If, like us, you love to get out and ride regularly – let’s say you ride with buddies, enter weekend club sportives, or race the odd mountain bike event – then the current Covid-19 lockdown is far from ideal. But, all is not lost. With the right precautions and planning in place, you too can still venture out and enjoy friendly, safe, semi-competitive cycling as part of your new normal lifestyle. It’s good for the heart, soul and mind – and your cycling community. But how? Read on, as Fiona Morris and Garry Millburn take on the Tour of Solitude (and no, it’s not as solitary as it sounds).
Nestled in the foothills of Australia’s Alpine Region, is a little town called Bright. Surrounded by sprawling orchards, grazing cattle and plenty of farming land, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Bright is a sleepy country town. The reality is Bright is anything but sleepy. It is a mecca for anyone who loves the outdoors and adventure. Skiers and snowboarders fill the town in the cooler months, while cyclists, runners and paragliders flock to Bright in droves over the warmer months. Which is how Garry Millburn and I found ourselves living in Bright.
After returning from racing in the USA, Japan and Europe, we only stopped in Sydney long enough to grab an extra bag before heading to stay in Bright with friends for a few weeks. A few weeks turned into a few months before we made it permanent and we bought a place to call our own.
It was the best of all worlds, a small-town feel with just the right amount of city vibes - great coffee, good food and a bunch of road cyclists and MTBers who were happy to welcome us to the fold.
Monday to Friday were the standard group rides, specific routes, certain styles and everyone had their favorite – some loved the climbing days, where we headed into the mountains, others reveled in the fast and hard flat days... and, well, many loved them all. The weekends were easy to pull together a solid bunch for big distances on the road or MTB adventures. No doubt it was all here before we came, but I like to believe Garry and I bought a little bit of our own energy into the group.
These cyclists quickly turned into friends, from borrowing a tool, helping lift a pool table (I’m quite sure lifting the pool table is what really got us in with the cycling crowd!), catching up for coffee, and the banter in the group chats.
Summer rolled around and it was plenty of miles with the crew, epic adventures and MTB races. Life was good.
January 2, 2020: Bushfires ravaged the region, our town was evacuated, cloaked in thick dark smoke. Day after day, there was intense stress and concern for our homes and those of our friends. But we rallied together, we checked on each other, we moved through the days and weeks and eventually, the danger was gone, and the skies were clear again.
We jumped back into our group rides, which supplemented our training for MTB Nationals perfectly. We also started planning for the upcoming cyclocross season, bikes, kit, helmets, shoes - working on the race schedule… it sure felt like 2020 was going to be a banger.
March 16, 2020: A pandemic sweeps the world. Life as we knew it started to change quickly, every day bought new challenges and new changes. Our cycling group made an early decision to call it quits on group rides, with everyone’s safety top of mind.
Swiftly, a lack of motivation and a lack of purpose took hold of everyone. The group ride that had been great motivation on those sleepy mornings, for the training, the socializing and the good times, was gone.
The group chat and Facebook group had the occasional comment or photo posted, but all was fairly quiet. It wasn’t until one of the guys, Dom, suggested setting an MTB course and we all attempt the quickest time, in our own time. Everyone seemed intrigued... I was enchanted.
I headed out for a ride, my mind kept ticking over different ideas, how could we make this work for more than just one course, how could we get everyone in our bunch to take part. How could we bring the motivation and purpose back to everyone’s riding? How do we keep us together while we all have to be apart? How do we support and build a healthy mindset?
The Tour of Solitude was born.
The 14-stage event is run over four weeks. Every week there are three to four stages to be completed at each rider’s discretion. We have a mix of road and MTB, short segments, longer stages, hill climbs and TTs. It allows everyone to tailor the week’s stages to suit their ride plans and encourages everyone to safely keep some intensity in their riding and maybe even try something a bit different too.
On Sunday night when stages are released, there is definitely a lot of chat happening in the group. The strategy for which stage to do first... or last, which riders have an advantage, who is going to pull out their TT bike that has been hanging up for the last six months.
And it doesn’t stop there, Strava times are being watched closely and whenever someone pulls out a ripping time there are screenshots, banter and plenty of geeing everyone up about who is likely to beat it, or even, ask is it unbeatable.
There is one day left to set the fastest times, try as many times as you like! The times being laid down are some of the fastest on record and there has been sightings of skinsuits, aero helmets, deep-dish wheels... the motivation is clearly high.
Stage 1: 17.6km TT
Stage 2: 1.2km MTB loop
Stage 3: 5.5km road
By the time you read this, week two stages will have released and will certainly give us some interesting winners, will it be the MTBer, the strong roadie or the lightweight climber who takes the dirt climb... nobody knows!
Stage 4: 6.2km MTB
Stage 5: 400m sprint
Stage 6: 8.7km dirt climb
Stage 7: 31.6km road
Each stage has a winner, and there will be an overall title up for grabs. The details on scoring are yet to be worked out, points or time... and will there be bonuses along the way. Strangely enough, no one has asked. Which leads me to believe, the objective we set out to achieve has well and truly worked.
Motivation. Purpose. Community.