article by Chris Webb
Sunday 27 October, 2013. In northern New South Wales, the final round of the National Road Series was wrapping up at arguably Australia’s hardest and most prestigious one-day road race, Grafton to Inverell.
Two thousand kilometres further South in the Gippsland Region of Victoria, a difficult but shorter and younger race prepared itself too. The Stratford to Dargo, a lumpy, winding race along quiet country roads, exposed riders to a pick-a-plank bridge and a myriad of short sharp and long draggy climbs, punctuated by the sting in the tail; the wall. The final 10km come at 8%, although that obscures the 21% gradients hidden near its end.
A nervous energy passed throughout the Stratford football grounds carpark, with riders checking and double checking their equipment and supplies. Riders were overheard hypothesising in the final minutes of the virtues of gels throughout versus only within the last hour, one banana or two, water or electrolytes and as is common for Victoria; arm warmers or bust.
Under scattered grey cloud, the Mens A grade rolled down Llowalong Road and began the battle. The remaining grades, like lambs to the slaughter, dutifully lined up and awaited their turn. Those who had turned up with form champed at the bit, whereas many return victims understood the sensible cycling that would be necessary to arrive under their own power.
The rolling hills greet the riders within the first 10km and become an unwanted passenger from thereon. Ascending the local Stockdale loop in reverse, riders legs quickly warm up in preparation for the rollercoaster that is Beverleys Road. Sharp rises with long drags at the top do their bit to seed the riders before the first real test; Bairnsdale River to Daveys Knob. For the fast boys it’s a big ring effort. For the rest, 9km at 4% is however it gets the job done. Not many races can claim to have a long climb begining with a standing(ish) start – a classic pick-a-plank bridge is a neutral zone at the start of the climb and has claimed many a cyclist scalp (or should that read tooth?). That didn’t stop many grades from attempting to ride it, with varying degrees of success. All to be snuffed out by the commissaires ensuring no advantage was taken. Risk versus reward?
The sun was now warming up, the clouds were parting and the roads were wearing heavy. Climbing to the feed station at 60km, the grades now represented those who would race for the podium, those who pushed on in need of points for Tour of Bright and those whose main purpose was to conquer the impending pain.
The Stratford to Dargo (#S2D13) continued to grow in reputation, with it being placed on the Victorian Road Series Calendar for 2013, making it a stepping stone to the Tour of Bright for many cyclists.
The race could not go ahead without support and assistance of many volunteers, community groups and organisations. A huge thanks to Mike Renehan and co. for herding the cats and ensuring another memorable cycling event.
Other excellent reports from the weekends racing are listed here:
An interview with the overall winner, Brendan Canty:
And beautiful photography, capturing the anticipation, the pain and the relief/joy:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/webbovich/sets/72157637000407733/ (authors photos)