Three-time Olympic gold medallist rower Drew Ginn recently participated in the Flèche Opperman, ‘The Oppy’, a 24-hour team time trial event held annually by Audax Australia. Competing with Team Brevet, and wearing Rapha’s long-distance inspired Brevet Jersey and Gilet, the team of five was aiming to help break the 24-hour Audax record commencing from South Australia. The following is his personal account of a day at ‘The Oppy’:
The strangest, most wonderful things come to those who set out to experience something extraordinary. At 8:00am on 14 March 2015 we set off from Beachport, South Australia to take part in the 24 hour ‘Oppy’ Audax. Along with some 20 other teams also riding, we would aim to converge on Rochester, Victoria the follow morning having, we hoped, broken the record (778km) for this type of event.
The day before the ride, we had chanced upon a remarkable gentleman called Douglas, who was cycling around Australia for the fifth time since turning 70. Over the course of a fascinating afternoon chatting, we were also lucky enough to speak by phone with a friend of Douglas’s who had served during World War II with the man The Oppy Audax is named after: Sir Hubert Ferdinand Opperman OBE. An Australian cyclist whose endurance cycling feats in the 1920s and 1930s earned him international acclaim, ‘Oppy’ used to go riding with Douglas’s friend too. Such a coincidence felt like destiny to us.
On the morning of the ride, the air outside was cool and the sunshine was crackling across the ocean to the east of Beachport. Lined up at the start we were all smiles and cheeky grins punctuated by laughter, probably masking the nervousness because ahead of us lay a mammoth course through the sea mist and low-lying lands north and northeast before heading east along to Rochester. The clock struck and we were off, immediately settling into our team time trial formation. Team Captain Glen O’Rourke led the way for Team Brevet as we each took 10-minute turns on the front: Glenn Landers, Scott Thomas, Alistair Tubb and myself.
Our first 80 kilometres were settled and smooth. As the wind strengthened we shortened our turns, waiting in anticipation for the right turn that would gift us a tailwind for a large stretch of the day – and what a fantastic moment that right turn was when it came! Invigorated by the breeze puffing us along, the road buzzed under our tires as we averaged close to 39kph from the 80km mark to 400km, despite temperatures hitting up to 36C.
We had great support from many people before, during and after the ride. The logistics of supporting five riders and having designated stops set up with food and drink to fuel the effort was huge. It was exciting and we appreciated everyone’s support. Arriving at the halfway point we were ahead of schedule, tired but well into the groove of the ride. Little did we know that what lay ahead would drain, claw, rip and tear at our team and at each of us individually. During those next twelve hours The Oppy challenged our hearts and minds, our love of riding and our willingness to hold it together. The day had been a joy in comparison to the night.
Alistair was our first teammate to come to grief with the demands, unable to keep down any food or liquid after a certain point. At the same time, we had a series of punctures and it was obvious during all this standing around that Al was in a bad way. His determined but ultimately unsuccessful efforts to ride on will live long in my memory. The momentum had swung and the wheels were turning slowly for Team Brevet as night enveloped us. This eerie feeling was reinforced shortly afterwards when, suddenly, from the right side of the road a kangaroo came bounding towards us. Glenn was on the front and he held his nerve as this majestic creative zipped by no more than a couple of meters in front of his wheel. If he had braked we would have all come down. Another of our riders Scott Thomas soon hit the wall too, with crippling back spasms, and he looked so uncomfortable on his bike that I was beginning to worry about possible long-term damage. His time had come to pull out as well, unfortunately.
We had lost two members of the team, but we weren’t broken – Al and Scott’s contribution inspired us to keep fighting, to keep hanging on. Personally, I was motivated to continue to see if we could still reach our goal. The spirit between us was great as we were sharing the road together, sharing the load, sharing everything – even chamois cream! At 570 kilometres, Glen advised us that he was on the edge and in a somewhat competitive way I flashed back that records don’t get broken unless you’re on the edge.
And so we grovelled along the heavy roads somewhere in north Victoria, being pushed in every which direction by the wind, desperately trying to find some rhythm to manage the pulsing, swaying and twitching of the bikes beneath us. Our speed had dropped to between 24kph and 33kph and our inspirational captain Glen was riding like a hollow man; vacant and empty for what the ride had taken out of him on the road. The final hours were downright tough – nothing can prepare you for it. Personally I had to call on all my reserves to stay the course and to hold onto the aspiration of getting to the end with the team, pedalling out of the saddle to stop myself falling asleep.
As we hit 700km, after 23hrs 26min, Glenn Landers and I realised that Glen wasn’t behind us and we turned back to where he had dropped his bike and sat on the edge of the road near the long grass. Tears filled his eyes and together we reflected on the end of our amazing Oppy ride. With Al, Scott, Glen, and Glenn we had found all we needed out on the road and all we could have hoped for from ourselves and each other. We watched the sunrise together and decided to keep on riding into Rochester to see the Oppy statue – a fitting end. Ten kilometres and a final surge of determination later we arrived in town, finally stopping where our teammates, friends and family awaited us. It was brilliant to be able to stand with the team, grasping the moment and digesting what we had just done.
- Glen O’Rourke – Captain
- Glenn Landers
- Scott Thomas
- Drew Ginn
- Alistair Tubb
- Craig Lawrence
- Troy O’Callaghan and Marina, and Troy’s parents
- Guy Begley, Matt Belford, Simon Spence
- Tristan Parker (photography)
- Mike Boudrie (la Velocita)
- Andrew Clifforth (photography)
- Bike Force Australia
- Our Families for agreeing to us doing the ride