Velothon Sunshine Coast Preview

Situated an hour north of Brisbane, the Sunshine Coast is set to host Australia’s first ever Velothon. Cyclist got the chance to head to Queensland and get an early glimpse of what’s to come this July.

Words: Adam Phelan

Photography: Marcus Enno (Beardy McBeard)

The Sunshine Coast is often characterised by its never-ending golden sunlight, stunning surf beaches, and holiday resorts. Beyond its summer surfing glitz however, the Sunshine Coast can reveal itself as a true cycling mecca, filled with truly magnificent and equally challenging roads.

This July, riders from all across Australia will get their chance to experience what the Sunshine Coast has to offer with Velothon hitting Australian shores for the first time.

Velothon is a global series of events, that in 2017 will span across Germany, Wales, Sweden, Canada and Australia. It is the first Australian edition of the Velothon, bringing a fresh  gran fondo experience to the southern hemisphere. But what is it that makes Velothon so different? Cyclist got the chance to fly up to Queensland to find out.

Beachside Paradise:

It’s early morning in Mooloolaba, the home city of Australia’s very first Velothon. We’ve ridden a few hundred metres down from the hotel and have already reached the beach. The coastline wraps around us to the right; surfers are already out in the water, they bob up and down against the waves. The sun slowly rises up in the distance, its golden light leaks out like honey from behind a low cloud.

“Isn’t it gorgeous?” Matthew Keenan says. He looks out across the water, already impressed. “The Sunshine Coast is just showing off!”

Standing on the edge of the beach, looking out across the water, Cyclist quickly discovers the first point of difference of the Velothon. “This is going to be the location for the Velo Clubhouse,” David Beeche, Managing Director of IRONMAN Asia-Pacific, tells us.

“It’s going to be the hub of the event. A place where riders can come chat about their day, have coffee, drink beer, eat snacks and watch Le Tour highlights on the big screen!”

David points along the beachfront. His hands map out the imaginary Clubhouse that will be a hive of activity in July. Looking out at the view, it’s hard to think of a more picturesque setting to start and finish a bike ride. Add coffee, beer, the latest cycling gear and a chance to catch up with the action at the Tour de France and well, you’ve just created a cyclists’ paradise.

Choose Your Velothon Ride:

Five minutes after leaving the beach, we turn inland. Despite the early hour, the air is humid and sticky. “It won’t be like this in July,’ a local Queenslander assures me, “you won’t find better conditions to ride than at that time of year.”

I look around at the tall trees that hug the road, they tower over us and are saturated by an intense green that covers the entire hillside. The road ahead keeps us entertained and switched on. The bitumen beneath us is smooth and the road snakes like a river through the countryside, curving this way and that. It is hard to think the beach is only a few kilometres away.  

“Where do I sign up again?” I say.

With a choice of either the 1 Day or 3 Day Velothon, riders are given a range of options covering a large range of athletic abilities. It is with the 3 Day Velothon however, that riders get the unique experience of a having a stage race environment in a gran fondo setting.

Sitting amongst the beachside Velo Clubhouse in the comfortable Queensland weather may have you thinking Velothon is just an easy ride out in the sun. However, riders will quickly realise the challenge unlike anything they’ve undertaken before. 


Velothon – Beautifully Brutal:

Within the first five kilometres, we begin to discover the unique challenge of the Velothon Sunshine Coast. Ahead of us, the road pitches skyward. It’s steep and short. The climb wipes our speed away almost immediately. We’ve underestimated the steepness of the road. I am over-geared. In a quick decision, I hold the same gear, choosing to push on over the top.

“It’s only short, it’ll be fine,” we tell ourselves. The crest of the climb is aggressive and brief. Once we have reached the top, it’s as though we are on a rollercoaster, idling for a second on the crest of the climb, before plummeting down the other side. The descent is equally as steep and short. Within seconds, we are tucked down onto our top tubes, the sudden speed tempting us to go faster and faster. Ahead we see it: the road turns up once more. Another short, steep pinch awaits us.

It is here, with the consistent rollercoaster-like undulations that the true challenge of Velothon shows itself. It is a key characteristic of every stage of the 3 Day Velothon and it’s a prominent element of the 1 Day Velothon. Before the event, this relentless climbing and descending may initially go unnoticed – it’s tough to gauge the level of difficulty from reading the profiles –  but only after 10-15 km of starting your Velothon journey, your legs will notice.

It’s almost impossible not to get lost amongst the beauty of the Sunshine Coast hinterland. The long shadow of the Glass House Mountains is a stunning reference point as you ride, continually appearing at different points along the course. Velothon is a feast for the eyes as much as it is for the legs.

Cyclist’s Favourite:

Our favourite climb from the first day came in the form of the first classified KOM. Sheltered by the tropical trees and forest life on the either side, the climb has an even and gradual gradient. It has beautiful twists and turns, making it feel as though you are riding in Europe in your very own grand tour. The road is perfectly smooth, tempting you to play with your gears.

Do you leave it in the big ring and try and hold the speed? Or do you choose an easier gear and have the advantage of quicker accelerations? I choose the former. I kick, pushing ahead from the group.

The speed of the climb surprises me. It almost pulls me along, it is asking for more. The road bends right, hugging a cliff face. Marcus Enno, more commonly known as Beardy McBeard, stands on top of it. He has a camera in his hand. It is at this moment that I pull back from myself and properly take in the view around me.

Out to my the left, through the thicket of trees, the valley opens up – a rolling sea of green fills my view for as long as I can see. It’s stunning. I look ahead at the steepening gradient ahead. It pulls me back to the bike, to the ride and to the climb. I can not wipe the smile off my face. This is fun.

Velothon loves to walk the line between beauty and brutality, oscillating between the two during every kilometre. There is one climb, on the first stage of the 3 Day Velothon, which shows the sharp and sudden stabs of brutality that an event likes to spring on riders.

A sign at the base of the climb gives a warning: VERY STEEP CLIMB. You can feel the nervousness in the air as we approach it. “Here we go,” I hear from behind. The road almost jackknifes on itself as we ride past the sign. There is no easing into this one, it’s 900m of pure power climbing.

This was just one of several “VERY STEEP CLIMBS”

“I am at 370w and we’re going 6km/h!” Matthew Keenan says as we ride. He is short of breath, and rightly so, the gradients are punishing. Although it’s less than an kilometre long, the road seems to climb for an eternity. Velothon participants would be wise to time their effort on this beast, leaving some energy in the tank for the final few hundred metres.

The Velothon is not “just” steep and aggressive climbs, however. Day 2 features a series of fast and dramatic stretches of road. This is a clear highlight of the route, showing off the impressive diversity of the Sunshine Coast. 

We’ve just turned right and a narrow road opens up before us. The road straightens and the gradients even out. “This is a great section from Day 2,” David says as we begin to pick up speed. On either side of us, giant pine trees stand guard by the roadside. The road cuts through the forest like a knife, and suddenly it feels as though we are riding in a completely different part of the world. 

Mark Ferguson, or Cycling Maven on Youtube, yells out to us along this stretch of road. “This is it! This is it!” he says. “We have to get the drone out! This is stunning.”

The Grand Challenge:

Every cycling event has its main talking piece. The one ‘Grand Challenge’ of the whole event, that will push even the fittest of competitors. For Velothon Sunshine Coast, this comes in the form of the ominous Obi Obi climb.

Organisers have placed this behemoth of a climb during the final ‘Queen Stage’ on Day 3. After a beautiful start that rolls along the impressive coastline north of Mooloolaba, riders will reach Noosa, before heading back inland.

It will be tempting to go too hard along this stretch, with the rolling roads making it easy to start pushing the speed. However, riders need to keep in mind that at over 100km into that stage, with the fatigue from the first two days, they will tackle the hardest feature of the whole Velothon.

Due to road works, we had to see the Obi Obi from the car. As we approached the climb, there were gasps and sighs of relief from the car. You can tell immediately, this thing means business. At around 3.5-5km long depending on when you ‘classify’ the start, the climb reaches (and holds) a scary 27% gradient.

The road is relentless, giving riders no rest from its impossibly steep gradients. It’s a beautiful stretch of road, though riders are unlikely to notice. Riders will be busy battling their bikes up the climb, muscling their machines with every metre. It’s going to be tough to reach the summit without walking, the sheer uncompromising nature of the climb making a unique challenge. And the Velothon organisers are ready.

Although we didn’t get the chance to ride the Obi Obi, there is plenty of stunning roads before it 

“We wanted it to be a challenge, something to push yourself on,” David tells us as we drive up the road, our mouths open in awe as the car struggles on a steep pinch. “It’s going to be tough, and we realise that,” he says. “But we’ll have carpet out on the road for those that end up walking – we want to protect those cleats.”

I had never heard of an event that lays carpet out in the anticipation of riders walking up a climb. However, seeing the Obi Obi in person, it’s justified. The whole three days will build up towards this very climb, Velothon’s final and most challenging test.  

During the night following the final stage of Velothon, riders will gather in the Velo Clubhouse, overlooking the beach. They will be drinking beer and having a coffee. The Tour de France highlights will be playing in the background, but the conversation in the tent will not be about Chris Froome. It’ll about the Obi Obi – did you walk or ride? It’ll be about the stunning Glass House Mountains and rolling beach roads. The views and the funny moments out on the road. It’ll about Velothon Sunshine Coast and how it was a ride of a lifetime.

Head across to the Sunshine Coast website for entry details.

Our preview doesn’t stop here. Get all the details around each stage including stage maps, distance, elevation and what to expect:

Stage 1 – Sippy Downs to Buderim

Stage 2 – Caloundra to Nambour

Stage 3 – Twin Waters to Mooloolaba

Photos by Marcus Enno – Beardy Mcbeard