Is it a ride or is at a race? It’s a question that I’ve heard asked many times about timed events like the Giro della Donna. The answer for the Giro della Donna is, it’s whatever you want it to be.
I enjoyed watching the front of the field race off, packed with riders that vie for honours at Australia’s National Road Series, including a strong contingent from the Holden Women’s Racing Team. It was exciting to hear the tales of the riders smashing their way up Reefton Spur to try and grab the Queen of the Mountain, a top 100 spot or set a PB. My experience of the day, however, couldn’t have been more different.
There was no question in our group that it was a ride. If anyone had any doubts, us pulling over to help fix a saddle that had gone into dropsy mode just metres after starting the timed Reefton Spur climb confirmed this. Not one of us wanted to ramp up the pace if it potentially meant dropping one of our mates, so we enjoyed the views, the company and chatting to just about every rider we came across.
The aim was not to race the 107 kilometres with 2700 metres of elevation gain. The aim was to enjoy the fern covered roadsides, yell out gleeful “woo hoo’s” as we bounced our way over the downhill gravel section, soak up the views over the Yarra Valley, try and distract each other from the pain of that last stretch up to Mt Donna Buang and, most importantly, enjoy the cycling community we are part of.
In the two years of the Giro della Donna I’ve had two very different experiences. What has linked them though, is that each year I’ve walked away with the sense that I’m lucky to be surrounded by such a rich and welcoming community.
Last year, I came across an injured cyclist, who had fallen on a descent. The way a group of riders who didn’t know each other, or the fallen rider, instantly managed to pull together, slot in to a role where their skills were most helpful and manage the situation was remarkable. There was nothing that was too much trouble, no shortage of offers from others to help and not even a hint that any would ride away before they knew they had done everything they possibly could to assist.
This year I’m pleased to say the demonstration of the caring side of the cycling community had nothing to do with a crash. It was down to the camaraderie of a shared challenge with a group that reminded me just how much we should cherish our riding buddies.
It was a day of looking to each other’s strengths and weaknesses to get our bunch to the end in tact and with smiles on our faces. There was no judgement, no one ever had to say sorry for being too slow, worry that they would be left behind or feel under pressure to try and pull out a performance that they knew they just couldn’t deliver.
We were in it together, start to finish and there was as much satisfaction to be had from watching your ride buddies get to the end as there was from getting there yourself. In fact, I don’t think any PB or speedy time could have felt better than watching a friend who is not at all a fan of hills, and certainly didn’t have the gearing to make it any easier, fight her way through cramping feet and legs to make it to the top of that final climb.
Some days out on the bike just bring people together and this was one of them. It was great to see so many of you out there and to have a chat along the way. Usually at Ella and CyclingTips we get to tell you other people’s tales, but this was a day where we got to meet you and hear some of yours. Hopefully, it’s also a day that’s created a few more stories of memorable moments on the bike to share.