By Steve Cuff
On the eve of L’Étape Australia, Jindabyne’s biggest single day event on the calendar, a rain event of even bigger proportions was descending faster than Chris Froome can ride downhill.
The Bureau of Meteorology said they had not seen a bigger rain event and in its pathway, was potentially the Snowy Mountains, although Victoria would cop the brunt of the deluge.
Race organisers remained stout in their decision that the event would go on, even though some competitors had their doubts, and a few questioned their wisdom.
Late on Friday afternoon on the eve of Saturday’s race, the event was shortened, more so for possible low-lying flood areas around Berridale, and the climb from Jindabyne to Perisher, the ‘Col de Kosciuszko’ cancelled. There were major concerns that the alpine region would receive the bulk of the drenching, possible strong winds and potentially put riders’ safety at risk.
One of the biggest claps of thunder you are likely to hear, plus a huge lightning strike just before 3am on race day would have woken even the soundest sleeping cyclist, and possibly put some doubts in their mind.
But at the race start at 6.30am the rain was only drizzle; the roads were wet but not flooded and the race commenced from Bullocks Flat Skitube car park.
Before long the first cyclists were through Jindabyne and peloton after peloton of the 3600 registered riders made their way onto Berridale where the sprint section was staged. There would have been some no shows, but the field was still virtually full.
After Berridale, riders passed through Dalgety and onto the ‘Col de Beloka’, or as the locals call it, ‘The Wall’. There would have been some demons to conquer from riders who competed in the 2016 inaugural race, with The Wall truly conquering most of the riders last year, some giving up and walking.
The ‘Rain Event’ forecast may still be prevalent later in the day, but for the first four hours of the race light rain was the worst of the conditions, and when the first rider crossed the line 2:48.16 drizzle was still the only concern.
As groups of riders continued to finish, all eyes were waiting for legend Chris Froome, the four time Tour de France champion who is ambassador for the race. There were cheers for all riders, but maybe there was more volume as Froome crossed the line.
Four hours after the 6.30am start the rain started to increase, but by this time a good portion of riders had finished.
Most spoke highly of the decision to shorten the race, although they would have liked the challenge. Everyone understood the organisers safety concerns and as Snowy Mountains Magazine spoke to random people at the finish, they had nothing but praise for how the race was conducted.
Richie Checketts from Canberra said, “The ride was great, I really enjoyed it, fast good support, second time in I will be back.”
When asked about specifically about the weather, “ Fine just makes it a little more exciting, I am English, I am waterproof.”
Marcus Tyrell from Newtown Cycling Club in Geelong was one of 28 riders in their group, which doubled from their previous years entrants. Most of the group had signed up for the longer ‘Race’ with Tyrell saying, “It was pretty chilly around the back, so sort of happy to finish early.”
“We don’t have an issue with it really (decision to shorted race). The fog was pretty well from the first couple of hundred metres (Col de Beloka) and defiantly at the top it was quite misty foggy and cool as well, it made me think that it would have been miserable at the top (finish at Perisher) to be honest, so I was probably happy we came back in to here (Jindabyne) and it’s a much nicer finish here as well.”
L’Étape Australia Race Director Florent Malézieux said, “Finally it was ok but we didn’t want to take any risk.”
“So the weather forecast yesterday wasn’t really, really great, so we built a race course that is safe for everyone and we stick to that. We are now on the finish line and everyone seems happy, they ride carefully as it was slippery, but we don’t have any big crash.. So far I have only heard of one fall so it is a really good day for us.”
Gary Pearson from the Jindabyne Cycling Club, which had over 50 riders was asked how the race was. “Good actually, it wasn’t too bad, wasn’t too wet and wasn’t torrential, is was a nice cooling effect actually.
“My main concern was lightning, thunder and wind, but there was no wind and no thunderstorms, so it was good.”
Legendary commentator Phil Liggett was scheduled to be commentating from Perisher, with fellow commentator Matthew Keenan hosting the Jindabyne portion. Since the Perisher leg was cancelled Phil was roaming the Town Centre before the racers finished and only too obliging to have photos taken on request from the public.
“They made a difficult decision early to pull out of Perisher as there was talk of over 200mm of rain falling, and when we heard the clap of thunder at two thirsty this morning everyone was freaking, but by the time daylight broke, it was raining, no real rain at all. Chris Froome said there is nothing wrong with this.”
“I think we will see some fast times now. It’s a shame we’ve had to shorten the course because of all the work the local people put into decorating the route and really taking part, and we’ve had to cut it a bit short around the top end.
“There were very few nonstarters, which I think is superb. The guys have come here, they are here and they want to give it a go. They’ve missed the long climb, because they relish the long slogs to the finish, they complain, then they say hey we’ve done it.
“They’ll miss that, but they still have Beloka hill, and the good thing about Beloka hill it’s sort of a plateau slowly descending off, so in wet weather it is not so dangerous.”
The presentation will take place at 3pm at Bullocks Flat, further updates will be posted here in coming days.