Passing the baton

If there’s been a non-selfish reason for trying to stay fit in my 40’s, it’s been to be able to train with my kids if they ever set their sights on some sort of foolish physical endeavour. I mean, what sort of teenager doesn’t want to push the limits of their physical endurance, while also listening to their Dad bang on about past glories?

Basically I would be part Yoda and part Mr. Miyagi (from Karate Kid), passing on sage advice, and talking in a way that becomes less cute and endearing the more I speak.
In this fantasy, I was the one providing the slipstream on the bike when they were tired, or pacing them through a long run…or looking more appetising to sharks on an open water swim. There may come a time when I realised that I had done such a good job that they were actually better than me…but this would be years down the track, and would of course be a moment of celebration and magnanime.

So about a year ago Josh started getting passionate about cycling. Pretty soon he was doing rides of over 100kms, then he had a better bike than me…then he RODE TO SANDY POINT! (which is a ride I had always written off as being too tough). So I felt that it was time for the wise sensei to step in and arrange for us to do our first organised ride together.

Josh at the end of his ride from Preston to Sandy Point…over 200kms!

The Giro Della Donna

The ride I chose was the Giro Della Donna, which is a 125km ride that features a climb up Mt Donna Buang. I chose this ride because:

a) I’d done it before, so could pass on some information (or keep it to myself if I was feeling petty)
b) The people who do the ride are a great group of people, so Josh would feel supported as he tried desperately to stay on my wheel as we did the final mountain climb
c) The ride is primarily uphill…and while I don’t have a ‘strength’ in cycling, going uphill is certainly my ‘least weakness’

So we signed up and I set about finding reasons why I couldn’t train (moving out of home while our kitchen was being renovated was a brilliant first step). After all, my one abiding memory of the first time I did this ride was thinking ‘the next time I do this, I’m not going to come in underdone’, and I have no intention of learning from my mistakes.


The first proper training ride we did was an 80km ride from Mount Martha to Ivanhoe. Pretty much straight out of the gate I realised that not only was Josh much stronger on the flat sections, but he also had my measure on the climbs, and was fearless on the descents. Instead of me taking the lead and him sitting on my wheel, I found myself tucked in behind him for large sections of the ride.
But I still had an ace up my sleeve. Years of riding long distances had taught me how to conserve energy, and so when we came to the final hill, I knew I would be able to jump out of the saddle and show that this old dog still had a bit left in him.
We hit the final hill and Josh effortlessly left me for dead on the climb, in a way that could only have been more devastating if I had actually gone backwards down the hill as he accelerated away.
I was starting to wonder if there was a scene I had missed in Karate Kid where Daniel beat the living crap out of Mr Miyagi.

The look on Josh’s face any time I tried to roll to the front.

We then did a training ride up to Kinglake. Perhaps a long sustained climb would be where my Cadel Evans diesel engine would show up his Tadej Pogacar youthful enthusiasm.


Instead Josh headed off up the climb and offered to circle back when he passed me on the descent to do the rest of the climb with me.
Fortunately, I wasn’t so far behind him that this was necessary. But I was starting to re-evaluate just how much ‘support’ I was going to be for Josh for the big ride.

Always pause any bike ride to get a photo of hot air balloons (and to take a rest)

On our final training ride I ended up breaking a spoke and limping home on a very wobbly back wheel that needed to be replaced. In terms of metaphorical portents…the wheels quite literally falling off…seemed a little on the nose.

But at the same time, Josh and I had enjoyed some great rides together, we had seen early morning hot-air balloons sailing over the Eastern Freeway, and I had finally gone for some rides that weren’t just me sitting on the trainer watching episodes of ‘F1 – Drive to survive’ on the iPad.

The ride itself

By the time the ride came around, I knew that I simply didn’t have the legs to keep up with Josh. So I was left with three choices:

a) asking Josh to ride with me for the first 90kms and then let him do the gravel section and climb up Mount Donna Buang by himself
b) try desperately to stay with Josh for as long as possible and then just hope I still had the stamina to finish the ride when he disappeared into the distance.
c) let Josh do his own ride, and pass the baton to the new generation.

I initially went with option ‘a’, as when I did the ride last time there was a photo booth at the top of the climb and I really wanted to get a shot of us together…but didn’t want him to freeze to death waiting for me…and I figured at best he would be 20mins ahead of me by the end of the gravel and climb. So this would be a good compromise of riding together, and him getting to challenge himself.

But, if you’re hoping for one of those inspirational stories where the wiley old fox actually has an amazing day and rides with the young pup the whole way…this is not one of those stories.

Just 10kms into the ride, Josh very politely told me that it ‘might be hard for us to stick together’. I agreed and looked for a metaphorical baton to pass on to him…but when I looked back, he was already about 200m ahead of me…and by the time I reached the climb up Donna Buang about 4 hours later, he was just about at the finish line.

Feared pirate ‘Captain Mistbeard’ finds it just a little cold and wet at the top of Donna Buang

So what does it mean?

Well, the fragile middle-aged man in me wants to say ‘He beat me by nearly 2 hours!’ But that’s a pretty shitty perspective. The truth of the matter is, we’ve found a passion that we share. As a result of that, we got to head out on bikes and spend hours exploring Victoria together. And when it came to the actual ride, I was humble enough to realise that he was fitter and stronger than me…and he was polite enough to wait for me at the finish and cheer me on!
The COVID-19 lockdowns may have robbed me of the few months when I was going to be stronger than Josh on the bike, but they also brought us a lot closer together as people.

I don’t know if it’s irony or serendipity, but the part of the ride that I had resigned myself to be riding alone for (the gravel section along the Acheron Way and the climb up Donna Buang), were actually the best parts of the ride for me! I got to meet Simon Gerrans. I rode the entire gravel section with two other guys, and we chatted the whole time…and then I got chatting to someone else on the climb up Mt Donna Buang. None of us were never going to light-up the leaderboard, or be smashing out massive watts that we could gloat over on Strava. We were just gentlemen of a certain age, riding bikes and enjoying each other’s company.

Winning KOMs, and pulling heroic turns on the front of the group…is a young man’s game.
Trying to relive past glories is a recipe for disaster.
Riding a bike should be fun
– Chris Riordan, 2022

So whatever cycling baton I have, I pass to Josh and his generation.
Cycling is a lot like life; you get out of it what you put in…and I can see how much effort he’s putting in.
I’m just glad to be along for the ride!

For the record, yes, I was standing in a large hole, and that’s why Josh is so much taller than me!

10 thoughts on “Passing the baton”

  1. A great story, Riordo.

    Isn’t it the way that parents want their kids to live a better and happier life than they themselves have lived? If that’s true, you’re smashing it and have so much of which you can be proud.

  2. Awesome Chris. I love that you’re still insistent you could have beat him if Covid hadn’t hit. Defiant till the end!

    I used to ride motorbike with gerro at Goughs before he smashed his knee trying to pull a mono. That’s why he started push bike riding I’m pretty sure. Lovely guy.

  3. Love it Chris! It’s brilliant that you have inspired him to ride. I well remember the last time you completed The giro della Donna – I was there and you’re a great rider!

  4. Your zest for riding and your gift of bikie freedom to Josh were in perfect balance.
    As usual delicious humour kept pace with you.
    Thank you Chris. Priceless story beautifully narrated.

  5. Just beautiful Chris. You’re a wonderful Dad (and human being for that matter). Your whole family is a delight to be around and a marvellous reflection of you and Katie.

  6. Nice one Chris-an entertaining read.
    Next on the list-“Jack Fahey’s Desert Ride -Melbourne to Perth”.
    Alternatively perhaps as a warm up event- Melbourne to Portland.
    Lynda and I will be your ground crew!

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