Combining all these elements to ensure “velo pleasure” can be challenging, however it seems organisers of Gran Fondos (Cyclosportives) have managed to get the recipe right (most of the time). The Hubert Opperman Gran Fondo was no exception and I must confess slight feelings of hesitation in revealing one of Tasmania’s best kept secrets.
With the endorsement of Sir Hubert Opperman’s family, the Gran Fondo is named in his honour to recognise his contribution to Australian cycling and the community. Sir Opperman was simply tough as nails, a quality which earned him international recognition while he excelled at the Tour de France and Endurance events flying the Australian flag.
The full experience started 24 hours before the actual Gran Fondo on a sunny Friday morning, with the Launceston PRO-Ex (PRO Experience). A small group of pre registered riders got the opportunity to ride with and chat to one of Australia’s best professional cyclists and all round nice guy, Wes Sulzberger, and two up and coming local professionals Nathan Earle and Campbell Flakemore of the Genesys Wealth Advisor’s Pro Cycling Team. Being the local, Wes chose the route and post ride coffee spot for the group ticking off core elements constituting an epic cycling weekend.
This is what it’s about.
The Launceston experience continued with a “Behind the Scenes of PRO Cycling” on Friday evening, where Gran Fondo riders had the opportunity to attend a Q&A forum free of charge. Yours truly fired in depth questions to Wes, Nathan and Campbell, getting their thoughts on issues ranging from the level of racing in Australia as a stepping stone for aspiring pros; gearing a 3 time Baw Baw Classic winner uses; riding for a Australia’s first PRO team compared to a French team; bike position and various training philosophies.
Four hundred riders set off on a gusty Launceston Saturday morning to tackle one of two routes of 110km or 160km. Quite a breeze compared to the 1000+km Sir Hubert Opperman rode in driving rain and howling winds to win the 1931 Paris – Brest – Paris. After a short warm up cruise, a few riders joined Wes Sulzberger (Orica Greenedge), his brother Bernie (Raleigh), Nathan Earle (Genesys), Campbell Flakemore (Genesys), Richie Porte (Sky) and Tiffany Cromwell (Orica Greenedge) in rolling at a brisk pace into a strong northerly for the first 60km through the scenic terrain alongside a sparkling Tamar River. Bunch etiquette was impressive, with everyone holding their lines and signalling any debris.
In true Grand Fondo spirit the Oppy provided an opportunity for participants to meet other riders from all walks of life and different parts of the country while navigating quiet picturesque roads. Rides like these serve as a reminder of how fortunate we are to have discovered a sport which boasts such a large social component. People have incredible stories of triumph and overcoming life’s challenges, with each discovering cycling through different paths. Stories of emotion, failure, success, disappointment, reward and elation – all recurring themes of a sport we adore.
Approaching the much talked about Howell Hill KoM, I overheard one participant remark how one might pay thousands of dollars to travel to Europe and see the Portes and Sulzbergers of the pro cycling world whizz past in a blur, while here we get to rub shoulders with them for a fraction of the price. Granted a European trip provides other facets of excitement but the Launceston surrounds didn’t disappoint and even revealed some Euro flare.
Once the obligatory Gran Fondo KoM was fought out, results here, peace returned to the bunch and chatter resumed while a prevailing tail wind brought with it a sense of calm for the next hour.
With 6 aid stations strategically placed around the entire loop, it was almost impossible to dehydrate or ‘hit the wall’. The loop was clearly signposted and heavily marshalled by the organisers, USM events.
For the last 50km, all we basically had to do was continue socialising and turn the pedals, under just enough pressure from the changing gradients and crosswinds to provide a solid workout, while Porte, Sulzberger, Earl and Flakemore drove a solid pace homeward bound.
1KM TO GO
Just to ensure you earn the watermelon, cakes and coffee available at the finish, the last 5-10km into town were littered with some decent short sharp rises, the kind where you excitedly dig into your reserves and spend your energy lavishly given the close proximity to relief.
A true testament to an epic day out is definitely the smile on the exhausted sunburned faces of participants who have risen to an impressive challenge. Sir Oppy would be proud.