Forty days ago our group committed to conquering Stanwell — a cycling trek of epic proportions. At the time of planning, it was all just stats and figures — kilometres, gradients, elevation profiles and forecast average speeds — but on the day we quickly understood their true meaning as we converted numbers and ambition into pedal strokes, salty burn-your-eyes sweat, screaming quads, calves and hammies, and jack-hammer heart rates. To do this, our 10-man crew packed copious supplies of carbs, electrolytes, bars and gels but it was the intangible reserves of grit, gumption and spirit mixed with solid teamwork that saw us accomplish our objective. Stanwell. Conquered.
Mile by Mile
Just before first light, at 0539, we set off from our regular launch pad (top of Birri). The air-temp still crisp and none of us yet fully comprehending the extent of the journey ahead of us. Jason and Linton lead us out along our regular Sutho-bound route at a strong pace (avg 37.2km/h) and high cadence; Jason’s Zipp 404’s sounding like a jet-engine and Linton powering along yet somehow still able to talk. At Brighton, Ross and Tom (both on their maiden voyage with this group) take the reins and stay in front for a sizeable section at solid speed.
Today Sutho is a mere stone’s throw away and so we pass it by without a second glance. Next, we make a dash for Waterfall and press on along the Princes Hwy with the Royal and Heathcote national parks to our left and right. The air is now a little fresher as the cityscape is left in our wake. Helensburgh summons and we take the exit to the Old Princes Hwy where we single-up for a mostly downhill section from 280m above sea level. We are well-and-truly in NP land now with abundant greenery, cleanse-your-lungs-air-quality and no turning back. Charging along at unstoppable speed, smiles all round and endorphins flowing, no one notices that we’ve taken a wrong turn except Jason and Adam whose voices are silenced by the sound of wind in our ears at 65km/h. The detour takes us into god knows where at the base of a valley and only one way out (two if you count the cyclocross dirt road option) — that is, back up and up and up from whence we came. A tremendous climb of 158m in vertical and to Stanwell we go. But first, a quick pit stop photo opp at Bald Hill where we take in the scenic views of that quaint little coastal town we came to conquer.
We refuel at Stanwell’s cafe, talk bike and farewell James whose made himself comfortable with the Saturday paper. Onwards and upwards — a mammoth climb of 180m in vertical is immediately forced upon us. Fight off gravity, grind the pedals and chomp on salt tabs and carb-gels. Surmount the peak. And descend to the valley floor for nine sensational kilometres in perfect riding formation at high-speed (avg 40.0km/h). As planned, the Brits turn back for their date at the Scarborough.
And so the seven of us fight on: Simmy, Jason, Erez, Linton, Brent, Adam and Bos. Erez is probably fighting harder than most as he feels the lingering burn from Thursday’s Four Gorges but he battles on. We tackle arduous ascents with unknown ends, encounter false peaks time and time again and finally reach a ridge in the Royal national park where it is relatively flat, the sun is scorching and our speed sits above 40km/h as Adam morphs into a steam engine locomotive. Repeat. Repeat again. And then Sutho emerges.
Quick coffee stop and we’re off, home and food on everyone’s minds. Jason resumes his position on the front where he’s spent much of the day. Roll. Simmy and Brent move to the front with Botany Bay to our right when a car pulls into our lane and nearly wipes out half the group. Quick reflexes, swerve, veer and the danger zone is avoided especially for Brent. Sigh of relief. Simmy goes mental, gets in front of the car and lets it rip. Resume the ride. Nothing can stop us now, we’re homebound with just 10km to go. Simmy and Brent hammer it home. Time accelerates and strangely muscle aches become tolerable numbness. And then it’s over. Done…
…in a ride time of 4hrs 59m we journeyed 142km at an average pace of 28.7km/h and reached top speeds of 65km/h. We climbed 1750m in vertical and burnt at least 3,000 calories.