It was good to get an email from Henry a couple/three weeks ago inviting me to join the Mongrel's Oppy team with he and Richard. A 9am start seemed pretty civilised and I was soon to learn all about longer distances and fatigue.
The Oppy fleche is run annually by Audax Australia, and follows the ethos of the Fleche Veloccio, where teams of riders cover at least 360km and converge on a central point all within 24 hours.
To date my longest ride has been 200km and some change so the oppy was going to be a challenge, especially after my recent abandonee of the Gunning ride. I was confident though in my teams mates - both Richard and Henry and very experienced randonneurs - so I figured I'd be learning a lot. Minimum team size for a fleche is 3 riders finishing so it was important that I didn't let the others down.
Our route was circuitous and changed during the day to accommodate the weather and some changes in traffic conditions. It was certainly a hot day and the first couple of legs from Dapto, up Mount Keira and to Picton and then from Picton back to the Hume Hwy and on the Sutton Forest were ridden in increasing heat. I am not a fan of the either the Picton road or fast roads in general, lots of debris and too fast traffic inches from your knees. The heat just contributed to my suffering, Its also mostly uphill but that's bearable when you're not cooking.
Richard and Henry travelled at there own pace (well ahead of me) but would stop on the crests and wait for me to arrive. We decided to vary the route and head into Mittagong to get water and to have something to eat. I'm not sure what the temperature was but it must have been mid 30's on the road. There was no shade to speak of, handlebar tape and lycra was absorbing heat generally not pleasant conditions at all. This was the lowest point for me in the ride, but I encouraged myself on with thoughts of the team. I really didn't want to fail again and promised myself that I would persist.
From Mittagong the going got easier and I felt more optimistic about the ride. There was a large bushfire around Avon Dam and the air was growing thicker with smoke. I had fantasised for a while that the band of smoke was actually a cool change heading my way. Didn’t happen.
Getting to the service centre at Sutton Forest was a land mark for me and after 2 potato scallops with extra salt I felt much better about getting on with the rest of the ride, which would now turn north and head towards the Cross Roads at Liverpool via Pheasants Nest.
As it was getting later in the day, the temperature was cooling and we were on the shady side of the road. Generally, our route was trending downwards and there were some great fast descents especially through the "concrete hill" past Hilltop.
We sped into Pheasants Nest in a good 2 hours and enjoyed the hospitality of the best service centre on that part of the highway. Cool, fast service and interesting things happening on the forecourt and importantly half way home.
It was dusk as we left Pheasants Nest with lights and vests on. The Lumotec worked a treat and a big surprise was the value of the cheap three LED light mounted low on the front fork. About 20 minutes out I got a puncture on the rear wheel. Henry described it as the typical "Hume Puncture" a piece of tyre reinforcing wire. There was lots of it about.
Puncture fixed it was back on the way towards Liverpool. Riding along the hume through Campbelltown was reasonably uneventful as the road is pretty well maintained along here. Lots more traffic and the odd "parked" car looming out of the dark.
There are major roadworks on the freeway which saw us unexpectedly divert off the hwy and onto backstreets (one really steep bit) before settling onto Campebelltown road for the rest of the run to the Cross Roads.
We arrived around 10pm and were making reasonable time. We decided to head back up the Hume to Picton Road and then down Mt Keira to a sleep stop. The riding now was cooler and I guess easier not counting for growing fatigue and the increasing discomfort in my bum. I just kept making the pedals go around and kilometres slowly (or quickly as they sometimes did) went by.
Pausing on the Picton road to refresh myself we marvelled at the brilliant starry sky, the milky way clearly visible as a light band. Eventually I topped out at the Keira Rd turnoff, stopped to don my leg warmers and got ready for one of my slower descents of the mountain. Visibility was a bit tricky, whether because of mist or my fatigue I'm not sure. I did manage to see the two deer standing in the middle of the road and watched them flash away into the bush to the sounds of breaking branches. Unable to stop, I tucked and hoped that they wouldn’t come back out onto the road. They didn't and I made it back home for a quick sleep and well deserved sleep.
Earlier in the week I had dreamt of doing the ride, now the alarm was ringing and I really had no choice but to finish. Apart from the fatigue, my bum was very sore and my left hand was losing feeling, otherwise going pretty well. Away at last I met up with Richard on Crown street and we rode out to meet Henry in Dapto.
From there we cycled around Lake Illawarra via Albion Park Rail, Shellharbour. The Lake circuit is a very popular club route and there were a number of bunches out and about. We stopped for Coffee at Macca's in Warrawong and then began the final stretch to the finish point at Kannahooka.
Disaster struck though, when Henry realised that we were going to be 5 kilometres short of the 360kms required for the ride, so a diversion was necessary via Darkes Road and along some quiet rural lanes (bumpy - ouch) before clocking up the required distance to turning for the finish.
Up a couple more hills and then down to the Yacht Club, breakfast and general bonhomie. There were (I think) four other teams who completed the ride, most from Sydney and apart from one minor accident all completed the ride. It was good to meet some other riders and to share our stories of pain.
Richard and I rode back into town after breakfast bringing my total for the weekend to 385 km. 361 for the ride and 24 commuting kilometres.