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Last month eight cyclists and a support van set out on the first-ever one-day ride from Melbourne to Mildura. Melbourne researcher Craig Fry was one of those riders and in this piece he reveals how and why they attempted the journey.
Our ride was carefully planned with team briefings, route reconnaissance, and a support van with reflective signs and flashing lights, spare wheels, food and music.
Many of the group had come off solid summer training bases in preparation for the Alpine Classic 250km. Some of us had raced in the summer criterium season, and open road races around Melbourne.
On top of that was the extra training: getting up before the sun for 200 to 300km hit-outs to Ballan, Lorne, Ballarat, Sorrento, and Portsea; and other efforts like the Rotary Club Ride, 7 Peaks, and even the Melbourne Ironman.
We were well prepared, but attempting 500+km in one day is different to racing, or your Alpine Classics, your Gran Fondos and the like. On the shorter rides you know you will finish. Its just a matter of how fast.
Even with all the training, most of our group hadn’t ridden further than 320km before. So we had no idea really if we would make it to Mildura, or if the mind and body would fail at some point.
That unknown was a big part of the allure of attempting this challenge. The ride was an odyssey in the true sense of the word.
Both Melbourne and Mildura have figured prominently in Australia’s endurance cycling history, long before our recent effort. Mildura has seen its fair share of long distance cycling over the years:
- In December 1888, George Thorne (one time Captain of the Melbourne Bicycle Club) took a train from Melbourne to Echuca and then cycled along the Murray river to Mildura and Adelaide.
- The Murray to Moyne charity ride has started in Mildura and headed south to the sea each year since 1987.
- In 1993 the Fleche Opperman All Day Trial record of 770km in 24-hours was set by a team riding between Mildura and Albury. The record stands to this day.
Melbourne has also been a staging point for cycling expeditions since the late 1800s. True pioneers like Percy Armstrong, Francis Birtles, Arthur Richardson, Ernie Old, and Hubert Opperman covered truly epic distances back in the early days of endurance cycling in Australia.
Despite this history, as far as we know from our research, no-one has ever ridden the Melbourne to Mildura journey in one day. So, until we hear otherwise, we are claiming our ride as the first.
The ride itself went to plan. We rolled out of Williamstown at 4am, and stuck to our scheduled 10-15 minute stops at Marong (157km), Wycheproof (277km), Sea Lake (353km) and Ouyen (443km). There were also the unplanned inevitable stops for comfort.
As a testament to our preparation, and the crucial support van driver, we had zero close calls with traffic and zero illness or injuries along the way.
All eight riders finished in Mildura together around 12:40am, with a moving time of 18hrs41mins, elapsed time of 20hrs45mins, and average speed of 29km/h. Not bad for a distance of 546km, and a riding bunch with an average age of over 40.
We had our fair share of challenges along the way too.
There was the unexpected crosswind we battled all day. This meant rolling turns with most of us in the gutter for nearly 350km, and it put at least three of us in the van for brief breaks. Thankfully the wind dropped at sunset, which was welcome relief indeed for the final 200km night-time section to Mildura.
We also had to manage 6-7 punctures, an inevitable result of riding in the rougher road shoulder. Flats are always a hassle, but luckily these happened when a couple of riders (one a bike mechanic) were resting in the support van after some solid efforts out front. This proved crucial for our progress, as spare wheel swaps and running repairs were handled with minimal time lost.
Morale was never really an issue. There was less chit-chat then expected owing to the need to ride in echelon formation with regular rolling turns. But spirits were high from start to finish, helped along by the ‘unofficial’ sprint points contested at each town, the little pats on the back after big efforts out front or if someone was struggling, and the support van trailing us and handing out drinks etc.
The support van job was crucial, and in some ways the hardest role. Imagine driving 550km at around 30km an hour all the way.
Probably the biggest challenge for all of us was maintaining energy levels over the distance. My Strava record estimated that I burned around 13,000 calories over the 546km, so clearly it was crucial to get the eating and drinking right. The vital thing here was regular intakes and variety – a mix of sweet and savory foods, and a range of hydration options. No-one was going to manage on energy bars, gels and sports drinks alone.
Since this ride, most of us have had some time off the saddle. The enthusiasm for the bike dims a little after spending so long on it in one hit – at least until the soft tissue tenderness subsides (butt cream or not).
But the fire is definitely still there. Some of us are already sizing up the Audax Fleche Opperman All Day Trial. The 1993 record of 770km has stood for long enough. It’s a good thing to aim for so planning is underway.
Many of our family, friends and work colleagues think we’re a little crazy. Others scarcely believe its possible to ride such distances. Almost everyone has asked us why we would even bother.
The why question is easy to answer. This Melbourne to Mildura ride for us was about pushing our individual limits physically and mentally in order to get the best out of the group in an extreme and challenging situation.
There are certainly fitter cyclists rolling around, and plenty more experienced and accomplished than us on two wheels.
We’re not crazy or extraordinary in any way. We’re just a bunch of ordinary guys who love to ride.
Riders: Chris Munro, Simon Maddison, John Boyle, James Black, Graeme Geary, Ben Coull, Tom Ainsworth, Craig Fry
Support drivers: Mark Trigger & John Munro