Here is the blog on the Fitz’s Challenge I wrote for the Fitability website. 3Fidi is prominently mentioned!
Fitability fielded three tandem teams in the 2011 edition of the infamous Fitz’ Challenge. Lindy, Ashley, Russell and Peter took on the 205km Fitz’s Epic, and Rosemary and Julia the Tharwa 105km. Fitabilitists Don and Alex were out on their single bikes, both tackling the Epic if memory serves me correctly.
After iffy weather predictions all week in the end Sunday Oct 30 was a magnificent day. It was about 10C at Stromlo as Lindy and I got out of the car to set the bike up and register. We had a brief chat with Don, Russell and Peter at the start, then didn’t sight any of them again for the rest of the race. The finish line gossip was that Russell’s shoulder – injured in a crash in Paris-Brest-Paris – was giving him grief, and they had to pull out and sag it after 75km. Bad luck, guys.
Lindy and I figured out pretty quickly that our bike wasn’t set up ideally. I had changed the rear stem out for a longer one because my hamstrings were hitting Lindy’s bars. This meant I was comfortable, but that I had shortened Lindy’s cockpit, making it hard for her to get out of the saddle to climb. The next thing we realised is that we could have done with another gear or two. Our “granny” gear turned out to be a mean, tough old lady. Sooo, we were stuck in the saddle grinding up the hills in what felt like a big gear, which is not exactly our usual style.
Nevertheless, we soldiered on, conquering Fitz’s hill and making it to Rendezvous Creek in fairly good style. Approaching the checkpoint, we saw the lead riders haring past us in the other direction. One guy was a minute out in front with a pack of 10 or so in hot pursuit. Who said this wasn’t a race? Just after them my buddy Greg from 3fidi went past. Go, Greg!
We made a brief stop at the checkpoint then headed back out onto the road. We were passing all and sundry on the flats and descents, and the more alert cyclists jumped on the back of the tandem for a free ride. When the road turned upwards though we were back to grinding it, and people started to pass us again. It went pretty much like that all day – which isn’t to say we didn’t pass a few people on the big climbs!
Lindy was finding the Fitz’s a highly sociable event, and by the 100km mark was firm friends with a couple of young guys from the Sydney Cycling Club, Bonny and Vern I think it was. We kept yo-yoing with them all day, and unbelievably ended up going over the line all together. Needless to say, Lindy wanted to make a sprint out of it.
The moment we turned up Apollo Rd for the climb to Honeysuckle, though, all chatting ceased and things got deadly serious. I was watching the Garmin in disbelief as it gave out gradient readings: 10, 12, 16 … 19. 19??!! Yes folks, we are here to tell you that it is in fact possible to ride a tandem up a 19% gradient. On the way up we passed Greg fixing a flat by the side of the road. The poor guy had gotten 2 flats and then had valve trouble, losing touch with the leaders completely.
The excellent Pedal Power catering at the top of the hill saved our bacon. I scarfed down oranges and fruitcake while Lindy hit the watermelons. Not wanting to get cold before the descent, we kept it brief, and headed on down the hill. The thought of the lunch stop at Tharwa kept us going for the next 20km, and we weren’t disappointed. There we ran into a life-saving salad roll and dessert, as well as finding lots of friends, old and new: Bonny and Vern, Rosemary and Julia, and lots of 3Fidi people: Greg, Russ, Jess and Matt. Bruce, doing the 165km ride, was also sighted out on the road.
Back out on the road, a headwind had sprung up and people were crawling along, looking for a big/strong rider to shelter behind. We were able to make a bit of use of one small bunch, but then got out of sync with them on a climb. We got to the Corin turnoff pretty much on our own, and I steered the bike to the left to start the long, long climb. Basically I was running on snakes by then. (It didn’t help that some bastard dressed in black and white coming down from the summit yelled out “Come on Ash, do some work!” as he went past. I still don’t know who the hell it was. Anyone want to fess up?) Luckily Lindy has been punching out lots of day-long efforts lately, especially on the Ride4Retina and ATB, and her staying power got us to the top. Yet again we were yo-yoing with Bonny and Vern all the way, but there wasn’t much polite conversation going on. We stopped briefly at the checkpoint and put on our jackets and arm warmers for the descent, but I was still freezing until we got about 2/3 of the way back down. Interesting trying to steer a tandem down a winding mountain descent while your arms are rigid and shaking with cold.
Somehow we kept on pushing it back over Pierce’s and to Cotter Crossing, and took the left up Mt McDonald. I think we were both getting a little hazy by then, because it seemed to take us an age to get it together to drop our ticket off at the checkpoint half way up the hill. Anyhow, I think we were getting some form back, because we climbed faster than we had been doing for quite a while. Once we got to Uriarra Homestead, we had a tailwind behind us and a flat section in front: perfect tandem conditions. With one lucky passenger on behind we hit it, doing 50-55kph all the way to the top of the descent into Uriarra.
Then, as Lindy said, it was “time to go and talk with the Sisters”. It was getting pretty grim by then, but I managed to keep grinding away, and Lindy just kept on putting in strong spurts to propel us up the hill. I couldn’t believe she still had so much power after 200km. By that time we were determined to hold onto our 23kph average, and we gave it everything we had left over the top of the 3rd sister and in to Stromlo. Made it! And with an average of 23.1kph for almost exactly 9 hours riding time, 10 hours total.
The first order of business was to get a fizzy drink and a sausage sandwich, which turned out to be served by the Fitability Hartley team. You have never looked so attractive, guys. Jing and Alex were loitering around the sausage sizzle, and we heard Alex’s sad story of having to pull out with injuries and sag it back to the start. Rosemary and Julia had made it back to Stromlo quite a bit earlier after taking a slightly modified route back from Tharwa. Well done guys. My friend Greg pulled in just a bit after us, having completed the 250km event, and begged a lift home.
Having been out on the bike all day I was somewhat in the red in the child minding ledger when I got home. My parenting that evening amounted to letting the kids jump on my chest while collapsed on the floor watching Fireman Sam… Thanks for a great ride, Lindy. Let’s do it again. But not too soon.