Sunday, March 20, 2011

Fleche Opperman

This is one of my favourite rides and this year was my third successful venture into the pleasures of the fleche.

We were a team of 3, Greg and Jeff and myself and we had planned an unambitious 364km as the minimum we could get away with. As things turned out we rode a bit further.

The weather forecast was initially for scattered showers, so I wasn't too worried when after 1 km the rain started. As luck would have it, the rain remained with us for the next 370 odd kms.

OUr route took us in a large loop, up the Macquarie pass, through the Southern Highlands to Marulan then turning north to skirt to foot of the Blue Mountains before descending into the Nepean valley for an overnight stop at Windsor with a mere 60km to complete to get to Parramatta park by 9am.

Our first objective challenge was the climb of Macquarie pass, this ascent was marked by increasingly poor visibility as we approached the top, but this was accompanied with the naive belief that once over the rim of the escarpment the weather conditions would improve. They did, a very little bit for a very short time but then the rain came back.

5km out of Moss Vale I managed to find the only thing capable of puncturing a Gatorskin, which is a 3 inch nail. Puncture fixed we made it to the first control without further incident, though about 30 minutes behind our unofficial schedule.

After a quick pie at the Moss Vale bakehouse we raced off for Marulan via a circuitous but scenic (at least when it wasn't raining) route. Though it rained (heavily) we made good time and picked up the lost 30 minutes and enjoyed the weird food and bizarre coffee that only the Marulan service centre can provide.

Our next stop was Hill Top and included about 70km along the shoulder of the Hume Hwy. I was lagging a bit on the hills but would catch the team up on the downhills. About 10 kms from the Hill Top controle, Greg flatted, this time he found a tack, not quite as long as my nail but no less effective. Carrying on and descending through the cutting to Hill Top, I zigged when I should have zagged and pinch flatted on a water filled pot hole. Puncture repaired we made the Hill Top controle just as the heavens really opened up and we were really pleased to see that the bakery was still open and happy to see soggy customers.

My rearlights were beginning to get a bit eccentric at this point so I carefully dried them out and mounted one on my helmet in hopes that it would remain somewhat drier there. As we left the rain eased and I was keen for the fast descent down to Thirlmere, when I was startled by a large puddle at low speed and my subsequent evasive action brought me down to earth via Jeff's back wheel.

My fall had broken the mount for my computer and my secondary Ay-Up lights. Flustered and no doubt a bit shocked I quickly righted the damage, lights in back pocket, puter secured with a rubber band and got back to it.

The ride down to Thirlmere is one of my favourites, linking the slight inclines with the long and pacey descents is great fun and you can cover the 30 clicks in about 30-40 minutes. As we arrived Greg wanted to remove some layers and I remembered that I carried some zip ties to the Ay-ups were re-installed.

From Thirlmere we had an undulating trip along quite roads for about 60kms before we arrived at Penrith. Greg had a flat at Warragamba, but otherwise the section had been uneventful apart from the increasingly heavy rain and the absence of any view out over the city. A shame that.

With only 30 odd kms to go to the sleep stop we had a sting in our tail and the flat roads between Penrith and Windsor made for good progress. Pulling into Richmond Greg found that he was going down again and we spent some time under a street light inspecting his tube and tyre for the culprit. Eventually we found a fine piece of tyre reinforcing wire and were able to extract it with the aid of the needle nose pliers I carry for just such an occurrence.

We arrived at our lodgings in the Alexander the Great Motel just before two and proceeded to remove wet clothing and sort out soggy lights and punctured tubes. With less than 60km to go we reckoned we could chance a 6 am start so I set the alarm for 5.20am and off we slept.

After the alarm we roused and readied ourselves for the last push. Overnight the rain seemed to have eased but as soon as we pushed off from the forecourt down it came once more. Our route from there became increasingly cryptic but we eventually found Windsor road and the M7 cycleway.

Unfortunately the M7 cycleway is being rebuilt in places and one of the many detours into Plumpton had us travelling in circles before we found an entrance onto the M7 shoulder and travelled on.

We wewre flagging though and after turning onto the M4 Greg and Jeff turned off to the service centre for breakfast, following behind I arrived just in time to see Greg go over in an oil patch, Landing heavily. He bounced up and before too long we were enjoying a Maccas breakfast.

10km to go now with less than 30 minutes remaining we took off, through the rain and motorway debris along the M4 shoulder. Soon the Church street exit appeared and we were home and hosed, actually meeting the remnants of Bec's team as we approached Parramatta park for the last 2km loop and the joy of finishing (and the breakfast).

Jeff decided that he was riding home to Cronulla, Greg was catching up with his family in the City, so I cut a lonely (and wet) figure on the train heading back down to home. The connections fell to hand and I was home by 1.30, ribs aching, as well as other parts but pretty happy with the day out on the bike.

Congratulations to all the other Oppy teams.

Mileage in Kms = 2565

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