Rider Story - "Lanterne Rouge" (Anna's Story)

If you know me, you know two things (other than my obsession with Nutella): in the afternoons following my long weekend rides I can be found asleep on the couch cuddling a family-size bag of Doritos; and I hate riding uphill.

So how did I end up riding not once, but twice in one year, a 3 Peaks event which entails crazy vertical metres?! I’m pinning that on the Bicycle Network, who I am an ambassador for. Part of our ambassadorship is to provide “domestique support” at the 3 Peaks events. This is in the form of “ride wave leaders” – whereby, say, if you wanted to finish in +/- 8 hours, try and stick with the 8-hour guys/girls dressed in BN Kit and we’ll do our utmost to deliver you across the line in said time.

Given I am hardly an 8-hour rider, (or 9, or 10, or 11….) I said I’d happily be the Lanterne Rouge. “Easy”, I thought. “Piece of cake”, I thought. I mean, aside from riding 235km with 4,500m climbing, within the 12-hour time cut-off, how hard can it be to officially come last?

HAHAHAHAHA.

Here’s an account of how that went.

At 0630, shivering slightly, my boyfriend and the other Lanterne Rouge rider Bill (who, turns out, is the President of Bicycle Queensland, co-partners of the PCGC event) rolled over the start line to much applause and cheering through the MC. It was already a lonely day as we had cheered all the riders across the start line and there was no one else around. Solitude was to be a recurring theme throughout the day. As we started passing riders, we called out a cheerful “hello!” and tried to be social and reassure riders that at the beginning of the day, they shouldn’t be too worried (yet) as we intend to drop back throughout the day.

Climb #1 up Mt Tamborine is THE climb that everyone was talking about. At 7.6km long, it doesn’t sound scary but what had riders concerned was the 1.8km section @ 18%. That’s a genuine 18%, not an average. It was steep. Grinding away out of the saddle, I sat down as I passed the first corner and promptly had my front wheel lift of the ground. Clearly, this was one of those climbs where I’d be standing the whole time. My strategy was to take the hills at my own pace and wait at the top. At one point I passed a guy who made a cheeky stab at me: “I thought you were meant to be at the back”. I smiled sweetly and said “Darling, this is the back. We’re it”. No response from him. Truthfully, uttering that comeback nearly had me collapse over my handlebars. Note to self…don’t talk whilst going up an 18% section.

The views at the “top” were fantastic and after cresting we had a few rolling undulations before reaching the “real” top – which kicked up again for another 800m @ 18%, right when I was trying to work lactic acid out of my legs. Have you ever been pushed so far into the hurtbox that you thought you were going to simultaneously projectile-vomit and sh** your pants? That’s how I felt. I thought I was going to explode.

Blah blah blah blah, more climbing, blah. The weather was starting to warm up nicely, I was enjoying this. Which is exactly about the time that things started going horribly, horribly wrong.

THE ‘DARKSIDE’ OF RELATIONSHIPS.

At the lunch stop, our carefully timed race plans had us parked here for 15 minutes. Turns out that is not nearly enough time as from the moment we got there we were surrounded by cyclists and event staff asking questions. I grabbed lunch and between mouthfuls flagged my concerns with Bill – we were five minutes late and we needed to leave. RIGHT NOW. Bill wasn’t fussed though. We debated this issue for another 5 minutes before I reluctantly backed down. Feeling anxious, I refilled my bottles, popped some sunscreen on, went to the ladies and generally sat on my top tube staring at Bill & The Boyfriend waiting for them to hurry up. 25 minutes later than intended, we rolled out of the lunch stop, I’m worried but reassured by Bill that we’d be fine.

We were not fine. For the next two stops we were 25 min late and the race organisers were starting to get worried. It was at exactly this point, my boyfriend (who, by the way, did PC Falls Creek this year in 9:10) suggested to me, that I should just “ride faster”.

Well, well, well.

Just ride faster, you say? Just ride faster? JUST RIDE FASTER? 

JUST F***ING RIDE F***ING FASTER? Did…did you just say that to me? OUT LOUD?

What followed was a good hour of the cold shoulder and complete silence. To make matters worse, we were onto Climb #3, Springbrook, a simply beautiful 7.7km climb at an average of 4.8%. A great climb to either push hard or recover on. IE THE PERFECT CLIMB IF “SOMEBODY” WANTED TO PACE ME UP IT IF THEY THINK I SHOULD BE RIDING FASTER. Did said person do that? No. They sat behind me. (I suspect because they were terrified of Angry Anna). THAT WASN’T HELPFUL. After the climb we spent the next 20km of flat pace-lining in an effort to claws back some time, only to be informed by race organisers that we were still 25min behind schedule. I’m starting to panic.

Like really, really panic. The entire logistics team are relying on us to pass through all check points and the finish line on time so that they can pull riders who are behind us off the course for safety reasons. And so that they can pack up and go home. The stress of knowing that we were 25 minutes behind got to me. I was fuming. Ropable. Seething. I said we should have left. I don’t know about you, but when I get really, really, really, really angry….I start to cry. (Very annoying). And so, up Peak #4 (Natural Bridge, 5.3km @ 4.2% ave), the tears of extreme stress and frustration started rolled down my face. Thank goodness there were no other riders near us, what a bad look if the Lanterne Rouge is falling apart. Boyfriend wants to know what is wrong? 60 seconds of gulping-yelling-crying: I can’t believe you told me to ride faster! I can’t ride any faster! How can you expect me to just “magically” make up 25 minutes?! Do you have any idea how useless you made me feel?! You really hurt my feelings!

Boyfriend apologises, more silence. I nearly take myself out on the sharp descents (sections descending @18-20%). We smash down the flat sections of road doing 35km/hr. I can’t feel my legs.

I don’t even care at this point, I’m exhausted, I’m stressed to the MAXXX, I’m fed up with my boyfriend and this could all have been avoided if people had freaking listened to me at thefreaking lunch stop. I feel devastated and like I’ve let an entire team of people down, who transported me to this event, gave me sponsor products, waived my entry fee and gave me kit to wear. F*** it. I want to give up. There is no way, no possible way that I can claw back 25 minutes, I’m just not fast enough. I want to demand that we radio for help and get one of the patrolling support vehicles to pick us up and drop us further down the course (as per our backup plan). I’m forlornly making my way up the last official climb - #5, Tomewin, 4.4km @ 7.9% ave gradient with pinches @10%. I want to get off and sit on the side of the road and pretend this isn’t happening to me. I barely have the heart to talk to the riders that we’ve been slowly and steadily passing all day.

We get to the second to last pit stop only to be told that the huge efforts we put in on the flat sections have only gained us 5 minutes. I’m silently chugging back a can of coke. I just stand there, listening to event staff explain that we need to cover the next 20km in 15 minutes to get to the final rest stop – which is actually possible because it’s all downhill (yay). People are looking at me, waiting for me to say something. ……….well f… it, I didn’t come here not to at least try. There’s a tray of chocolates. I look at my boyfriend who has his back to me filling my water bottles and EAT THE ENTIRE TRAY. Moments later he’s beside me saying “oh hey there were chocolates” (I say nothing and pretend I had nothing to do with that).

The final 50km can only described as epic. With 185km in my legs I put my head down and try to hang on to my boyfriend’s wheel as we descend in the cold and dark like maniacs and smash it out doing 35km/hr along the flat. We scream past the final checkpoint. I see the faces of riders standing there looking so disappointed to have been stopped at the final cut off. The final 20km of rolling undulations are killing me – we go over a bridge and hit another pinch @ 22%. I hate the bastards that designed this course. We are flying now, waved through traffic and traffic lights by volunteers and police. We have a support vehicle with lights flashing behind us and a motorbike in front. Maybe this is as close as I’ll ever feel to pro-racing, even if I am at the back. I yell at the guys that we have 38 minutes to cover 20km. It doesn’t feel possible.

10km to go and it’s 6:15pm. 5km to go. 2km. We get to RACV Royal Pines and the volunteers are screaming at us from the side of the road. It’s 6:27pm. I have no idea where the last hour has gone, all I know, is that thanks to some pretty manic descending and my boyfriend towing us on the front we’ve made up time. We stop and call the race organisers as planned. We roll across the finish line to the cheers from the crowd, at 6:30pm on the dot, exactly 12 hours after we started. I can’t believe it. Everyone is hugging me and shaking my hand. I hear the MC announce that we have crossed the line, signaling the official end of the event. My boyfriend comes up to me and puts his arms around me. I was furious at him today, but without him leading us out when it counted we would never have made it on time and now I’m just so glad he’s here.

And that is my experience of being a time keeper on a bike. Since then, I’ve been asked a few times if I’d ever be a LR again. Yes, absolutely. If I take out the anguish I experienced - there are lessons to be learned, and believe it or not, I did enjoy myself! The GC course is easier than Falls Creek because the climbs do not suck the life force out of you like they do at FC, you can expect to be between 20-30min quicker.  

…And in case you were wondering, my boyfriend and I are still together. J And he has learned to never mention anything about riding faster or to stand in the way of myself & chocolate, ever again.

Anna XX