Day 4 is typically when the strains of the first few days begin to take their toll on a tiring bunch of riders. While on paper this year’s course looked like a rather manageable start over the first few days, the reality has kicked the group in the teeth with no small measure of force. Three days of riding in 32+ degrees and high winds particularly yesterday had softened up the group nicely for what was to be an epic, soul destroying day of incredibly hot weather with little to no shade and side and headwinds gusting up to 60 km/hr.
Given how hot the last couple of days had been, our Ride Director Tim got together with a couple of us yesterday evening and agreed that it would be a good move to get the group out on the road 30 minus earlier in an effort to get a few more miles under the belt before the heat and the winds kicked in full force.
After a complete lack of protest to the idea at the Day 3 presentations, Tim confirmed a 7am grand departure. After a quick breakfast, an organised and punctual group lined up behind the lead car and descended the long drive at Lyndoch Hill to get the proceedings started.
It proved to be a good decision and an enjoyable and fairly relaxed start to the day - the group enjoyed 22 degrees and plenty of shade as the peloton ascended up and out of the valley, the dawn sun creating strips of shadow across the tree-lined avenues bordered by fields of arid grass, grapevines and broken trees - a surreal landscape that had clearly been battered by a very hot and long summer. The group climbed a gentle 2-3% gradient out of the valley. Spirits were high as we ticked off our first 50km, but the winds we were hoping to avoid for as long as possible had already arrived by half eight and started hammering us with 40-50km gusts as we changed direction towards a long descent down to the Murray river.
An amazing vista opened up beneath us and a long, windy and rapid descent started with brutal side winds putting the jitters into some of the group - a few riders however, not phased by the distraction, took advantage of the fantastic piece of road. Fifteen minutes later the group reassembled and it was clear that the enjoyable part of the day was definitely over - the winds and heat had become oppressive, with the air temperature rising from 20 to 33 degrees over 25 minutes.
That pretty much sums up the next few hours - it was like descending into one of the nine circles of Dante’s Hell. The temperature rose to 36 degrees, there was no shade to be had and searing crosswinds of 30-40km per hour gusting to 50-60km. And still the biggest climb of the day ahead of us. But at least it wasn’t going to be a cross wind. Just a headwind... wonderful.
Rolling turns for the next hour - amazing teamwork as the stronger riders did their best to protect those that were feeling the impact of the last few days a bit more keenly. We talk about being a family and that is what we are - today was an opportunity to show that off in style.
A long slow drag up the climb, with a few people having a dig, and the final riders who weren’t already smashed to pieces at that point joining the rest of peloton at the top of the climb with a desperate desire to get inside an air conditioned room and sit down for 30 minutes. 12km to lunch... it ended up feeling like 120...
But make it we did and airport level conditioning was on show, along with a much needed sit down and wraps, cake and plenty of fluids. We probably stayed a little longer than we should have, but surprisingly were still on schedule and with 30 odd km to go, the group were keen to get home for a shower and a much needed and skilfully delivered massage. The last 30 km passed relatively uneventfully - it was 36 degrees and windy as all hell... but we were well fuelled and on the home stretch.
For those of you who may want to experience what it was like for the riders on the road today, please do the following:
- set up your exercise cycle or treadmill in your favourite room in the house
- grab a fan heater and leave it running for about 2 hours on full until the room is nicely warmed up (preferably with doors shut)
- also grab a hairdryer and an extension cord and have one of your family blow it into your face and down your throat for around 3 hours.
That might give a rough idea anyway - not particularly enjoyable...so just what keeps this group going day on day?
A well oiled and very professional support crew, yes. But more importantly, the knowledge that as much as we suffer out there during days like today, there are children and families that suffer far worse on a daily, weekly, yearly basis. And the amazing work of the charities that we support bring both hope and a light at the end of the tunnel into the lives of those children and their families. That’s why I keep coming back and why everyone here does. And all the support from those of you reading this right now makes this all possible.
Thank you from all of us.