Day 4 - 1 May 2022
Atherton to Ravenshoe Loop - 161 kms
Written by: Chris Johnston & Nic Derrington
Because there are a few on this tour who experienced it last year, Day 4 of Challenge in the Tropics 2022 had been talked up amongst the peloton as the one to look forward to, the one that would deliver a bit more than rest. Because with a 160 kms on offer and over 2,000 metres of climbing, it should be a little be different from the rest.
And so it was that after a sumptuous breakfast prepared, of course, by the tireless road crew in the wee hours of the morning, and perhaps with a little heightened level of anxiety that the familiar sign of a beautifully synchronised Red Peloton rolled out at 0615, the Blue Peloton having a much-needed lie in to prepared them for what was ahead.
Yet any rider with an idea that this day was to turn out differently was quickly, albeit temporarily dissuaded from that view when the sound of Habbo’s dulcet tones from the front vehicle of the Blue Peloton lit up the airways with the all too familiar “Yeah, sorry guys, I think we should have turned left back there”. So attuned is the Blue Peloton to this navigational flexibility that in the words of Don Maclean, “Not a Word was spoken”.
Yet as both pelotons powered on it certainly began to feel a little different. The heat from the coastal roads was quickly forgotten when, from almost the first kilometre, steady rain accompanied a wind which buffeted from the front, then the left, then the right, but never from where everyone wanted it.
But spirits remained high as the pelotons powered though the majesty of the Tablelands, each group riding with the synchronicity borne of three days of growing familiarity.
After a few stops on the way and some gentle rises and lovely downhills, the pelotons rolled into the beautiful Millaa Millaa Falls for morning tea. Now our dedicated mechanic Ryan has been as busy as ever on this ride, and he has graciously listened to all manner of complaints about the performance of their bikes, but today we saw a different side of Ryan where he turned counsellor after more than one rider had to confess to an inability to remember to charge their DI2, or ETap…or indeed just to bring a charger at all…meaning we had riders on borrowed bikes, or with less gears, and Ryan patiently delivered his familiar “I’ll see what I can do…” response.
We are sure that if he had a couch to listen to these sob stories, he would have offered that too.
Morning tea also gave us a lovely moment when Pagey and the vastly lovelier of the two Schneiders on tour, delivered a beautiful tribute to the Matriarch of the Smiddy Family, the late Maria.
Straight out from morning tea, there was the first opportunity for all the riders to have a crack at the KOM - the long but beautiful climb up Old Palmerston Way. Naturally they were invited to form the Red Peloton for the ‘own pace’ section. After a few kilometres a group of four formed which appeared, at least from a distance, to be working together. Whether in fact that was the case remains the subject of considerable debate and perhaps may never be resolved. Suffice to say that when Rowan "Rowman" Foster and James "Slip" Schneider crested the last little rise with the first regrouping area in sight, Slip (according to Rowman) did his first turn on the front, perhaps using his advantage of a radio to know where the line was. But of course, in a Smiddy event, a finish line is an amorphous concept, defined, more by the whim of the high viz clad Road Crew member than the plebian notion of victory. Whatever Strava might say, we think there was more than one victor today.
What also should not go unremarked is the effort of Netty, who as an Olympic medallist and World Champion, may have thought she had ridden with the best (until now) and who never breaks a sweat as she cruises around with that gorgeous smile of hers, demonstrated to all what she really was capable of doing in the hills.
And those who witnessed it will also never forget the smile of Wayne Messer as he claimed what he called “B grade victory”. If Wayno is B-grade then that will do us.
But we think it is right to say everyone achieved something on the climb, whether it was a personal challenge, or simply channelling the Smiddy spirit in helping others to do more than they ever thought was possible.
So as the two new groups rolled into lunch with no small celebration, new friendships were celebrated and the whole group was alive with the chat about what everyone had just done.
After lunch in Ravenshoe, some truly challenging conditions presented. The first was that for the first time Blue Peloton rolled out first. Unsurprisingly, they did so minus one rider who shall remain nameless, but whose words of “Can anyone tell me which way they went?” are indelibly etched in the minds of the Red team who were waiting patiently for their departure.
But the real challenges were ahead. Lots of undulations led to some serious altitude, and as the riders breached Queensland’s highest road, the fatigue of almost seven hours in the saddle in the wet and cold took hold. But of course, that is why it is a challenge, and that is why we return with new friends in tow. In those conditions it is the Smiddy hand of God which is felt more than ever, and when the dedication of the ride leaders really comes to the fore to bring the pelotons safely home.
Day 4 promised to be an epic day, and it delivered.