The Wests Cycles Classic is a charity ride based around the Newcastle area that raises money for the Westpac Helicopter rescue service. I work for one of the major sponsors and my work mate, Jill has been quietly suggesting I should do it for a couple of years now.
But I never felt it was my kind of thing. Five days of longer (for me) rides of mostly on bike paths and fire trails, I didn’t think it would be my cup of tea.
You have to do it this year, says she. It even does a lap of Awaba bike park.
What the hell. It’s for a good cause and I haven’t had a break from work for a while. I get my leave pass and sign on up.
Still, I’m a bit apprehensive. I hadn’t done much riding in 2016 at all and was still having achilles issues on the bike. But it seemed like a good excuse to try and get a little bit fit again.
As always it snuck up faster than expected and while I’d managed to get a bit of time on the bike I wasn’t sure how I’d hold up over 5 days.
Heading up to Newcastle I almost needed a boat along the Bells Line. Some of the heaviest rain I’ve ever driven through. This is going to be interesting.
Driving into the helicopter base I was a it nervous. Not being to most socially apt person out there I was worried about how I’d fit into the established group, most of them ride or work together around the Newcastle area and most of them were old hands at the classic.
No one I knew was there yet but those that were made me feel welcome straight off the bat. I often say mountain bike makes me feel like a kid again and one of the ways it does that is by breaking down the barriers of making friends.
Remember as a kid how you became best friends with someone just cause the lived nearby, or you randomly sat next to each other at lunch… Well it doesn’t matter if you’re the executive general manager and I’m the guy that sweeps out the office, you’ve got a mountain bike, I’ve got a mountain bike, we’re riding in the same general direction at the same general time. Automatic friends.
Finally everyone is there and luggage is stowed in the pantec and ride captain, Bernard, calls for the rider briefing. It’s going to be a wet five days but lets get this show on the road.
Day 1 Broadmeadow to Norah Head
Into back roads and then bike paths and down the Fernleagh trail. The pace was pretty steady. Riding two abreast and lots of chopping and change so got to have a chat with a few 0f the bunch. I soon got the idea of the ride. Cruz along, drink break, morning tea break, lunch break, coffee break… OK my fitness should be OK for this.
It rains on and off but it’s not cold so it’s all good. Once we hit the dirt though it is very damp and the wise decision was made to drop off the single track segments that had been planed. Wise but I was still eyeing off the swooping trails that paralleled our paths at times.
We roll into Catherine Hill bay. The rain has eased and over lunch the sun comes out with vengeance. That is until Bernard calls 5 minutes to ride and it pisses down again. This would set a pattern for the entire trip.
This might be a bit wet through here says Wiggy, our guide for the time. We head down into swamp land. There are stepping stones, but they are 3 feet under water and stop 20 meters short of the either side of the water course and may in fact be alligators. I’m sure this is how people end up on the news but we wade (some ride, some attempt to ride) through the water before heading up for some awesome coastal views as we follow the head lands down into Norah head.
I’m bunked in with Scott P AKA Noodles and Scott B AKA Scott or Beddo. We bond over beers and bikes. There is Yoga for those so inclined, nibbles for those so inclined and diner. Then more beers
All in all a tip top Day
Day 2 a loop of Tuggerah lake
More of the same. Cruzy riding. Chatting. Plenty of stops. In the wet with just enough glimpses of sun to somehow get sun burnt. A cooling dip in the rock pools back at Norah Head then beers and out to diner. Here Patrycja decides it’s vodka night.
Being Polish, Patrycja is impervious to hangovers and come morning is bright as a button. Others not so much.
Day 3 Norah head to Myuna bay. Buddy Day.
This was a bit of fun. You are paired up with a buddy and are suppose to stay within a few meters of them all day. Riders are split into A and B grade… Riders from A are “Randomly” paired to riders from B via a lucky draw and some bribery.
Little sprints and break aways disrupt the usual steady pace as riders compete for nothing more than bragging rights
Now I have to say I’m looking a bit tubby at the moment. Heaviest I’ve ever been so it’s ease to see why, not knowing me at all, Bernard put me into the B grade bucket. Paired up with Beddo we make a pretty strong team.
Rolling out we hit some dirt and soon Kerry and Merryn launch a surprise attack and take out the first hill climb. A bit of Cat and Mouse ensues with no one wanting to take the lead.
There’s a small pinch coming up, Beddo informs me.Then a nasty downhill and a longer peak. I’m up for it if you are you are.
The girls veer across the road trying to get those following to take a lead. We see a gap and go for it. I’m not made for climbing, never was. But we get a gap and hit the top in the lead.
I’m blowing hard but the steep winding descent I see before me has me grinning. Grab my wheel, I call and take off. So much fun on slippery wet roads. I hit the bottom and start up the next climb thinking Scotty is on my wheel and expecting him and everyone else to pass me at any moment.
As I’m grinding toward the top I hear Bernard yell out. I think you may be a bit far from your partner! I look back Scott is about 20m back, no one else (other than Bernard) is close.
That’s only 2ms says I. Are you sure? The bungy chord hasn’t snapped there’s no one between us.
Fine. But I’m officially awarding you the sandbagger of the year. Hey I didn’t nominate B Grade.
Scotty catches up. Sorry about that I thought you were on my wheel. No worries. The next one is the coveted one. We hit the tar and there’s about 15km of undulating road until the snacks break. We still have a fair gap and decide o go for it.
It felt good to blow the cobwebs out and I’m surprised I could sustain a reasonable pace without my achillies playing up. In fact they are feeling better than they have in a long time.
There are a few shorter sprint points and we are pipped a the post on the final one by Patrycja, who seemed to be dragging her partner Jared along. Or he was pushing her as she screamed at him to “slow down you …….. idiot.” One of the two.
A good day on the bike. I’m enjoying it far more than I thought I would.
Day 4. King of the mountain.
Ok Day 4 was suppose to be Awaba MTB park day. It was the bait Jill used to reel me in but with the wet weather it was pretty obvious we shouldn’t ride there. Alternative plans were made. The Bentley brothers would organise a hill for a KOM stage. Have I mentioned I’ve never been made for climbing and am at present as tubby as I’ve ever been?
We roll out get to the very bottom of the nominated climb and have a drinks break.
And then it’s on. I give it a crack but I’m well back in the field. Early on I hear Patrycja unleash a tirade of swear words and she comes screaming past. Once again J Bentley is barely and arms length behind. This time however his brother C Bentley is on the other side and equal distant behind her.Together the brothers propel Patrycja up into over all 4th with her pedalling as hard as she could too.
Noodles took the over all win with a strong climb.
Me mate Jill had a point to prove after the ride captain may have jokingly fined all the male riders (lots of fun fines each night to boost the fund raising) who Kerry and Merryn smashed up the first hill yesterday, ie all of us. There may have been a tongue in cheek comment about girls shouldn’t be able to out climb boys.
Jill is riding amazingly strong at the moment and let’s just say she smashed pretty much every one else. (Can’t remember if she was 2nd over all or 3rd. either way she was a long way in front of me.) That night she fined Bernard for every hill she beat him up that day. We must have rode up 50 hills. It was an expensive lesson
From the end of the KOM stage it was up and up and more up on the wet dirt that seemed to alternate between rocky steps and slippery clay.
Jared and Clint earned some curses as they kept promising there was no more up before deciding to go up to this lookout or take this short cut up a rocky trail. Most walked that bit. Short techi climbs I don’t mind and I found it a great challenge but didn’t have the legs to get up the final rock step. Jared rode pretty much the lot with just a dab here and step over and get back on there…
The descent down of the top was hella fun. By even 1/4 down all was forgiven and I was grinning like an idiot.
Once down and regrouped Jared lead a freight train along the flat. Al always jumps down here and its a sprint to the 60 sign you can’t beat him but we can try to break him before we get there…
The pace was on. I don’t think I’ve ever held that speed for so long on a road bike let alone a MTB. Even at the back of the line I was starting to struggle.
Al jumps right on cue and I try and top grab his wheel. I think we hit about 65km/hr. I fall off his wheel as he passes the 60km/hr sign. Stuffed for the first time on the ride I exhausted and it’s a slow ride back into camp.
I am suppose to be heading back tonight for a 3hr race at Rydal but I get a call. It’s still pissing down at home so the race is cancelled. There are a dozen phone calls and a lot of (de)organisation but at least I can now ride the last day.
Day Five. Myuna Bay to Spears Point. Bike rafting
There’s the promise of single track. It’s the most technical stuff we’ve done so far. My legs are heavy from yesterdays effort but I’m looking forward to it.
We’ve had a soggy 4 days so far but day 5 belts down, some of the heaviest rain I’ve ridden in. The trails around the foreshore are Noodles home trails and he leads us in. It’s slippery. It’s snotty. And, at times it has an axle deep torrent of water flowing down, across and long it. It was great fun.
So there we are 5 days of riding in the rain. I haven’t bothered lubing my chain all week as I’m just assuming it will be trashed and the brake pads will be shot. Surprisingly both are fine and after regreasing all my bearings and servicing the folks the bike is all good.
So all up just under 300km riding for the 5 days. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it all that much but I did. So much so I’ll be back next year if at all possible.
30 riders. Over $100K raised for the rescue helicopter which helps ensure it stays free of charge for those that need it.
I believe the presentation is not until may so there is still time to chuck some money towards the cause