And so the sleepy contingent of six SBCC members boarded flight 3K161 bound for Darwin. Sleeping on the flight saw several innovative solutions to the problem of being over 6ft tall and getting one’s head down. Chris adopted the foetal position, curled up into a ball and not a whimper was heard the entire flight. Lyndon chose the shoulder of a fellow antipodean to dribble on. Paul chose to stretch his leg out into the aisle, which worked nicely until the trolley hit his foot which had just developed gout! I had chosen to use the tray table as a pillow, which was comfortable until the lady in front of me reclined the seat. To summarise the SBCC didn’t sleep too well!
But we did have the serviced apartment to look forward to. We arrived at Darwin airport, cleared customs (just), loaded our bikes and luggage on to the trailer and loaded ourselves into the mini bus, which escorted us to our lodgings for the next three days. A lady’s voice came over the intercom:
“You can’t check in until 2pm!” This was quite a blow to the travel weary Baroudeurs.
“Never mind, sun’s up.” Chris said cheerfully as if all cafes in Australia opened at sunrise.
Nonetheless, we were all enthused by Chris’ optimism and dumped approximately $20,000 worth of bikes behind the apartment building. We stumbled upon a traditional little cafe and settled in for a couple of hours. Coffee flowing, bacon and eggs on the table we turned our attention to the local newspaper to see what had been occurring in this part of the world. I wish we hadn’t! We were all afraid to leave the safe haven of the cafe after reading only two pages of the local rag. Cross dressers had been beaten to a pulp, one man had gone berserk because his wife had taken too long to cook his dinner and another man had ‘accidentally’ smashed a bottle into another chaps face! What would happen to six middle aged men dressed in lycra outfits with a Union Jack on one arm and a Singapore flag on the other? We were in trouble.
It wasn’t so bad, we only lost one man whilst walking around the town before heading to Eva’s cafe at the botanical gardens to collect our race packs for the following day. Gout had got Paul bad and so he returned to the apartment to try some breaking and entering to rest up his swollen foot. He managed to sweet talk his way into the apartment and ten minutes later we had all returned. Astonishingly all the bikes were still where we had left them, so we quickly got to work hauling them into the building to remove them from the bike boxes and assemble them.
Several cups of tea later (Jono makes the best cuppa you’ve ever tasted), the bikes were built and Lyndon was looking a little concerned. Despite several calls to the bike shop, there was still no news of his Cervelo S3 that he was due to collect on the Saturday afternoon ahead of the race on Sunday. Taking matters into his own hands, he donned his lycra, walked out into the street like a man and hailed a taxi. The rest of us followed on our bikes to loosen the legs. Thirty minutes later, we were approaching a rather bleak industrial estate and in the distance we could make out a man trying to attract the attention of a helicopter! Except there was no helicopter, just us and several local men moving in fast on the clearly agitated individual. As we got closer, we realised that the distressed man was Lyndon.
“Phew, am I glad to see you boys, I nearly had to take one for the team!” came the greeting.
It turns out, the locals had taken quite a shine to our fellow Baroudeur and were making lots of eye contact with him and showing him various tricks (‘ring work’ I believe is the local expression) in their Holden Commodores. Shortly afterwards the bike shop opened up and a very relieved Lyndon had his new wheels with his lycra still intact! The ride back into Darwin was a quick affair. Keen to show us what the new bike could do, we headed back into town at about 45km/h. The Cervelo was flying. Back at the apartment we ordered that famous pro-cyclist meal of takeaway pizza before retiring for an early night in preparation for the race.
We boarded the ferry before sunrise to take us to the start line. Last night’s pizza had disagreed with Stan, but by the time we had made the ferry crossing to the start line on the other side of the harbour the sun was rising and he was good to go! We disembarked from the ferry, regrouped, clipped in and set off. I instantly pushed on to make some good progress while the legs were still fresh and looking over my shoulder Chris, Stan and Lyndon were there to share the duties up front while we made our way through the riders that had taken the earlier ferry.
Our tactics were pretty simple. Bridge, bridge and bridge. We would get our heads down and keep bridging to larger groups of riders. When we got across to the groups we would take on some food, gather ourselves and go again. This method of riding worked for about 50km. Lyndon had done a few good pulls on the front and then wished us luck…he was going to ride home with a larger group after pushing himself to the limit. It wasn’t much longer before we found ourselves at the front of the riders. Fortunately Chris, Stan and I had been joined by three other riders to keep us moving along, but at the 70km mark it was no good, we had to give in and stop for water. Refreshed, but now isolated, we hunkered down for the remaining 55km into a blustery headwind. By now the rough road surface had taken its toll on us; our hands had gone completely numb and any fillings we had in our teeth had all been shaken out! There in the distance though was Darwin. A couple of taller buildings coming into view as we ascended the hills. That gave us enough motivation to empty the tank and drive on to the finish line at a pace that had each of us questioning where the energy was coming from.
The scenery changed from scrub to suburbia and at last we entered the city. The final 5km were through the city’s roads with temporary road closures in place. Just when we thought it was all over the organisers sadistically hit us with a climb of about 10% to the finish line. Crossing the finish line and descending into the botanical gardens we hung the bikes on the racks and collapsed on to the grass. Another rider kindly dropped a few bottles of ice cold drinks on us and pointed us in the direction of the hot dogs and pies. I think we devoured our own body weight in food!
It wasn’t long before Jono, Lyndon and Paul joined us for a well deserved pie! Jono had made pretty good time to the city only to be denied by a few dodgy sign posts that saw him take a 10km detour to the marina! After a few enquiries, the locals had pointed him in the right direction.
Paul had cycled the 125km in a world of pain. The gout hadn’t got any better, but despite the pain he appeared to have had a thoroughly ‘interesting’ experience out there on the road! Collapsing on to the grass with one ankle twice the size of the other he went on to tell us of the scenic marvel that had unfolded before his eyes in the four and a half hours of riding and the mechanical woes that had blighted his ride. This was a man who was elated to have finished, yet there did seem to be genuine disappointment of not witnessing any crocodiles eating cyclists by the side of the road and where were the kangaroos, koalas and wombats?