It’s Thursday morning, April 9th 2015… Armidale is putting on a show for the 322 participants in the annual 230 km cycling event from Armidale to South West Rocks.
With the Armidale Highway Patrol boys providing escort, the riders are applauded and farewelled by the supporters in magnificent early morning sunshine to the stirring sounds of the Armidale Pipe Band. What a way to showcase our region to the many participants that are from areas outside the New England! This year we even had riders from Humpty Doo in the Northern Territory following our exposure last year through Channel 7 Sunrise.
It takes an hour for Mark Bullen to marshal and send off all riders, who will make their way out along Rockvale Road then onto Chandler Road for a very pleasant pedal through the Chandler Valley, then for a well earned morning tea at the Chandler Public School. After refuelling, riders enjoy the Oakey and Styx River descents and then tackle the solid corresponding ascents to the Forestry Huts for lunch. Frosty and Bullo on the motorbikes patrol the pelotons, keeping riders safe and maintaining close communications with the lead and rear escort vehicles. The riders have covered a solid 73 km and now prepare for the exhilarating 20 km downhill section through temperate rainfall forest onto the George’s river 900 m below. A short traverse along the river, and the Junction camp comes into view, with a sea of tents and supporters to welcome the weary. Day one concludes with the daily jersey awards followed by a baked diner for 300 plus, prepared by a team of volunteers lead by Paul Marquardt and Paul Mailfert. A magnificent day, showcasing New England at its best.
Friday morning is more relaxed. as we awake to the smell of fresh cooked breakfast and the sound of the mighty Macleay River rushing over the well worn river rocks. The local cattle and brumbies have been meandering through the camp overnight, with a watch stationed in the Food Hall tent to guard the bread.
Today is the day where the kids can ride a specially organised section with their parents; they don their jerseys, mount up and set off on the 26 km to Blackbird Flat. The kids are proud as punch when they ride in to morning tea with their parents, with a real story to tell when they get back to school. Following a cuppa overlooking a sweeping bend of the Macleay River, we continue to meander down the valley to Pee Dee Station and on to Bellbrook for lunch, and then the final 22 km into our camp at Willawarrin Sportsground.
Willawarrin is special; last year it was the two up on the street outside the local hotel; this year our favourite up river band, the TwoSeas were playing again. It has been a big day, having covered 165 km since leaving Armidale, so by midnight nearly everyone has bunked down ready for an early start in the morning, to make South West Rocks by lunch time.
Dawn on day three sees the sportsground buzzing, as camping gear is packed up followed by a quick breakfast ready to roll by 7am. We are back on the bitumen for the last 65 km to SWR and as the legs start to tire and the butt is becoming a little unsettled, it’s time for the team captains to keep spirits high, looking after the weaker riders and ensuring everyone rides into SWR as a team.
Emotions run high as supporters welcome their family and loved ones across the finish line. It is a time to reflect on what has been achieved individually, as a team and as a community. Family memories, friendships and community bonds are forged in the three days of the ride that will be cherished for many years to come.
In the last four years this small community team has raised in excess of $800,000 for cancer awareness, prevention and cure. Approximately $500,000 has been distributed within our local communities, the balance being appropriated to targeted cancer research programmes.
For more information on where the funds are distributed or to access funding application forms, see the following links: www.tourderocks.com.au/where-the-money-goes or www.tourderocks.com.au/appropriations
Planning has commenced for the 2016 ride that’s currently scheduled for the middle weekend of the April school holidays.
Photography by Sue Byrnes