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Great Southern Randonnée 1200
Ride Date: November 13-18, 2016
by Gary Baker

This past January, my oldest son and family moved to Melbourne, and with the GS 1200 scheduled for Nov.’16, the stars were aligned for a visit and ride and the opportunity to tick off a visit to Tasmania.

Roy Neifer also saw this ride as a great opportunity to combine riding and playing tourist. Sheryl and I arrived in AUS three weeks prior to the ride to visit, sightsee, and acclimatize; Roy and Helen arrived only a few days before the start. Both strategies have their merits.

The GS started and ended in Anglesea, a seaside resort village approximately 100 km west of Melbourne near the start of the Great Ocean Rd. that parallels the coast towards Port Fairy approximately 300km to the west. The GS 1200 was actually comprised of two popular local brevets - a 200km loop that went from Anglesea to Queenscliff (a historic town at the mouth of Phillip Bay) and a 1000km out and back route to Port Fairy, then north into and around Grampians National Park.

November marked the start of the summer brevet season for the Victoria Randonneurs, so along with the 1200, the organizers also scheduled a 200(the Queenscliff loop), a 300 (Port Fairy back to Anglesea), and a 1000km brevet. These brevets all used the same controls as for the 1200. Slick! The significance of these concurrent brevets will become apparent later in this report.

This year the route had to be re-routed away from the coast through the mountains as part of the Great Ocean Hwy. had been washed out. This actually decreased the overall elevation profile for the route. Instead of the constant up/down climbing along the coast of 8 to 15% grades, the interior route saw more manageable 7-10% grades. To put the nature of the climbing in perspective, the middle 100km section between Anglesea and Port Fairy had nearly 6000’ of vertical. If you think that made things challenging, the weather added a whole additional element.

The weather along the Great Ocean route is notoriously variable. The locals commented that this spring had been cooler and wetter than normal (whatever normal is) and much WINDIER!!!!! Temperature and rain one can dress for. Wind you have to endure; it slows you down or you can work harder....which unfortunately many riders did and paid the price.

The ride had four start times - 6 PM and the following morning at 4, 5, and 6 AM. Approximately 50 riders elected for the evening start. These riders did the 200km loop first. This 200 km loop went east along the coast and was HILLY, but I doubt the riders really noticed with 40-60kph winds at their backs. Through the night, the temperatures dropped below 10C, and it rained, at times hard.

Remember this 200km leg was a returning to Anglesea those 60kph tailwinds were now a head wind that would persist for 400km to Port Fairy where the route turned north.

Roy Neifer and I both elected the 5 AM start. From the start, we had a short 100m climb followed by a 400m descent to the Great Ocean Rd. where we turned right to head west. “Oh shit.” The first blast of wind literally stopped me in my tracks and lifted me off the bike. To regain some forward momentum and stability, I attempted a quick down shift and promptly dropped the chain......&$(/-(;&!!!!. By the time I sorted things out, there was a 200m gap between me and what was left of the peloton (that had immediately shattered in the wind and the steep climb out of town). Any thought of catching up with any riders was purely delusional. For the next 70km to the first control, the only riders I overtook had stopped for a bio break or to take photos. Arriving at the control, I saw Roy pulling away. We had already had a fair bit of climbing; apparently the climb we took from the coast into the hills is one of Cadel Evans' favourite training climbs (a pretty steady 6-7% for almost 10km). Thankfully, the climb was NE, so the wind was somewhat on our backs, and the forest provided some protection. The next 100km was a steady procession of short steep climbs and descents with a constant headwind that scrubbed one's normal cruising speed by about 30%.

The second control (Lavers Hill) was supposedly the start of the long descent back down to the coast. For a descent, it sure had a lot of climbing, and as we were out of the forest into pasture lands, there was no wind protection. Hum, for whatever reason I was beginning to feel lousy....GI issues. They came on hard and fast, like food poisoning. This was not good. Roy and I were now riding together. I can usually out climb him, have to chase him on the descents and with effort can hang with him on the flats. I was having trouble pulling ahead of him on the climbs and no longer could match his flatland speed. Something was dreadfully wrong. We were now down to the coast. It took 12 hours to do the first 200km.

The climbing along this section of the coast was undulating, but, oh, that wind. Roy just drifted away from me, not that it should have mattered. I've done enough 1200s to know I had to do my own ride. I also knew things were not going as well as hoped or planned. The abdominal cramps were getting worse. Even if there was a spot to stop, with the clock ticking this early in the ride, it would really put me at a time deficit.

If I was really going to get violently ill, I wanted to be where I knew I could get help. Following the route, it was still nearly 60km to the major control at Port Fairy, but following the main highway, it was only 30km and there was lots of traffic. I could hitch hike if things really went sour. The decision was made; my ride was over. I headed directly for Port Fairy.

When I got there, the volunteer staff said I looked as pale as a ghost. I tried to get some food down to no avail.

Sheryl had planned to drive the route independent of my efforts but meet me at the three planned night controls, the first one being at Hamilton (387km). I sent an e-mail to her apprising her of the situation but had not received a response. I assumed she was still waiting for me. The control volunteers were great. Info was passed up the route that I was out. Sheryl had stopped at the Hamilton control earlier to leave a key to the room she had booked for us. They walked to the motel to give her the sad news.

Meanwhile back at the Port Fairy control the staff assigned me a separate room. Paradise on a Rando ride, but it was not a good night as I had severe abdominal cramps through much of the night.

Roy did arrive at the PF Control just before 11pm. He planned to push on to Hamilton. It was going to be a long late night for him, not much sleep in his immediate future.

The next morning (now Tuesday) the control was unusually busy. About 25% of the Sunday night starters were done - victims of the wind. Fortunately I was feeling considerably better.

Sheryl was driving back to PF. As PF was the designated Tuesday night control, she had booked a motel near the control. Together again we decided to use the day for some local sightseeing.

I had mentioned the organizers had scheduled a 300km brevet. It was from PF back to Anglesea for Wednesday. This was to accommodate riders who had DNFed at PF to salvage something for their efforts. It was a tough 300, but the forecast was for strong westerly winds, clear skies and warmer temperatures. If it materialized, it had the making of a fast passage in spite of the hilly terrain. I decided if I felt OK I'd ride it.

I was up at 5AM for the 6AM start; it was pitch black outside. Based on the forecast, I decided to go 'light'. On the short ride to the start, it started to rain, and the wind was at my back, an easterly, darn (actually stronger words came to mind).

Twelve riders had elected to do the 300. Two Australians, Russel & Simon, and one American, Doug, and I decided to work together into the headwind. We covered the first undulating 100km along perhaps the most scenic of the Great Ocean Rd. in 4 1/2 hrs. We stopped at the Port Campbell control (107km) for a leisurely brunch before tackling the extremely hilly next 100km, which took the better part of 7 hours.

We pushed on and reached the start of the last major hill (6%+ for 10km out of Deans Marsh (We observed they don’t seem to use possessive apostrophes in AUS) before the big descent to the coast. It was time for lights. The climb seemed endless, and with a setting sun, the only thing keeping us warm was the heat generated with the climbing. We had been warned about kangaroos. They are like deer – big, fast, and unpredictable. With the steep descent and tight corners, there wasn't much time to react should one be encountered. This concern tended to keep the speed down a bit, but when a big buck bounded onto the road about 15m in front of me, it got the adrenalin flowing.

When I and a steady stream of riders (Where did they all come from?) reached the bottom, it was a mad scramble to get every stitch of clothing on. We were all hypothermic. The good side was there were only 50km to go; the bad side was we were facing a headwind again without the forest protection. Fortunately, it was a warm, mild breeze. We finished in just over 17hrs. I was happy. As a bonus, this ride kept my Permanent streak intact.

At the Anglesea control, I learned that Roy was still riding. I had my celebratory beer with some of the 1200km finishers and rode back to a very nice resort hotel that Sheryl had booked.

Thursday AM we walked to the control to see how Roy was doing and to see Helen (Roy's wife). We learned that Roy arrived just before sunrise, grabbed what sleep he could and headed out on the final 200km loop. It was looking to be the best day of the ride, weather wise; but sadly it would not be the day that Roy envisioned. He had called Helen to say he had turned back. He was physically and mentally exhausted, and the temperatures were
now in the mid 30s. He said the hills were steeper than experienced earlier on the ride, and the heat got to him. It had to be tough to stop with approx. 100km to go.

Sheryl and I had a special treat Thursday evening. A volunteer I work with (Joan) at the Chilliwack YMCA has a sister and her husband (Marilyn and Harry) living in Anglesea. She had made arrangements for us to meet them. We joined them at the Anglesea Golf and Country Club for a wonderful meal and gracious company. The fact that the golf course is overrun with kangaroos (There were literally 100s) was a bonus. We loved the sign that was posted at the exit of the parking lot. It read, "If you drink and drive, you are a BLOODY IDIOT".

Friday morning was the closing farewell breakfast. Lots of stores were shared and future plans discussed.

Under 'so called' normal weather conditions, the terrain and prevailing winds make this a tough ride. When unusually strong winds or extreme heat occur, this is one BLOODY TOUGH ride.

The organizers and all the volunteers were fabulous. It was a great experience, a grand adventure. Sheryl and I and Roy and Helen and many of the other foreign riders, several whom had ridden the 2016 RM, made a holiday of our trip to ride the Great Southern. We spent a week in Tasmania (should allocate a min. of 2 weeks) and hiked in the coastal parks and foothills north and east of Melbourne. Yes, we did encounter a snake in Tasmania, a Copperhead (one of the 10 most venomous in the world). It was about 4-5 ft. long and crossed the trail just ahead of where Sheryl and I were hiking. It startled us, but if you don't surprise them, they try to avoid you.

Oh, and Melbourne is a cyclist’s paradise, and the many walkable neighbourhoods are delightful. This is a ride and a holiday destination we'd highly recommend. Think about it for 2020.

That's all there is to tell.

Go to: Results (GRS web site)


December 7, 2016