Riding the Festive 500 is always in the back of my mind each December. I completed it once in England during the depths of winter and last year here in Australia. I don’t think I need to tell you which season I prefer to ride it in! Riding the Festive 500 in summer almost feels like cheating! Of course it’s still a challenge, 500km in eight days or less is more than I would normally do. This December the weather has been a treat, I didn’t have many commitments, and my work hours were flexible, so I gave it another crack!
My very loose target was to finish faster than last year (17 hours 6 mins) and complete the 500km with a day to spare. Apart from that I just went out and rode, choosing relatively flat routes. This is purely a distance challenge so no point in wasting energy on big climbs!
I did stick to the recommendation to knock out a longer ride on day one, giving an early “buffer” in case you miss a day or cut a ride short. Day one was my longest of the challenge, a 130km trip down towards South Arm. Oh an another stipulation for me, all the rides had to be outside, no virtual rides.
While you can complete the Festive 500 indoors, it’d be sacrilege to do that in Australia with the ideal summer riding weather. Some say that riding the Festive 500 virtually is against the “spirit” of the challenge. I disagree. Watered down slightly? Possibly. Tapping away at recovery wattage on a road that doesn’t exist in a big Zwift bunch averaging 35+kph while watching Netflix isn’t quite the same. But if Rapha/Strava allow it, who am I to argue? I certainly don’t think completing it indoors is any less of an achievement for many, but I always opt for outside with this one.
I chose to ride my 2002 Trek 5200. It’s such a comfortable bike and a joy to ride. Sure it’s not an out-and-out race bike like the Canyon Aeroad, but for long rides and good times, it’s hard to beat. I made two changes to my usual setup. The first, deep section wheels! I ditched the ICAN Aero 35mm wheels for some 60mm Roval wheels. Every little helps!
Second, I popped on a set of clip-on
tri hard aero bars. Normally, I’d vomit at the thought, but the Festive 500 is the one time of year I will concede. The added aerodynamic position does come in handy over longer solo rides. The set I’ve got are quite small too, so don’t stand out as much.
While the majority of my riding was solo, I did catch up with some of the regular “Tuesday Bash” guys over coffee in Richmond. Incidentally, it was Paul’s (middle of the above photo) one year anniversary since coming off his bike and breaking his leg. After a tough recovery, he’s back to flying form now.
I kicked it into a high gear for the new week, knocking out three straight longer rides to really nail the 2021 Festive 500 challenge. When the sun shines and the wind drops, you’ve got to take advantage! I was feeling strong with a 99km ride (yeah, I know) on Monday followed by 101km on Tuesday.
Wednesday was another trip down to Cremorne and back on a perfect Tassie morning. This netted me the final 94km needed to tick off the challenge. My Festive 500 nearly came to a sudden halt at 490km when a woman almost took me out with an “overtake then swing across” manoeuvre. She most likely underestimated my speed (no excuse). Luckily I was alert and saw it happening, giving me enough time to hit the brakes and jump onto the verge.
Making it back to the carpark alive and upright got me a total of 502km with two days to spare! It was a fast final ride so I was pretty sure I’d beaten last year’s time too. I’d pushed as hard as my fatigued legs had let me over the distance. Looking at my stats on Strava I was stoked to see I had cut over half an hour off last year’s total time – and with more elevation gain!
With a brace of days left of 2021, I may just take it a easy now, spend some time recovering. My legs are actually feeling pretty good for “endurance-to-sweetspot” level riding, but don’t ask me to sprint or tackle any steep climbs out of the saddle! I’ve basically hit every target I wanted for 2021 so I think I’ll just rest and soak up the fitness gains, ready for the New Year.
Total Distance: 502.9 km / 312.5 miles
Total Moving Time: 16 hours 28 minutes