Hills and Gravel...
The end of Spring in Melbourne is also the start of 'Crit Season' where you can find a race almost every day of the week with multiple options to choose from on any given Sunday; but not this Sunday.... when the Giro Della Donna comes to town.
When a brand like CyclingTips organisers a race you know it's going to be unique and Giro Della Donna is definitely that plus more.
The lead up to the main event includes a 55km, 1500m elevation Gravel Giro on Saturday. As daunting as this may sound its designed to be a relaxed compliment to the main event, the Giro Della Donna the following Sunday. The main event has 2,750m of elevation is 125km in length, which includes a 13km gravel section.
The race starts just beside the Warburton golf course and has a 21km neutral section which provides a good opportunity to warm up the legs and chat with fellow riders before starting the 21km Reefton Climb. This hill seems to go forever, if you hit it hard from the start you're bound to pay the price before you reach the summit.
If you love your climbing, you'll love this hill, it has a reasonably constant gradient but with steep enough sections to drop the 'sprinters' or 'flat landers'. The 2018 edition of the race had a particularly good climber charging up the hill and making it look like Childs play, that was Alberto Contador, he does seem to literally dance on his pedals when he's climbing..
Above; Alberto Contador making the climbing look easy
The large amount of climbing also brings with it the question we all grapple with when racing in Spring; what to wear? We decided to take the opportunity to trial some new products and fabrics so went with a short sleeve jersey (with a Summer base-layer beneath), thermal bib shorts, and some arm warmers, big mistake!
For the large majority of the race, the only warm parts of the body were the thighs and torso thanks to the thermal bib shorts (we're definitely moving ahead with these and will release them early 2019). The decision not to wear a Gilet, winter base-layer and possibly some shoe covers was not a wise one....
Above: Reefton climb where the temperature starts to drop.
At the top of the Reefton climb there are Portaloo's and an area to stop and wait for your riding companions or apologise to those who are standing there freezing cold waiting for you to finally get to the top...
Of course you don't need to stop, particularly if you're 'racing'. The next 40km section is undulating and typically ridden at a steady pace with large grupetto's forming as smaller groups of riders get caught by larger groups. This is a good time to get some nutrition into you and stretch your legs because the best is yet to come...
At approx. 80km you'll hit the 13km gravel section, it was wet when we entered it but was surprisingly compact with the odd muddy patch. Whilst you can get some benefit from drafting other riders through this section you need to trade that off with being sprayed with mud and grit so you can either back off the wheel in front or get to the front and #chewthatstem
We chose to backoff and take in the scenery, the track is fine to ride, there are some deep gravel sections and rutted out corners but you can see them coming and easily avoid them.
Above: Giro Gravel Section
You don't need any special tires and whilst it's advised to keep the pressure of your tires lower than usual (around 90 PSI) it's not necessary as long as you keep riding good lines. In saying this we passed a fair few riders changing punctures along the way which is likely due to pinch flats of hitting sharp stones.
Above: Unlucky rider suffers a puncture during the gravel section
It's surprising how much energy the gravel section drains from the body, whilst the dirt and gravel is hard packed, it still requires a lot more power output to maintain a good speed and makes you appreciate the athleticism and strength of the classics riders.
When you exit the gravel and get back to the familiar tarmac you will feel a sense of relief but this is short lived as you almost immediately start the final climb of the day, Mount Donna Buang. You don't actually start the climb from the bottom as you're already elevated from the previous parts of the day. Nonetheless you've still got 9km of climbing with an average gradient over 6%.
You can lose a lot of time on this last section so you'd want to have kept your nutrition up in the previous hours leading into this last climb. The temperature drops as you ascend and you can get quite cold as you reach the summit (it was 4 degrees when we reached the summit) which also combines as the official finish of the race.
You are welcomed at the finish line with loud speakers and an area to stop and rest, the finish was unique in that the mountain was engulfed in cloud and mist.
Above: Finish line atop of Mt Donna Buang
Whilst the summit is the official finish you do need to make your way own way back down the mountain to Warburton which is a 16.5km decent. CyclingTips provide a bag-drop facility at the start line to stash away some warmers and jacket which can be waiting for you at the summit to keep you warm on the way back down. We made a rookie mistake and had no extra clothing for the decent and absolutely froze.
We highly recommend having some extra clothing at the summit, if you don't need it that's fine, just carry it down with you as it's all down hill so the extra weight is not an issue.
This is a truely unique event, the course and makeup of riders makes for a great day out and CyclingTips do a fantastic job of making the day run smoothly so you can concentrate on riding your bike.
If you're riding it for the first time, take a moment to enjoy the course and scenery and make some new riding friends.
Register here for the 2019 edition, you'll love it!
If you would like more information on this event email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and remember, 'keep it rubber side down'...