45km - there was also a 35km option
Melbourne, 21st March 2004
This was a long-awaited event for WomensCycling.net - the only other mass participation non-race events attempted have been French events - a "touritste" (don't believe its not fast) and the Etape Du Tour.
Registration was easy enough - online and with the ability to pay by credit card. The event T-shirts - included in the registration fee and required attire to start and cross the Westgate bridge duly arrived. They could have been picked up from the nearest Orange telecom (ride sponsors) shop to home, but the choice was made to have them delivered for $5aus per shirt.
Ride instructions were easy enough - turn up between 07:30am and 10:30am and ride. All riders had to be across the Westgate Bridge by 12:30pm and the ride would be complete by 3:30pm.
So, on the day, off we set - 3 of us. Having parked just down the road from the start, at the Vodaphone Arena / Olympic Park complex, it was not difficult to find the start - we simply followed the other orange T-shirts to the inflatable "gate" and with no further ceremony, began the ride. (This was a strange but relaxed sensation - to a hardened competitor, used to signing on for events!)
Early kilometres were spent in relatively heavy cycling traffic - bikes as far as you could see!. Roads were closed off, or lanes designated for the sole use of Bike Ride cyclists. At junctions, there were either volunteers or Victoria Police officers directing cyclists (and in the case of police, traffic too).
The lap of Albert Park was for 45km riders only and followed the same direction as the recent F1 Grand Prix, there were many comments about "feeling like Schuuey" as people passed underneath the bridge on the start / finish line. Grand Prix fever perhaps heightened by the fact that the grandstand seating had not yet been taken down for another year.
At the end of the circuit and as the long and short ride joined again, there was considerable cycling congestion - orange T-shirts everywhere and although there were volunteers at traffic lights and junctions, a sense that the ride was a little exposed to the traffic it was sharing the road with. The roads from Albert Park to the bay and along the bay were shared with traffic, separated merely by roadwork cones. Riding on the right-hand -side of the cycling lane was not pleasant......
Things settled again when the ride cut into the housing estates along the bay and towards the Westgate Bridge. As the bridge loomed ahead, the first rest stop and water giveaway area was a sports club car park which riders turned into. Closer to the bridge, signs warned that lack of a ride T-shirt would invoke a fine. People unzipped rainjackets and over-jerseys to expose their official shirts.
The climb of the bridge was impressive - too steep for some, who walked and a grind for others. But for the many with mountainbike gears and a little more fitness than the walkers, the summit of the bridge was reached without resorting to pushing their steeds.
Having paused for a quick photo at the top, the three WomensCycling.net riders headed down the other side and around Williamstown. Again the traffic was a little close for comfort. There was not even separation by roadworks cones here - simply cyclists in the left lane and cars in the right. This was the case as we headed up to Flemington Racecourse too . There were a couple of occasions where irate motorists let known their frustration by sounding their horns and gesticulating as they passed. Indeed, one car shot across us to turn right into a side street, causing some heavy braking.
The second rest area was in Willamstown and was appreciated by many. The opportunity to buy a coffee in the Williamstown cafes, to peruse the tents and activities on the park were taken by riders and families.
As we headed back under the Westgate Bridge, looking up showed a constant stream of head and shoulders of cyclists still crossing over. 20,000 people registered for this event and 20,000 will take some time to get up and over such a landmark!
Flemington Racecourse was the third rest area and we took advantage of the chocolate and water on offer before heading out for the final few km back to the finish at Lygon Street. It took a little longer than expected to get back - this was the hilliest part of the course, with a few short, relatively steep streets to climb and also we were delayed by having to wait for trams and a train to across our route..... an opportunity to regroup for many families and groups before the final run-in.
A refreshing downwards gradient took the route back to Lygon Street and it was nice to get some easy but fast km under the wheels. The turn left into Lygon Street signified that the ride was over. There wasn't an official finish point (unlike the inflatable at the start), although the people distributing free bags containing the Sunday papers were an unofficial line to stop the clock on.
We stopped for a coffee and sandwich in a Lygon Street cafe before riding back to the car. Ours and several other's cycle computers read 47km at the end, but I don't think anyone really minded.
Overall, an enjoyable ride and a well-organised event. The rest stops were well attended and riders were able to get water and food at each, as well as pausing for entertainment if they wished. The only downside to the event, some poor marshalling which left the route a bit of a mystery in Williamstown and a lack of road closure / separation from traffic in places which made riders vulnerable and caused concern for parents and novices attempting the ride as well as for more experienced cyclists. A tip for organisers, Bicycle Victoria : an official finish line at the end would have marked the sense of completion felt by all in completing the Great Melbourne Bike Ride. But we had enjoyed it and so had many other groups, families and individuals. Here's too a safe ride in 2005......
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