The 2015 Bottlemart Smiddy Challenge saw an amazing 53 riders take on the 1600 km from Brisbane to Townsville over eight days across August and September. End to end, the peloton cycled over 84 000 km—that’s the equivalent of going around the equator twice, with kilometres spare to ride from Brisbane to Perth for good measure.
For first time Challenge rider Liz Butler, taking on 1600 km in the saddle was all about mind over body. Despite an athletic resume including competing in triathlons, a half-IRONMAN and twice finishing marathons, Liz never considered herself a cyclist. “I had zero peloton experience, I was definitely the cycling novice in the group,” Liz said.
Two weeks out from rolling out of Brisbane on the ride Liz knew it was going to be tough, but was looking forward to what the challenge would bring out of her, saying “you really never know what each person will bring, that only comes out in tough circumstances.”
Turns out Liz’s pre-ride thoughts were prophetic and she showed toughness in spades. Asked by a fellow rider during a long day in the saddle if she was in the ‘hurt locker’, Liz’s responded with “well I’m not in the hurt locker yet but I can see it across the room,” while continuing to grind out the endless kilometres on the bike. Liz truly exemplifies the Smiddy spirit.
“It was hard, really tough,” Liz said. “But if a non-cyclist like me can finish it then believe me, anyone can. It’s a real testament to the whole team, who really focused on getting everyone through each day together. There are all types of cyclists in the peloton, from a novice like me to elite riders, but there is absolutely no ego at all.”
The team included 17 road crew and four support vehicles, to feed, wash and shepherd the peloton through the Challenge, ensuring they arrived safe and sound each day.
When asked about the eight days riding and long training in preparation, Liz had no hesitation. “I would do it 1000 times over. It was absolutely worth it. I really can’t describe what it’s like; I think you just have to do it. But I will say it was the most remarkable, life-affirming experience. On the road you really see there is so much good in so many people.”
While each day of the Challenge brought its own unique aspects, riding with primary school kids was Liz’s trip highlight. “Seeing 53 riders, all in the same lycra costume, most of the men sporting a Smiddy Challenge beard—in the kids’ eyes the peloton must have seemed like superheroes and that’s exactly how they responded to us. It was such a great buzz for us and the school kids.”
The school visits also offered an important chance to spread the sun safety message to prevent melanomas, with the aid of lots of coloured zinc and the riders’ faces as a canvas. Being able to spread this message is incredibly important, given the impact melanoma and other cancers have had on so many riders, including Liz.
The spirit, mateship and teamwork experienced in a Smiddy peloton affects new riders and veterans alike. The 2015 Challenge was the latest chapter in a story of people coming together to do whatever it takes to make a difference in the fight against cancer. As Liz puts it, “it’s just a massive force for good.”