Mountain Road. It's still generally undulating but with a few short pinches of around 10%. This is where the touring gears on the Trucker come into their own, I just sit and spin as riders on the more classic bikes begin to struggle a bit for traction. It is only my lack of fitness that precludes me from making quicker progress, but the scenery is great.  Even though the roads are not closed, it is rare to see a car. And the few cars that go past are associated with the event. The route then winds through the streets of Cooroy before heading further west.  Through this stage some rides are starting to stop for a coffee or a break, and there are a number of groups forming and reforming as the terrain varies.

The Black Mountain climb

The start of Black Mountain climb begins about 3km west of the town. Overall it is 10km at a 2% average but sections of 15% and gravel!  It was a slow and steady climb to the top but I was generally still holding my pace with the other riders.  It was a relief to hit the top of the climb and have a quick stop for a photo from some of the course assistants, before the descent of Andersons Road. This was the section in our briefing that was described as the most difficult on the course and I can totally agree. Although relatively straight, the “hill” rolls down at an average of 10% for nearly 3km and the surface has a fair amount of loose gravel, making any manoeuvre tricky. It was a section that required total concentration and constant use of the brakes. I was so happy with the discs on the Trucker and not sure how those on the classic bikes with rim breaks survived. I did note a few off to the side of the road with their owners changing tubes. There is a T junction at the bottom of the turn, and then a flat ride into the first rest stop at the 40km mark for a quick refuel, fill the bidon and stamping of the Brevet Card. 

The exit from the rest stop is over a narrow bridge, then up a sealed section of road that must be a least 25%. I opted to walk the bike up as do many other riders. At the top of the very steep section the road reverts to gravel for the next 9km, skirting Tuchekoi National Park, a beautiful scenic ride if a bit corrugated in places. 

The road then descends into Pomona with the second rest stop and Brevet stamp location at the park in the town. Again more food snacks and refill the bidon. Again there is a climb out from the rest stop but this one is easily ridable as you exit the town and follow the Old Bruce Highway down to Cooroy, a most pleasant section of road. There is a bit of traffic but this was not a problem as there is a smooth wide shoulder.  On the outskirts of town we turn into Lake MacDonald Drive and pass the Noosa Botanic Gardens and Lake MacDonald, again very scenic, before arriving at the final rest stop and Brevet stamp location.  65km done.

The final gravel section starts another few kilometres down the road and is a 6km section.  Most of this is down hill and the top sections are smooth enough on the edges to maintain a good pace, but the last few km of relative flat road is fairly rough and my hands are starting to feel a bit sore.  It's a  relief to turn onto MacKinnon Drive and have only 10km to get to the finish line, and I know the way from here. It was the section that I rode on the Saturday for my warm up.  

The last bit is easy and it's a great feeling to roll back into the Marina, total time of 4 hours 30 minutes at an average speed of 20.3km/h.  I'm very happy with my achievement. There are some tasty nibbles and I wash them down with a cold beer before jumping back onto the bike to ride the 7.5km home to eat some more lunch prepared by Dolores ( and possibly another beer ). After cooling down and cleaning up, it was time to jump into the spa and relax –  the only issue is the 50 stairs back up to the apartment, but it was worth it. 

The following days

There was no riding on the Monday, opting for a long walk along the beaches again. It is a spectacular location and you would not think that it was winter, with heaps of people sun baking and swimming.  I didn’t venture in for a dip though.   By Tuesday, it was time to get back on the bike for a recovery spin with a few hill repeats on Gyndier Drive, a 50km ride.  

There was no riding on Wednesday as Dolores and I had our grandson, Conor for the day and we celebrate the evening handover with a nice wine and nibbles at The Noosa Beach House.   On Thursday I take the Trucker for a run down the coast down as far as Coolum Beach and back, a relatively flat 35km with some lovely views out over the ocean. Then on Friday I get a Facebook memory that the Trucker is seven years old, my photo in the MC chair.  I had to give it a bit of a clean and go for an easy, flat 20km spin around Noosaville and Tewantin. 

Weekend 2 - Noosa Classic 120km 

The next event is the Noosa Classic. Sunday morning dawned warm and fine and I rolled out of our apartment at sunrise again. There were already a number of other cyclists rolling past on the way to the start line and many more assembling to meet up in groups all the way out to Tewantin. It is an easy ride, only 8km. When I arrive the 160km riders are assembled on the starting line. The 460 riders for this distance are let off in a number of groups as those of us assembling to do the 120km course slowly advance on the line. After a very quick briefing from the local Police Sergeant ( 'The roads are open to traffic so keep left and have a great ride') we are also let off in groups of about 40.  Again I have put myself up the front in order to try to catch an occasional tow as later groups go past. I am getting slower. There are about 580 entering for this distance which included an impressive 150 female riders.

The ride starts out the on same road as last week's ride for the initial 10km, so it is up Gyndier Drive climb again but this time on the Defy.  It is a bit easier uphill than riding the Trucker so I stay with a fair size group all the way to the top, the fastest of the following group went flying past as we approached the top. It is not as cool as last week and I am happy with selection of summer kit, although it was good to start in the gilet.

The road out to Cooroy is undulating with a few short sharp pinches, good if you can keep the momentum going. After leaving Cooroy we are faced with the climb up Belli Creek Road hitting the highest part of the course, ~250m so there were some great views out to the coast if you have a chance to look up.  In a few of the sections there are around 7% and 8% and not a lot of let up in-between. It is then across the top of the range for a few kilometres before the quick descent down to Skyrings Creek Road where we again head up at 4% for a kilometre and a half and are now 40km into the ride, with a 3km roll into the first rest stop.  

The rest stop is well catered but someone had forgotten to fill the fresh water trailer, so the local cafe was providing fresh water while tempting riders with fresh coffee and the cooking of bacon and egg burgers.  On leaving the rest stop the water tanker arrived so later riders would not have to be tempted and could stick to the healthy options of fruit cake and bananas. By now it is 15 degrees and a beautiful sunny day. The route is heading north to pass west of Pomona on lovely country roads, but still a few sharp pinches. The climb up Coles Creak Road is just over a kilometre at 7%, and this is at the half way point of the ride.  A little further along there is the climb up to Kin Kin, 2km at only 3% but by this stage my legs are starting to already get a bit heavy.  

I was about 50km into the ride, on a good section of road when a group of about 15 of the 160km riders went flying past.  They must have been moving as they had covered an extra 40km and only had a 30 minute start!

It was great to pull into the second rest stop at 75km and have a bit of a stretch; as well as some more cake, bananas and a refill with water again. The great thing with the rest stops on this ride is that the departure is either level or down hill for enough time to get back into the rhythm of riding again and work out if there will be a few others that you can ride with.  In my case this time there wasn’t many about, and I was generally a bit slower uphill than most around me, but I was quicker on the downhill and flat roads. This resulted in a fair bit of leap-frogging. Not a problem on these quiet country roads.  

It is a steady ride to the last water stop at 91km and I take it easy as I know that there is the KOM only just after it. Again, the stop was well catered and even provided cold Coca-Cola which was a most welcome and refreshing energy boost.  By now, it is 11 o’clock and 23 degrees, but it feels much warmer in the sun. 

The KOM/QOM segment was on Cootharaba Road, the 3.3km was timed separately for the event.  The quickest time was 7min 08sec compared to my time of 15min 24sec for the climb.  The average grade is only 4%, and the first half is only very gentle and there is a little bit that heads down before it gets serious. The last 1500m averages 7%, with the steepest bits over 9%.  I took it really steady from the start and managed to stay on the bike all the way up.  There were quite a few walking their bikes up the last pinch and I was glad of the compact crank and 11-30 cassette.  I had a quick stop at the top to send off a text to Dolores, advising only 25km to go and it was mostly down hill.

Although that was a bit optimistic, after a short descent there was another few hundred meter climb at 10% and again there were quite a few off and walking their bikes, I managed maintain enough momentum on the start and then grind up to that next crest.  There was a bit of a descent before the final climb of the day, Louis Bazzo Drive climb, another 2km at 2% but again a very steep pinch at the top. Then it was downhill!  On the descent segment I averaged 49.9km/h for the 1.5km, it felt good.

Now I am onto a familiar section of road I am riding for the final 15km.   It was starting to feel like a bit of hard work, turning into a headwind and there isn’t anyone about to follow so I just push on and count down the kilometres.  It is a relief to come into the outskirts of Tewantin again, with smoother roads and some spectators cheering on all the riders. I pass the end of the timed course and then it's only a few hundred metres into the event village.  My total time for the ride (including stops) was 5 hours 20 minutes and 49 seconds, I was happy with that. 

I parked the bike and wandered around a bit, running into an old work colleague who had completed the 50km course on his tandem with his wife.  There is a wide choice of food, but I opted for a sausage sandwich washed down with a crisp cold beer.  After a bit of a chat with Peter and his family it was time for those last few kilometres home and another relaxing spa, before celebrating another beautiful Noosa sunset with a glass of bubbles. 

So, all in all, it was an amazing 11 days in Noosa, with perfect sunshine every day ( I think that there was a brief shower of rain one night but by morning the roads were dry).  After spending 470km on the bikes over this visit, I feel much fitter.  I'm looking forward to going back to do both of the events next year.  It will be the 10th anniversary of the Strada Bianche and the 3rd Noosa Classic. I will have to look into doing a bit more preparation, possibly get out of the park a bit more while I am back in Sydney, and look at doing a few more regular long rides. If only retired life was not so busy.

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