SATURDAY JUN 17 / 2017 / by Andrew Talati

Amy's Gran FondoPhoto couresty Amy Gillett Foundation

Italian roots, fundraising and engagement

Amy's Gran Fondo Start looking back main street

Simon Gillett, the founder of the Amy Gillett Foundation, had previously completed some Gran Fondo's in Italy and found Australia didn't have an event like that.

Secondly, running the event provided a great source of fundraising for the foundation (which is totally self-funded) and thirdly, to create an event that enabled the foundation to engage, in a meaningful way, with a large audience.

The location - a spectacular place 

Amy's Gran Fondo Aerial,  meandering coast with breaking wavesPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation  

For Simon, if you're going to run an event you may as well hold it in a spectacular place which is the Great Ocean Ride and the event takes in some of Amy Gillett's favourite training locations.

Fully closed roads

Amy's Gran Fondo, Great Ocean Rd - circa 2014

What sets Amy’s Gran Fondo apart from any other mass participation event is the fully closed roads. Any rider can feel totally safe and ride in an environment they wouldn't normally get to ride in and that's a road that is only available to the cyclists during the duration of the event.

Appealing to cyclists of all abilities

Amy's Gran Fondo, countryside back ForrestPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation  

By offering so many distances, Amy’s Gran Fondo can appeal to cyclists of all abilities so at the top end you have riders focused on the 120km loop to qualify for the UCI (Union Cyclist Internationale) Grand Fondo World Championships, also there is a recreational cycling option for the same distance for those who are going out for a ride with their friends and enjoying the scenery.

Then there’s the Medio Fondo which is to Apollo Bay back to Lorne along some of the best roads you will ride (hopefully with a tail wind on the way back)

Amy's Gran Fondo, Family FondoPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

The Family Fondo, catering to kids on balance bikes and tag alongs while also taking advantage of the closed roads.

Having time for a coffee with your friends

Amys Gran Fondo, a great coffee stop at ForrestThe Forrest Brewing Company - a great place to enjoy a coffee

As long as the riders meet the cut of times then there are plenty of opportunities to stop and smell the roses with many riders stopping at Forrest for a coffee.

Gravel Fondo - taking to the dirt

Amy's Gravel Fondo amongst the tree ferns Photo courtesy Amy Gillett Fondation

New for 2017 is the Gravel Fondo for those who like to get dirty. The ride departs from Apollo Bay up to the Barham River Rd into the Otways to an amazing little picnic area with some amazing trails.

Amys Gravel Fondo tree Velo Club riding through the trailsPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

It then turns onto Tutons track which, according to Simon, is one of the most spectacular rainforest rides you will ever do and briefly joins the Gran Fondo for a short section before heading back down Wild Dog Rd into Apollo Bay.

Amys Gravel FondoPhoto courtesty Amy Gillett Foundation

The great thing is you can still ride the Gravel Fondo on a cross bike (Cycling Cross) as there are no single tracks or hardcore mountain bike sections but there is 10-11kms of climbing at the start but, like the 120km Gran Fondo, you get the climbing completed early into the ride and with an abundance of magnificent scenery you may not even notice the climb.

Creating a festival of cycling

Woman's NRS Criterium racing at Amys Gran FondoPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

By having something for everyone the aim is to create a festival of cycling over the weekend that enables anyone, of any ability, to enjoy the event while watching the Men’s and Women's NRS (National Road Series) racers with the criterium and road courses.

This year the men join the criterium with the traditional hotdog circuit being replaced by 800-900m course following the block behind the main street on Saturday.

Amys Gran Fondo, Amys WallAmy's Wall - Photo courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

Following the Mens Criterium will be Amy's Wall which is also gaining in popularity.

On Sunday, the NRS races (with thanks to Cycling Australia) will commence ahead of the Gran Fondo with the Women's NRS race starting at 7:30am.

Amys Gran Fondo Mens NRS RacingPhoto courtesty Amy Gillett Foundation

The Men’s starting at 8:15am, which is 15 minutes before the start of the first age departures for the Gran Fondo. 

Apollo Bay also gets some of the action featuring a full Cycle Cross event which is part of the 8th and final round of the Cycling Victoria 'Bicycle Beer' Victorian CX Series. There will be all grades racing, plus the Open and a kid’s event that takes place on the beach and foreshore which will make for great viewing.

So the idea is to have a weekend full of activities rather than just making the drive down to complete the event and head home.

The qualifying gap has narrowed

Amys Gran Fondo mass startPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

When the event first started it was primarily seen as a UCI qualifier with the athletic ability of the field being quite broad in the top 25% of each age group. In the early years the gap between the first and last qualifier was 20-30 minutes whereas now it's 5 minutes (yes, I can testify to this - missed out by 5 seconds 5 years ago and last year was 15 minutes off qualifying).

Amy's Gran Fondo, Aerial meandering coast close upPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

So if you look at the qualification time for the 19-34 years old age group, the 65+ year old riders are only 15 minutes behind them which is absolutely amazing.

50% of entrants have never ridden the event before

Amy's Gran Fondo, three riders overlooking the seaPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

It's incredible that although 50% of the riders are first time entrants, the qualifying gap has continued to narrow.

The speed necessitated a change in direction 

Amy's Gran Fondo, bunch climb to ForrestClimbing en route to Forrest - photo courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

While in the earlier years the speed to Skenes Creek wasn't a safety issue, as the standard and size of the fields increased so, in turn, did the speeds so it was decided to reverse the course to break up the field and reduce the bunching up of riders.

Stepping stones

Amys Gran Fondo great ocean road to LornePhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation  

Riders were using the Medio Fondo as a stepping stone to tackling something bigger so they had the opportunity to enjoy a ride that was sensational and not too daunting. So without undertaking specific training you can experience the back of the 120km Gran Fondo riders  and be inspired to ride the full loop the following year.

Much safer with the start climbing to Benwerrin

OTR at Amy's Gran Fondo climb before ForestOTR at Amy's Gran Fondo climb before Forrest - photo courest Shannon Laffey @shannon.laffey

With the change in direction to going anti-clockwise, it has enabled the groups to spread out on the climb to Benwerrin at a safe speed.

Amy's Gran Fondo, great ocean road, small bunchesPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

Plus, you get to enjoy the last 40kms along the Great Ocean Road rather than in a large bunch trying to follow a wheel (I found this myself last year being part of a smaller bunch heading back to Lorne).

So with the steep part of the climb at the start, it settles down to a more respectable 2-3% towards the end so you can get the climb out of the way early but there still is the gradual climb where you are riding along the ridge line up to Forrest which is the finish of the King of the Mountain stage.

A safer descent into Skenes Creek

Amy's Gran Fondo,  bunch climb to forrest misty and wet roads Climb to Forrest misty and wet roads before reaching the top for the descent  - Photo courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

With the riders descending towards Skenes Creek the road is much more open to sunlight and less prone to being wet, with the constant breeze bellowing off Bass Strait and less tree cover (unless of corse it's been raining).

Positive feedback with the reversed loop

Amy's Gran Fondo, following the ridge-line with the devilPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

Simon went on to say that across social media there was a lot of discussion prior to the event saying it will be terrible but, the post event survey and general discussion on social media, plus the comments made on the pages with the free photo downloads confirmed that unanimously it was great.

An extra 10km but..

Amy's Gran Fondo, Great Ocean road coastline calm with seasPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

Previously the course finished at Benwerrin yet the time for the fast qualifiers was just over 3 hours which was quicker than Simon had anticipated. Whereas the fastest time in the previous direction (110km) was 2:48 with a lot of riders around the 2:55 mark so they were only 6-8 minutes off the previous course time even though they were riding 10kms further.

Have been very fortunate with the weather

Amy's Gran Fondo, Snaking along the coast Photo courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

Only last year the Great Ocean Road was closed for a month and landslips happened just the Monday following the event, but there were contingencies in place if there were problems on the Great Ocean Road.

Even if you had an early morning car accident or fatality that would close that road for a day so in the event, with something so tragic the contingency is to ride to Forrest and back to Lorne.

Having a goal gets you through the winter

Mount Martha hairy legs team at Amy's Gran FondoOne of the many teams who regulary train leading up to Amy's Gran Fondo - Mount Martha Hairy Legs - MMHL

In terms of motivation it’s great to have a goal to get you through winter to help maintain your fitness and keeping the legs turning over.

The regional economic benefit

Amy's Gran Fondo, Aerial of Start at LornePhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

Amy's Gran Fondo is the biggest regional sporting event in Victoria. The net economic benefit to Victoria from that event is $31M so it is a very significant event and particularly for Surf Coast Shire who recognise the contribution and provide great support so the return from the government’s $31k investment is exceptional.

Increase in visitation

3L Amys Gran Fondo Group at lookout3L, pos finishing Amys Gran FondoThe 3L team from Camberra have been driving across every year and enjoying a 3 day stay in Lorne

The unique part of the event is people stay more than one day, the average visitation is 2.5 days and the average party size is four people and this supports the high economic figures.

Part of the reason for adding the other events of the Cycle Cross and the gravel ride out of Apollo Bay is to make sure the region also enjoys the good economic benefit from the positive aspects to the event, while giving people the opportunity to experience Apollo Bay and something a little different.

So, there are so many opportunities for regional Victoria to drive visitation with cycling being just one of many events to drive economic growth.

Back before the Gran Fondo appeared in Lorne

If you went to Lorne the same weekend before the school holidays there wouldn't be a soul in sight along the main street. In the first year, they had restaurants and cafes that were closed during the same period to take a holiday and head north whereas now a business wouldn't even think of closing.

Amys Gran Fondo cafes packedFast forward and now the cafes are packed

Funnily, Simon went around to the local cafes and suggested they revise the number of bags of coffee they had in reserve as they were about to be invaded by a horde of coffee drinkers.

The original projection was $7M of economic benefit to the region and that helped win the support of the local municipalities with the actual economic benefit not being far off the original projection.

Lorne books out quickly

The growth of the event means that the accommodation in Lorne books out quickly, so make sure you get in early to book, but there are plenty of options heading out west where the beautiful Otway Ranges lie or east back to Aireys Inlet and Angelsea.

Having the support of the local community

For the businesses in tourism and hospitality, it's a massive economic benefit so the community has come to understand it’s a very important event with the roads being closed for no longer than 5 hours.

When you look at the European Grand Tours of the Giro and Tour de France they bid and pay for the rights to hold the start or finishes in their local towns, so with the support of the local community it helps to make the events that we enjoy today either as a viewer or spectator.

Setting a event delivery and safety standard

There is a very extensive community notification system in place regarding road closures and especially for those residents whose properties have driveways leading directly onto the course.

Amy’s Gran Fondo was proudly the first event to introduce a compulsory safety briefing that includes communicating that while the road is closed they still need to provide emergency services access for Fire, Ambulance and Police, if required, to escort the vehicle to a particular property.

The importance of the Safety messaging

Amy's Gran Fondo_Start, a meter mattersPhoto courtesy Amy Gillett Foundation

With the local infrastructure being stretched with the number of vehicles using the Great Ocean Road, the safety messaging is important as there is now repeat visitation before and after the event.

So, it's important whether you're in a car or on a bike to drive/ride to the conditions. On a blind corner, there may be a 60ft Mountain Ash tree or debris such as rocks that have fallen onto the road.

The importance of the Metre Matters legislation

For Simon, the Amy Gillett Foundation is not about the number of infringement notices served to motorists but spreading the message that, irrespective of your opinion, cyclists have the right to use the road and you must leave sufficient space; it's a very clear message about sharing the road.

Given the discussion on social media and main stream media, the metre road rule is one road rule that everyone knows about. The legislation also has the provision where a motorist can cross an unbroken centre line to pass cyclist where it is safe to do so, i.e. if a cyclist is riding up a climb at 8km/h there are places where it is safe to pass. Note, not all states have introduced the metre road rule at the time of writing.

Fundraising for the Foundation

Amy's Gran Fondo,  heading to the starting line

As the Amy Gillett Foundation is self-funded, the Gran Fondo is an important part of the foundation’s continued success. So, with cycling participation increasing, there is going to be an increase in cyclists on our roads requiring a behavioural change as it's not economically feasible to introduce segregated or separated bicycle lanes on every public road in Australia. 

Simon was saying a 2012 report cited congestion costed the Australian economy 13 Billion and was projected to balloon to 26 Billion by 2020 so you really need to get people out of cars and into alternative forms of transport, whether it's public transport or cycling or a hybrid of the two.

For Simon, it's the long-term community health benefits in making the roads safer for those who ride or are thinking about riding a bike. With obesity rates continuing to climb and lifestyle diseases on the increase, making cycling accessible and safe, whether it's commuting or for recreation makes a lot of sense.

The memory of Amy

It's amazing that 10 years after Amy's passing that it still gives people the opportunity to think about Amy's life and to support the work of the foundation, which is all about making the roads safer on a bike with the profits made from the event, so it’s a good investment from any cyclist.

An quick overview

Amy's Gran Fondo, Red Devil

45km Medio Fondo or 120km Gran Fondo with 2021m vertical climbing.

• 14km Family Fondos at both Lorne & Apollo Bay. • 65km Amy’s Gravel Fondo.

- The perfect ride for those who want to take their riding off the bitumen and onto the gravel including 1500 metres of climbing - ideal for those who prefer mountain or cyclocross bikes to road bikes.

• CycloCross racing takes to the Apollo Bay foreshore, yep, on the beach. This event will take place on Saturday 16th September 2017, enabling entrants to participate in this event, as well as one of the longer rides on the Sunday, or just take in the spectacle.

• Amy’s Wall - Challenge yourself to a new feat by taking part in Amy’s Wall – a hill sprint to add to the challenge - while only measuring 110 metres long, Amy’s Wall has an average gradient of 15% (yup, it's quite steep!)

Last year after finishing - getting ready for the 2017 eventAfter finishing the 2016 event

For more info and event registration