Gippsland was on high alert this weekend – and we’re not talking gale-force winds or the opening of Wonthaggi Plaza (which saw traffic congestion at 8am today). 

No, it was the 29th RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride. 

The ride is an annual event that moves around the state, with cyclists spending eight days in the saddle. The 2012 route went from Lakes Entrance in the far east to finish at Philip Island, a total of 591km. So I scrubbed up the bike and joined for the idyllic stretch from Inverloch through Cape Paterson to Dayleston.

There were roughly 4000 cyclists on the road, with 350 volunteers and 150 support staff, from medics on motorbikes to marshals on foot, bike mechanics on call and WAMRBYs (We Are Right Behind You), super-fit cyclists trouble-shooting in the pack, fixing bikes and calling the sag wagon, which relieves weary riders of their bikes, to whisk them off to camp for some R&R.

The stats men tell me there were 40 semitrailers lugging showers, loos and the 3000 tents that were put up each night (though you can opt for the motel option), not to mention the food: we’re talking 30,000 bananas, 12,500 apples, 1800 kg of rice and 40,000 bread rolls. No surprise when you saw the school groups go past. There were the nice girls of Geelong Grammar (extremely well trained and terribly obedient, to the road marshals’ delight), groups from the high schools from the cycling-mad Mornington peninsula, even a team from an inner-city Melbourne primary and a bunch of Western Desert kids from Wiltja, a part of Woodville High School in Adelaide. There were kids riding tandem behind their dads, even a few in little wagons behind their cycling parents. 

That’s not to say it’s a children’s affair. There were plenty of MAMLs (Middle-Aged Men in Lycra) and I spotted a police bike squad. The speed freaks were reputed to have left shortly after dawn each day, finishing the day’s course by 11am, with plenty of time to shoot espressos and discover Gippsland’s villages, such as pretty Mirboo North and seaside San Remo. There was another gang who stopped for two pots in each pub, and stat-trackers bent on beating their personal bests. The oldest rider clocked in at 85 years, the youngest at 15 months. 

The day I joined was sunny and bright, with a headwind. Naturally, it was the first wind the riders had encountered the entire journey. But no complaints; the pack had cycled on the day it hit 39 degrees in Melbourne, yet hundreds had been carted off in the sag wagon while turning blue from the cold as they crossed the Grand Ridge. 

A medic told me the key is to pack for all weathers – not just shorts and light jerseys, but arm warmers, wet-weather jackets and boot socks are key essentials.

The ride has been going 29 years. Next year, the 30th ride will go the classic route, 610 km along the Great Ocean Road, through the Otways, past the Twelve Apostles, and along Lorne, Torquay and the iconic Bells Beach, starting from Mt Gambier in South Australia to finish in Geelong. They’ve capped the riders at 6000, which will sell out quickly when tickets are on sale in May 2013.

If you don’t have a week free, you can do the  3 Day RACV Great Vic Getaway from Gellibrand to Geelong or the 1 Day RACV Great Vic Community Ride from Torquay to Geelong. 

The RACV Great Victorian Bike Ride 2013
Saturday 23 November – Sunday 1 December 2013

Ride Facts:      ·    Entries open in May 2013 (limited to 5000 9 day, 800 3 day and 200 1 day tickets)
·    The nine-day ride is a fully catered, tent-based holiday. There is extensive back up including luggage transport, a licensed cafe under canvas, massage, full medical team, and bicycle repair facilities.

More information: greatvic.com.au 
Twitter: #GreatVic