Canberra cyclists gear up for historic Fitz’s Challenge ride

30 Sep 19 | By pp-admin | Fitzs

Fitz’s Challenge is one of the toughest bike riding events in Australia. Canberra’s steely one-day cycle endurance event is held every year at the end of October. It offers spectacular scenery and the kind of cramp-inducing uphill rides that hook serious cyclists and keep them coming back year after year to face Fitz’s Hill.

Michelle Inglis is one such Canberra cyclist, who is gearing up ahead of this year’s challenge. She has completed the Fitz’s Classic course “3 or 4 times” so far. That’s impressive.

The 165 km route offers 2940 metres of climbs and grades over 12%, with an 11-hour target time. That’s no easy feat.

Inglis says that entering an event like Fitz’s gives you something positive to aim for. “Have Fitz’s as a goal. It’s an endurance challenge but there’s a great community spirit. It’s beautiful riding out on the course and you’ll feel a real sense of satisfaction of achieving it,” adds Inglis.

30 years strong

This year marks the 30th year of Fitz’s Challenge and is expected to have the largest number of entrants ever. It’s best-known by cyclists for the challenge that riding up the gruelling Fitz’s Hill presents.

Fitz’s Hill is an epic climb of 270 metres (from an altitude of 655 metres to 925 metres) over 2.6 km. A dip in the climb means that most of the hill climb has a gradient of 12 % – 13%, which is a “severe” climb in cycling terms. This isn’t a cycling race, it’s all about completing the uphill challenge in a set time, if you can.

The first ever ‘Fitz’s Randonneur Challenge’ took place in 1989 as part of Canberra’s Bike Week activities. 37 riders participated in the first event, with a choice of 2 routes – a 100 km and a 150 km course. The idea behind the inaugural ride was that holding an annual endurance cycle challenge at this time of year, would be a good way for riders to get fit ahead of the next racing season.

Greg Cunningham first cycled in Fitz’s Challenge in the mid-90s. He then volunteered out on the course for a few years, before going on to co-ordinate the event for a couple of years. Cunningham has cycled in Fitz’s Challenge “at least 9 times” over the years, including the 150 km route in the 90s and the 210 km later on. His strongest memories of riding Fitz’s over the years are of the beautiful scenery, the chilly mornings at the start of the ride and of course, the leg cramps.

“It’s very pretty out there in the foothills of the Brindabellas, out in the countryside, you get some great views when you get up the top of the hills, it’s very scenic.”

“It’s good to get over Fitz’s Hill, because it’s quite a climb, so it’s a relief, you feel like you’re achieving it and you can really enjoy the views,” Cunningham adds.

Fitz’s evolution

Fitz’s Challenge has stood the test of time, growing and evolving over the years. Now 3 decades on from the first ever event, over 1200 cyclists take part every October. The course routes and distance have altered slightly over time, but the friendly ethos has remained the same.

In 1998 Pedal Power ACT took over the organisation of Fitz’s Challenge. Since then Pedal Power volunteers have been an integral part of event day, helping to make it so successful.

Over the years the course route has been modified slightly. The start/finish line had to be moved to Tharwa village after the 2003 bush fires destroyed the Cotter River Bridge.  After Stromlo Forest Park opened in 2007, the ride start/finish naturally progressed to there.

Today Fitz’s Challenge offers cyclists a choice of 5 courses. At the top end is Fitz’s Extreme Challenge – the toughest of the 5 rides available. The Extreme 255 km course boasts 5000 metres of climbing, grades over 12% with a target time of 13.5 hrs. True grit and legs of steel required.

There are also 105 km, 165 km and 210 km options. The extended rides were added in over the years, for cyclists who enjoy the challenge of a longer ride with lots of climbs. The shortest 50 km route is billed as an “achievable” ride for most cyclists (as long as they have put in some decent uphill training rides beforehand). 

Community spirit

Fitz’s Challenge is known locally for its friendly ethos, welcoming and encouraging volunteers out on the course and the tasty catering.  Each checkpoint has nutritious cakes and slices, as well as fruit and specialty drinks to keep riders fuelled up.

This year’s 30th celebratory cycle challenge event is hoping to have the most entrants in the ride’s history. Fitz’s Challenge is not a race, it’s a personal endurance challenge. Just you and your bike, against the climbs. With plenty of friendly support along the route, amidst breath-taking scenery.

There’s still time to sign up for this year’s historic 30th anniversary ride. Fitz’s Challenge takes place on Sunday 27th October 2019. Entrants can also choose to fundraise for the event’s partner charity The Kids’ Cancer Project if they like.

For more info and to register go to: