Riding in the shadow of the great Oppy

Five riders lined up beside the statue of Sir Hubert Opperman at Rochester.

Tough: Audax riders complete at least 360 km over two days during the annual "Oppy".

A small item in the weekly cycling bulletin a few months ago, caught the attention of a very keen regular cyclist open to expanding his experience of road cycling and endurance events.  Alan Walker, an experienced Audax rider who has been in some of the great Audax events across the globe, had put forward an expression of interest for another three to four riders to join him to complete the Audax Australia Fleche Opperman All Day Trial. This ride is held each year in honour of the great Australian cyclist Sir Hubert Opperman.

Having heard that the Audax Club specialised in some epic rides Peter Carr decided to contact Alan.  He had a few “experienced” Audax riders who were keen to be part of the team. Novices Mike (Peter’s brother-in-law) and Peter soon learnt that Alan, Frank and Derek had thousands of kilometres under the belt having completed such grand Audax rides as the Paris Brest Paris a ride of 1200 km with a time limit of 90 hours.  Mike and Peter had come to realise they had turned up at a gunfight with a knife, feeling quite intimidated and under prepared in mind but bursting with intrigue  enthusiasm of the heart to engage the battle ahead!

March 19th dawned as a perfect cycling day. (What day isn’t to an Audax rider?)  The team headed off from Spring Gully at 8 am to complete the minimum 360+ km in 24hours.  Alan had mapped out a fantastic course taking in Bealiba, Avoca, Lexton, Talbot, Clunes, Baringhup, Maldon Harcourt, over the North Harcourt Gap and back to Spring Gully for the Saturday component of the ride.  This would put 295 km under the belt on Saturday leaving a modest 70 odd kilometres for the Sunday to finish off at Rochester the home of the great “Oppy”.

The riding conditions, close to perfect, meant the team were able to make good progress, apart from a few stops for punctures which seemed to plague Derek (also known as Fabian having similar body proportions to the great Cancellara). The team was confident that Derek would only find this a minor hindrance knowing that in 1993 his team set the current Oppy record of 770 km in 24 hours.

For Mike and Peter this first introduction to the Audax culture at times it seemed like a bakery crawl and again the seasoned Audax riders out shone the novices being able to consume copious amounts of fuel.  Gels and energy bars were kept for emergencies and instead pies, buns, fruit flans, cakes, pizza and flavoured milk were enthusiastically consumed.  The stops were also needed to have the “brevet” signed by shop keepers as proof that the team had passed through the town.

The evening ride was spectacular under the “super full moon” as the team arrived back at Spring Gully at 10pm for a bowl of pasta and a glass of red.  It was off to bed for a couple of hours before regrouping at 4.30 am for the breakfast ride to Rochester.

All riders wanting to complete successfully were to meet at the Sir Hubert Opperman monument between 7 am and 8 am.  Again the weather was kind as they completed the last few kilometres with the sun rising on another great day.  The finish could be heard before seen as a brass band welcomed all riders.

Brevets were again stamped.  Looking around the finish line, it was obvious that the Audax Australia riders are a tough bunch. They have a saying: “you’re not a real Audax rider until you’ve slept with your bike at the side of the road”.  It’s not about the latest carbon super light bike with deep dish carbon wheels or the latest coordinated lycra kit.  The park was littered with an assortment of steel bikes fitted with sufficient lighting and storage to allow these road warriors to cover extraordinary distances at all hours in all weather. One group sitting nearby had ridden all night for a most respectable 500kms in 24 hrs.

Handshakes all round and it was off to the local secondary school for a hearty breakfast.  Mike and Peter had completed their first Oppy thanks to a great team,  and in 24 hours of conversation learnt much about what defines an Audax rider and their adventures.

Next time you see a small bunch of seasoned cyclists in their distinctive green and gold Audax jerseys, riding along in the middle of nowhere, give them a wave and be prepared to see them again a few hundred kilometres down the track. Want to know more about Audax Australia?  Check out the webpage www.audax.org.au.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon God willing.

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