Driving down the gravel road to the winery where the Rapha Women’s Prestige Merricks was to begin from, I was reminded of childhood jaunts on dust tracks, and the freedom of the country. It set the tone for what would be a wonderful day’s riding. Those gravel roads were the only type I knew as a child, and we’d be riding several of them on our 121km long adventure.
Spirits were high as teams unpacked their bikes, saddled up and headed to the homestead for morning coffee. The sunrise was spectacular over the vineyard as we pumped our tyres in the long grass and packed our pockets with essentials for the day.
28 teams set off at five minute intervals, giving all groups an equal handicap. With 112 ladies riding, you can imagine the excitement and motivation that was brewing, and the day was very much a celebration of the last four years of growth in women’s cycling in Australia.
We took off with a thrill along a long gravel section, passing several teams with punctures, before calming a little once we hit the bitumen, eventually turning right and heading towards Flinders, a coastal town with sublime rolling hills running parallel to the ocean. The hills were lined with dairy cows and the land was green and picturesque. Quickly we accepted that we were riding into a headwind and tucked in together.
The day’s highlight was ‘The Corkscrew’ which rolled us up, down and wrapped around, befitting of its name. After that, it wasn’t long before we reached the very tip of Point Nepean, the southernmost point of Port Phillip and the most westerly point of the Mornington Peninsula, as European as it would get!
Here at Fort Nepean you could sense history in the fort ruins and gun barrels, well preserved for all to see. Not all teams took the history lesson though, as we watched several take a wrong turn and ‘cyclocross it’ down cliff stairs, only to find the beach.
The following 30km consisted of a rewarding tailwind buffeting us back towards Arthurs Seat and the Elgee Park Winery. Of course, there was a 20% climb that rose sharply from the seaside town of Dromana, a little more gravel and then the 3km Arthurs Seat climb to the summit for that all important checkpoint stamp (and photograph). Personally, that 20% pitch nearly ruined me, and by the time we made the top, I was like a horse heading home.
I knew we only had a 15km descent with a few rolling hills back to the winery, however, and awaiting us was award-winning bubbly and a delicious feast to celebrate. A superb day of laughter and suffering was shared together on the bike, all in the spirit of the Rapha Prestige.