The final Grand Tour of the cycling season begins tonight with the 2020 edition of the Vuelta España.
There’s something magical about whistling down a mountain at 80km/h on 23mm of lightly textured rubber.
It is a cocktail of adrenaline and terror; trees blurring into peripheral blue-grey smears while you are dissecting each corner like a laser-guided scalpel.
It’s even better when the rider languidly disappearing around the next bend is a certain Richie Porte, and you’ve just spent the last two hours climbing steadily with him through the stunning Yarra Ranges National Park.
This last weekend I was lucky enough to be invited to join some fellow writers from other publications, sponsors, and other excellent bike people in a small group joining Porte for an immaculately planned 145km ride on some of the most beautiful roads for cycling in Victoria.
I’m telling this story partly to brag, but also because the experience has left me buzzing with an amazing positive energy, a feeling of being alive in the fullest sense of the word.
The heady mix of physical exhaustion, satisfaction, but wanting to do it all again.
It was that kick up the bum that said “Hey, all this angst about doping and bad drivers and tabloid trolls, forget about it! Get out on the open road! Stop overthinking things and enjoy life!”
While I was having this miniature epiphany, half a dozen of my cycling mates (and a few hundred others) were enjoying a similar time of things with the Orica-GreenEDGEteam at their Winery Ride, a series of loops of various lengths, starting and finishing at Gerry Ryan’s Mitchelton winery.
Meanwhile, hundreds of amateur racers were also giving the three-day Tour of Bright everything they had.
It’s a great time of year to be an Australian cycling fan. The weather is fantastic, there’s a multitude of organised rides to participate in, and all the Europe-based pros are coming home to enjoy some off-season rest and relaxation.
Luckily for we fans, often this includes some time spent helping out sponsors or attending team events.
There are fantastic rides, gran fondos, club racing, audax events, and mass participation events happening all over the country at the moment, and thousands of people are emulating their sporting heroes or just riding for the sheer joy of it.
Riding with World Tour riders is a genuine buzz. Here in Australia we don’t get all that many chances to see these men and women racing up close. Unless you’re a very talented racer yourself, the opportunity to ride with them is even more precious.
I was lucky enough to spend a few hours riding with Richie Porte, and we had a few quite long conversations about life, cycling, and everything. Apparently the best thing about riding for Team Sky is the bus.
What struck me was how normal he is. Sure, he was purring along just as effortlessly as the support Jag following us, but he still looks forward to a mid-ride coffee (a double shot flat white, if you’re wondering).
There’s no doubt it gave me a new perspective on his approach to his sport, which will influence my writing about him next season, for better or worse.
It is easy to forget, sometimes, that we are writing about real people. Seeing Porte’s genuine frustration at the cynicism of fans and the media towards his team was confronting. As mild-mannered as he is, his passionate defence of his team was refreshing to see.
Does this mean we shouldn’t discuss doping? Obviously not, but I suppose it’s a reminder that an overdose of negativity has its consequences, and it’s something I’ll bear in mind next year.
Meanwhile, for the few hours we shared a road, it was easy to imagine myself in the lead group of a major race, sitting on Porte’s wheel on a long climb, trying to stay relaxed and tap out a good rhythm.
Hey, the mind does tend to wander on long climbs, and sometimes it’s nice to dream.
The group I was riding with varied in ability from NRS rider Dan Bonello (GPM Data#3), to average joes who just enjoy a weekend ride. It didn’t matter. We all finished the ride buzzing with enthusiasm after a day spent exploring some amazing roads, off the beaten track.
On Sunday we rode together again, this time without Porte (who was on a plane back to Monaco). The camaraderie and sense of achievement remained.
It’s a feeling that doesn’t need a celebrity guest to find. Just some mates, some wheels, some planning, and a willingness to test yourself. Get the cranks going, some air in the lungs.
There’s a whole big beautiful world of cycling out there, and if you’re Australian, there’s no been a better time to clip in.
Tim Renowden attended the Jaguar Ride Experience as a guest of Jaguar, with thanks to Ride Media and Soigneur CC.