Words Oscar Owens
The FedUni Road Nationals championships return to Mount Buninyong in 2019 with Australia’s best cyclists hitting the mountain in pursuit of being crowned national road race champion.
Thousands of spectators in the middle of their summer break traditionally line the 11.6km course loop cheering the riders through a suffer-fest described by local male competitor Liam White as being far removed from a holiday.
“The road race is definitely one of the toughest, if not the toughest one day race we will do all year. The course is obviously quite hilly with each of the 16 laps of the men’s race incorporating a six minute climb,” Liam White said.
“With the multiple laps, it is much like a Belgian Kermesse race however you would never find anything this hilly in Belgium. Usually in Australia we will do races with no more than five to six multiple laps but 185km incorporating 16 laps - ouch.”
The feature of the Road Nats course is the Mt Buninyong climb which White describes as “a corridor of noise that sends spine tingling sensations through your whole body akin to something you might find at the Tour de France.”
The climb however isn’t a place for riders to get too caught up in emotion and reflection. According to Federation University Australia’s Exercise Science senior lecturer Brendan O’Brien, the climb has the potential to make or break a rider’s race as competitors grapple with an age old scientific concept.
“Because the gradient is quite steep the simple effects of gravity on the body are huge. The body is required to generate more force to maintain the pace and effort required to stay with other riders on the course, Brendan O’Brien said.
“In turn this extra force necessitates recruitment of fast twitch fibres resulting in more anaerobic metabolism making the muscles more acidic which ultimately leaves riders feeling the burn with each punishing lap.”
This burn doesn’t finish at the top of the climb. What follows is a grind across the top of the mountain as riders jostle for best position for the Gear Avenue descent into Fed Uni’s Mt Helen campus where riders such as Liam White will hit in excess of 80 kmph.
“The descent requires high concentration not only because of the speeds you reach but also your tactical positioning,” Liam White said.
“Once you get to the Fed Uni grounds the peloton is usually strung out and it is important to put yourself as close to the front of the race as possible because after leaving the campus there is a 2 km drag race back into the township of Buninyong before you get set to do it all over again.”
Whilst the road race is tough, for White, also an Exercise Science at Federation University, it’s a part of what he describes as an ‘unreal’ week for Ballarat cycling. “I love the course and the opportunity to race in front of my friends and family. To see them watching on the sidelines and cheering you on makes it unique – especially 16 times in one race. I can’t wait.”