Photos by Nicholas O’Donnell | Words by Nathan White
I wouldn’t have classified this as a race. The ride separates itself from other more mainstream events by reducing the elitist culture that often permeates competitive road racing. It provides this through the use of a team format incorporating the mandatory inclusion of females combined with a 146km race distance and parcours conducive to inevitable suffering.
The inaugural Gentlemen’s Ride was held in the Scenic Rim in south-east Queensland. Thus, it took in the rolling hills and windswept gravel roads that unravel towards the prehistoric volcanic rock outcrops well known in this part of Australia. The weather was kind, with only a few brief showers punctuating the hour-long drive to the start point in Mt Alford township.
As soon as we arrived, coffee in hand, it was obvious that this was not your usual weekend race meet. Lots of hirsute men with shaved legs outfitted in the latest Rapha designs milled around, conversing enthusiastically about the day ahead. Not a turbo, massage table or deep dish wheel in sight. To be honest, I didn’t miss them for a moment. Instead, cyclists mingled discussing tyre widths and whether they would have enough inner tubes to see them through the inevitable punctures.
Our little team from Cobra9 consisted of a few regulars and a soon-to-become-cherished new member, Kate. We had searched far and wide for the elusive female member of the party, and with a little trepidation, Kate stepped up. After a round of introductions, Kate nervously mentioned that she had never ridden this far before and had only ridden more than 100 kilometres on one previous occasion.
After a nice roll through some gentle terrain, the first taste of gravel was a short and harmless jaunt through the local show grounds. Instantly you are aware of how foreign the loose surfaces are under the narrow tread of road tyres. With this obstacle ticked off the list it was on to the hills. The next 30 kilometres are dotted with short steep 15-20 percent climbs. These are not long enough to deplete you in one serve, but enough to pepper your legs. After a series of these, our legs were suitably warmed up and to our amazement, Kate just kept knocking them off. So much so that before we knew it we were on to the flat lands and the gravel.
I had envisioned gravel of the small blue metal variety with a firm sandy base but the section before the Cunningham Highway was rough. Golf ball sized rocks littered the road and one of these was enough to provide us our first puncture of the day. Whilst a few of the boys tinkered with spares and repairing the side wall of the tyre, Kate, Adam and Dugald proceeded up the road. The ability to change a tyre and repair a bike are features of the Rapha ride as self self-sufficiency is celebrated. Thankfully we had mountain biker Rupert along with his Teflon fingers to change tyres faster that I though possible. Once repaired, it was a 3 man time trial to chase down Kate and guys which proved longer and harder then expected. Again Kate had been up to the task and rolled along at a nice clip. Once united it was a time to turn around and head back into the wind.
The second half was where the going got tough. The wind blew swiftly back into our face and the gravel made an unwelcome return. This time it was the long stretches around the township of Rosevale. By this point we had passed numerous teams bent over wheels chatting amidst the fatigue and weariness of the ride.
Whilst the core of this event is participation, human nature dictates a certain level of competitiveness. I could see a little sparkle in Kate’s eye each time we passed another slowing team. However, the long stretch of gravel eventually took another victim. This time it was Kate who suffered a rear puncture. A quick wheel swap with Rupert and Kate was on her way again with the assistance of Matt, Adam and myself. Rupert and Dugald soon caught us after making repairs and we left the last strip of gravel behind us and headed for home over Mt Alford.
With 30 kilometres to go, I had fully expected the team to be nursing Kate home with ever worsening fatigue and cramps. To make matters worse, the last portion of this circuit marks a return to the short sharp bergs, then a steady climb over Mt Alford skirting pretty Lake Moogerah. Despite this, Kate was showing very few signs of faltering. Her form on the bike looked better than ever and her ability to ride in a bunch had improved tremendously.
As we rolled back into the township of Mt Alford relief, satisfaction and fatigue enveloped us in a warm post-ride blanket. I have had many wonderful experiences on the bike but for pure satisfaction, this one was hard to top. Whilst we set off in as individuals in a group time trial, we arrived home as a team. A better bonding experience would be hard to find. A few cold beers and a county pub rump steak topped it off.
We have all made pledges to reform for whenever Rapha decides to bless us with another event. Thanks must go to the organisers from Rapha especially Sarah Bowman and to the guys at Crankstar for inviting us. Thanks also to the other genial teams who greeted and quipped with us on the way, and to our families who let us ride these events (on Mother’s Day) knowing what a utopian experience they may be.