The year Fitz’s nearly stopped

12 Sep 22 | By pp-admin | Fitzs, Pedal Power

When Clem Tozer isn’t volunteering for the Red Cross or his golf club, he can be found leading the volunteer Fitz’s Challenge committee. 

Ask Clem a question, any question, about the Fitz’s Challenge past or present, and he’ll have the answer. What’s in the snack packs for riders? Clem knows. Where do the portaloosneed to go? Clem knows. Where do route signs need to go? Clem knows. 

He lives and breathes Fitz’s for large portions of every year, and has done for almost 20 years, when he first started volunteering with the event. 

“2003 was my first year volunteering with Fitz’s,” says Clem. “I’d ridden it a couple of times in the previous years, but in late 2002, a bushfire looked like it might signal the end of the event,” he recalls.

“The fire destroyed the bridge over the Cotter River, meaning we couldn’t start the 2003 ride at the traditional point in Eucumbene Drive.  We had to start and finish on the south side of the Murrumbidgee valley.  This complication, and the fact that the long-time chief organiser, Greg Cunningham, was going to France to do the iconic Paris – Brest – Paris challenge, meant that Fitz’s Challenge looked like folding,” he recalls.

‘This complication meant that Fitz’s Challenge looked like folding’

Clem says a small band of Fitz’s aficionados got together to find a way to keep Fitz’s running. “Fortunately, we were able to establish an event hub at Tharwa hall,” he says. Not only did they save the event, but they managed to grow it from the two ride options that had been on offer, to five, ranging from 50 km to 250 km.

“Fitz’s ran out of Tharwa until 2006, and it was during this time that we introduced more distances – the 200 km ride and a shorter 50 km ride were introduced first, then came the Extreme 250 km.”  

Since 2007, the event has been centered at Stromlo Forest Park.

His enthusiasm for the event is obvious. He cares about every detail, from the colour of the official jersey, to making sure there are vegetarian options in the rider lunches. 

Clem works closely with fellow committee member John Widdup. Together, they tackle every detail from the government approvals process to the electronic timing to the radio operations on the day.  

In many ways, organising the event is not so different to riding it, Clem says. “Just like those who train for months ahead of event day, the committee plans for months in advance,” Clem says. “As the event day draws near, work really ramps up, to the point of becoming almost overwhelming – I liken it to the hard slog riders face as they pedal their way up Fitz’s hill, keeping their eyes on the top and never giving up.”  

Just like a rider facing a giant hill ahead, as the work builds in the days leading up to the event Clem finds himself wondering if it’s all worth it. “The inevitable last minute changes can be stressful. Last year, for example, it bucketed down for days before the event, and we ended up with some significant flooding across the course. This meant re-routing a couple of the rides the night before, and trying to get word out to riders to let them know”. 

Despite the stresses event management inevitably bring, event day brings Clem a sense of satisfaction (with a fair dose of relief). “On the day, to see hundreds of riders out there, testing their limits and achieving their dreams of conquering the Fitz’s Challenge, I know it’s all been worth it”. 

The Fitz’s Challenge will run on Sunday 30 October 2022, with seven routes on offer, ranging from 50 km to 255 km. If you’d like to volunteer for a role before or during the event, contact us HERE. There are various volunteer spots available, including photography and videography, checkpoint management, logistics coordination, registration and fundraising.