On Thursday it was Ritchie Porte’s 29th birthday. I wasn’t actually aware it was his birthday when I met him at Aroma’s cafe in Launceston at 6am. The only thing I knew was that Ritchie and I were going to be spending a long time together on our bikes.
We had plotted this ride last week at Tour Down Under as we both love a long days on the bike so we both decided a +300km day was needed. On Monday I received a message from Ritchie upping the ante to 320km and Thursday we locked in the adventure. To up the ante again, I decided I would also ride up to Launceston – just a lazy 194km to get the system going after TDU. During the ride up I started receiving messages from Ritchie with the distance of the proposed route increasing with every ring of my blackberry. First 330km, then 350km, the finally as I passed Cambelltown I got a message saying, “Let’s make it a classic 365km”. I could tell by the tone of Ritchie’s messages that he was getting excited. I told him that he could choose the course I will ride it. Its his home turf, he gets to make the rules!
The First 100km
We rolled out of Launceston around 6:30am and headed for the quiet back roads to Longford. The route Ritchie chose was about the perfect a route when attempting a 360km adventure. Launceston – Longford – Epping Forest – St Mary’s – St Helens – Scottsdale – Launceston. Simply put a circumnavigation of north eastern Tasmania. St Helens was exactly half way and came at a mentally perfect point where you reached the coast. Basically then you head back inland to launceston via a more picturesque route than that of which got you to the coast. Along with the more interesting terrain came many more hills however after the relatively boring flat initial 180km the change in terrain was something to look forward to.
Ritchie I had not trained together since March last year when I visited him in Monaco. We speak a lot but we always chat about different things when out on the quiet country roads together. As a result of it being such a long time between training rides I was pretty confident we would have plenty to chat about. As it turned out I can’t remember a period of more than 30 seconds when there was silence!
Just the other side of Longford Richie broke it to me that it was his birthday. I was immediately touched that he choose to spend every daylight hour of his birthday on his bike with me. I said, “mate we don’t have to do it today.” Ritchie said “no, this is absolutely perfect. Being out here on my bike the entire day is the best present ever.” It’s no surprise he is one of the best riders in the world with that attitude when his ultimate gift is a free day of riding as far and hard and wherever he wished to ride! That’s true passion for riding a bike.
The first 100km went smoothly. Relatively flat and deathly quiet country roads with nothing for company except the odd sheep or cow. Around 50km we hit our first hurdle in the form of a ripped apart gravel road. The road was under construction and was a combination between Strada Bianche and Paris-Roubaix. For 5km we could do nothing but slip and slide and bounce around and hope we don’t puncher. Luckily we both escaped unscathed and made it to Epping Forest. From here it was a short section of road heading south on the states main highway before chucking a left and heading toward the coast. This left turn was the start of the most mentally challenging section of road we would face. I call this section road ‘The Highway To Nowhere’ as you simply feel like you are going nowhere for 100km. We put our heads down and plowed on. After 100km I was already struggling a little and needed to stop. We both slammed a Coke, some water and I topped up the tank with a 600ml iced coffee. As we discover we would both have many moments of difficulty with fuel in the tank at different stages throughout the day.
The Second 100km
This section of road was perhaps the toughest. Almost 60km on the ‘Highway To Nowhere’ and a block headwind while plowing into on a false flat. It was a demoralising few hours. We both knew it was a tough mental battle and we made an extra effort to chat away which ended up being about some fairly personal topics. When riding under such torturous conditions the little issues you don’t feel comfortable discussing in regular situations all off a sudden seem easy sharing with you mates. It always amazes me how sport can change your mood and in this case we had a good old chin-wag about whatever was bothering us. We made it to St Mary’s which was a major landmark. From there it was a descent to the coast and then a short run along to our half-way point: St Helens.
There we encountered our first mechanical. After 160km we finally hit a descent longer than a few hundred meters and as we were plummeting down to the coastline all of a sudden my front tyre blew out. I had two choices: crash, or take my chances with on-coming traffic and beeline it onto the opposite side of the road! I chose option B and fortunately no cars came around the corner. We both took a deep breath and Ritchie just shook his head. We knew I was jolly lucky on that one!
Next it was Ritchie’s turn to get hungry and after seeing me spring back to life on the back of my iced coffee made an unscheduled stop for a pick-me-up. From there it was a short run into St Helens and our half-way lunch stop. When we pulled up I noticed my tyre wall was split so I went in search of a repair kit. I found one at the service station that contained enough patches to see me through my career, so if anyone needs any patches send them my way! Ritchie organised lunch, a cheese and vegemite scroll while I repaired my tyre. We were certainly working well together.
Ritchie asked me how I was feeling over lunch. I felt awesome but had to convince myself I have finished my first 190km training session and it was now time to start the second 175km haul. Mentally it’s important for me not to think of it as 360km, but breaking it down into smaller checkpoints. Ritchie shrugged his shoulders in approval and we got back on our bikes. Everybody has there own way of dealing with these types of days and I am sure he did it differently.
The Third 100km
During this section Ritchie finally voiced a crazy idea we had both been thinking over. If we are going to ride 360km, why not 400km?? Truth be told I was never going to let us stop before 400km but had been afraid to make the suggestion. One to always speak his mind, Richie said, “bugger it, we are definitely doing 400km. We will ride from dusk till dawn!!” He rang his mum and informed her he would not be home for his birthday dinner.
This 100km saw us enter some very hilly terrain and it was great to actually use some different muscles for a change. The trip to Scottsdale seemed to fly by and before we knew it we were at 300km and slamming down yet another coke and iced coffee. This time we also threw a Mars Bar in our pocket as we set of on the 65km trek to Launceston. Scottsdale is part of cycling folklore in the north Ritchie probably rides through it four times per week. Consequently everybody at the IGA wanted to chat with the local star but were curious why he was there at 6pm! When he said he had already done 300km they went from being star struck to simply in awe of their local hero.
As we rolled out of Scottsdale Ritchie I have realised we’d never done the feared ‘Sidling Climb‘ with 10hrs in the legs before. We made a truce to cruise our way up, but of course we didn’t. We knew that once at the top we were pretty much home and hammered to Launceston with mostly downhill roads. As we crested the summit Ritchie conceded, “Well I have certainly ridden up there a lot slower than that!”. We dropped down the other side and could smell Launceston 40km away. Ritchie looked at me and said, “let’s drop the hammer”. We both had a big spring in our step with the final climb behind us and the finish in sight. We had 11hrs on the clock, 330km, and had averaged 230 watts for the day, so we were really flicking along on and felt great. That said, I did not want to relax. It’s like when you know you’re having a good game of golf but don’t want to count your scorecard – I didn’t want to count my chickens before they hatch!
With all that enthusiasm we barreled towards Launceston. We kept the pace high and before we knew it we were in Launceston and in search of the final 40km to make up the magical 400km. First we had some logistics to organise and both turned to our parents. I called my dad and asked him to bring an energy hit and please follow us to ensure we are safe on the road. It was now 8:30pm and we would definitely be finishing this adventure in the dark. Dad arrived and we loaded up on Coke and a few jelly snakes. The clock was at 12hrs 45min so we simply had 38km or about 1hr of riding to hit our target. Since the 200km mark we had been talking and dreaming of hamburgers from Burgers Got Soul. These burgers are an absolute must if you visit Launceston. It would be closed by the time we got home so Richie called his mum to put in the order. After being such brave men all day long we had turned to our parents to nurse us and motivate us home. Dad led with the safety car and we rode with the fun, confidence and security that we would in a World Tour race.
In the final 10km we started to count our chickens! We could smell the finish line and knew we would make it. It was now pitch black but we were having an absolute ball. We could not believe we had pulled of this crazy challenge and felt a huge amount of satisfaction. We sprinted into Launceston and straight for Ritchie’s house for the burgers! Dad got sent to the bottle shop to pick a case of Cascade for me and Boags for Ritchie; North vs Southern Tassie stable beers. Our diet during the day certainly wasn’t your usual race or hard training diet plan, but hey – it was Ritchie’s birthday!
We had survived the journey. The funny thing was we could now admit to each other that all along we both wanted to hit 400km but were both scared to think out loud! The key to the day seemed to be the mind games with breaking down the ride out into smaller pieces which was pretty simple now that I think back. And you know what? I did not feel anymore drained than I would after a really hard training day. I am sure that seems strange but the power of the mind is quite powerful.
Like I said to Ritchie on the Sidling Climb, “If we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always gotten!”
Looking forward to Ritchie’s birthday next year!
Time: 13hrs 30min
elevation gain: 4500m
Ave Power: 230watts
Ave Heart rate: 115
Kcal Burnt: 11400