It’s a long day in the saddle…
Melbourne’s Around the Bay has been running since 1993 with a staggering 2,700 riders entering only to have 1,000 riders denied entry due to the lack of ferry capacity between Sorrento and Queenscliff
The following year event organisers Bicycle Network partnered with The Smith Family charity and managed to increase ferry capacity to 3,000 only to have the event sell out and more riders being denied their chance to ride. The Around the Bay ride attracted just short of 20,000 riders in 2016 and now constantly caters for more than 10,000 riders each year. There are multiple ride options available for any and all types of riders such as, 20km, 50km, 100km, 135km, 160km, 201km, and 250km.
Jump forward to 2018 and the introduction of a brand-new ride option, the 300km. When the ride option was secured and the marketing campaigns started the inevitable email hit my inbox with 300km as the headline and I entered straight away then almost immediately forgot about it.
The ride date was Oct 7th and sometime in August I had this strange thought that I may have entered a 300km ride some time ago. A quick search of my inbox and sure enough entry confirmed so time to train with less than 6 weeks to ride. Thankfully I spend large amounts of time on the bike anyway so stepping up the volume wasn’t too difficult.
Given this is my first Around the Bay ride I didn’t know what to expect in terms of starting logistics, riding speeds, ferry timings etc. The start and finish is near the central city of Melbourne at Albert Park and was easy to access via the parks feeder roads. The start line itself was separated into Groups based on the speed you were planning on travelling; I chose the front group which was 35+ kph average.
The ride started at 05:30 and headed towards Geelong leaving the city via the Westgate Bridge, this is likely the only time of the year cyclists get to ride this bridge as it’s normally closed to bicycles given it’s a main thoroughfare into and out of Melbourne city. The main route to Geelong follows the Princess Freeway or M1. The highway shoulder is like most motorways or Freeways, full of glass, wire, and other nasty things waiting to puncture or cut your nice new tires. I lost count of the number of riders on the side of the road fixing punctures, for rides like this where speed isn’t the main focus I use Specialized Armadillo tyres, they are heavy but very puncture resistant. If you’re doing this ride I’d recommend staying in the right lane of riders as you’ll be riding in the car lane, not inside the shoulder where all the glass etc. is.
Getting to Geelong is straight forward, there are large groups of riders, if you’re a strong rider make sure you’re up in the front 50 riders to take advantage of the pace and the draft up the highway and drink and eat regularly because it’s a long day! At Geelong, you’ll find the first aid station and this is where I made my first mistake… I’d drunk a lot from Melbourne to Geelong and my bladder was not going to let me pass the bathrooms. It was one of those times where you need to weigh up whether to lose your group (who were travelling at a good speed), or take a chance for a stop and prey there’s another group just behind you to jump on the back of. We’ll I let my group go, emptied the bladder, and no more groups came along, at least not for 40km or so, then 10 riders came by and I jumped on the back.
What I didn’t know, but should have, is that the ferries run on the hour. So the reason the group I was originally with were moving at a good speed was so that they could catch the 10am Ferry crossing otherwise the next ferry is 11am. Within the 10 group that I jumped on there was also a couple of riders who knew about the ferry timing and these 2 riders (it was really just one of them) sat on the front and pushed a very impressive pace. I didn’t catch the name of the person but ‘respect to that guy’. Unfortunately, we arrived at Queenscliff bang on 10am so got assigned the 11am ferry, a whole hour to wait…
The atmosphere at Queenscliff was great, an acoustic band was playing covers, there was a barrister, bike mechanics, and all the normal nutrition and food you’d expect at large cycling events. I took the chance to check in with the family, take a short lie down in the sun, then headed across to board the ferry.
I’m not sure how many riders were on the Ferry but it seemed like a lot, there was standing room only (I found a seat). The bikes are lent against the outside wall of the ferry carpark, just resting against the side sounds insecure but the bikes are surprisingly stable. There’s a trade-off when boarding the ferries, the sooner you get on the higher the chance for a seat, but be warned, your bike will be 5 to 6 layers deep when the ferry arrives at the other end so it will be a long wait to get off. I think I struck it lucky as I managed to lift my bike out from 5 deep as it was not supporting any other bike, many were stuck waiting for what must have seemed like an age…
Arriving at Serrento marks the halfway mark, or approx. 150km and the toughest part of the ride is yet to come… After a short and quick ride down the coast road (quick because there are other riders doing shorter distances who do all the pulling) back towards Melbourne comes a ‘special right turn’ which the 300km riders need to take. It’s a right turn up a short side street, left, right, and right again then it’s Arthurs Seat. It comes after riding approx. 170km and is a 2.75km climb with an Av gradient of 9%, it’s short but you feel it in the legs. The next 60kms are rollers, a constant up and down which saps your energy and burns the legs, this is the moment where you need to dig deep and stay with whatever group you’ve ended up with and get through these rollers ready for the 50km home stretch because it will be a long lonely slog if you get dropped.
The good thing about these endurance rides is that everyone is normally in the same situation, they are hurting, thinking about getting to the finish, and not wanting to be dropped, which means they are normally very encouraging and this ride was no exception.
Having come out of the rollers and onto the highway back to Melbourne (which is also not exactly flat) you’d think everyone would be tired, that definitely wasn’t the case, after 230km of riding there was plenty of speed still to be had. As we rode along the coast at a good pace I realised I was running out of fluids, there was no way I was stopping and loosing this group so I rode past a rest stop and preyed everyone would stop at the next rest stop which was approx. 30km away, which meant the next 40mins or so with nothing to drink. I was pleasantly surprised when the group pulled into Frankston Rest Stop to refuel. After a quick water bottle refill and hoovering down 2 pieces of boysenberry cake I was back on the road, solo.
I know the Frankston to Melbourne road very well and am used to riding it solo so settled into a rhythm and punched out as many Watts as I could. Things felt good aside from the inevitable energy being drained so I stopped in at Mordialloc Rest Stop for some more of that great Boysenberry cake (I don’t actually know if it was Boysenberry but it tasted good) then back in the saddle to punch out the final 30km. I was clipping along at a solid pace then some of the 300km riders I’d left behind at Frankston came flying by so I jumped on the back knowing this was the train that would take me home, and it was…
A strong pace for the final 30kms, some good company, and a satisfying feeling that I’d just completed the first ever 300km Around the Bay ride in 9hr16mins. The finish line is what you’d expect, lots of food, clothing, bike stalls and a general carnival atmosphere.
If you’re up for the distance, I’d recommend this ride as it’s well supported and you’ll have some good company. You’ll want to sit in a good group on the way out to Queenscliff and catch that 10am ferry to save the wait time and try and stick with a good group after the rollers following Arthurs Seat for the tow home. Definitely one for the bucket list…
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