I’ll definitely be back next year!  That was the first thing that crossed my mind as I rolled over the finish line of the 117km Robbie McEwen Gran Fondo at the Gold Coast Festival of Cycling.  Held on the last weekend of September, this fledgling event is still gaining momentum, however has the potential to become one of Australia’s premier cycling Sportives.

A glorious morning with crystal blue skies and a perfect riding temperature of 19 degrees greeted the 1200 participants of the Gran Fondo.  As my mate Troy and I rolled out of Metricon stadium in a bunch of about 60, I felt ready and raring to tackle anything that the course could throw at me.  As we cruised along the Nerang Broadbeach road and out of the Gold Coast, the pack began to find its rhythm and work together in unison.  I always find this such an exhilarating and pleasurable experience.  That feeling of cruising effortlessly at 40+km’s per hour, the buzz of spinning carbon and the excitement of the peloton. As we crossed the highway and travelled parallel to the mountains of the hinterland, I took on my first energy gel and felt warmed up and ready for the first climb up Mt. Tamborine.

We soon entered the foothills of the range near Oxenford and I began to mentally prepare myself for my most challenging climb on a road bike to date.  I felt that my recent training and nutrition plan had prepared me for the event and I was excited about the prospect of ‘attacking’ the climb.  I had read heaps of articles about the most effective way to climb, done my homework on how and when to ‘attack’ the pedals and pump out the watts, how to maintain a constant pace and steady rhythm and most importantly, when to recognise I was approaching the red zone.  Now I was about to put this all into practice.

GC Gran Fondo Route

And so it began.  11km’s of gradual climbing up one of the highest mountains (if you could call them that) on the Gold Coast Hinterland.  A challenging and at times painful climb that contains sections of tarmac with a gradient topping 13%.  As we began to climb, I quickly found my rhythm and settled into a regular cadence on my compact chain ring.  Before long, I was in the zone and loving it.  I was passing more than were passing me and I was thriving at the prospect of reaching the summit and hammering down the backside of the mountain in early morning light.

As the pack disintegrated, I managed to find a good line on the outside of a couple of riders and concentrated on my cadence.  As my heart rate hit the high 170’s, I figured that this was a good pace to maintain and settled into the climb.  The first section of real climbing hits you hard.  A gradual rise of 10+% for 2.5 km’s and a vertical ascent of over 200 meters.  For those that have climbed the dizzying heights of some of Europe’s finest mountains, this would seem like a pimple on the backside of Ventoux.  However, for me, a relative novice to the art of climbing on a road bike, this was my greatest challenge yet!

After 5 odd minutes, the climb offers some respite and a false flat of sorts, before kicking up another gear and on towards the summit.  As we turned a hairpin left and looked ahead at what was to come, a rider to my left exclaimed aloud “that’s interesting”.   A similar thought that had just crossed my mind; however a little more colourful… and so it continued, another 20 plus minutes of constant climbing and general discomfort.

It is strange what the mind does to you as fatigue sets in.  The thoughts of doubt that begin to plague you and attack the very thing you’ve been working so hard to conquer.  The fear sets in and the self doubt starts creeping into your psyche and quite frankly it pisses me off!  In fact it drives me mad!  I find it obtrusive and unwelcomed in any of my sporting endeavours and in fact in life in general.  I always have!    Maybe that’s why I do it?  Maybe not?  But as I climbed the wall and my heart rate leapt to the mid 180’s, I began to question why I was in fact doing this?  Why did I want to be smashing my heart rate at 95% of its maximum at 6.45 on a perfect spring morning?  Surely there were better things to be doing with my time?  It was at this point that I really started asking myself some questions:  What is it that I really enjoy about cycling?  Why do I like hurting myself like this? What is it that has created this obsession with my bike?  To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t find an answer, no matter how hard I tried and wouldn’t until I sat down to lunch and an ice cold beer at the end of the ride.

And so it continued for a short while until I reached the home stretch of the climb and into the town of Tamborine.  I had done it and done it comfortably.  I was stoked.  One down and one to go.  You little ripper.  As we cruised through the town and my heart rate settled, I topped up on some liquids and smashed an energy bar before preparing for what would become my favourite part of the whole day.  The descent down Tamborine.  The road descends with gusto through the appropriately named Eagle Heights and down to Mundoolun.  Tamborine Mountain road is every road cyclists dream.  Fantastic tarmac, smooth as silk, no potholes, no traffic, wicked switchbacks and tight hairpins and plenty of straights to allow you to settle into your drops, tuck in your shoulders and really pin your ears back.  Descending at it’s finest and I love it.  The scenery changes quickly from wet Piccabeen Palm rainforest to dry Queensland Eucalypt before popping out into the green pastures of south east Queensland farming country.

Haydn Thomas Gold Coast Gran Fondo 2013

From there the ride took us out through vintage farmland and vineyards.  The never ending procession of majestic farms and manors in the shadows of the hinterland made for pleasant scenery.  The road was well surfaced and although slightly uphill, well built for road cycling.  Before long we were back in a bunch of about 20 riders and quickly approaching the day’s second climb, Beechmont.  As we entered Canungra, the gradient picked it up a notch and before long I was spinning my compact chain ring up the backside of the range.

The climb felt a little less demanding than Tamborine and although fairly similar in distance, gradient and vertical meters, the climb seemed more forgiving.  The event held a Strava timed King of the Mountain up this climb.  Although not challenging for a top position, I was happy with my time of 27.10, with plenty left in the tank for the long ride home.  As we approached the top, I heard a familiar voice behind me and turned to see Robbie McEwen passing by.  I was quick to up my tempo and jump on his wheel for the final ascent into Beechmont.  As we passed through town and on to Lower Beechmont, I was focused on not losing my position on Robbie’s wheel.  It’s not every day that you get to tuck in behind a former green jersey winner and I wasn’t about to let myself get dropped, not yet anyway.  As the road undulated over the Beechmont plateau, I focused most of my attention on the ease at which Robbie turned the pedals.  It seemed effortless.  Even as a retired rider, he still seemed to turn the pedals so easily.  It was fantastic to watch.  He was chatting to another rider about the joys of riding on the Gold Coast and proclaimed that the scenery of the hinterland matched many areas in Europe.

From Lower Beechmont the pace really picked up.  The road twists and turns through similar scenery witnessed on Tamborine.  As I jumped up to top gear and put my head down, we quickly generated some serious pace.  I was determined to hold my line with Robbie for as long as possible.  I managed to do so for another few kilometres before we came across a few cautious riders and our small breakaway was split.  Once onto an open stretch, I passed several riders and maintained a wicked pace down through the valley.  It was a fantastic descent.[quote_right]The sense of achievement and that “I did it” feeling[/quote_right]

Towards the bottom, the road took a sharp right onto the Nerang Murwillumbah road, where we were given uninterrupted access into a fantastic right hand turn at serious speed.  It’s at this point that I feel it’s fitting to mention that the marshalling and volunteers for the ride were second to none.  Throughout the ride, at all major intersections and junctions there was always a volunteer on site to guide the cyclists in the right direction or stop the traffic.

We were now on the home stretch and just to add a little salt into the wounds; the final 10km’s were met with a wicked headwind.  Although this didn’t particularly bother me, there were many who were now suffering.  As we approached the final challenge of the day at Alexander Drive, there were several riders walking or resting along side the 400 meter wall.  A relatively tame climb most days, but too much for some on this particular occasion.

As we wound our way through the back streets of Carrara, I was wishing that it wasn’t about to end.  I still had more to give and was keen to continue.  But for the most part, I was stoked to have survived the ride and done it comfortably.  I started to consider bigger challenges and my feelings earlier that morning ascending Tamborine.  Now out of that ‘pain zone’ answers came to me more easily.  I ride because I love it.  The freedom and the sound of rubber meeting tarmac at 80 km’s per hour.  The sense of achievement and that “I did it” feeling.  One thing is for sure, I thoroughly enjoyed it and I’ll be coming back for more.

Pedal Hard..

Haydn Thomas: haydn@pedaltorque.com

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Haydn has been bitten by the cycling bug and bitten hard. Like most Aussie kids, he grew up riding his beloved chrome BMX before moving onto a Mountain Bike. Haydn describes his transition onto a road bike as a Renaissance and since that time has never looked back. If not riding the awesome roads of Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Haydn can often be found photographing local cycling events. As Pedaltorque co-founder, Haydn is responsible for editing and photography. He rides a Specialized Tarmac.