Monday, 7 April 2014

BWA Scody 5 Dams Challenge :: 6th April, 2014

This year's Dams Challenge has produced some amazing results and stories of suffering, sacrifice, team work and even gallantry and sportsmanship. And at the end, the elation of crossing the line makes all the hard work worth while. Many of us had spent weeks training and preparing for the challenge of riding a long distance in the hills while some of us were dropped in it at the last minute to fill in for a rider who was unable to make it. Either way, the mental toughness to ride through these courses was demonstrated by each and every rider who fronted up to the starting line. Congratulations to everyone who took part in either the 3 or 5 Dams rides this year.

For me personally, as this was my first attempt at the challenge, at the very least it resulted in a new personal achievement in distance and climbing in a single ride. Even for me, it was, at times, difficult to suppress the feelings of doubt and "what if" that try to creep into your mind as the start time gets closer and you think about the distance and the hills and wonder if you are actually physically able to get through it. It was a road that was clouded by the unknown and would only clear as you made your way along.

Whilst I was unsure about the distance and climbing required to complete the 5 Dams, I was not nervous about the ride. I backed myself and the training I had put in, both for this event and others leading up to this day. I knew I would be riding with someone who had plenty of experience with this ride from previous years, someone I could call on for advice and a helping hand when needed. I was also motivated by a fantastic group of cyclists (the "Ambassador Group") who would be starting with us as we set out for the hills first at 0615hrs. I was in very good company and any remaining negative thoughts were washed away when I arrived at the start.

There were a lot of smiling faces around as I looked out over the sea of riders and bikes awaiting the moment of release. Some of these smiles would remain for the duration, while others would be packed away for a while and put back on display again when crossing the finish line. I made my way to the start line and relaxed while the ride group collected around and we were finally let loose on the course.

For the most part, I had already ridden the majority of the course on different rides and the only dam I was not familiar with on a bike was Serpentine, the last checkpoint of the 5 Dams course, so I largely knew what to expect of the course, but stringing it all together was the challenge. Thankfully, the ride out to the base of Greenmount Hill offered a chance to warm up the legs but unfortunately, our run of red lights was not going to allow us to keep the chase groups at bay and we were caught by the second group before we had reached Canning Hwy. Passing under Orrong Rd overpass on Great Eastern Hwy we were passed by a very courageous pair from Peel Cycling Club keen to put some distance on us. There was some passing interest in how long it would be before we saw them again.

By the time we reached the old Guildford Hotel, our smallish group of riders had blown out to near on 100 as the stops at red lights allowed the chase groups to come together. Our initial group remained at the front of this peloton and we rolled turns (within the first 6 to 8 riders) only very occasionally to ensure we stayed out of trouble and were not split by any traffic hazards or red lights. Unfortunately, we lost Matt Upton and Luke Pledger to a puncture before we even reached Midland and with so many riders behind us, it was difficult for us all to stop and wait for them so the rest of us stayed on the front. As we passed by Midland Gate shopping centre, the first 30 riders of the bunch were able to get through traffic lights before others were forced to stop. This would allow us to begin thinning out the group as we began the first climb of the day.

As we started to tackle our first climb up Greenmount Hill, the remainder of our Ambassador Group rode together quite comfortably and we set a steady but manageable pace ascending and rolling through to Mundaring. This would prove a little too much for some that had started the climb with us and we were down to about a dozen or so riders as we reached Bilgoman Rd at the top of the climb.

The next obstacle to front us was the resurfacing of Mundaring Weir Rd on approach to the first of 5 dams and our first timing checkpoint. We had been informed that the road resurfacing would be complete before we arrived but they had yet to find the time to sweep away the small, loose blue metal that required us to ride a little further apart as the wheels from the rider in front would throw the loose surface upwards enough to collect the rider behind. Thankfully the stretch was not very long and we were descending rapidly to the base of the Weir wall.

We didn't want to waste any time getting through to Wungong Dam for the first dead-zone stop and we almost whizzed by the first timing checkpoint on the far side of the Weir wall. AP had to double-back slightly to register his chip but there was no stopping here for water refills and the like and we continued on up the climb out of Mundaring Weir and onwards to Churchman Brook Dam. It seems the timing was not quite right by the time we arrived and they registered our time to the first check point as over 7 hours which would throw out our official time for the entire ride completely. It was not long after cresting the rise coming away from the Weir that we collected the two Peel Cycle Club riders and they were brought into our group where they sat in to recover.

Glenisla Rd would be our next decent climb and again, the group worked together with some of the better hill climbers taking the initiative to lead us up the climb. Not being a talent at climbing hills, I was surprised with how well I was responding to ascending the climbs so far and without expending too much energy. I attributed this not just to the training I had been doing prior to the event, but to a couple of recent sessions I had with a local Giant-Satalyst rider, Andrew Williams, and also some advice that AP had given to me during the Pemberton Classic. All of this was coming together nicely and the more I climbed, the more confident I was becoming when it came to more difficult aspects of the course.

The ride through to Churchman Brook Dam was a pleasure and allowed those of us who had met for the first time to socialise a little and get to know each other better. You'll often see during televised Grand Tours, riders talking socially, even with riders on different teams. This is one of the elements of cycling that I think is truly unique. We often hear in a lot of sports about the sledging and less than savoury exchanges, and I'm sure there is plenty of ribbing that might go on within a peloton, but you get the sense that, during the majority of times, riders respect each other during stages and events and let their legs do the talking when it comes to the difficult aspects of a stage.

Churchman Brook Dam was the first time we stopped to top up our supplies. I'd eaten well before the event and had not had to consume much of what I had carried with me thus far so I only took a couple of muesli bars and filled up an empty bidon before we turned around to head back on course. To our surprise, we were greeted by Luke and Matt who had to stop back in Guildford to repair a puncture. We later learned (at Wungong Dam) that they had worked in 2-up TT mode to claw their way back on with Luke pulling a massive turn up Greenmount Hill to haul back up to 500 places. Astonishing.

Out stop at Churchman was very brief and we continued on up the climb away from the reservoir and on toward Wungong Dam for the first of two dead-zones where timing would stop while we refuelled and rested for a short while. The stretch between these two Dams was probably the shortest one involving a quick descent down to Albany Hwy and another easy roll to the base of the reservoir before climbing a sharp ascent to the top of the dam wall. This was probably the first climb that showed the difference between the hill climbers and the "sprinters" and I fell off the pace momentarily before reconnecting with the group as we crossed the dam wall (navigating under some closed gates that trapped the support and video motorcyclists) and into the dead-zone for a short rest.

Our friends from Peel Cycle Club seemed to be very keen to keep going and didn't appear to stop within the dead-zone (at least not for long), opting to continue up the climb away from the dam wall and resting toward the top of the climb. This seemed a little odd is it would not work in favour of their time. We would catch them again as we left the dead-zone and reached the top of the decent little climb back out to Albany Hwy.

Canning Dam was not a great distance and the road into the dam was not the greatest making it a rather dead riding surface. This was an out and back leg of the course where we would descend quickly down to the base of the dam wall and climb up the other side, waving to the check point volunteers (we had no reason to stop) and continuing on across the top of the wall before making our way back up the hill we had just come down. This was not a fast ascent due to the uneven road surface and we were happy to turn back onto Albany Hwy and head for the Jarrahdale turn off.

Unfortunately, the road surface on Albany Hwy was not much better for cyclists. The surface consisted of very course blue metal stone and the "rumble strip" down the shoulder of the road was like crossing cattle grids the likes of which you would find crossing highways in our North West. To avoid the strip and to keep the group as safe as possible riding two-abreast, I rode between the edge of the road and the rumble strip while the rider next to me would be just inside the rumble strip. We opted to pull longer turns along here to help maintain safety among high speed traffic (110km/h speed limit).

Equally unfortunate for me was that during the descent to Jarrahdale Rd turn-off (at about 45km/h), I managed to collect some metallic road debris on the shoulder of the road which pinch flatted both my wheels and a very controlled slow down had me turning my bike upside down for repairs. AP had carried on for a bit before realising my situation and was kind enough to double back while the remainder of the group stopped at the bottom of the descent and waited for a little while. It was some 4 minutes before the next riders would pass us mid-operation where we found that APs spare tube had a short valve that would not allow us to inflate the tube so a repair was the next best option.

We had lost a number of places by the time our operation was done, completed whilst being filmed from start to finish by the video motorcycle crew who were kind enough to pace us to the Jarrahdale Rd turn off by which time we had clawed back a few places. AP was in fine form and pulled monster turns to keep the pace well up over 40km/h - even troubling me where I could only do a turn every so often. I think this performance came from the intent to reconnect with the Ambassador Group and to prevent anyone from tagging along for a free ride. We did collect two or three additional riders as the pace slowed when we turned into Kingsbury Drive and they stayed on my wheel until we reached Serpentine Dam.

I was beginning to feel a little fatigued from this effort. I think it was just as hard keeping AP's wheel as it was climbing some of the previous hills. But there was only one more significant climb to deal with before we had to tackle the ride over to and up the Freeway. We reconnected with the group at the lunch stop with AP and myself cutting our rest a little short in order to go with the group. We crossed the dam wall, waved to the video crew who had helped us out earlier and began our ascent up the final climb of the day.

This climb presented itself in two parts, the first being the harder one as we rode away from the dam wall, the other being a short but not difficult climb to the crest of the foothills that would take us to the final descent down Kingsbury Rd to South West Hwy. This would unfortunately be were AP and I would disconnect from the group for the second and final time as the puncture repair on my rear wheel came unstuck and rapidly deflated the tyre. Some welcome and friendly assistance from a rider from Midland Cycle Club who had had to withdraw due to rear mech failure allowed us to get the right tube into my back wheel, a rapid inflate with some CO2 and back on the road with our nose pointing to the Freeway and home.

This would be an experience I will not forget for a while. We descended rapidly down Kingsbury Rd and south on South West Hwy for a brief moment before turning off and riding north back up Hall Rd toward Karnup Rd which would offer some hard work into the wind. AP once again put things in top gear and he was flying and once again, had me finding it difficult to maintain contact with his wheel. I was about to receive a first hand experience of how strong this man has become on a bicycle. We turned our noses into the wind and the pace did not fault. AP maintained a pace over 40km/h for very nearly the entire stretch of Karnup Rd. There was a peppering of riders that had passed us while we were repairing my puncture that were being swooped up and spat out the back immediately offering no ability to latch on to us. It was not until the new road work at the end of Karnup Rd that the pace slowed and we cruised through to the Freeway a short distance further.

I had attempted to come around once along Karnup Rd but cramped badly. AP backed it off a bit to help me work through them and by the time we reached the Freeway, I felt I had gotten through and was able to help out more as we rode up the Freeway PSP. We had collected two more riders at this stage (I don't recall who they were, a male and female team) who were riding strongly with us all the way through to the end. We were assisted with a tail wind up the PSP which allowed us to keep our pace up over 40km/h once again and this time, with the assistance from our friends, we were all able to do turns on the front.

We also collected a few familiar faces as we progressed through this last stage, including our friends from Peel Cycling Club once more, although they were not able to hold on to us for long. As we passed Beeliar Drive we were soon passing masses of 3 Dams riders making their way back to the finish. Given the number of riders that were now negotiating their way along the PSP, everyone was well behaved and stayed left allowing faster riders like our small group to pass safely.

As we rolled into South Perth and rolled to a stop at the Mends St & Mill Point Rd traffic lights, a sense of achievement was really beginning to take hold. AP had been riding incredibly strong and his efforts over Karnup Rd still amazed me (I think it will for some time to come). We rode up past the Zoo together and through to the final set of traffic lights that were kind enough to remain green for us to take the corner without stopping. I afforded the chance for AP to cross the line first given the work he had done. Then it was all over. We had completed 236kms (AP probably did 238kms given he had to double-back twice) and climbed well over 2,500 vertical metres of hills. It was certainly welcoming to have Kathy and Jade their waiting for us and cheer us on over the finish line.

The experiences of each of the climbs and elements of the course had already begun to blend together and as we were joined and queried by family and friends, it was difficult to to pin point a favourite aspect of the ride. In my opinion, this gives some indication that the entire event was enjoyable and well worth the effort.

Perhaps deep down, we have probably all seen this event as a "race", but not in the traditional sense that I and some of my fellow Ambassadors are used to. This was more like a race against yourself. Not to dissimilar to a time trial but without the intensity of maintaining a very high pace. This was more about setting yourself a target and working toward exceeding it. For some, it may have been just to complete it in order to attain a personal distance or climbing milestone, while for others, it may have been about completing it within a certain time, be it better than a previous time or just to set a goal and achieve it. I have been lucky enough to reach both a distance and climbing milestone but also achieve a time that far exceeded my expectations.

5 Dams Personal Result
Goal Time: 07:45:00
Goal Pace: 30km/h
Achieved Time: 07:10:40 (Garmin time)
Achieved Pace: 33km/h

(Official times were skewed for a number of riders where time seemed to be added or removed. The above achieved time and pace was based on my Garmin data)

As a ride Ambassador, I have thoroughly enjoyed being out there promoting the event, writing up training programs for those who were interested and above all, being out there on the bike taking part among riders of all abilities and strengths. I have enjoyed the opportunity to represent Bicycling WA and the event sponsors and to get to meet some fantastic people who, like me, just enjoy being out there on a bike and challenging themselves to do something incredible.

I hope that you have enjoyed the event as much as I have and for those who have followed my blog postings & training programs, I hope that they were useful during your preparation for the event. With the 2014 edition of the event now behind us allowing recovery of our weary muscles, we can but look forward to next year's edition and anticipate what new challenges may lay before us.

As an Ambassador to the 2014 edition, I would like to take this opportunity to thank BWA for staging such a well managed event (only a few hiccups) of such a large scale. This event could not be held if it wasn't for the hard work of Jeremy, Cameron and event director Melissa. Well done to the team. Many thanks to the event sponsors Scody Australia, Winners Bars and E3 Sports Hydration for providing the ride jerseys, nutrition and hydration we all required and enjoyed throughout the event. To my fellow Ambassadors, many thanks for your promotion of the event, getting amongst our fellow riders and supporting each other throughout the ride. To ALL of the volunteers at every point of the event, a massive thank you for making this challenge possible. Without your support, we don't get to participate in such a world class event.

From AP and myself, many thanks go to Unicorn Brewery and Specialized Australia for their support of the Unicorn-Specialized team and thanks also to Hall Cycle Training for their training services, Ride Advice for supporting the team's cycling needs, MuzzBuzz for their continued support and assistance for those of us with caffeine addictions and too all our other team sponsors that make our team possible.

Personally, I'd like to extend a big thank you to my family for their ongoing support of my training and cycling habits - especially during the longer events such as the Dams Challenge. I simply would not be able to do what I do, on and off the bike, without them. To AP, thanks for getting me involved in this challenge and for putting up with my "Shark Bites" on Karnup Rd. Additionally, a big shout-out to Nick Garland at Garland Cycleworks in South Perth for all his personal support and ongoing assistance with my cycling.

Many thanks for reading and see you out there.

1 comment:

  1. Great write up. It was myself and team mate Karyn who joined up with you both towards the end. Great day out.