The third weekend in October is usually a big one for cycling in Australia. We’re well into spring, Ride to Work Day has just happened, The Melbourne to Warrnambool is run as part of the National Road Series, while a bunch of recreational rides also occur: Sydney Spring Cycle, Around the Bay in Melbourne (a week earlier this year, though) and Brisbane to the Gold Coast dominate the Eastern mainland states.
The New England has its own fixture: the Walcha Mountain Festival, which includes the Walcha Mountain Bike Challenge on Sunday, and for the third year in a row, the Walcha Road Bike Challenge. Both events raise funds for the Westpac Rescue Helicopter Service, which is based in Tamworth and serves the New England and North West NSW.
This event isn’t a race, but that’s not to say that there isn’t some competition between riders. A front pelaton set off at a fair pace along Thunderbolts Way towards Uralla, while the tandem got caught in the middle of the group.
Once the pair got going they took the climb out of Walcha quickly in an attempt to catch the lead group. While the first 10km or so climbs around 100m, the road undulates with fairly short climbs with some short dips.
The tandem caught and passed the lead group heading downhill, only to spur the peloton to shake them on the next climb. This led to a further 10km of tandem catchup over more rolling hills to the turn off on Terrible Vale Road.
The tandem made contact with the leaders as they turned West towards Kentucky, but a combination of a sharp climb and a head-wind, plus some acceleration in the pelaton left Tandem Armidale behind.
As the team pressed on along the winding hilly route they passed a number of riders who had been dropped. The Tandem shared some joy with another solo rider into Kentucky, rolling over the level crossing and turning south.
Taking in some sustenance the pair rode parallel to the rail line, climbing once more out of Kentucky, and were then passed by the Xplorer service, which was surprising given a short delay to the start to make sure the train had passed Kentucky before the ride got there.
A steady climb out of Kentucky saw the Tandem crew towing the solo rider, to have him pass and thank for the tow. A short distance later the Tandem Armidale boys passed him again, leaving him behind.
The ride climbed up to Wollun, where the road turned east for a few hundred metres, giving a welcome tailwind, crossing the rail line again, then turning southwards again. While the altitude trended downwards, there were still a number of climbs, though some speedy descents gave the pair some chance for recovery.
Part way along here, Phil and Andrew met Jeff, who had dropped back from the peloton. They passed more riders, and pursued a couple more before reaching Walcha Road. Here was the hardest part of the ride.
The Oxley Highway at Walcha Road climbs for 2.2km at an average grade of 7%, but including some ramps at 10%. The going was slow, but steady. With a relatively low cadence, and heart rates reaching the highest point during the ride, the tandem made it up in a bit over 14 min, with lots of support from Jeff.
From there the Oxley Highway trends down once more for a bit over 10km. While there were some undulations, the trend was decidedly down, allowing the tandem to pick up some speed, and give the legs a chance to recover. A bit under 5km of climbing brought the crew to the hills overlooking Walcha, and the last 2km were a very fast downhill, peaking at 70km/hr.A quick left turn into South Street saw Tandem Armidale finish the Challenge in 2:28:48.