As a child, I discovered Melbourne by riding my BMX through her streets, lanes and paths. Iacuone family picnics were regularly held at dams and reservoirs on the outskirts of town. It was likely because of my father’s Italian heritage and employment as a concreter that he gathered us in a place to marvel at their engineering and construction.
Soon, I was riding solo to these family outings. The further the better. My favourite being Maroondah Dam, situated about 60km out of a town called Healesville in the beautiful Yarra Valley.
At first I would ride through the spectacular vineyards directly to the picnic, but then I discovered Mount Donna Buang, a 16.8km brute of a climb for a 15 year old (6.4%, 1,069m). Down the other side is a gravel road with a turnoff to the dam. Here I would find my large Italian family gathered around one of the many BBQs. I would devour whatever food remained, usually a home-made Italian sausage and a mortadella roll. An alternative ride route was through Kinglake which was a comparatively easier 7km climb followed by undulations through the Toolangi State Forest and strawberry farms, equally as scenic as the vineyards of the Yarra Valley.
My love for Melbourne only grew stronger when I started racing in Europe for up to nine months at a time. Whilst I enjoyed exploring new places, not much could beat flying back in and trying to work out which roads and which mountains were which from the plane. The training routes I exhausted as a junior resonated more and more each time I returned home.
Riding along Port Phillip Bay to Arthur’s Seat is one example of a memorable training route, complete with spectacular views at the top of the 3km climb (8.1%, 201m). On a clear day one can see Melbourne City across the bay. [Side note: the last stage of the 2016 Sun Tour saw the peloton tackle Arthur’s Seat three times and, on the last ascent, Froomey blew the race apart setting the fastest known time up the climb at just over 8 minutes – a good 30 seconds clear of the previous fastest].
Whilst Port Phillip Bay may not quite be Sydney Harbour, to many Victorian cyclists, it means so much more. When I first started riding I would ride from home in the eastern suburbs about 20km to Edithvale to enjoy some fish and chips on the water.
Each weekend I would ride further and further, paying attention to the road signs to the next town and trying harder to get to a new one each time. The last town listed was Portsea. I knew I had to get there. The 200km round trip from home took me three attempts. My first being within six months of having a road bike. Not knowing much about anything, I went hunger flat and had to lie down road-side. When I finally got home I consumed a whole loaf of bread with peanut butter and slept for the remainder of the school holidays. I mistook my fatigue for lack of form and thought I just needed to train more. A few years later I was regularly motorpacing those same roads which had felt impossible as a 16 year old.
Nowadays, there is comprehensive network of bike paths. One of note is the path that takes you from the CBD out to one of the local training areas, the Dandenongs Ranges (aka “the Nongs”). It’s not super high, only topping out at 600m at its highest point, but there are several ways to climb up. The most popular being the west side “The 1:20” (6.8km at 4%), then east “The Wall” (5.2km at 5-7%), the south “The Devil’s Elbow” (5.5km at 6.9%), and the North Inverness Road (2.8km @ 8.5%). All four climbed in one session is known locally as “The Crucifix”.
There are many more ways up the mountain, some gravel sides which avoid the traffic, Old Coach Road being one of my favourites. It brings you out at Kalorama with a beautiful view of Silvan Dam (yes, another of my family’s picnic destinations). My aunty and uncle live up in the Dandenong’s too, it feels like home every time I ride up there.
With my days of racing in Europe well and truly behind me, my love affair with Melbourne has grown stronger still. I feel at ease in city traffic. Mimicking my childhood, the rides I do now are usually within the inner-city limits, backlanes, paths, and threading through traffic. Melbourne’s laneways are brimming with life, new bars and cafes pop up in the most obscure of places. Coffee roasters aplenty. Someone told me that Melbourne had more roasters than the whole of Italy ( if not, let’s not let the truth get in the way of a good story). It dishes up four seasons in one day. It is known for its broodiness, its arts scene and its crazed sports fanatics, with the stadium – the mighty MCG – almost taking centre stage, seating close to 100,000 people.
I am proud to have been born and bred in Melbourne, when I ride around her streets I do it with a secret smile, knowing she will always be mine no matter what. When I ride along the Yarra Boulevard, at sunrise or sunset, I see a city I love. The view from there is unparalleled to anywhere in the world, especially with the fruit bats.
This is my Melbourne. Looking forward to sharing it with you.