Been a while between posts I know… I took a few weeks off work so that I could study for two exams – legal ethics & family law. If I have successfully passed those two then it will leave three subjects remaining – practice and procedure, jurisprudence and an elective. A nervous five week wait until the results arrive in the post! The day after my second exam I picked up a car, packed, collected my mate Sam and we both headed down to Victoria for the 3 Peaks Challenge.
We had done a fair amount of training but there is always that doubt that you’ve done enough to ride 235km in a day, especially when that includes riding up two of Australia’s tallest peaks – Mt Hotham & Falls Creek. We stopped off at a friend’s B&B in Beechworth for some afternoon tea – ‘Albertines’. If you are looking for a place to stay in and around that area I can’t recommend it enough – Owen & Judy have spent the better part of the last 10 years doing it up and it is one of the most beautiful homes I’ve seen and they are very welcoming hosts.
Got to Falls Creek around 5:30pm – took about 8 hours from Sydney. We stayed at Astra Lodge – we were part of the ‘Tour de Cure’ group. This was their last big ride before they ride from Sydney to Melbourne over 10 days raising money & awareness in the fight against cancer.
Friday night was spent chowing down as many carbohydrates as humanly possible in one sitting in the form of three pizzas, potato wedges and the like. Saturday most of the other riders arrived and we registered for the event, got our food bags (which allowed us to drop food off at two designated spots along the route), had our bikes checked for fitness (brakes, lights etc…) and did a small 20km team ride to stretch the legs before the big one. It is amazing how much the altitude affects your fitness – even barely turning the legs over seemed much more laborious than usual. Below is a shot taken just before our training ride:
Saturday lunch I bought some pasta and a can of dolmio pasta sauce and whipped up a basic meal in the microwave – most of the restaurants in the area wanted $30-$40 for a similar dish so why not make it yourself?
Saturday night was again carb loading time – a lemon & parmesan grain dish that Astra produced was absolutely delicious but after two platefuls I was near to bursting point. Off to bed.
Didn’t get much sleep as I was too excited about the ride – got up at 4:30am, showered and went over the bike with a fine tooth comb one final time. Could only fit in 3 pieces of toast for breakfast and then out for the team photo at 6:45am whilst it was still pitch-black.
The official start of the ride was very slow – we had a roughly 30km descent down to Mt. Beauty and with 1100 odd riders on a wet road we weren’t hitting top speeds – everyone seemed very cautious and I didn’t see a single crash which was good. The descent alone took about 1hr.
After we hit the flat sections we naturally bunched up in to smaller groups and you find other riders who go at around the same pace/speed as you – for instance the guy in red behind me in the shot above was with me for about 200km out of the 235km of the ride. You have ample time to chat and get to know people and that is one of the joys of cycling the longer distances – as well as sharing the pain and knowing what others are going through!
The first ‘peak’ of the day was Tawonga gap and that was relatively straightforward – over in just under 30 mins before a fast descent and long flat ride out to Harrietville where we had our first food drop & water station. For those who don’t cycle a great deal, on most rides you have two 750ml water bottles on the frame of your bike, with another bottle of powerade etc… in one of three back pockets that you have and in the remaining two pockets you tend to stuff full of food. The food varies from person to person and it depends what you can stomach. I like having solid food – bananas, muesli bars, breadrolls etc… whilst others like having energy/gel bars. Overall the idea is firstly to stay hydrated and secondly on longer rides to keep your carb intake up – approx 1g of carbohydrates for every kg of body weight per hour – so I needed to maintain about 70g of carbs per hour. Half of these will come from 1x750ml bottle of powerade and the remainder from your food.
After the feed stop was a long (35km), slow (2hr) climb up Mt. Hotham. Visibility was down to around 5-10m so was dangerous at times – particularly with the traffic.
Up the climbs it was every man for themselves – no energy-saving here (on the flat sections you ride in groups and the rider at the front rotates – above about 30km/h you get a roughly 20% energy saving by being out of the wind). Once at the top it was a short ride to Dinner Plain for lunch (bacon & eggs, chocolate milkshake) before jumping back on the bike and descending down to Omeo. This was the fastest I have ever descended hitting a top speed of 90.2km/h. Another water stop in Omeo before one of the most beautiful sections of road anywhere in Australia – the Omeo Highway between Bingo Munjie & Anglers Rest – a 35km ride wrapping around the side of a mountain following the Mitta Mitta River – absolutely magnificent and a perfect way to rest a little before the final assault – another 35km climb up the back of Falls Creek!
The Falls Creek climb was arguably harder than Mt Hotham – not only because you’re hitting it after already riding 201km, but because of the gradient of the hill and it’s unrelenting shape – there are no switchbacks to get your breath back! After about 22km of climbing you come out to a clearing and you know that the hardest part is over – now all that remains between you and the finish line is 15km of fast, flowing road around the Rocky Valley Storage reservoir and on to the finish.
I must admit I was a little emotional when I crossed the finish line, having set this as one of my big challenges for the year but I managed to hold it together just in time to jump in a hot spa and put those jets of water on to my now aching muscles. Total time was 10hrs 41mins, ride time 9hrs 13mins. About 85th out of 1100 or so riders. Full details here.
This has to be one of the best 1-day cycling events in the country. Bicycle Victoria do an amazing job of organising and running the event, the locations are amazing (Falls Creek seems to open up out of ski season for this event), the volunteers always seem to have a smile on their faces and the ride itself offers a bit of everything. I will definitely be back again next year!