The 2014 Bupa Challenge – From the Back of the Back.

A restless night staying at a motel close to the start negated the need to disturb the sparrows and leave Aldinga at ridiculous o’clock to get to Unley. I placed myself at the back of the back of the huge collection of cyclists and waited nervously for the start. I rolled through the start timer approximately 15min after the gun was fired. The plan was to try to get up the freeway in good enough shape (read: slowly) to complete the whole thing. I knew that it would be at least a 9 hour day (20kph plus breaks). It was going to be a challenge in the truest sense of the word. I’m 118kgs and, although I’ve been riding a bike for a while, was no certainty to finish the distance.

It was a relief to get underway, but there were a number of stops heading up Cross Roads as a mass of cyclists were held back from turning right onto the freeway. Once all was safely organised by the organisers and police, the climb up the freeway started. There I saw Durianrider (Harley) and yelled out to him that I “…don’t have a power meter!” He yelled back something along the lines of “Goodonya mate.”  He later joined the back of the ride and quickly passed me with a ‘Ride the wattage!’ comment. I’ve never spoken to Harley previously but have become interested in what he has to say over the past few years. I have no doubt the bloke lives his beliefs.

The climb up the freeway was steady and I expected to fall back to the very back of the slowest riders, which I duly did. I concentrated on spinning as best I could and making sure that I was keeping myself hydrated. It was quite humid and the sweat was pouring out of me. I observed two things in particular when making my way up the hill. The first was that there were a few cyclists that I was catching (one being Barry Norsworthy). The second was that I was passing the cars and trucks tucked away in a single lane. They weren’t moving too far at all. The chatter over the police radio could be heard coming from the motorcycle police. I heard that there were fears that a rear- end collision was likely at one intersection (not sure which one). There were also concerns at the time it was taking for the road to clear of cyclists. Sure enough, with approximately 1km to go to Crafers, the police ordered the Sweep Wagons to transport all remaining cyclists on the hill up to Stirling. I was called upon to stop, have my bike loaded and get on the bus with around 7 others (including Barry). I think it would be fair to say that the mood on the bus varied between relief and annoyance at having around 3km cut out of the days ride. It wasn’t too long before we were dropped off at Stirling and the downhill run could begin. I started to relax into the day.

One of the highlights for the day happened as I was heading towards Echunga. A rider went past in a Skoda kit, obviously doing it really easily and said “Hi!” I barely got a look at his face but said hi back. Then it dawned on me… it was Phil Anderson! That was pretty cool.

My personal cheer squad (wife, daughter and mother-in-law) met me at Meadows for a drinks stop. There were still a small number of riders around the Meadows oval, but the local bakery and cafes were packed. Bumped into Clive P there also.

The ride down from Meadows to Ashbourne and then onto Nangkita road was largely uneventful except for one fact. There was a great deal of banana skins, empty gel packets, empty jelly bean packets as well as dropped water bottles strewn along the road. Far too many. I get that there are people who are using the event as a race, even if it is against themselves. It is no excuse to leave that much trash on the side of the road (or on the road itself). I know where the example has come from (pro racing) but the mind set of being able to do it because you’re part of a mass participation event is just plain wrong.

The ride along Nangkita Road was a first for me (have driven it a few times though). I saw a bloke looking like he was in some sort of distress, weaving all over the road, looking down at his legs. After catching up with him, I asked if he was ok, did he have any food? He stated that he was ok but that his butt was hurting “…more than after a weekend at Yatala!” I let him know that he probably wasn’t Robinson Crusoe there!  Turns out this bloke, Garth, has only been riding for a few months and this was going to be his longest ever ride. After a bit of a chat he seemed to ‘straighten up’ and started asking about riding with groups local to him. I gave him some names of the local groups found on Adelaide Cyclists, so you never know; a bloke called Garth on a Botecchia may find his way to your group soon. 

I was met at again Mt Compass by my wife and daughter, this time with a pie! I also partook of the Coles food, but not before nearly coming off whilst riding through a bunker or two! Still, it was a shady spot and the weather was warming up a little. I later found out that as I was leaving the refreshment station, the first of my mates was finishing in Victor (around 5 hours of riding). I was pleased with how I was feeling at this point and started up towards Pages Flat Road. This is familiar territory for me. Almost back home. This was also the part of the ride where the wind started to be felt. None-the-less there was a slight drop down to Myponga which made it fairly easy kilometres to travel. Heading along Pages Flat Road I was passed by a swift group, the lead rider was wearing an SSRC jersey, but I couldn’t make out who it was. They stopped by the first group of ‘BUPA Troopers’ that I had seen on the junction of Pages Flat and South Roads. I don’t know about you, but listening to these young, energetic people, especially on an approach to the KOM hill actually does burn away my mid-aged cynicism and I actually find myself SMILING.

A funny thing happened on the way to the KOM. With a greeting of “Howyagoing Wattsy?” Pat O’Kane pulled up next to me. Along with Phil Crick and a few other swifter Southern riders! It was very kind of them to slow down to escort me to the bottom of the KOM, even if by coincidence! I guess they were just making sure that I would do it? Pat was good enough to slow down and encourage me up the hill. I wasn’t sure that cramp would get the better of me up the short but sharp climb. I did try getting out of the saddle and I did start to cramp up in the right leg.  I was fine sat back down and managed to keep going all the way up. Even if it was at a lazy 5kph! Apparently there is photographic evidence somewhere!

The rolling hills around the dam were what I expected to be the toughest part of the day’s ride, mainly due to the fact that 100km had been completed already, it would be getting hotter plus it is quite exposed to the wind up there. It didn’t disappoint. I was very slow through the section from the bottom of the KOM climb to Carrackalinga. This was reinforced by the sight of the ‘Heads’ of the riders of TDU promotional cars flying past as I reached the dam wall. I knew then I had about 30 minutes to get to Yankalilla, where I had arranged to meet my boss, who had kindly agreed to meet me at the Yankalilla hotel with some ‘refreshments’, which turned out to be a fizzy drink and another meat pie!! Who was I to turn it down?! The turn from Normanville to Yankalilla let me know exactly which direction the wind was coming from, and it was pretty much blowing straight from Victor Harbor. If I was going to finish I’d need that break.

I stopped in Yankalilla for just under an hour. During that time the race came through at one hell of a pace, the sprint points line was 800 metres further up the road and Greenedge were setting up, presumably for Gerrans to try to make some time back on Cadel Evans. Interestingly, cars were allowed to be parked on the side of the road in Yankalilla. This left some gaps in between cars that were filled by some of the crowds. The crowds were strongly encouraged to move back to the pavement by the unmistakeable voice and left arm of the race director, Mike Turtur, as he sped through ahead of the melee for the sprint points. Thankfully, no one collided with a parked car or spectator in the sprint for points.

The chasing peloton went past a minute later followed by the rest of the race convoy and the green light van. I was fairly undecided at this point whether or not to finish. There was around 30km to go, the wind was still in my face and I knew there was a steady uphill climb to contend with. One of the drivers of the assistance cars on the ride nearly made my decision for me by asking me to deregister from the ride. That way they could pack up the last water stop at Inman Valley. I called up the number to deregister after taking a few bottles of water off of him. It didn’t bother me much at the time, but I did go past the water station an hour or so later and they were only just disconnecting the water pipes. In the end my wife’s location decided the fate of the ride. She was in Victor, so I decided to continue. With 25km to go I was spent.  However, after a couple of stops to rest my sore butt along the way, I did get over the top, seeing the sign on the side of the road stating “It’s downhill from here!” On one of these stops I noticed an approaching cyclist from behind me! She was riding in the event jersey on a hybrid with panniers on the back. After passing each other a couple of times during the last 15 km I finally gave her an encouraging clap as she made her way to the finish. Surprisingly she stopped for a chat/rest and after a short conversation we agreed to ride through to the end together, rather than continue to leap-frog each other to the end. So the last 10km or so I had company, for the first time since the Myponga Dam wall! What made me laugh is that I acted pretty much as a lone domestique for that time, pointing into the wind for the slowest lead-out train seen on the road that day. What made it easier were the numerous encouragements from those riding home and the thumbs-up received from the drivers going home from the finish.

The last climb into Victor Harbor was gentle enough and the view was all the encouragement that was required. The traffic became thick with cars finding their way home. I said my goodbyes to my riding buddy for the last 10km and got to the end, just I time to see the barriers being loaded on to one of the TDU organization’s trucks. I reckon I was the last one in!

Somehow I managed to trip a timer somewhere that gave me a finish time, despite being officially deregistered. I had spent 10 hours and 7minutes on the road (according to official timing), but with the ride to the start and the wait to get through the start line Strava measured 10 hours 54 minutes where I completed 160.9km.

All up a long but satisfying day in the saddle. Between a colleague and myself we raised $1915 for the Mental Illness Fellowship of South Australia. It was worth every minute!

Views: 701

Comment by Gus on February 9, 2014 at 17:29

Chapeau. I was happy to sponsor you.

Comment by Andrew Watts on February 9, 2014 at 18:08

Thanks Gus

If anyone else would like to donate, we are still accepting donations on the following link:

Comment by Andrew Watts on February 9, 2014 at 19:05

I'm guessing that is more than just a few minutes of footage Pat, if it is of me getting up KOM!

Comment by David Ellison on February 9, 2014 at 20:15

Epic effort Andrew. Well done, 10 1/2 hours in the saddle is a very long day.

Comment by Darren B on February 10, 2014 at 10:47

Wow! That is a big day. I can highly recommend Aussie Bums chamois cream (from Bike Express). I put it on most rides now and would very much recommend something slapped on "down there" if intending to be in the saddle that long.

Great effort though!

Comment by Andrew Watts on February 11, 2014 at 11:10

Aussie Butt Cream was employed in the undercarriage area Darren! I think I used it to destruction!

Comment by BJ on February 11, 2014 at 20:18

10 hours - a very civilised time to do a ride to Victor in.  :)

Well done Andrew.

Comment by Jules Begg on February 24, 2014 at 13:40

Great effort, a long day on the bike.

Comment by Shav Bird on February 27, 2014 at 7:57

Inspirational work mate. 

Comment by Steven Ellison on March 2, 2014 at 9:18

Your effort, determination and enthusiasm on this ride is inspirational and I am sure there are many out there that will draw motivation from your efforts! I am sure your fundraising efforts are greatly appreciated too! Very impressive work Wattsy, Chapeau, Kudos and any other accolades I could give you I do!  Thanks for the write-up on behalf of all those inspired by your efforts!

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