Summertime in Bright usually only means one thing. It’s hot. I haven’t ridden an Alpine Classic where the weather hasn’t at some point soared over 35. This year was an exception. The forecast was for an absolutely perfect 29. Waiting to start at MAMIL Central, the start line in the centre of Bright, something strange started to happen. I started to really believe that if things went right I would be able to beat my best time. Things going right included such things as no back pain, no shoulder pain, no mechanical delays and only stopping at the planned points. Let’s look back on these a little later. Right then, at the start line, waiting with approximately 500 riders, most of them MAMIL’s, I was just happy to take in the atmosphere and enjoy the anticipation of the ride.
The air was filled with all the usual MAMIL talk. How much they’d trained, how little they’d trained. How well their bodies were holding up, discussions of painful lower backs and remedies were plentiful. The number of times they’d done the Alpine Classic, what their expectations were for the day. How this day compared to a ride one of them did 8 years ago on a similarly mild day, et cetera, et cetera. I absolutely loved it.
From the time I started doing the Alpine Classic I’ve worn a different jersey on each ride. This year would be no different, but it would be more meaningful than others. This year I was wearing the Kids Cancer Project jersey which I’d been given for raising over $750 for their charity. Deciding to do some fundraising for this year’s event gave me a little extra purpose and I was particularly pleased to have raised enough money to be able to wear the jersey. Over the last couple of years I’ve done most of my riding in the Greenwood Peleton colours. It felt strange not being in the usual gear as I felt as though I was betraying my crew. Oh well, given the reason I was sure they’d forgive me.
And then finally we were rolling. I started my bike computer, time was ticking. The ultimate goal, to go under 10hrs (a huge target), the next was to beat my previous best time of 10hrs 20mins. Tough but not out of reach.
As always the start of the ride is a real mixture of sensations. Excitement, cautiousness, bravado, fear, but above all faith. Faith not necessarily in the big fella upstairs, but in knowing the training had been done. As a result, the peleton was jittery right up to the point of the first climb. The pace to that point was easy. Most were happy to conserve energy for when it would be required, the second half of the ride. There are those of course who ride as if possessed at a pace that seems unsustainable. I was in the group doing the easy pace. My time gains would be made up on the climbing, not the flat traversing stages.
The true start of the Tawonga Gap climb always seems to surprise me. The gradient appears steeper than the 4% described by the Climbing Cyclist (see link to his review below). It’s here that the group I was riding with quickly fell apart. I’d decided to tackle this first climb at a steady pace, but this wasn’t from the perspective of watching my speed as much as it was about watching my cadence. With my compact crank and 11-28 cassette I was able to keep the cadence as close to 90 as possible. I knew I wouldn’t be able to sustain it all day, but in the early stages it wasn’t too bad. Before I knew it I was over the top and enjoying the first descent of the day. Lots of switchbacks make the descent lots of fun, but it’s always difficult getting around riders who can take up a lot of the road but aren’t going fast enough to warrant it.
The ride into Mt Beauty is always nice. It’s mostly a gentle downhill road that gives you a chance of spinning the legs and keeping them fresh. Mt Beauty is only 30km’s from Bright so my plan was to stop only long enough to fill water bottles with magic powder and water. Alas my hydration plan in the days leading up to the ride was now coming home to roost. I simply had to go for a “pitstop”. At this point I wasn’t too fussed with the time it would add, but I still would have preferred to have kept going. There was already a long line for the porta loos so a 5 minute break became a 10 minute break.
I love the climb up Falls Creek. It’s not a tough climb, but it’s long. The plan here was the same as Tawonga. While I was fresh maintain a steady pace, watch the cadence and cruise to the top. On the whole, this is exactly what I did, the one exception being another unscheduled pitstop. Another couple of minutes lost. I reached the top of Falls and was still feeling pretty good. There was no back or shoulder pain to this point and I was starting to feel optimistic about a pain free ride. I filled my bottles again, stamped my 7 Peaks Passport and got something to eat. The specially made muffins were particularly good. Now this is where I have to improve. I didn’t actively waste time, but neither did I actively save time. As a result what should’ve been a 15 minute break became a 20 minute break. Another 5 minutes lost. The only consolation was that at the time I was blissfully unaware that I’d done so. In my La-la land state of mind I got on the bike and started the second descent. Reward for effort is how I think about it, but that doesn’t mean a roll down the mountain. I’m not the best rider going down hill but I can hold my own and attacked the descent with gusto. Yet another pitstop in Mt Beauty was the only thing that spoilt the descent. This was getting annoying, another 7 minutes lost and it was starting to add up. I’d now lost 20 minutes.
Normally the descent into Mt Beauty is followed by a marked rise in the air temperature. This time the difference could be felt, but it wasn’t the usual heat which then leads to dread knowing the back side of Tawonga Gap beckons, a climb with very little relief from the sun, compounded by the heat bouncing of the rockface by the side of the road and the road itself and very little by way of a cooling breeze anywhere on the climb. Quite simply, every time I’ve done this climb it’s been horrible. This year, the relatively cool temperatures actually allowed me to enjoy the climb, right up to the point where my lower back and shoulder started to ache. One form of torture had been replaced by another. The last three kilometers of the climb were spent in and out of the saddle doing whatever I could to ease the pain. Despite this my climbing pace was still OK but the pain must’ve been showing because I was passed by a rider who encouraged me to keep going telling me I was near the top. The encouragement was welcome but unnecessary as I’d already made up my mind I wasn’t going to stop. It just hurt a lot to keep going.
The thing about the Alpine Classic is that by the time you reach the top of Tawonga Gap the second time, you’ve only just ticked over 100km’s. Three of the four climbs are done in the first half of the ride and try as you might to ease into Bright you’re already seriously fatigued and just need a break, and unfortunately that’s exactly what I did. At this point I’d lost focus of the goal and was just going through the motions, so the 20 minute break became a 27 minute break and if it wasn’t for my wonderful wife it probably would’ve been longer. I was just happy to have the family around me and mentally switch off, but she’s been a part of this whole thing, having to put up with my training and constant talk about the event that she just wanted me to get on with it. It was getting towards the hottest part of the day, and it was time to tackle Mt Buffalo.
I hate Mt Buffalo.
Ok, that’s a bit strong, but when you’re tired and in pain the last thing you really want to tackle is another 25km climb, the first 8 of which are reasonably steady at around 7%. As I rolled through the entry gate ready to start the climb my mind was everywhere except where it needed to be; focused. Instead, from this point on in the ride I was having the ever present battle about why I shouldn’t just stop. My lower back was now seizing up and I was looking around for an appropriate spot to take a “personal break”. I don’t know why or how, but for some reason I just kept going. “I’ll just ride to Eurobin Falls and have a break there, it’s only 3km’s”.
Grind, grind, grind, sit in the saddle, stand on the pedals, sit in the saddle…
Somehow I managed to get to Eurobin falls and kept going convincing myself that I could make it to the false flat another 5km’s up the road.
Grind, grind, grind, sit in the saddle, stand on the pedals, sit in the saddle…
“Great, I made it to the false flat. It’s time to have a short break.” I said out loud to no-one in particular.
“But the water stop is only another 2km’s up the road. The angels are there, it’s a better place to stop” I responded.
“OK. Let’s keep going.”
Grind, grind, grind, sit in the saddle, stand on the pedals, sit in the saddle…”Holy Cow my back hurts!”
And finally the angels were just ahead. And I do mean angels, the ride volunteers, complete with fairy wings and spray bottles were waiting for me. Unlike Odysseus and the challenge of The Sirens, I was unable to resist their song. I pulled over (which was a planned 5min break to top up water bottles) and stayed for 15 minutes taking the time to stretch my back and finally take that “personal break”.
Back on the bike and feeling fresh I was ready to ride up the 7.5km’s to the plateau. Unfortunately I only made it 1km up the road before I heard a dreadful hissing noise coming from my rear wheel. With a curse to the gods I pulled over where, like most of the climb up Mt Buffalo, there was no shade or breeze. I lost another 15 minutes changing that blasted tube and cursed the fact that I’d put the old tube back in the night before rather than a new one. Any hope of beating my best time was now lost.
Back in the saddle the grind continued. I was now starting to slow down. For a while I thought it was just fatigue, but it wasn’t, I was hungry. Damn it, with all the food on offer when I was in Bright, I still didn’t have enough to eat. Luckily I always ride with something and the museli bar I was carrying was devoured. This seemed to have an immediate impact and a certain amount of energy returned rather quickly. If only I had something for my back. Stand, sit, lean forward, sit up, nothing worked. By now I only had a couple of kilometers to the plateau before some relief and then final 2km climb to Dingo Dell. Stopping was not an option, I’d never forgive myself if I turned around here. Curiously the pain, after a while, became so constant that it didn’t seem to matter as much. I’d developed a little routine, a mixture of sitting, standing on the pedals and groaning, and in this way I made it to Dingo Dell. No longer really worried about my time I had a good break. The planned 10 minute break turned into another 20 minute break.
With the pressure now off I attacked the descent of Mt Buffalo, for no other reason other than to enjoy it. It wasn’t my best descent, but it didn’t matter. I was having fun. The back and shoulder were now just an ache. As I zoomed past the entry gate at the bottom a level of comfort had returned and for some reason I “switched” back on and the last 10km’s were done in time trial mode. I rode into Bright looking fresher than I felt but happy to see family and friends cheer me over the line.
For those interested you can view details of the ride via Strava. Click here. In short my total time was 10hrs 56mins with a ride time of 9hrs 6mins.
Happy but not satisfied, all I could think of as I swung my leg over the bike was “I’m going to do better next year!”
The last call.
This will be the last time I mention it. If you’ve enjoyed my blog I’d love you to show that by considering a donation to The Kids Cancer Project. I’ve received fantastic support along the way. I can’t tell you how much it’s meant to have received donations for this fantastic cause. A huge thank-you to all. Please click here to make a donation.
I’ll also continue to post so if you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far please click on the button to the right of the page to follow my blog.
I’ve also added a small gallery of photos from the ride, also to the right of the page. I hope you like them.
The Climbing Cyclist review of Tawonga Gap (Bright Side)
The Climbing Cyclist review of Falls Creek (Mt Beauty Side)
The Climbing Cyclist review of Tawonga Gap (Mt Beauty Side)
The Climbing Cyclist review of Mt Buffalo