It's no secret that the Oppy - properly known as the Fleche Opperman All-Day Trial - is my favourite ride. There's a lot to like about the Oppy, the challenging distance, the night riding, the company of like-minded folk on a most enjoyable jaunt. This year was my sixth Oppy in Victoria, having completed in 2013, 2011, 2009, 2008 and 2007. This year, the Tasmanian contingent in the famed Lancefield Lairs was doubled, with Hugh coming along for the ride as well.
There's always a lot of preparation for this ride for me. These days it involves packing a lot of gear into a bike box, a flight from Hobart to Melbourne and the unpacking and travel at the end. I caught up with Hugh at Melbourne Airport and we bundled our gear into a hire car and set off for Lancefield where Andy kindly fed us and put us up for the night.
The course for this ride is a matter for the each team captain, subject to the rules of covering 360km in 24 hours from 8am Saturday, at least 25 of them in the last two hours. Steve chose a familiar route, up through central Victoria, turning west and ducking briefly into NSW before a night stop and the ride back down to Rochester, with stops every 60 or so kilometres for food and a wee rest. Our team was a strong one, overflowing with Oppy and Audax experience.
The scenery in Victoria is unlike that of Tasmania. For a start, the place is astonishingly flat. We cruised along on the road to Seymour and I marvelled at how little climbing there was. I always argue it's one of the reasons cycling is so popular in the state.
On we rolled, making reasonable time, despite more than our fair share of punctures and a broken spoke. A brief bout with an upset stomach slowed me down for a bit either side of the lovely town of Dookie, so I lived on gels for a few dozen kilometres and waited for things to sort themselves out, which fortunately they did. Aside from that, I seemed to be travelling pretty well, none of the normal neck pain I get on longer rides, and the contact points of hands, feet and bum were also going ok.
Nightfall provided a welcome drop in temperature from the 30 degrees of late afternoon. Not long after out pizza stop we donned our reflective vests and sailed off into the setting sun. It's a nice time to be out on the bike.
The wind, which was predicted to be a challenge for us, rose a little in the night - but not so much as to make the riding unpleasant. The stronger riders took the front and the rest of us were content to travel along in their wake. The chatter of earlier in the day died down to almost nothing as the evening wore on, a sure sign we were getting weary. The final 30km into Moama is a favourite of mine, a mixture of very ridable roads and the proximity of a decent rest.
We reached our night stop at the caravan park in the very early hours of Sunday. A 3am arrival and a quick shower meant only a couple of hours sleep before the 6am departure. No sooner had my head hit the pillow than I was out like a light.
The alarm sounded what seemed like a few seconds later. A quick breakfast and we were back on our way, this time into a stiff headwind. Although we had left a few minutes late we seemed to have plenty of time to finish the last 30km even at the slightly-sub 20km/h speeds we were managing.
After the first hour or so, it was apparent we weren't making terrific time. I did some mental calculations but I wasn't overly worried because we'd had tight finishes before. Not far from town we spotted the riders from the Lair's Petite Oppy (180km) team waiting for accompany us to the finish. A few riders stopped and a few of us continued on at a stately pace.
A few minutes down the road the second group was not longer in sight - which seemed a little odd. We continued on and discussed what it might all mean. It didn't make sense they'd all dropped off the pace, it must have been a mechanical problem or a puncture. The clock continued to tick down. With a dozen minutes and less than two kilometres to go, we pulled over to the side of the road. What would this mean for our finishing hopes?
The time ticked by with no sign of our teammates of the last 24 hours and our Petit Oppy comrades. There were murmurs of consternation and debate about what course to take but we waited somewhat confident that they would be along in good time. Then the lights appeared, far down the road and drew towards us, slowly at first and then more quickly. Happily reunited we were on our way once more, the final distance being a bit shorter than we had reckoned. We arrived at the Oppy statue in Rochester with three minutes to spare.
Another year, another most memorable ride.
1703km so far this year.