I’m not really sure it’s worth the drive, with the route change and all…” Sometimes you live to regret a few things, that statement is one of them. Chris Miller and his inner city latte sipping compatriots report on their 3 Peaks ride.
Thankfully though, we came to our senses and last Friday four * battle hardened MWCC riders headed south for what is popularly described as “Australia’s hardest one-day cycling event”, the Scody 3 Peaks Challenge.
In its 4th year, Bicycling Victoria was forced to alter the route due to dangerous roads on the run in to Mt Hotham. The replacement route was an out and back assault on the HC categorized Mount Buffalo, an additional 3rd category climb at the 160km mark, with the final 30km to be the granddaddy of them all; a trip back up Falls Creek. All in all, a 236km ride with upwards of 4,000m of climbing.
So, after a trouble free trip down, a number of carbo-loading meals, and a short reccy of the Falls Creek descent, we lined up at the start line in the second wave for a 6:45am roll out.
|Friday Reccy Ride: Grahame sporting the club kit at attitude, with some white lipstick
Now, as any rider knows, starting any of these timed mass participation events can be a bit hectic, added to the usual chaos, the 3 Peaks start line is atop a steep 30km descent.
Initially our theory was to sit back and take it easy, but once we realised that the claim of “closed roads” was actually true, we pinned the ears back and took full advantage of the car free conditions.
Maybe it was all those Tuesday evenings getting overtaken by flying A-graders on the last right-hander at Heffron, or possibly the infamous U-turn at the end of the West Head race, I’m not sure, but something in our preparation over the past year had equipped us quite well for alpine descents.
That said, it still took the best part of an hour to get down the first monster descent, ditch our very euro-styled newspaper base layer and begin the smallest of the peaks, Tawonga Gap.
|Euro-Stylin: Newspaper down the jersey for the 30km descent
Tawonga Gap is like the free tasting plate you get at posh restaurants; it’s not the proper meal, it’s not even a starter, but if it’s crap, it can put a dampener on the whole experience, and give a good indication of things to come.
With that in mind, we set out to take the 7.5km climb at a steady tempo, nothing would be gained, nothing lost … until, BOOM!No it wasn’t the sound of the helicopter hovering above us suffering engine failure, it was our very own Tim Laforest’s rear tire exploding … bugger!
We sprang into action removing his tire and began fitting a new tube before realising he had only packed 20mm valves … for his 50mm deep section rims. Facepalm.
|Visible from the air: If you look closely (circled red), you can actually see a huddle of black jerseys fixing the flat
Now we have probably all done something like this at some point in our cycling careers, but I doubt anyone has ever made such an error only 36km into a 235km ride. So after another 10 minutes of pleading with people to give us their 60mm valves, Grahame, Pete and I abandoned ship and left Tim to what we thought would be a long day in the broom wagon explaining to his fellow riders why he had failed to pack an extra-long valve (or a pump, but that’s another story) for his ghetto rims.
Tawonga Gap to Mount Buffalo
I would have been surprised if Tim’s ears weren’t burning for the next 30 minutes, as the three of us ‘discussed’ his ride preparation fail. However, with other fish to fry, we quickly forgot the Mosman man as we plunged down the other side of Towonga Gap, 20 minutes behind our schedule. Before long, we joined the largest pace-line I had ever seen which took us through Bright and onto the base of Mount Buffalo.
Buffalo was a complete unknown for all of us, and coming so early into a 235km ride obviously meant that it had to be handled intelligently, whilst in the back of our minds trying to regain time from the 20 minute deficit incurred from “valve-gate”.
Truth be told it is a spectacular climb, though far more consistent than we had initially thought, with only a brief let off around the 20km mark. As you near the top the road surface also deteriorates, forcing you to be very careful of your line.
|Hors Away: Grahame kicks up the switchback
Around 2/3 of the way up the leading group of riders started to come back the other way, first at a trickle, and then more consistently. This no doubt sparked a bit more of an effort from Grahame and myself, however we had found a very experienced wheel (thank you guy with Alpine Riding Australia jersey) and concluded it was more prudent to set a good tempo, rather than burn too many matches in a futile attempt to recapture our lost time.
On summiting Buffalo we made a bit of a mistake by waiting around another 10 minutes for our water bottles to be refilled. In retrospect, what we should have done is descend Buffalo and refilled at the water stop 3km from the base. But hindsight is 20/20 etc.
The Buffalo descent was awesome, after negotiating the top third, it settles into a nice flow, with the added benefit of being able to see 2-3 turns in front … and of course, going 30km downhill is always fun.
Happy Valley Melting
After another 10 minute stop (FYI, it seems the best way to reduce your overall time is reduce your stops) we joined another great pace-line and settled in for the big 100km semi-circle.
I won’t pretend to claim that this section was enjoyable, it felt very much like a long winded prelude to the main show, it’s not often you describe a 100km section as prelude, but that’s the 3 Peaks Challenge I suppose.
The biggest issue at this point was the heat; temperatures had reached upwards of 39 degrees and as we made the right turn at Running Creek we found ourselves squinting straight into a belting sun.
As we zeroed in on Mt Beauty and the base of the Falls Creek climb the road seemed to get heavier and lumpier, and for the first time we found ourselves alone, heads down and flat out exhausted.
Having said that, it is amazing what a quick splash of water, refill of bottles and piece of fruit cake can do, as we went through the Mount Beauty rest stop with purpose and begun, the granddaddy of them all …
Studies have shown that the way we experience the final segment of an event goes a long way to defining the event in its entirety, those are the lasting memories, the things you take away from your adventure.
3 Peaks Challenge 2013 was a perfect example of this as the Falls Creek climb in many ways, overshadowed the preceding 200km.
30km is a long way up, but with 200km in your legs and sweltering heat, it took on a whole new challenge. That said, Grahame and I felt as fresh as we could have hoped at the start of the ascent, and as we rolled through the KOM start point we knew a climb time of around 2 hours would see us completing in and around the 9:30hr mark.
It became pretty clear early into the climb that this was going to be an “every man for himself” type thing. There was no advantage sitting on someone’s wheel or even riding abreast of someone, this was going to be a wholly individual experience, done at your own tempo.
Grahame and I were together for the first 10km, before a brief traffic light stop (yes, we got the one red light on the whole course), saw me slowly (and I mean slowly) pull away.
During the next hour and a half, I witnessed things on a bike I never thought I would see: a guy huddled in the fetal position on the side of the road shaking from exhaustion; someone sitting on the edge of a verge talking loudly to himself; numerous people walking, sitting, lying and crying; and as you passed someone you simply shared a glance that said “good luck”. If Rapha made zombie movies, this would be it.
The final 15km, or as I heard it termed at the pub later that night “The Yellow Lined Hell”, was as described, pure hell. Thankfully as you came out of the forest onto the final 5km assault to the village a number of locals had come out to the side of the road offering water, a service I saw almost every cyclist take up with gratitude.
|Salt Stained Jersey
First came the sound of the loud speaker, then the village itself came into view, but onwards we pushed as the gradient never let up, all the way to the line. In a final cruel twist, we had to ride passed the large “FINISH” banner, before turning around and descending the final 30 meters to the line.
My own finish line moment was pretty funny as my left thigh, which had been threatening for the final 40 minutes, gave way and locked itself in a cramp, just as the finish line photographer took my snap … looking forward to seeing that shot.
Grahame was barely 10 minutes behind me, with a battered and bruised Tim coming in around the 10 hour mark. Pete suffered badly up Falls, losing more minutes then he would have wanted, but this day wasn’t about times, it was about the experience and the achievement.
The Course: you have to give it to Bicycling Victoria, they pulled it off. It was every bit as challenging as we hoped/dreaded and more. Whether or not it would have been such a struggle in milder temperatures is something I cannot answer, but there is no doubt that the mountain top finish added a whole different level of satisfaction to the overall experience.
Our Ride: We all learnt a couple of things on how to shave a few minutes from your overall time (namely bringing the correct valve for your wheel), but overall we were happy with our effort. On a day when 17% of riders didn’t finish, just completing is an achievement. Personally, I was pleased with how I climbed, however the all-encompassing “hot shoe” pain I had to deal with over the last 2 hours will live with me for a while.
Summing Up: So what convinces us to put ourselves through that level of pain, under the banner of “a fun weekend away”? Epic stories and an amazing sense of achievement; sure you can go out to MacCarrs and hammer yourself, or you can scare yourself senseless at a Tuesday night Heffron, but there is no substitute for testing yourself in a pure endurance challenge, forcing yourself to go to ‘that’ place in your head as you ascend an Hors Category climb with 230km in your legs … oh, and my word, beer will never taste as good as it does at the finish.
*I’m certain there were more MWCC riders down there, in fact I saw one kit going up Falls, but I couldn’t muster so much as a “hello”. Ed Note: MWCC rider Dan Bonello was the third quickest rider overall on the day.
C Miller 9:21:06
G deCarvalho 9:31:25
T LaForest 10:02:33
P Staciwa 10:35:56
To read other reports by Chris, head over to his blog at http://chrismiller27.blogspot.com.au
. Chris was second in B Grade last years Club Championships and this year will be going all out for the A Grade title as this preparation shows.