The idea to ride Amy's Gran Fondo 2015 started as a fun weekend away with friends. Much later I learned that the top 25% qualified for the World Amateur Champs. Returning from an awesome tour around the Rockies in Colorado, I had fitness and endurance, but as I hadn't done any fast rides or racing in months, qualifying was more of a wish than a serious goal. I knew I was under-done.

A week out, my Mum accepted a cancellation appointment for a knee replacement. I delivered her to the hospital on the Thursday morning prior to the race, then rushed, late, to work where half my team were sick with the flu. My glands were up all day. Mums op went well, but she'd unexpectedly had a general anaesthetic. I rushed home to finish packing. The alarm went off at 2:45am Friday, to make the 6am flight to Melbourne. A full day of shopping, lunch, then a good catch up with Aunt Deb and Uncle Al's for dinner. A wonderful, but very long day! Too excited to sleep much past 4am.

Saturday, Deb dropped me back to Southern Cross Station to meet fellow Kiwi's Mike, Pete and Sandy, and pick up rental cars for the drive down to Lorne, at the start of the Great Ocean Road, for the ride briefing and registration. Lorne was crazy busy, with the Main Street blocked off for the criterium - one of the extra events put on as part of the Gran Fondo weekend. The Super-fit girls and guys in team skin-suits were warming up on rollers and wind trainers, the lean, tall and fit were sipping espresso and talking trash, riders by the hundred were out for their warm up rides, many in packs wearing team jerseys. The average bike looked at least $10k. I was seriously intimidated! The compulsory briefing was worse - we queued in the sun before being hoarded into an over-heated, over-crowded auditorium for a video briefing which I could have looked at online in NZ. Then, to collect a race pack with nothing in it but race numbers and useless (to a Kiwi) vouchers! My throat by now was very sore, tight, I was feeling faint and freaking out. I did not feel well.

We headed back to our rental house to put our bikes together and cook tea. After a wee test ride with Mike and Pete I felt a bit more relaxed. However, at bedtime, I got a call from my brother - Mum had reacted to the anaesthetic and morphine, fallen, badly hit her head, and been transferred to Wgtn hospital A&E, where they discovered other problems. I considered flying home.

Sunday, raceday. The update from my brother was that that Mum was stable, but now in the HCU unit, and while the CT scans were ok, other signs were down. He encouraged me to stay. My throat was a lot better. I decide to ride.

It was breezy but mild as we rode the 6km down to the start line and lined up in our age groups. Youngest first, I was in the third group away. Being combined with 40-44 year old men, I decided to place myself mid-field, and found another lonely girl to chat to. Suddenly we were off, no countdown, no hooter, I wasn't even clipped in! I had to sprint for the first 5km to find a wheel. (I'm later told that those who were aiming to qualify should have been on the front two rows - none of us ever heard this, from 3 separate briefings!).

We set off along the stunning Great Ocean Road for 39km at a great pace. The sea and surf looks amazing in the photos, But I was concentrating on the road, which was constantly up and down, round and round, and full of pot-holes! The pot-holes were a feature that would last the entire ride, and meant full concentration was always required. The wind got worse as we went, from a cross-tail to a cross-head. Not having got into a proper bunch, eventually I couldn't hold onto a wheel and did a few kms on my own into the wind. Then the course turned inland just before Apollo Bay up a 10km, 6% hill. I hadn't drunk or eaten much by this stage due to the terrain and being constantly on gears, so I used the first part of the hill to regroup and refuel a bit.

The landscape quickly changed to rainforest, including tree ferns and eucalyptus. With no traffic - the whole ride was on closed roads - I started to enjoy the scenery. As the fast bunches of the older groups began to whiz past, I started to pay attention to their colour tag, which identified their age group. I was blue. With some food on board, it was time to go to work! I vowed I would not be passed by a blue girl and pass as many as I could! Mike had started in the group behind me, 3 minutes back, and caught me about halfway up the hill. I held onto him for a while, but my legs were hurting and I had to let him go. I thought of Mum, then used memories of climbing the wonderful Independance Pass in Colorado to perk me up. 

 

After this initial hill, the road continued through some big rollers, a few nice descents (including the 'Dangerous' ones the briefing warned us about - gee, they would hate the Akas!!) through rain forest. I caught up to a bunch, there was Mike! The bunch speed was super variable due to the rollers and the odd dynamic of catching younger riders and being caught by faster older riders. I passed about 12 "blue" girls (yes, I counted!) and made sure that none passed me. Passing the 40km to go sign, I knew I had something left in my legs for the finish. There were a couple of big hills left, and we were into the northerly wind most of the way. The bunch splintered on the last few climbs and I lost Mike. I lead for a good few km, and despite calling for them to come around, they wouldn't. One long hill left and I caught up with Mike. Then 1km to go! I knew this was a big spike, and Mike and I finished in an out-of-the-saddle sprint, which Mike easily won. As I crossed the line, the MC ignored Mike and read out my name and age (gee, thanks) and said, "good finish in the female category". Had I done enough? We refuelled at the top and waited for Pete, then descended the 11km back down to Lorne, and the event village for results.

Well, I'll be darned. I did kick some Aussie ass. 7th in my age group and qualified for the World Amateur Champs next year. I'm still working out what that means. It was not easy. In fact, it hurt most of the 3 hours 31minutes way. Given everything, including no specific training, worry about Mum, lack of sleep and a bit of a virus, I'm pleased with my result. At a time when I'd been wondering 'what next', it's given me a fresh goal to work towards. And a real thrill, the chance to represent my country! Let the training begin!!!