Well, this is what our ride to Lorne was all about, riding in the Gran Fondo. Not that any of us entered it with any thought of actually attempting to qualify for the Masters in Slovenia in 2014, especially me with me, I keep getting distracted by the scenery! The Fondo is a timed UCI event, and if you make it into the top 25% for your age group, you qualify to race in a World event the following year.

The team eagerly awaiting the start!

The team eagerly awaiting the start!

Last year, Sarah, Matt, Tim and myself rode it, and we knew straight away that we would have to come back and do it again, so this year Reidy, Chris and Chewie joined in with us! The reason for wanting to do it again was pretty simple, the course is amazing. The entire course is a clsoed road event, including almost 40km of the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and the Skenes Creek Rd, then having rolling re-openings of the roads to traffic after a couple of hours. This hopefully keeps the locals happy, so that we can keep coming back for the ride! Most of them seem to be ok with having some of their roads temporarily closed, but there will always be a few unhappy ones. I am sure the shop owners love it with a sudden influx of visitors in the off season!

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The ride is extremely well organised. When you register for the Fondo, you have to estimate your average speed, and you are allocated a rider number based on your estimated average speed. You are then split into groups of around 200 based on your rider number. Somehow, I was put up in the 700 series riders, whilst the rest of the team were back further, so we averaged our numbers, and started in the 2100 group, funnily enough, the same group that Carl and Miss V had estimated their average speed to be!

Here's the type of dedication we want to see next year! Nails match the kit which match the bike. Winner.

Here’s the type of dedication we want to see next year! Nails match the kit which match the bike. Winner.

When the event starts, riders are released in groups of 200, with 90 second intervals in between. This means that there is no mad dash for the start line, and everyone actually gets to roll out in a much more orderly and safer manner. Think Challenge Tour, Ride Like Crazy, or our own Amy’s Ride here in Adelaide, where you are jostling to get to the start. There is none of that in the Fondo. The first 1.5km are neutral also, so it gives the bunches a little bit of time to sort themselves out before they hit the start line and the timing of your ride begins.

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As we rolled through to the start line, we got a great welcome from Simon Gillett and the mc’s up on the starting podium, recognising again our ride to Lorne. It was amazing just how many people came up to us as we waited at the start, and spoke to us about our ride. Even as we were riding along on the Fondo, riders were pulling up alongside us and chatting to us about our ride, or if not stopping to chat, at the very least calling out “Smudge Monkees!” This was fantastic recognition for the work that the team had done in getting to Lorne.

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There is no denying that this piece of coastline is quite stunning, and having the entire road to ourselves is a bonus. The only downside for us was that we had ridden such stunning scenery up in the Otways the day before, that somehow it didn’t seem to hold it’s usual appeal. The first stage to Skenes Creek is quite gentle really, there are a few undulations, but nothing overly serious. The real climbing starts on the Skenes Creek Rd.

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This is almost 10km of climbing to the King of the Mountain, but it’s a beautiful climb, with lots of fantastic scenery. I’m the wrong one to ask about percentages and all that sort of stuff, as I don’t pay that much attention to those details, but for those that do, the average is around 5.1%, with a height gain of almost 500 meters. I hope that satisfies the data junkies, but to me, it’s just a hill we have to climb to get to the fun stuff! (That would be the descents, not the feed stations!)

Sarah dancing on the pdeals to the KoM.

Sarah dancing on the pdeals to the KoM.

From the KoM there are still a few small climbs before you reach the highest point, but again, these aren’t too serious, and once you are done with them, it’s all pretty much downhill until you reach almost the 100km mark! From there though, the climbing starts again, as you need to get back over the top to the coast again. Thankfully though, this is only maybe 200 meters of climbing over those last 10 kms, with a few little pinches thrown in.

Almost there!

Almost there!

The timed event finishes at the top of this last climb, and that finish sign is a welcome sight! I’d elected this year to ride with Sarah the entire way, helping out some of the others in the team along the way. To her credit, after already riding some 750km in the six days it took us to get there, Sarah rode the entire course unassisted. Every climb she rode under her own steam, and never once thought of stopping, which was awesome given she was carrying some injuries from her crash a couple of days before.

Such an awesome riding partner! I'm such a lucky man.

Such an awesome riding partner! I’m such a lucky man.

Sarah and I crossed the line together, and again we were announced by the mc at the finish line, and were also cheered over the line by Chewie, Chris, Carl, Miss V, and others gathered still at the finish line. After many hugs and squeals from all at having finished another Fondo, we all went to wait on the finish line to cheer Reidy across the line. It wasn’t long before the big guy came into view, having pushed through the event with a bung knee, (pre-existing condition), and a swollen ankle sustained during the event when his cleat slipped from the pedal. Hopefully Bike Snob never gets to see that cleat, as the reason it came out was it was worn out!

Reidy claiming a stage win at the Tour.

Reidy claiming a stage win at the Tour.

Seems the judge disagreed with him.

Seems the judge disagreed with him.

The last 10kms are a blast. They’re all downhill! Having ridden this section last year, we knew we had to take it fairly easy, as there are some very sharp turns with reverse camber corners that could easily upset your day! Sarah, Chewie, Chris, Carl, Miss V and myself all did the descent together, and rolled into town to catch up with Timmy and Matt who had finished a little earlier than us! Thankfully Gary was there to meet us too, like the awesome soigneur he was for the whole week, and had changes of shoes and jackets for us to change in to, which was so much better than having to tackle the 22+% climb back up to our accommodation!

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Sarah, Chris, Reidy and myself still needed to stretch our legs a little, so we all went for a wander through the Fondo Village. This was a great little setup, with some fantastic bargains to be found. Again, wandering through the village we were being chatted to by so many other cyclists and their families, it was amazing. We stopped by at the presentations, and timed it just nicely to see Annabel Cox get presented with her cheque for winning her age group! As we were whooping and yelling for her, Carla Scragg saw us and came by for a chat. Carla had done amazingly well too, and had smashed out the course in under four and a half hours.

So, another awesome Amy’s Gran Fondo was over, and even as we were riding this one, we were making plans for the next one! Yes, we will be back in 2014. No, we won’t ride there next year. Instead, we will set up a base in some of the rental places for a week, and do some rides in and around the Otways and along the Great Ocean Road instead.

Why the sad face Timmy, we'll do it again next year mate.

Why the sad face Timmy, we’ll do it again next year mate.

It really is a fantastic ride, extremely well organised, and over a sufficiently challenging course! It really should be on your list to ride if you have not done it yet, the scenery alone makes it worth the trip over!

We stopped in to Naracoorte on the way home, where it seems the local footy team won the grand final again.

We stopped in to Naracoorte on the way home, where it seems the local footy team won the grand final again.