When Luke Davison won the Goulburn to Sydney Classic he couldn’t have known that, seven years later, he’d rate crossing the line in Barangaroo as part of the Tour de Cure as one of his favourite moments on a bike.
The former professional cyclist, who represented Australia at the Track World Championships and the Commonwealth Games in 2014, winning gold in the team pursuit event at both meetings before joining Cadel Evans’ Team BMC as stagiaire, rode into Sydney on Tuesday as part of Salesforce’s Westpac Ride for a Cure 2020 team.
Likewise, his Ride for a Cure teammate Glenn Blackwell – an avid mountain biker – thought his transition to road cycling would be a one-time thing.
“Mountain biking is a different cycling sport,” Glenn says. “It’s a much shorter timeline. You’re not riding in a group, you’re not riding in a peloton. There’s very little camaraderie during a ride.”
It’s that team spirit that has Glenn considering road riding his sport now.
We caught up with Glenn and Luke after they crossed the finish line in Barangaroo with their teammate John Moran, met by a cheering Salesforce crew.
“Thinking about crossing this finish line has kept me going for three days – along with this,” Glenn said, flashing a rubber wristband each rider was given with ‘Go little legs’ written across it.
“There was a little boy who was getting into cycling. Kids have their little sayings and his was ‘go little legs’. I wore this the entire time, and every now and then I’d look down: ‘Hey, go little legs’.”
Thinking of the cause they were supporting, and the people impacted by it, was great motivation for Glenn too.
“There were a couple of moments when I was like, ‘Should I just drop back into Peloton 3?’ – it would have been easier,” he said, explaining that riders were separated into six pelotons, from number one for the relative beginners through to number six for those that could ride the furthest and fastest.
“But I thought about the people I know who have been through cancer treatment. They went through things that were far more difficult than what I was doing, and my tough ride would be over within an hour or two hours.”
Can you tell us how you prepared for that challenge?
Glenn: I’d really challenged myself to get cycle-fit. I really got into it from December and, for me, it was a very different exercise to my mountain biking, which is shorter bursts of intense work. I had to train to push out four, five or six-hour rides in a day, and use different muscles.
I wasn’t unfit at the start, but I wasn’t as fit as I am today. Dropping five (in my case) or 10kg makes a massive difference when you’re climbing because you need so much less power to actually propel your body up the hill.
I did five long TDC training ride days, plus multiple rides with colleagues, friends and solo. Then the weekend before our ride, I did back-to-back days on the bike. We rode to Mt White with TDC on the Saturday, and on Sunday we did 3 Gorges and another climb just to really slam the legs and see if I could actually do a back-to-back of such climbing. And I did it. So I thought if I can do that, I’ll get through the three days from Bathurst to Sydney.
Luke: I did the training days as well. They were useful to see the logistics of the ride, and how the leaders would guide us and let us know of any obstacles, but I had to get cycle-fit too. I leaned on my cycling muscle memory of course, but I was 87kg when I first started training for this ride – it was a bit of a shock to the system because back in racing days, I would’ve been almost 10kg lighter. Like Glenn said, the last thing you want on a good climb is extra kilos on board so losing 7kg in the lead up gave me some confidence.
I was also very conscious of what I was eating, focusing on my intake of the right foods to help get me into shape as soon as possible. I knew that I was in for a day that had 2000m of climbing – that’s a lot of climbing!
Glenn: Those hills just kept giving! I’d get to a bend and see the crest and think that’s it, but then I’d get to that crest and around another bend and see that it just keeps going up. You don’t have that in mountain biking! In road cycling, the rolling hills just keep rolling.
Tell us about the 2000m climb – that would have been a tough day.
Glenn: That was only Luke’s peloton – the fastest group, the longest ride and the most climbs. It was mostly similar routes, except with extensions. On day two, we rode from Bathurst to Lithgow whereas Luke’s group went from Bathurst to Lithgow but added an extra loop and lots of climbing by going to Oberon.
Luke: Lots of climbing! Oberon is just over 1100m elevation so it’s pretty cold too – I was trying to keep the jacket on whenever I was able to anyway, but I really needed it on that stage.
That was the second day, but the toughest day was day one. We went Bathurst to Bathurst – out and then a bit of a loop back in – and we had a headwind the whole way, even though we’d gone in different directions. How could that be! It was tough. It was really tough.
And notoriously the first day is always when people try to measure themselves and establish where the fitness levels are – so everyone’s already pushing themselves on day one.
We had a few rehydration stops, and we’d see how everyone was tracking and help anyone who was struggling – they’d do a stint ‘in the lounge’ at the back of the engine room in the peloton. With the engine room at the front, the six strongest riders would rotate to share the workload and break the wind.
After day one, once we left Bathurst, the roads were as dead as can be and we were riding through beautiful countryside. It was incredible to see how green it was out there – many of the locals mentioned that just a month or so ago it was a totally different world out there, completely dry. So that was amazing to see.
Luke, what tactics had you learnt from cycling legends that helped you get through those hard parts?
Luke: The crossover is the fact that it doesn’t matter how much training you’re doing, some days you will just feel like you’re in an absolute box and you can’t fight your way out of it – but you have to find a way to keep on going forwards. I was reminding myself that it’s just a matter of getting through that next hill, and keeping the eye on the prize and getting to Sydney.
As far as tactics, there’s no ‘sticky bidons’ on this ride – holding onto the bottle when the support car comes up, getting just a bit of a slingshot off it. You really want to know at the end of the day that you’ve pedalled every single metre of it.
But some other tactics from professional cycling were helpful, like how to sandbag, getting as close to the front as possible before the climb so you can go slightly slower on the way up, but you’re still intact with the group as you drop back.
And picking a good wheel to ride behind was really important. I’m a slightly bigger guy so I’ll try to ride behind someone who’s taller, not the shortest person in the group. Then when I felt better, I could take a turn to ride in front and shield others from the winds.
So it’s an extremely supportive environment, but the competitive element is a little bit like what I’d experienced before too.
Glenn: There’s definitely a layer of competitiveness – it’s not a race, but you do feel the competitive juice when the cyclist next to you is surging ahead on the hill. It incentivised me to pedal harder, and you need to stay on the rider in front of you because you know that someone’s right on the back of you as well.
This ride was part of your volunteer time off (VTO) – can you tell us more about why you’re supporting Ride for a Cure?
Glenn: Yes, for sure. It’s an amazing charity and an important cause to support. Most people have been touched in some way by cancer – my family has. Seeing it first hand meant that I’d fundraised or donated to other riders over the years, and it’s why I decided to pony up and cycle myself. It was also a superb experience to take part in something as well-run and fun as this event was.
And in terms of Salesforce’s sponsorship, I think businesses need to do more to generate awareness, to give back to society – to partner with organisations on the ground so the businesses are really using their platform to support positive change.
Can you tell us some of your other top VTO activities?
Luke: It was incredible to be a part of the Wayside Chapel’s Long Walk Home at the end of last year. We walked 28km – the average distance a homeless person in NSW walks a week in search of somewhere safe to sleep.
We started in the afternoon and we didn’t finish until close to midnight, and as well as corporate and community groups like ours, we walked with staff and volunteers from the Wayside Chapel, and people who use or have used their services as well. It was an incredibly humbling experience – we raised money for the Wayside Chapel, and had chats with so many people.
Then earlier this year I joined a group down at Bondi Surf Lifesaving Club, gathering food, clothes, anything we could for people who’d been affected by the bushfires. Some people had lost absolutely everything, so for me, VTO has just been such an eye-opening experience as well as a way to have a higher cause beyond doing my day-to-day job.
Glenn: This whole month has been a VTO highlight for me – as well as Ride for a Cure I was able to participate with BlazeAid, rebuilding fencing for farms that had been fire ravaged on the south coast. There were nine of us in the crew, and one day we did about 450m of fencing on one farm that would’ve taken a week or two for the owners to do by themselves.
They’d lost their house, they’d lost their family animals, and they were living in a shed. It’s just, you don’t walk away from that the same it’s an amazing experience to be able to help and give back< The nine of us were also staying in accommodation and being out in restaurants in those towns, so it’s all contributing in small ways to rebuilding the community. And they were so appreciative of our help.
I’m good friends with John Watson – we’ve known each other for 20-odd years. And obviously what he’s done is just incredible, so I jumped in on BlazeAid.
The fires have now been and gone – it’s easy to forget about it when we’re in Sydney. But there’s still so much damage and so much work to be done up and down the whole coast. I’ll be doing as much as I can to help rebuilding now that our VTO time has been increased to 27 days a year to help with bushfire recovery.
Westpac Ride for a Cure 2020 has so far raised over $1 million for cancer research, awareness and patient support. To make a donation and support our Salesforce riders, visit the Ride for a Cure site.
Glenn Blackwell is Key Account Director, Financial Services at Salesforce. Luke Davison is in the Enterprise Financial Services team at Salesforce.