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The 1 in 20 is Melbourne’s most popular cycling climb, a gentle 6.8km stretch in the Dandenong Ranges that rises at roughly 4% average (yes, not quite 1 in 20). Speak to any local rider of a certain level and they’ll be able to tell you their best time for this famous stretch of tarmac between The Basin and Sassafras.
For the past few years, the Strava record up the 1 in 20 has been held by local pro Brendan Canty. There are multiple Strava segments for the climb, but based on the classic Cycle2Max segment, Canty’s best time is 13:05.
That record appears to have been broken, and by quite a considerable margin.
On Thursday, former runner turned cyclist Freddy Ovett attempted a new record on the 1 in 20 and set a truly staggering time of 12:24 — more than 40 seconds faster than Canty. It’s also quicker than the fastest documented 1 in 20 ascent — Trent Lowe’s 13:02 in 2002 — and even faster than the 12:35 that Nathan O’Neill is rumoured to have done back in the day.
CyclingTips spoke with 23-year-old Ovett to learn more about his ride. The following is a lightly edited transcript of that conversation.
CyclingTips: How did this attempt come about? It looks like you were just out for a cruisy ride and then you just had a crack at the KOM?
Freddy Ovett: Yeah. I had a few easy days after [the Australian Road] Nationals obviously. Nationals was going well until three laps to go I just had a major cramp and locked up and had to get off the bike and that was that. So that was frustrating as I knew how well I was going.
I got over that, recovered well and yeah I just had a spare day yesterday and woke up and spoke to my coach and he said ‘You need to do some sort of effort.’ And my old man [ed. Olympic 800m gold medalist Steve Ovett] literally lives five minutes from the top of the 1 in 20. And we’ve sort of joked about it for a good few years that I need to go and take that record, you know, just for him.
I went out for two hours before and felt decent and just rode to the bottom and got stuck in and turns out the conditions were pretty ideal without me even realising it. The result was what it was — it was good.
When you say the conditions were ideal do you mean there was a bit of a tailwind?
I feel like there was a bit of a tailwind. The wind was pretty minimal but I remember coming down the 1 in 20 on my way to starting it and feeling like there was a bit of wind in my face. But it was hot as well, which I like. Once I started I didn’t notice any wind so I’m sure there was a bit of a tailwind.
It was actually quite a funny story that … when I was coming down, I noticed that there was roadworks. And they were like rolling the road closure on each side. They stopped me when I was coming down and I was like ‘Oh shit, I’m going to get stopped here a third of the way into my attempt.’ I just had to commit — ‘If they stop me then that’s the way it is.’
I got into the ride and I went around a corner and I could see the stop sign 100 metres ahead of me, and I was like ‘Oh no!’. And literally as I approached her she just flipped the sign around to wave me on my way and I got away with it. And from then on in it was alright.
When you were out on the climb did you have a sense that you were going pretty fast? Did you have a timer going?
It’s funny. I’ve actually done a few of these Stravas in Europe and I’ve found that I operate best when I don’t look at anything and I just go full gas on feel. I lapped it at the bottom but I … I could feel that I was moving well and then with only 500 metres to go I did look down and I saw my average speed there was close to 33. I remembered Canty’s was 31 and a half.
I actually had quite a lot left and I sort of emptied it out and I lapped it and saw that it was like 12:20 or whatever it was. That was a shock. I knew Canty did it in a full-blown time trial with an aero helmet and all this. I was surprised. I knew I could take it but not by that much to be honest.
I mean, we both know full well the level of Canty and then you know Joe Cooper is in third, Sean Lake is fourth — he’s been on the [Australian National time trial] podium behind Richie [Porte] and Rohan [Dennis]. So yeah it definitely surprised me. It was obviously a nice ride and I paced it quite well. I think I need to start looking into doing time trials a bit more seriously [laughs]!
Strava shows that you averaged 416 watts for the effort. What sort of power-to-weight is that?
Well I’m 65 kilos so I’m not sure what that adds out to [ed. 6.4 W/kg]. To be honest, it’s actually not that high a power. When you ride so much you have a real good idea of what sort of power you can do for a particular length of time and for 10, 12, 13 minutes I would say, on a good day, I’d be around 435 watts (6.7 W/kg) maybe close to 440 (6.8 W/kg).
That clearly wasn’t the case yesterday but I just think it is a climb that has a lot of corners and a climb that has that false-flat in the middle and I just think speed, like any time trial, is the ultimate. And I was more concerned about that than the power and it just so happened that that’s how it turned out.
Towards the end, the last couple of minutes was 500 watts actually. I think there was a bit too much left [in the tank] …
What was your best time out there before this ride?
I’ve never done a full-gas effort up there. I’ve ridden up and down that thing 100 times. When I first started cycling four or five years ago I was based in Melbourne with the VIS [Victorian Institute of Sport] and the standard ride was out to the Dandenongs and going up and down the 1 in 20 a few times then riding home. But that was kind of the funny thing about it all, that I’ve never actually emptied myself on that climb before.
It looks like the ride has been flagged on Strava. Do you know who would have been doing that?
Last night someone flagged it. I’ve never had that before on Strava but it gives you options like ‘Was this ride not legitimate? Do you want to delete it?’ The last one was ‘No, this ride is 100% legitimate, keep it up’. And I did. It was 100% legit so I pressed that and then I woke up to another email this morning that someone’s not happy with me and flagged me again, which I just don’t understand because I’ve got … you can’t cheat.
The only way you can cheat is if your power and heart rate don’t show and I’ve done 420 watts and my heart rate was 180 and my speed’s there. It is what it is. I don’t know who’s doing that but now you take it up with Strava and you explain yourself and then they rectify it.
So I’ve done that and I imagine in the next few hours they’ll reinstate it because … you can’t cheat on Strava unless you’re a computer hacker or you’re driving up in your car …
I guess you could say that maybe it was a motor pacing effort or something, but it wasn’t that at all was it?
No. I mean, it’s just kind of funny that you can get a bit … not upset, but pissed off that someone flags it. If you’re going to go all in for an effort, that’s your tiny bit of reward, that you’re at the front of the leaderboard.
The 1 in 20 is a notorious climb; everyone knows that climb. If I was going to do a Strava attempt it was going to be on the 1 in 20 because that’s the only one that anyone really cares about here. So yeah, I’m not letting someone who’s sitting at their computer at 11 o’clock at night flagging me … I’m not going to accept that. I’m going to get that sorted out so I have my little pride and joy on the top of the 1 in 20.
What would you say to people that are looking at this and going ‘He’s gone how much faster than Canty? There’ll be some people that are like ‘He must have motorpaced up there — he must have done something’? What would you say to them?
The thing is I’ve got the Els Angels in Girona Strava [KOM] which is ahead of the Yates brothers [Adam and Simon, of Mitchelton-Scott] and I think I’m fifth on Mont Ventoux, Rocacorba I’m fourth ahead of [David] de la Cruz. So it’s not my first rodeo, yesterday.
Look I think there’s always a lot of people [who say] ‘So why aren’t his results as good on the road?’ or things like this. That’s another story. If you look at Nationals there was obviously the cramp issue, I’ve had accidents, bad luck — it’s been a long story. I think it’s just the start of journey for me. I’m still super-new to the sport.
I had a great season actually in 2017 with Caja Rural and the problem with amateur racing in Spain is that it’s not really publicised at all. But if you look into the finer details I had a great season there. I’m slowly going to transfer that power and wattage and all that that everyone keeps going on, and slowly and surely put that into some of the best road races going around. I’m confident that’ll be enough for some great results.
Do you reckon you could go faster up the 1 in 20?
I do. I actually do think I can go faster, for sure. If you’re doing 500 watts the last two minutes then you’ve gone too easy, simple as that. It actually surprised me how quick the last kilometre came around. Because I’m not looking at power or anything like that, I think I underestimated what I could do.
I’m not looking back at yesterday and thinking ‘Ooh, geez, I’m not sure I can make up time!’ If I had that whole single road to myself, if I go out a bit quicker, aero helmet, skin suit — you name it … I was just sort of in a normal set up yesterday.
I do not think sub-12 is out of question on the 1 in 20. I definitely wouldn’t have said that before yesterday but now I think sub-12 is gettable.