Several years ago I raced the Sam Miranda Road Race and Handicap in Victoria. Within the race were several of The Kings Men (TKM) who I’d known to be a Beach Road (Melbourne, Australia) based cycling group. I’d heard of the group and to be honest, loathed them - largely for the brash name. Who calls themselves The Kings Men?
During the race, my opinion changed. They rode well within the bunch, were strong and were not afraid to throw the hammer down. They displayed characteristics which attracted me to cycling in the first place - camaraderie, work ethic, determination and the desire to challenge oneself, but still support others.
Several months ago I read an article on The King (Stuart Verrier) on La Velocita and noted TKM had organised a charity ride for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation. The course from Wangaratta to Bairnsdale had always been on my list of rides to do, so it became the perfect opportunity to learn more about the Kingdom, ride the course and raise money for a very worthy cause.
The first insight into the Kingdom came during the email banter before the ride. The email thread reached 100 within a week and primarily involved members of the Kingdom poking and stirring others. Most of the members had wisely established separate TKM email accounts which proudly displayed names like The Flash, Rabbit, Roo Boy, Stealth and of course, The King. The names and banter were early signs of what was ahead.
The meeting place for the ride was Flinders Street station.. Anyone who arrived after 5.45pm on the Friday evening was issued with a $20 fine which went towards the charity. The fines issued in the Kingdom are high, but fair and ensure discipline and correct behaviour.
As we boarded the bus destined for Wangarrata, we were stocked with enough pizza and beer to fuel the 200km ride on Saturday. The next insight to the group came as the King addressed the mix of TKM members and ‘Randoms’ that had been granted exclusive access to the group all in the name of fundraising. It was a very humorous and welcoming introduction to each of the riders and weekends itinerary.
The organisation to this point had been outstanding, however it was nothing compared to what we faced on Saturday and Sunday. This was largely due to the work of Ghostie (food and accommodation) and The Flying Gypsy (also Founder of Corporate Cycling).
Our group of about 40 riders departed Wang flanked by our support vehicles: two new Jaguars, a van with the weekends photographer ‘The Flash’ and the broom wagon. What a cracker of a morning. Blues skies, green fields and a steady bunch rolling turns to encourage everyone to spend some time getting to know one another.
The 50-60km ride from Wang to Myrtleford had been fairly pleasant with little to no wind and flat roads. A quick stop in Myrtleford allowed us to refuel before the pace lifted for the first climb over Rosewhite and into the Kiewa Valley. If you haven’t had the pleasure of riding around the Kiewa Valley, put it on the list. It’s Gods country. Absolutely stunning riding that is as good as anywhere in the world.
Riding out of the Kiewa Valley we climbed up Tawonga Gap which is one of three climbs featured in the renowned Three Peaks Challenge. At roughly the 140km mark of our ride, this was the first real test for the day. Personally, the 7km climb in somewhat warm conditions hurt me. What was worse was knowing Mt Hotham was still to come.
After a pleasant lunch at Harrietville where a sufficient amount of caffeine was consumed to fire all cylinders, we were ready for Mt Hotham. At least that’s what I tried to tell myself. For those that are unfamiliar with the climb, it’s as tough as anything you’ll face. At just over 30km’s, it features two hard bits - the first 10km and the last 10km! To place the climb at the end of 200km’s is torturous and demonstrates once again how determined (read looney) The Kings Men are.
The stories at the end of the first day were special. No matter the experience or quality of the rider, everyone had to dig deep to reach Saturday nights destination at Dinner Plain. I can still remember the clarity of mind experienced near the top of Hotham where you are willing your body to turn the cranks one more time to etch yourself another metre to the finish. I love those moments where you feel so tired, yet so alive and satisfied within yourself. I was starting to understand that was the core bond which brought The Kings Men together as well.
After the successful Saturday evening where one, or several Kosciuszko Pale Ales were consumed and a successful auction to raise funds for the charity took place, we were off to Bairnsdale. I’d ridden from Dinner Plain to Omeo before and enjoyed this section once again.
The part I hadn’t ridden was from just before Omeo and towards Swifts Creek. I have difficulty explaining the emotions felt during this section. There was about 25kms leading into Swifts Creek where it was rolling hills, cows, green pasture, me and my bike. That’s it. Nothing but solitude and the euphoria that can only be experienced when you are pushing your mind and body to new limits in gorgeous surroundings.
That solo riding was replaced by a group ride from Swifts Creek towards Buchan, our lunch stop. The almost 70km or riding saw us traverse rolling hills that contributed to the day being a 170km ride with just under 2000m of climbing. Not bad given day one was 200km and 5000m. The final 20km from Buchan to Bairnsdale was perfect for reflection.
Its at this point I must mention Stevie Darwin. I didn’t know it until after the ride, but Stevie Darwin had only ridden 100km once in his life. That was two weeks before the charity ride! And before that he’d only ridden 70km, twice!
That’s what I’ll take away from this tremendous first charity ride for The Kings Men - the memories and camaraderie shared with a terrific bunch of people. That and the fact that the collective effort managed to raise $20,000 for an outstanding cause. Bring on 2016!
Thanks to The Flash for the sensational photos. Follow The Flash on Instagram.