townsville-to-cairns-2014

Life in the fast lane

Taking it up a notch to ride with the Townsville to Cairns Bike Ride’s fastest team, the Kangaroos; Deborah Latouf — 49 years old and the only female rider in the bunch — tells us what it was like chasing testosterone and testing her limits for three days.

Hot mix, a wickedly straight descent, teaming rain and testosterone — a potent mix. Down on the drops and hang on for dear life” 

To say I was intimidated somewhat would be an understatement. I have done the ride once before, three years ago with the Emus. They are the next group down from the Kangaroos in speed and, to be honest, it was a pretty cruisy ride for me the first time around. But this year was different. I was up with the big boys.

Our team leader, Stevie Gray, unfortunately had to withdraw the morning of the ride due to an illness in the family. This left Ben Lawes to step up as team leader, and Dave Eakin as deputy. The rest of the Roos were a motley bunch from all different teams – Mike Mitchell and Darren Frakes from RDR; Mike Prentice, Josh Prentice and Jake Salmon from Top Brand, Trevor Baker and Simon James from OffnOn, three ring-ins from outside Townsville, Kiwi; and… little old me. So a much smaller group than previous years, which meant I was even further intimidated by the thought of the load being shared by less people. Fourteen Kangaroos in total, and four of them were named Mike – this could get confusing.

Day 1 – Townsville to Ingham – 109km

Off we go...

Off we go…

There was gorgeous weather to send us on our way with an escort out of town being the first group to leave. There are two stops listed before Rollingstone but we skipped both of these. As we are approaching the pub, Ben kindly informs me this section finishes with a sprint known as the Pineapple Express, which is a free-for-all as there is a re-group at Rollingstone. Thanks for the heads up Ben, grab a wheel, head down. We roll in for the obligatory sausage sizzle courtesy of the Lions Club. Average speed for the first 50km was in the high 30s, working a rolling pace line the whole way.

“I knew I wasn’t the weakest link; but I wanted more. I wanted to roll into town with the leaders. I’m sure they could have surged again, but they didn’t; and I rolled into Innisfail with a smile as wide as the Harbour Bridge”

The next stop is only 15kms up the road at Frosty Mango. I’m getting the impression the guys would love to ride through, but they are a sponsor, and it is important for us to stop and acknowledge their support. Plus the gelato is pretty damn fine. There is one more stop scheduled at Francis Creek for the 50km run into Ingham, but we are told we are skipping that as well. So it’s rolling turns again the whole way. A little bit of a cross breeze across the cane fields, and then the guys put down the hammer for the last 5km run into town. We end up averaging 38 for the day, I’m feeling pretty OK with it, and I am starting to relax a bit.

Day 2 – Ingham to Innisfail – 155km

Yes, that is me at the back in the yellow spray jacket - I think it's about 15kms out from Innisfail

Yes, that is me at the back in the yellow spray jacket – I think it’s about 15kms out from Innisfail.

Did I say I was starting to relax? This was really the day I was a just a wee bit concerned about. It’s long, very long. Unlike others, I am not remotely worried about the climb. It’s right at the beginning and the least of my concerns. My personal goal for the day is not to be the ‘weakest link’. I do not want to slow the group down, and there is no way I am planning to spend any time in the sag wagon.  It’s raining, a lot; pissing down in fact. The Butterflies roll out before us today at 6.30am. They ride with lights, as they start in the dark; plus have the very real possibility of finishing in the dark. It’s a good reminder that no matter how much I hurt today, it won’t be half as much suffering as they go through. They are the true champions of this ride.

No point wearing the sunnies, they just fog up continuously. It’s a 17km run in the rain to the base of the climb. As we arrive we are told that the Butterflies are still on their way up and we have to wait at the bottom for them to crest. That’s not good news to the oldies in the group with dodgy hips and knees. They relent, and we continue, passing some Butterflies on the way up that are definitely not floating. We offer them encouragement and keep hammering. Amazing view from the top, and a whole world of hurt happening right in front of the eyes. Regroup at the top and it’s on like donkey kong. Hot mix, a wickedly straight descent, teaming rain, and testosterone — a potent mix. Down on the drops and hang on for dear life.

Here comes the rain. Again,

Here comes the rain. Again.

We roll into Cardwell for our first stop of the day. I’m hungry, seriously hungry; and eat what feels like half my body mass in 10 minutes. I’m cold, really cold; and so is everyone else. It’s 44km to our lunch stop in Tully, and the guys decide that one hour is a good target time. I’m seriously bummed that my Garmin played up today, as I really would have liked to have seen what panned out with my heart rate numbers for the next hour: I reckon I spent the entire 44km in the red zone. It was as tough an hour as I have ever spent on the bike, and I was hanging on by the skin of my teeth. It was all I could do to roll through for my turn and then peel straight off. The guys were really good though, and as long as you were still rolling through they were cool. We had one rider spat early and spent this section in the sag wagon. It was a single pace line, with cross winds and pouring rain: You get the picture.

On that particular day, Tully was a bleak place, but I was delirious to see it. We did a lap of the main street, waved to the ‘colourful’ locals and pulled in for lunch. We must have looked such a sight. There was very little banter, just getting the job done. The Emus pulled in, which was our signal to go. 50kms to go, chance of rolling hills – 100%; chance of cross winds – pretty high; chance of rain – 100%. Repeat the mantra, “Do not be the weakest link”. Fortunately they cruised for the first 10kms or so, mid 30s; just what I needed to warm the body up again.

“It was 155kms at around 36 average: One of the toughest days on the bike I have ever had. You can’t buy this sort of experience. I’ve been riding for 30 years, and it’s a day I put high up on my memory list”

I was anticipating that this would be the hardest segment for me today, but it actually wasn’t. The rolling hills played into my hand – the guys backed off a little on these, and I powered through them (well, as much as I can power through anything). I felt strong for the most part, until the cross winds kicked up about 15km from the end. I found myself exposed on the wrong side as two of the strongest riders pulled a long turn. I knew I was in the wrong spot and had to protect myself. I moved straight to the back, across to the other side and tucked myself in behind a couple of riders. It was only a fractional back-off, but it was all I needed to catch my breath. With 10kms to go, the testosterone came out again, but I dug deep. The hammer went down, and I went with them. There was the sound of ‘ping’ ‘ping’ behind me as riders popped. I knew I wasn’t the weakest link; but I wanted more. I wanted to roll into town with the leaders. I’m sure they could have surged again, but they didn’t; and I rolled into Innisfail with a smile as wide as the Harbour Bridge. It was 155kms at around 36 average: One of the toughest days on the bike I have ever had. You can’t buy this sort of experience. I’ve been riding for 30 years, and it’s a day I put high up on my memory list.

Day 3 – Innisfail to Cairns – 80km

Fishery Falls - the only stop on day three. Looks like I have my game face on.

Fishery Falls – the only stop on day three. Looks like I have my game face on.

So I was intimidated on day one by fear of the unknown. I was intimidated on day two by fear of the distance. And, yes, I was intimidated on day three as I knew it was going to be a smash fest into Cairns. 80kms in total and the guys weren’t much interested in taking any longer than two hours to do it. Mike Prentice and I were riding next to each other for the first 30 minutes, rejoicing in the fact that the hitters had decided to take it a little bit easier. It gave us a chance to warm up (yes, it was raining again), but we knew it was not going to last. Fishery Falls was the only stop for the day, half way to Cairns. We fuelled up, chewed the fat and got the low down for the ride in. We will ride together until we reach the overpass before Smithfield. Then all bets are off. 5kms to the finish and it’s last man standing. There are no prizes for second or third: glory or bust. Traffic is heavy leading in, Simmo [Simon James] drops his chain, and Kiwi sees an opportunity. A fuel tanker rumbles past, and he screams “Here’s my ride into town!”. It’s on, early mind you. We chase, Kiwi bails at about 60, and it settles back down again. There’s some twitching in the group, a few fun little muscle flexes, but everyone toes the line for Benny.

“We will ride together until we reach the overpass before Smithfield. Then all bets are off. 5kms to the finish and it’s last man standing. There are no prizes for second or third: glory or bust”

It’s getting close now and I can sense it. There’s tension amongst the boys, but in a fun way. For me, it’s a whole different ball game. I did not ride 350km, only to get dropped in the last 5km. I’m not 100% sure of where they are going to hit it, but as we roll up to a red light I sense this is it. I am right. Miss the pedal stroke on the clip in and you are gone. See you later Trevor. Two of the out of towners don’t contest. I grab a wheel, can’t even remember whose it was. A gap forms but I have a window of opportunity to bridge. I take it, go past two riders, look up, and realise that — yes — there is a God. The overpass looms a few hundred metres ahead, and the rise is just what I need to bridge to Simmo who is on the back of the rest of the crew. We belt it to the finish line, but a set of lights stops us one corner short. The segment is 1.1km, average speed 56.1km, average heart rate is 183. Nothing else was average. Riding distance for the day – about 80 clicks, average speed, just under 40. Fun factor – off the scale.

Getting close - note the pyramid in the background

The ultimate ride.

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Deborah Latouf

Deborah Latouf

As an Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) sports scientist with a PhD in motor development, Dr Deborah Latouf was the manager of the national talent identification for the Sydney Olympics and has worked with some of the world’s best athletes in her career. A career change in her 40s following the arrival of her two children saw her open toy store Entropy in Townsville — now one of the country’s most extensive independent online toy stores that’s committed to getting kids active mentally and physically. A former elite-level athlete, Deborah is still extremely passionate about competitive sport and now focuses her athleticism into road and mountain biking, also acting as trainer and mentor to the Rule V Racing cycling squad in Townsville.

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