Fitz’s Challenge: 105km first timer

I finally entered Fitz’s Challenge after first hearing about it in 2013.  Strictly speaking I only entered (and completed) the 105km Tharwa Challenge, which doesn’t include Fitz’s Hill.

Before for start of Fitz's 105km in 2015
Before the start of Fitz’s 105km – 2015

How hard?

Website testimonials tend to be upbeat, optimistic and slightly rose-coloured… and written by the staff.  Pedal Power didn’t get that memo.  The testimonials for Fitz’s include one “great ride, something for everyone” with the rest summarised as, ‘I was reduced to a babbling, drooling idiot in a foetal position.  Will definitely be back next year.’

Numbers can be deceiving

The 105km course is described as 1660m of climbing with grades up to 12%.  How does this compare to the Bobbin Head Cycle Classic 104km?  Same distance, but the Bobbo seems to have the edge for total ascent (the website does not show an ascent number, but most GPS report about 1,950m).

Fitz’s Bobbo
Distance 105km 104km
Total Ascent 1660m c.1950m (measured)
Max Altitude 704m 207m
Climbs 11 3
Climbs, really about 50 about 20
Categorised climbs Five Cat 4 Cat 3, 4 and 5
Longest climb 2.82km “Cotter Rd Climb (Full)” 10.72km  Not on Strava as a segment: Start ‘Akuna Bridge’, finish “McCarrs Ck to Thai @ Terry hills”Carrs Ck to Thai @ Terry hills”
Average gradient of
longest climb
4.4% 1.6% (sections average 4%)
Highest average gradient 9.7% 2.7% (sections average 6%)
Maximum Gradient Over 12% 9% (measured)
Time cut-off 7 hours

Drill down and the numbers paint a different story.  Of the 11 climbs on the Fitz’s profile, 7 have an average of over 5%.  My Garmin 500 measured short sections over 12% on most of those.

I admit that even the Bobbo will bite; any gran fondo can.  Ride either course and you’ll find that numbers and elevation profiles are rough guides at best.  Most of the Fitz’s climbs are too short to get a CAT number, but they are very steep and long enough that momentum won’t carry you over.  The Fitz’s roads are coarse unlike most of the Bobbo, which coincidently is situated in the electorate of our cycling ex-PM.

Remember, the 105km is the second-shortest distance on offer at Fitz’s.

Numbers don’t lie

Seriously, my heart doesn’t seem to care how fast it beats.  I peaked at 196bpm at the bottom of the “Uriarra Climb”, but I managed it down to the 170’s by the top.  (I later discovered that I had reduced my time from 12:16 to 8:54 this year, so I shouldn’t feel too bad.)

How’s that first third feel?

13km in and it wasn’t looking good. On “The long and grinding road” along Uriarra Rd I wasn’t great and felt in danger of being isolated as I couldn’t afford to push hard to join an echelon.

Fortunately, isolation meant that I could descend “Ragazzo Grasso Possibilità” from Mt McDonald very quickly, setting a PR on the curves.

So I felt somewhat better at the base of “Pierce’s Creek” and “Break my spirit” and got over them fairly comfortably (with PRs) by just sitting back and grinding them out.  I’d only ridden them once before, but they were familiar.  Watching other riders grinding along at more or less the same pace can be strangely comforting.

To help with climbing I have a Garmin screen with Altitude, Gradient, Cadence, HR and Speed.  But I noticed that my HR was not dropping on descents or flats as much as I’d expect.  I had barely ridden in the weeks before let alone trained, so I focussed on at least trying to keep below the 190’s for the rest of the ride.  I also realised that I was calling “car BACK!” and “moto UP!” at top voice; so my lungs were in fine form even if my heart wasn’t.

Burn carbs today

High HR means burning carbs.  My big, low-GI breakfast was gone by 33km at the Gravel Pit check point.  I sacrificed a very fast descent I was leading to turn off and refuel in fear of not making it to Tharwa.  The profile of the 26km from Gravel Pit to Tharwa to goes from 507m to 704m and down to 580m, and there is probably 500m of climbing.  My speed varied from 7 to 70km/h.  The first of the 105km riders were returning, including all of my mates, before I reached Tharwa.

(According to Strava, I spent 3 hours at threshold and nearly 1 hour at anaerobic.  No wonder I was hungry.)

At Tharwa (60km) I ate, drank and rested for about 30 minutes.  But I felt confident and I was having fun.  Being over halfway helps.

As more riders from the 165 and 210 started to ride through Tharwa I decided to leave to try to get aboard their trains.  After the very steep climb out of Tharwa, I managed 2km of drafting behind two 165km riders at 35km/h. That was all I dared until the end.  As riders overtook me I couldn’t risk blowing up trying to hook on.  Instead, I rode alongside a familiar half-dozen of so riders, losing them on the climbs and blasting past them on descents.

The climbs too much for some, reduced to walking or even stopping under any shade they could find.  One recurring character was Ian, with whom I spoke at Tharwa.  His distinctive red kit was easy to spot.  We must have caught up, passed, stopped and caught up again half a dozen times between Tharwa and the Gravel Pit.

Second time at the Gravel Pit I took all of the cake, snakes and liquorice I could stomach.  There was an immediate 2.77km climb, plenty of bumps and the Cotter climbs to go in only 16km.  I’d already had twinges of cramp that had go no worse during the climbs, so I was confident.

What goes up, must come down

“Pierce’s Creek” climb is character-building.  “Pierces Creek Descent” is the reward.  I didn’t hit the top of the descent as fast as I would have liked, but I don’t think that I used the brakes after that.  Clocked 83.6km/h (according to Garmin) @ 49s and was the fastest of the day.

Nice.  Now to climb the Cotter.

Last climb (but one)

The “Cotter Climb to Stromlo KOM” segment is 7km long with two sections joined by 1km of slight downhill.  I sighted Ian near the beginning, in the shade, coping with cramps.  You can really have quite a conversation at 9km/h.

My cramps were not getting worse and my HR was orange, not red so I kept on.  I was surprised to reach over 40km/h on the false flat and carried some of that up the last 1.5km and over to blast past down Cotter Rd to the finish.

Ah… before the finish the new 400m climb up Opperman St was not on my course, but by then it was just a roll across the finish line.


My elapsed time was about 6:15 with a saddle time of about 5:08.  However, according to the first results published on Wednesday 28 October, I came first with a time of 3:19 (average speed 31.6 km/h).  Pedal Power have since fixed the error, which was down to my transponder being detected twice at Tharwa.

What I learned

  1. Indoor trainers teach continuous pedalling.  You can’t underestimate the efforts that your legs, feet, bum and gentleman’s area go through on a long ride without traffic lights and intersections.
  2. Strava arm warmers will also keep you cool in hot weather and free from sunburn.  I have slivers of burn on the tiny gaps between my gloves and sleeves.
  3. I need something under my helmet to prevent “horns” from being burnt into my forehead.
  4. And something to stop sweat pouring into my eyes on descents.
  5. Load the course into your Garmin.  Knowing what you are about the face and how long you need to face it is very good for pacing and confidence.
  6. If the course is not downloadable from the ride website, try or similar.
  7. Prepare your bike.  My tyres were new, I degreased the drive-train before full tuning, brakes were tightened for fast response.  My KMC chain doesn’t like my Ultegra top jockey wheel, but at least I never missed a shift.
  8. Keep it steady for the first third.  If you feel good, then push it.
  9. Ride at your pace.  Jump on a train if you can, but don’t burn up trying to stay on.
  10. Eat and drink regularly.
  11. Some drivers have no idea about overtaking.
  12. Motorcyclists have more respect for cyclists than drivers do.
  13. Have fun.

See you on the 165km in 2016.

Back in the saddle – sitting further forwards

The past 3 weekends have not been easy to fit in a ride. I’ve put on 2.5kg as a result.  My first ride in 3 weeks was going to be a bit hard, I thought, especially since I was riding with my colleague Ed who has a few KOM on Strava to his name.  The cold morning and forecast high temperature was a challenge too.  Fingerless gloves seemed a good idea but the temperature didn’t rise despite the bright sunshine.

I arrived 20 minutes early to the rendezvous and the prospect of getting sitting still and chilling wasn’t appealing  I rode a lap of Northbourne Ave and returned at 0700 not much warmer.  A nice climb to the Sutton Turn-off and back to Dickson for breakfast.  A moderate ride with plenty of PRs for me  I’d put many of the PRs down to maintaining a steady pace and high cadence.

A bicycle, a few months ago
A bicycle, a few months ago

Mountain bike seating position

I was professionally fitted for my road bike but my mountain bike was just the biggest one they had.  This year I’ve made little adjustments every few weeks and mostly realised benefits almost immediately.  But it was a mystery why my saddle was all of the way back.  I easily mono-ed up several steps on a long climb, nonchalantly riding in the saddle and lifting the front wheel with ease.  When I got home I noticed the position of the seat and the obvious leverage it would have given me.

But I was struggling with flat turns and berms and never seemed to keep the right line.  Either the front tyre would have low grip or I’d steer too much and have constantly correct.  I would often put a foot down to keep upright.

A colleague who happens to be a level 2 cycling coach said that I had to get more weight onto the front tyre to get the grip.  It seems sensible but at the same time frightening.

So I prepped the bike for this morning’s ride by putting the saddle in the middle of its rails, about 30mm forward.

I instantly found grip on the corners that I had been washing out on during previous rides.  Even the very dry and dusty conditions weren’t affecting my grip.  I could hit every flat turn and berm with confidence and a certain impunity, gliding through corners with a bit of speed.

Make small adjustments and leave time to adjust to them; that’s always been my watchword

New Road Bike… at last

Finally bought a new road bike.  After months of test rides, research and calculation I have finally ended the frustration for at least one bike shop by buying something. What a thing the Trek Domane 4.5 is.

A Trek Domane 4.5 yesterday.  Mine is not quite as clean

The options

My existing road bike was adequate; surprisingly so.  After the heavy wheels of my MTB, it was great to accelerate comparatively light 27″ wheels.  But as I repaired one part and then another and found parts hard to come by (where’s the eccentric bike shop owner with loads of dust-covered New Old Stock) I considered a new road bike.

My first thoughts were to buy a Cyclo-cross bike, which have only recently appeared on the Australian market.  Why not get a frame capable of taking wide or skinny tyres with braze-ons for mudguards and racks and powerful disc brakes.  I could ride on- or off-road by swapping wheels.  That would be great for blasting good times on the smooth tracks that would never be beaten.  Among others I considered the Specialized Tricross.   However, the reality is a bit harsh: you pay more than an equivalent road bike, the frame is heavier and less compliant.  The ride was not much smoother than my steel bike, despite the wide tyres.

Immediately after, I rode a Specialized Roubaix Comp.  The ride was so soft by comparison to the Tricross that I thought I’d broken it.  The frame was so plush and compliant that the footpath bumps dissolved, but the Pavé seat post was bendy to the point of being disconcerting; the saddle rotated rearwards under light pressure from my hand let alone my weight.  It felt like the sag on my MTB before I pumped up the rear shock.  A few weeks later I tried the same bike with a solid alloy post and found it much nicer.  Though I was assured that I would get used to the sensation.

I checked out the Trek Domane.  A week before one of the staff at Bike Culture offered his 62cm 6-series Domane as a test ride, even allowing me to ride the Federal Highway if I so chose. I rode a mere 7.5km (I’d already ridden the Fed a bit that morning) with a stupid smile on my face.  The ride was smooth and lovely despite skinny tyres pumped to the max and my riding over bumps.

While I was still making my mind up I stumbled upon the Cannondale Synapse.  Apparently half of the people who test the Synapse and the Roubaix chose the Synapse.  Having ridden it I think that I can understand why; the damping seems to be throughout the frame, not just rotation at the saddle.


These bikes are sold at full retail with no discounting, though you might get some extras thrown in.  Then along comes the Tour de France and suddenly the specials come out. Both Trek and Cannondale dropped their prices by 20%, but not Specialized.  My research (well, research conducted by Velonews) showed that the Roubaix was best at absorbing big bumps but the Domane and Synapse were equal or better at small bumps.  The Trek seemed to offer more for the money and had allowed for fitting mudguards.  I’m sure that a proper accounting would show any differences to be minor and/or justified by other factors, but take 20% off and it’s hard to stretch to the Specialized.  The Cannondale looks boss with its paint scheme and bold decals and 20% off put it under $3000 for Ultegra groupset with nice wheels or under $2200 for 105.

The decider

Three great bikes and two great bike shops; so how to decide.

It looked like I’d blown the Trek with the last three 62cm Domanes sold out in the previous week leaving only a 60cm 4.5 in the shop. But I had a quick test ride with the saddle at maximum height and it felt the right size.  Perhaps I was in-between sizes.  Brent at Bike Culture put my name on the bike to hold it, but insisted on a fitting before he would sell it to me.

Thursday’s fitting was an immediate success.  Brent had dropped the saddle 20mm from the maximum I’d ridden it at a few days before.  Now wearing my cycling shoes and pedals (as opposed to my mountain bike boots and plastic pedals) combined with the lower saddle the size seemed to be almost exactly right.  A second opinion from George and a wider saddle (with titanium rails, no less!) shifted slightly forward and the job’s a good’un.

After the fitting I kept my pedals on the bike… I guess I’d made up my mind.