The Flèche Opperman, or ‘Oppy’, is a 24-hour team time trial held by Audax Australia. In 2015, ‘Team Brevet’ made their first attempt at the distance record of 778km wearing items from the Rapha Brevet collection. In 2016, they returned for a second shot – older, wiser, and more determined than ever. Mike Boudrie, founder of Australian cycling website La Velocita, followed the team as they made their way towards a new record:
Too often we avoid a challenge because it is too difficult. In a busy world I often hear people saying, ‘I don’t have the time’. So, take inspiration from Team Brevet. Five ordinary people, busy with family and jobs, who together achieved something truly extraordinary: a new Audax Flèche Opperman 24-Hour team time trial record of 800km.
It’s difficult to imagine riding 800km in 24 hours. It works out at an average of more than 33kph. Add nutrition stops and the pace required increases even further.
At the start point in Warrnambool, on the south coast of Victoria, Team Brevet take shelter from appalling weather conditions just 12 hours out from the start.
Despite the heavy wind and rain the mood is electric, with high, positive energy levels flowing, creating an inspiring environment. There are the ritual last minute checks to bikes, the checking of supplies and kit. Volumes of food are consumed, enough lasagne and apple pie to feed an army.
At 9am Team Brevet start rolling north. They strike a contrast between the dull landscape and grey sky in their bright pink jerseys. You can feel the adrenaline in the air.
With dry roads and the wind at their backs, the riders meet their target of 37kph for the first 235km. Learning from last year, they constantly monitor heart rate and conditions and vary the pace accordingly.
We pass through the towns of Mortlake, Lake Bolac, Maroona and Ararat. The lush costal country gives way to vast dry vistas and the Grampians pass slowly to our west.
Stops are planned but brief, each one just five minutes, another lesson learned from the previous year. The breaks are about food and the customary signing of brevet cards. This is a lasting tradition for Audax events, a tip of the hat to the heritage of the sport alongside the use of electronic tracking.
Team Brevet track towards the town of Kerang for their next checkpoint. At ten hours in, this where the questions start. I hear, ‘why am I doing this?’ Riders start showing the look of suffering. Drawn faces and salt encrusted kit. They are feeling the pinch. At these moments some humour goes a long way. Drew Ginn is asked what the strategy is, and breaks into a hilarious tirade full of colourful language about going hard and getting as far down the road as possible. In that instant everyone feels better.
At the next stop the support team work their magic. Hot food is waiting – potato cakes, sausage rolls and chips. Team Brevet are back on their bikes looking and feeling better.
As shadows lengthen and the night rolls in, things get serious. The first 12 hours are just the prelude. Glen tells me ‘riding fast at night is scary as hell’. This year the guys went for top end lighting, helping them spot the stream of endless kangaroos jumping across the road.
The night was long. The fatigue and sleep deprivation tough. Glen O’Rourke has to step off his bike. Unable to focus on the wheel in front of him and struggling to hold his line, he almost ended up in the dirt on the side of the road. Safety was a priority and Glen made the call himself. The disappointment was clear on his face. He’d given it his all, but fatigue had gotten the better of him.
At the final stop in the early light, faces look grey with dead eyes. They have given it everything. A beautiful sunrise lifts spirits, signalling that the worst has passed. Calculations show at least half an hour to spare; Team Brevet is beginning to believe they can break the record.
As Team Brevet roll into Wagga Wagga they make the decision to push past the finish line and complete an extra 23km. This seals the record at 800km in 23 hours and 49 minutes.
Riders – Glen O’Rourke (Captain), Glenn Landers, Drew Ginn, Scott Thomas and Dylan Newall.
Support Crew – Simon Spence, Troy O’Callaghan and Mathew Belford and Team Brevet’s families
Full Beam Australia – Lighting