Last weekend I survived one of the most challenging cycling sportif in Australia, if not in the world. This 235km circuit encompasses the Victorian Alpine National Park, including climbs to a couple of nicest Alpine resorts Victoria has to offer - Falls Creek and Mount Hotham.
The Victorian Alps has been the training camp of the new GreenEdge Pro Tour team and other Australian Pro riders this summer.
@BadenCooke (GreenEdge) tweeted:
Baden might have had the map turned upside down, but the group got around with ease. As tweeted the next day
You know, Pro Tour riders do not tweet their training rides lightly. This must be special.
There is some planning to do before this ride. In fact, I have prepared for it in the last 2 years, mostly over lattes and big breakfasts, telling myself that I needed to climb stronger next ride.
I worried about 235km. It is a massive distance. I have done many 200km rides, including the Audax Alpine Classic this year . So I am familiar with Tawonga Gap. But I have never been to Omeo and the back of Falls Creek.
Mt Hotham is a tamed beast. You have to know how to temper it or else you will get beaten hard. There is a false flat but semi-exposed section mid portion of the climb and steeper gradients before and after. I knew I had to time my effort. I was too weary to remember every detail, but there is help on the climb! Someone is clever enough to name and sign posted the most difficult parts of Mt Hotham. Bicycle Network Victoria also puts timing check points so you will know where it exactly starts and finishes.
I am not sure anyone knows why “the Meg” (Strava data) is called that, but this 300m long stretch of bitumen with an average gradient of 10% requires a mighty effort. In addition you would have been doing some 8% incline already. Once I saw the infamous road sign bearing the name of the section, I told myself “This is it!” Then the left hairpin approached and Ka-BOOM! I was off the saddle and pain started on the legs. There were many riders along me, suffering just as much. I did not allow myself to lose face and stop! I had to push on! Once finished it is back to some 4-5% gradient - Ha!
Some kilometers after the false flat you will reach the finale of Mt Hotham and you may mistaken this is the top because it starts with a small descend. Yes, this is just the start of Pain Lane aka CRB Hill (Strava data). During 3 peaks, I felt less disappointed with prior knowledge, but it was NEVER going to be easy. You see. You are exposed. Your legs are getting overworked after 1000m of vertical gain up to this point, and your mental state is as fragile as bare grey tree branches, with tips still bearing signs of devastating bushfire a decade ago. CRB Hill also starts with a road sign "Engage low gear" - a devastating message. I tilted my head up but the wind blew strongly and abruptly on my face, telling me "don't look, just pedal." I walked this section 2 years ago, but not this time! Grind!
You will be able see all of the final 2km of Hotham (Strava data) on a sunny clear day as it is above the tree line. It is like Mount Vetoux without the rocks. Over the cliff on the left side, there is an unbelievable view of trees hundreds of meters below and I realized how close I was to heaven. The end of the climb is just behind the first right hand bend, where Bicycle Network Victoria put a photographer to capture your pain face and electronic timing of the climb finishes. The long beep that the device made was not present, reminding me of the noise that an ECG machine makes with a flat liner. Brutal… but at least that is the true signal of the end of Hotham.
Sure enough, I had to save enough energy to tackle the back of Falls Creek at the 195km mark (Strava data). The road is newly laid with rough, hard quartz and there are about 4 to 5 major efforts of 10-13% (with a maximum of 19%), with some 0-2% roads in between. One area even shows a slight decline. I saw many things I never experienced on a climb - Tour de France style cheering by the locals, people fell off their bikes with leg cramps, witnessing a fit rider walking up a climb, a few people fixing their tyre punctures and one idiot showing off by pushing up with a 39-21T. My 28T receives a lot of grinding and velocity has hit a single digit. Where is my compact crank?
Besides the major descends, the road between Diners Plain and Omeo is undulating and there are descend climbs before the back of Falls Creek. This makes up a total 4300m of climbing for the day.
With the Wolf Pack accompanying me only in spirits, I ventured away with Mrs T and the little ones on Friday. I didn't want a long traveling day on Saturday but we could only make as far as Mount Beauty, where we parked at a local motel. It was still a good 4 hour drive from Melbourne.
I went for a short ride at Mount Beauty as it is flat and picturesque, before packing again for Falls Creek.
Friday departure was a wise move, leaving less than an hour drive to the Falls. We spotted a few land slides and road repair on the climb. Unloading was uneventful but a 30 minute car time at the village was a bit of a rush. Overnight parking was miles away at the designated spots. We brought ample food supply to the apartment hotel as local food store received high demands during the weekend. So Mrs T was handy at her part to make lots of food for me. While the food was on the stove, I went to get my bike scrutinized as BV wants to see if I have front and rear lights in working orders before giving me the riders pack at the information centre. I quickly attached to the bike at the apartment. The timing device is incorporated with the rider number, being wrapped around the seat post. This takes lots of skill to apply neatly and I am not good at that at all.
Valet service - Another thing to be done on Saturday was valet bag packing. There are 3 spots for valet service - Hurrietville, Dinner Plain and Anglers Rest. You can put a return bag at Dinner Plain so all the excess gear are to be returned to Falls Creek. A very handy service indeed and I fully utilized that. I put fruit cakes as well as some energy gels and Gatorade powder, although Powerade was provided at rest stops.
I think the return service was a big bonus, since this year it was clear and cold at the start. We started off descending at 6 degree Celsius and I had arm & knee warmers, long finger gloves, shoe cover and gilet on. This is just warm enough for the descent. I quickly took most off before the first climb of Tawonga gap but I had to carry them to Dinner Plain. There was only twilight when we started at 0645 so I was lucky to have my newly purchased Exposure Joystick dishing out a lovely 300 lumens. I can descend down with some confident and soon enough before reaching Bonong village no light was required.
The rest of the day was either a blur or I can only remember as much as I can for this post. I remember saying hello to Ben Barnett on his Baum and also chatted with Wade Wallace @cyclingtips at the lunch stop. I managed to hang on Wade’s back wheel before he skipped away with his O2 racing mates.
BV set closing times at each drink station, and after that time you will be asked to board the sag wagon, for safety reason and with no exception. I ticked all the boxes as I passed each station, saying to myself, "Yes I beat that closing time by hours", and "this one too". At the last check point - the gate up 10km from Falls Creek village. It was 4:30pm (with closing time at 7:30pm) and I knew I got it all sealed up. I knew I could make the distance within the required time. I relaxed and slowly cruise up to the finish line.
Awesome feeling it was at the finish. I raised my arm and screamed as loud as I could and marshall personals at the finish line roared with me. My name was called out in amongst the background of cheering from family and friends of fellow riders. I stopped and people handed me energy drinks, before I followed the picket fence to a marquee where a podium is set up to present your finisher jersey and a photo taken. I managed to see my family then and a hot dog and a hot chocolate were waiting for me.
I finished the day in 10 hours and 31 minutes, some 2 hours behind the first man across the line, a pro rider named Nick Mitchell, who was invited by BV to set the pace. I am sure a challenge is now laid to see who would be the first person to beat Nick Mitchell at 3 peaks. I just know it won't be me.
I will do this ride again and I would love finish with the Wolf Pack next year. This has been the most fulfilling day on my bike and I highly recommend to at least giving it a go. People came from every where in Australia to enter this and 93% finished this year. It is gathering popularity and the finisher jersey will be proudly shown off this weekend!
My strava data: Here
Bicycle Network’s photoscream: Here
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