Ride Report – 2 Dec 2017

In the week leading up to L’etape the weather forecast was not looking that encouraging and each day closer to the ride date of 2 December 2017 the predicted flooding/rain and wind speed kept increasing! This was the opposite of 2016 where it was snowing then raining and cleared up for the ride, albeit hot and windy. The day before the race weather forecast(s) predicted rain of 100 -150mm, which some would say is of biblical proportions. Running the same weekend, the Tour of Bright had already been cancelled and when we checked into our accommodation the office manager said there had been significant cancellations. I guess some do not like the wet at all and will forfeit their accommodation costs. I cannot say I am particularly keen on wet rides, but thinking lets see what it is like on the day – who knows? The atmosphere in Jindabyne was much less than 2016 partly due to the rain and partly due to the move of the event village to Crackenback Ski Tube. The village was somewhat washed out and after getting the numbers I drove back to Jindabyne centre for a Chris Froome clinic on Friday afternoon. I happened to run into Chris Froome, Matt Keenan & Phile Liggett as they were to make their grand entrance. A whole other story re arriving late, but in this case paid off arriving late! The clinic was really a Q&A session, but good to be able to ask some questions. Late Friday evening L’etape organisers announced a shortened course of 102km removing the Kalkite section with flood prone causeways and the final big climb up to Perisher. Everyone now doing the same distance.

On Friday night Before the race, huge thunderstorms rolled through the mountains with lashing rain, immense thunder and lightning of sufficient intensity to shake our accommodation awakening us from our slumber. It did not bode well and thoughts at that stage were somewhat negative. All I could think was we will have to see what it like in the morning. As it turned out in the morning it was just steady rain, not that windy and no Thunderstorms! Ironically we were thankful for just the rain (no thunderstorms) and it now just depended on how much rain, worse case if it was too rainy we could abort on the way back through Jindabyne.

So with suitable rain gear including Velotoze shoe covers which took some faffing to get on we were ready to go. Just light rain at the start, interestingly met a couple with, I guess husband/partner was acting as Soigneur, holding an umbrella for his wife. He said this was his regular gig. As per last year year Matt Keenan and Phile Liggett were commentating and providing suitable distraction from the wet weather. Michael Abrahams was start group #1 and had set off at 06:30. The start is shown in the pic above. About 30 min later our group was led out by Chris Froome. As we rolled under the start line a quick passing hi five with Matt Keenan and Phil Liggett and thence the first climb. Temperature was about 7C with just light rain, but it didn’t take too long before it became too warm in the rain jacket and pleased to see the road point downhill for some cooling breeze. I had expected Chris to come smashing past on the downhill, however his metabolism is not too fond of the cold/wet and this slowed his progress. Likewise the road was quite wet and also some heavy showers on the way to Jindabyne. At this stage the long sleeve rain jacket was a welcome addition.

The road trends mainly down to Jindabyne and the rain was rolling through in waves and this continued for most of the ride – wet road with light rain interspersed with waves of heavier rain. Even with the rain a good crowd had turned out in Jindabyne, which was only about 35mins from the start. I hoped to see my family near the Nuggetts Crossing roundabout, however they were elsewhere and only a chance to wave, yell out a hello and not much chance to pull over. After the Jindabyne Dam wall the road climbs again and with the climb I was overheating as temp was 12C. Time for a stop to remove the long sleeve rain jacket and just make do with Gilet and arm warmers, which worked well for rest of the ride. In hindsight the long sleeved rain jacket was not really needed, but nice to warm at the start and on the first main descent.

A nice steady climb out of Jindabyne and the Chris Froome “calvacade’ could be seen in the distance. Again the locals were out in force with displays and plenty of support – what else to do on a rainy day when the roads are closed? Nonetheless the support was pretty amazing. The first rest stop was at the Kalkite turn-off and a large SAG bus already had a few dejected souls on board. For the normal course we would have turned left, but the shortened course was straight ahead on the highway to Berridale. I recall the stop as Wiggle gels and plenty of mud, however I should note that the stops were well stocked with a good variety of food/sugar/carbohydrates. Must say, I personally preferred the SIS gels from 2016. After the Kalkite rest stop a few more lumps and bumps to climb as well as some heavy falls of rain followed by a longish steady fast descent into Berridale.

It seemed like Berridale had come up real quick and given the shortened distance it dictated that we should at least have a mild sprint attempt at Berridale, however very mindful of keeping some reserves for the Beloka climb, with memories of Beloka 2016 and temp of 32C with flies and 23% gradient. The entry to the sprint was through a half flooded spoon drain and perhaps obviously slowly through the drain then pick up some speed on the slight uphill. Again plenty of supporters and 39.1kph sprint average. Nothing brilliant but OK by me given I didn’t burn any matches and placed top 25% of the overall field in the sprint.

I didn’t stop at the Berridale rest stop and continued on in the rain, which was getting quite heavy. Not far from Berridale heading toward Dalgety my phone was getting a bunch of SMS and pulled over to check what was happening. A bunch of messages from my family watching my progress via Garmin livetrack. Trying to get off a reply message in the pouring rain was somewhat problematic with each rain drop acting as a touch on the screen. So a garbled reply was sent and back to riding. The photo below illustrates the panorama heading toward Dalgety.

Dalgety was the next town and I think there were more supporters in the pouring rain than the previous year which was held in warm and sunny conditions – awesome. Due caution was applied on the sharp right-hander leading onto the plank bridge across the Snowy river with slippery joints between the planks. It was somewhat worrying in the wet, but in reality not a problem. In general I was making good progress and no groups had formed and anyway I found I was passing riders and collecting up a group behind. Thence some moderate climbing before Beloka. In the photo (3rd wheel) you will note a rider with a snorkel – probably a good choice of kit for the conditions. Also 2nd wheel was a chap I had picked up some 10-15Km earlier and he was determined to get a tow. At this stage I was beginning to comparatively prefer the cool and wet this year, as at this particular section of road last year it was approaching a temp of 30C.
A quick final stop to refuel before the proper Beloka climb at the Beloka village. Doesn’t appear to be much at the Village just a church and crossroads. Thence a few Km of moderated climbing before the real Beloka climb which was appearing 20Km earlier than last year. Certainly noticeabley less fatigue with shorter distance and cooler temps. Given the battle in 2016 I made sure to stop near the bottom of the Beloka climb. Some preparation, arm warmers down, unzip gilet, unzip jersey and winch oneself up Beloka. Painted on the road was 22% the Garmin said 23%, either way it is a brute of a climb and plenty were walking. Toward the middle the grade eases and on the left some 4WD guys had set up a camp, as they had in 2016. They had set up a Gazebo and BBQ and had settled in watch the action with beers and BBQ. They were also offerring free snags to riders. Not long after the road pitches up again and painted on the road was “Find a happy place” (several of us side by side simultaneously said “NOT HERE”). Thence steadily climbed up Beloka into the mist and near the top a sign “even Froomeys legs are hurting” A photographer was in the bushes capturing everyone’s pain! Yes, if you look closely granny gear is engaged.

At the top I waited for a bit to see if Chris was coming and also rang the family, but they said his tracking was not working and they had no idea where he was. So I pressed on into the intensifying rain. One section of road was flooded, but not far too go with just a couple of small climbs before Jindabyne. The water was streaming down the road on the climbs with assorted mud and debris. Perhaps surprisingly these last bumps are harder than you would think. Even with the pouring rain supporters were out in the rain and kids waiting for high fives – awesome!

Thankful to see the finish banner and again a great crowd and best of all my family plus Grandkids at the finish – absolute troopers waiting in the pouring rain. That said the livetrack made it easier for them to know where I was. Garmin said moving time a few mins under 4 hours and I think official result was something like 4hr 11mins. Chris rolled in a bit later and keen to find a hot shower. So, job done and l’etape completed ahead of the time cut and great to ride on closed roads. Overall the rain was perhaps not as bad as predicted, however something like 80+mm fell in Perisher and said climb in such rain and cloud would have been a big problem. A sensible call from the organisers to shorten the course. From the result sheets, it seems that from the original entry of 3,500 it approx 2,000 odd riders finished – approx 1500 DNS and/or DNF.

Greg Boyd
L’etape Australia 2 Dec 2017