I was in preparation for my big epic for the year. I had based all my training over the past six months around this one ride. I had been sick most of October, and wasn’t anywhere near my best. The Slog was a chance to test myself to see where I was at. It was guaranteed to be tough as it was forecast to be hot. Just to make things worse, there was a heavy headwind forecast for the later part of the ride. They don’t call it the Slog for nothing.
The pace to start with was sedate at around 32kmph. I was comfortable sitting back in the field. About 10km’s in, someone up front must have taken some EPO, as the pace rapidly picked up. Over the next 15km’s we were smashing it out at over 40kmph. I could comfortably keep up with the pace. With much of the course still to do, I was happy to stay up the back. Get as easy a ride as possible, for as long as possible. Most of the course was as flat as a Pancake. I started to move forward, as the pace was spitting riders away like flies. I felt nice and fresh, but became exasperated as when we hit tiny rises. The pace would completely drop off to below 25kmph.
Unfortunately I hit the front. I just couldn’t help myself, and ripped the Peleton a new one. The first rise of about 4% for 500 metres I smashed at 32kmph. I could feel the curses behind me, and I pushed the pace higher. The group behind me splintered, as I stuck to the front for about 4km’s. I didn’t want to exhaust myself so deliberately dropped back. Surprisingly the pace dropped considerably. I hadn’t ridden this section of road, and didn’t know what we were in for. Over the course of the day I underestimated the elevation and smashed myself far too hard. I wasn’t expecting so much climbing. I was shocked later to learn that there was close to 1,500 vertical metres on the ride. This certainly stuffed up my planning considerably.
We came upon a climb that was my kinda scene. I was feeling good, so I thought I’d make my move and ride off on the Peleton. The legs responded and I sprinted away, giving it full gas. I kept an insane pace going for about a km. About a dozen riders were desperately trying to keep up. I honestly hadn’t taken a look at the course profile.
As I rounded a corner realised that the climb just kept going on & on & on. I had no idea how long the climb would go for. I dropped the pace to avoid cooking myself. The climb turned out to be 4.7km’s @ 3%, and how I wish I could have known that this was here. I was in the hurt locker, and a group of about a dozen riders joined up. By sprinting off, I think I got everyone’s blood up. From here there was attack after attack. I was now hanging on for dear life.
The riding was awesome, but I was just hoping for some respite. At the turnoff for the Stzelecki Ranges there was a drink stop. Most of the riders pulled off, except for two other riders. We were out the front, and I kept up with them on the climbs. On the descents I just couldn’t stick to their wheels and dropped off. I switched on auto pilot mode, just trying to get through this thing. I still had over 80km’s ahead of me and I was really struggling. About 5km’s later I somehow caught them. I managed to stick with them for a little while longer. It wasn’t a surprise that I got dropped on the descent. From here I just coasted towards Warragul. I was running low on water at that stage, and needed to stop at the next drink stop. This was just before Warrigal.
The second half
I doused my head in cold water, and tried to get as much drink into myself as possible. It was starting to get really hot. Someone told me that we were averaging 34kmph up to this point which wasn’t bad. The riders ahead of me had stopped. I was tempted to hang around and trying to stick with them. They had ordered a lunch and stopped there to eat. I didn’t think I was as strong as them, so figured I’d just head off. Eventually someone would catch me.
Several other riders were pulling into the drink stop as I was leaving. I hadn’t seen anyone pass whilst I was stopped. I pushed off, and about 10 minutes later the winds picked up. It was pure hell riding into that head wind. This was the Slog after all. I was really hurting, and just turning the wheels over. As I was entering Warragul I saw 4 riders up the road, and could see that I was slightly faster than them. I pushed to catch up to them. It took me well over 5 long km’s to catch them. When I did I was spent.
I sat right at the back trying to catch my breath. I was in damage control, but knew this must have been the front group. Sitting at the back being protected from the wind helped to recharge the cells. There was a head wind, but I was using these guys as a wind break. So even though I was struggling. I was probably doing it easier than if I were riding on my own.
The riders pulled off at Drouin, and suddenly I was on my own in front. About to encounter hell. The wind picked up to a gale, and there were 50km+ winds which made riding incredibly challenging. I was suffering heat stroke and pulled over in Langwarry to top up my bottles. The road straightened out, and there is an 18km section from Langwarry to Nar Nar Goon that is excruciatingly challenging as its a dead straight road, and with a massive head wind blanketing me I was in the pain cave. I was expecting to get caught at some stage. The further I went the more the possibility that I could come first. I wondered if a group were catching up to me whether I would have the energy to take them on?
Thankfully the 70km & the 100km rides were on the road ahead of me. I passed dozens of riders struggling in the heat and the wind. I really wanted to pull over & rest but figured if I were hurting. These guys I was flying by must be in hell! I focused on the rider ahead of me, and pushed as hard as I could to catch them. I passed a couple here, a couple there. There was a group of 8 riders that I flew past in Garfield where the winds were strongest. I had to fight to keep the bike going straight at times. I only averaged 26kmph on this 18km section, and it’s a pretty flat run. Given the head wind I was fighting was a mighty effort.
I finished over 10 minutes faster than the next Slog rider. I was completely spent. The MC, yelled out that I was the first 150km rider back. I got a little bit of a cheer. I guzzled drink after drink desperately trying to cool down. Every rider who came in after me looked spent, and shell shocked. It was horrible conditions.
I came first on the day, but that didn’t necessarily mean that I was the strongest rider there. The wind really picked up over the last 50km’s. I figured that from Warrigal to Drouin, because I had pushed off without a rest. I got extra time without having to ride into the wind which made all the difference. I was also lucky that I was able to tailgate those 4 riders for a short while. This gave me enough respite to finish. I got lucky, but certainly was nice to finish where I did as there would have been some tremendous riders doing the Slog this year. Trouble with coming first of course is feeling the need to come back next year to prove that it wasn’t a fluke…..
This was my first year doing the Slog, and it certainly lived up to its reputation as a tough challenging ride, and any excuse I can find I’ll be back to ride the Stzelecki Ranges in a heartbeat.
Check out my Strava Activity here:
Here is a link to the Slog Website:
Not happy to just torture myself at the Slog I went on to Serpa for a mate of mine, Gary Beazley on Falls Road in Olinda. I rode until 10pm that night and managed another 53km of riding with 1,800 vertical before collapsing. Gazza nailed the Everest & I had one amazing day of riding all up.