March 14, 2014

3 Peaks Challenge 2014

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For the past four years Bicycle Network’s 3 Peaks Challenge has been the focal point of my cycling year. But this year a niggling knee injury stopped me from doing enough training and, ultimately, taking part in the event. But my brother Brendan de Neef was able to take my place and he wrote this report about attempting to finish his third 3 Peaks Challenge.

If I had to describe my 3 Peaks 2014 experience in a few words I would choose: “under-trained” and “over-ambitious”.

Three weeks ago, when my brother Matt gave me the tap on the shoulder, passing on his entry, I was feeling pretty confident. After all I had been consistent with my riding, commuting to my new job, getting out for a decent roll most weekends. I had not, however, been putting in the huge k’s, the 150km+ rides that really prepare you mentally and physically for a ride such as 3 Peaks. But all this was irrelevant, as I was entered and locked in.

My partner Anneka and I had secured some accommodation in Mt. Beauty at the last minute — we had tried to find somewhere to stay at Falls Creek but everything was fully booked. This was the first year that visitation to Falls Creek for 3 Peaks has been on par with winter visitation, a huge milestone in my opinion and a great testament to the value the cycling community brings to the alpine region.

The 3 Peaks event village at Falls Creek.

The 3 Peaks event village at Falls Creek.

My Saturday 3 Peaks preparation consisted of the following: the long drive up from Melbourne to Mt. Beauty, a drive up and down Falls Creek for the rider briefing/freebie collection/valet drop, a huge pasta meal and then early to bed.

As this was the fifth year in a row I had been up in the high country for 3 Peaks, I considered myself an old hand at preparing for this event. I opted for one item for the valet service — a pack of salted peanuts destined for the rest stop before the final climb. I’d learned from previous experience just how sick of sweet foods/gels/bars you become after a long day on the bike, and peanuts seemed like the most delicious way to get a dose of something more savoury.

As I lined up on Sunday morning, listening to the pump-up music, chatting to Rohan and Nicole — both entering their first 3 Peaks at late notice — it suddenly became real. Like it or not, I was in for a day of pain. The descent down Falls, usually fast and fun, was made less so by 1,900 riders around me, and my stupid Garmin.

The auto-starting and -stopping and throwing up of random numbers was distressing me more than it should have. I was so concerned with getting it going again that I had to force myself to leave it alone on the descent. I did keep thinking though, “what’s the point if I can’t put it on Strava?!”

Tawonga Gap came up quickly. A quick sensor adjustment had rectified my Garmin issues (for a while) and I concentrated on being consistent on the climb, tapping out a steady pace. Before I knew it I was at the top with a handy two-minute PB and sub-30-minute-time.

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The section from the top of Tawonga to Harrietville was particularly fast. Using as much of the road as I was allowed on the descent I caught a swift bunch who were tapping out a respectable pace. Two of them were wearing some of the most distinctive kit out there, dressed as what I would describe as a leopard and a zebra. The guys from Attaquer sure know how to make distinctive looking clothing.

Along the road to Harrietville the bunch picked up big clumps of riders, to the point where there were about 50 of us rolling turns, all the way through to the start of the Mt. Hotham climb.

Hotham felt hard; a lot harder than I would have liked. I guess I was fatigued, or hungry, or something. The false-flat couldn’t come quick enough, the ramps seemed to last forever and at every blind corner I was sure the climb was about to end.

The struggle was made worse by an annoying crunching sound coming from my bike’s headset (I was 99% sure I fixed that the day before!!) Whatever it was that made the climb so hard, it certainly felt good when, 1:54 after leaving Harrietville, I reached the top. I decided I would take a selfie, tried to put on a smile, but the end result is that I just look ruined.

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I spent the 10-15km stretch from Hotham to lunch at Dinner Plain dreaming of the roast vegetable wrap I knew was waiting. It didn’t disappoint — I slammed it down, filled my bottles and hit the road, with visions of a sub-10-hour time in mind. I had left the lunch spot just after 11:45am, and at this stage sub-10 still felt achievable.

One of the burdens of riding in my Hells 500 kit on the day was constantly being compared to some of the riders who had managed epic feats just a week before in their quest to ‘Everest’ a particular climb. My favourite lines were “Hells 500? This should be a walk in the park for you!” and, as I was sitting on someone’s wheel, “Hells 500 riders don’t sit on wheels — get in the wind!”.

A special mention goes out to Nathan Carter, Andy Van Bergen and anyone else who participated in the epic who chose to use 3 Peaks as an ‘active recovery’ ride. I came across Nathan between Dinner Plain and Omeo at which point he was battling low energy levels (understandably). We passed and got passed by each other all the way to the Back of Falls climb.

Scenes at the Dinner Plain lunch stop.

Scenes at the Dinner Plain lunch stop.

The mostly downhill section to Omeo went quickly. Having got a second lease of life I really enjoyed the final super-fast descent into Omeo and the fruit scone waiting at the rest stop. However fast it felt, I was still about 10 minutes behind where I wanted to be and for the first time I began to think sub-10 was out of reach.

I just plodded along from Omeo to the back of Falls Creek climb. There really isn’t any other way of describing it. Sure, there is some amazing scenery on the road — it truly is one of the best roads around — but it was appalling riding on my behalf. I rode by myself for most of that section; I felt flat and faint, and my Garmin was reading a completely wrong speed and was becoming increasingly irrelevant and frustrating. I had all but given up on my sub-10-hour time and it was probably the low point of the ride for me.

Plodding along between Omeo and Anglers Rest, sometimes with company, sometimes without.

Plodding along between Omeo and Anglers Rest, sometimes with company, sometimes without.

A quick break at Anglers Rest saw my delicious salted peanuts pep me up a little, but I can genuinely say I was happy when I got to WTF Corner and started the Back of Falls climb. I had done this climb a few times before and wasn’t so scared of it anymore, plus I knew that once it was done, I had ticked off 3 Peaks for 2014.

The climb was slow going. I had given up on my Garmin for speed and for telling distance. I kept the elevation on the screen and told myself I just had to get up to “around 1600m”. Every pedal stroke made my headset creak and groan and I just concentrated on staying in the saddle and tapping it out. I was no longer concerned by my time and was just focused on getting across the line.

A big shoutout goes to Andy Van Bergen, of Hells 500 fame, who spent his Saturday pinning signs all the way up the climb. They were a great distraction and something to force a smile and I’m sure they were appreciated by many.

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Trapyard Gap came and went. It threatened to rain, but it didn’t. The climb kept coming and eventually the lake came into sight. I can honestly say that is one of the best things about 3 Peaks — cresting the final climb, seeing the lake and knowing that you’ve come such a long way, with so little to go.

I crossed the line in just over 10 ½ hours and finished what would be my third 3 Peaks Challenge in a row. There wasn’t the same battle with the elements of 3 Peaks gone by — in fact the weather was near perfect all day — but that route doesn’t need additional challenges. It’s challenging enough and is not to be taken lightly.

A 3 Peaks three-peat!

A 3 Peaks three-peat!

Special thanks to Anthea Hargreaves from Bicycle Network for organising my entry and allowing me to ride as Matt for the day. And thanks too to Anneka for putting up with another trip to the high country.

Next year: sub-10.

Did you ride the 3 Peaks Challenge this year? How did your day unfold? We’d love to read your comments below.

You can check out Brendan’s ride on Strava here. Images in this post appear courtesy of Brendan de Neef, Aaron Keefe and Andy van Bergen. If you’ve got a climbing-related story you’d like to share, please get in touch with Matt via email.

12 Comments

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  1. rogan / Mar 19 2014

    Hey, well done Brendan. Those winding roads are tough on your own… My garmin stuffed up one year at 3PC… If it ever didit again, I would carry it in the back pocket where it will still record but not run distraction…

    And bad luck Fossil! A great tale of woe, and it’s good you can smile, not much you can do if you get sick…

    My long and self-indulgent report is on BNA, here…

    http://www.bicycles.net.au/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=73491

  2. Jon Thornton / Mar 17 2014

    I made a newbie mistake and packed the same sweet food in all of my valet bags. I normally like dates, figs and fruit cake, but I could barely stomach these foods at Anglers Rest because I’d been eating them all day. Next time, I’ll pack a variety of foods.

    This year I did 3 Peaks and the ACE250 Audax. Despite sharing the same route, they are very different rides. 3 Peaks seems to be all about time whereas the ACE250 seems to be more about adventure. On 3 Peaks, you pack your own food in valet bags. On the ACE250, you enjoy a wide variety of Audax provided food. On 3 Peaks, you get on-road support. On the ACE250, if you break a spoke, you fashion a new one using fencing wire and your teeth.

    I chatted to lots of people while I was out on the 3 Peaks course. The chattiest people wore Hells500 kit. Special thanks to the Hells500 bloke who kept the conversation rolling all the way up CRB Hill.

    Thanks Brendan for the entertaining write-up and for the food tips.

  3. Fletch / Mar 15 2014

    Congrats on a great time Brendan – great right up and congrats also to everyone else that tackled the big one. Just entering isn’t for the faint hearted!

  4. Anth / Mar 14 2014

    Spent 225km on the front or on my own. The man in red gets no favours on this ride! Congrats to everyone who completed the ride.

  5. Ian / Mar 14 2014

    Great write-up Brendan. I smiled when I read about your Garmin gremlins. Mine started to read a heart rate of 200 bom on the descent from Falls Creek, which was the start of a day of Garmin fun and games. Slow puncture at 23kms and another 2kms from the top of Tawonga Gap saw me more or less last man to the top. Some great help from a couple just out for a ride and The Freedom Machine folks convinced me to pull my act together and get on with the day. Solo ride from the top of TG to Harrietville and then very tired onto Hotham but managed a half reasonable 2:10. After lunch, I really got going and while BoF was the living nightmare everyone predicted, I found my way up without too many problems. As you say, the sight of the lake and the dam wall was something else. Rolled across in 12:12, which I’ll take after losing 50 mins to the puncture fairies and spending basically all of the ride to the lunch stop on my own. A very special day.

  6. Karl Gerstlauer / Mar 14 2014

    Hi I completed my 1 st 3 Peaks in 11 h 54 m with 1 hour of time off the bike . I hadn’t done a ride over 150km before. Last year I did 7 peaks enjoyed the mountains and the crew H500 CC did more as training this year and with 3 Peaks pro’s to kinglake.
    Did a huge 4 month block of training for the event including a recce of BOF well worth it . Made my bike as comfy as I could upgraded Knicks and seat didn’t leave a stone unturned.
    I carried a battery pack after Dinner plain to record the whole journey on my phone thank God it worked.
    I did a soft taper and didn’t ride 6 days prior .I felt good on the day got off falls safely and over tawonga first time in 33 m up hotham in pb 2 h 14 enjoyed lunch at DP got changed and knew this was going to be the hard bit left about 1230 had a good ride to Omeo best scone ever hit the road at 215 .
    1 h ahead of the cutoff time which I was a bit surprised about. I went hard as I could now to AR eat drink and go hard again to WTF turned and kept going with 1 rest at 4.5 k then caught my Brother Paul at TG eat drink and go to finish . I had cramps on hotham and after Omeo and on WTF I was able to ride through them or give them a stretch on the bike luckily. It was a great relief to make it @ 1 st attempt hoping to go back to back with a improved time . well done all

  7. Pedro / Mar 14 2014

    A fat fossil,
    Are you suggesting that all individual times were based on when the timer started or when each individual timing chip went through the start line/zone?

    • A Fat Fossil / Apr 1 2014

      Pedro, no idea! But I don’t think so.
      I was letting first wavers know that later riders were held up by The Nut.
      (See above).
      This added to my tale of woe – making it yet more difficult to get my fat backside up to Dinner Plain by, the fixed 2PM cutoff time. Which was of course, totally independent of your actual start time.
      (Consumer orientated individuals could perhaps suggest that us marginal riders didn’t get “13 hours to prove ourselves” – as advertised. We wuz robbed! :) )

  8. MICHAEL CONDON / Mar 14 2014

    Well done to all wether you made it to the finish or not. It makes me want to consider entering this event next year.

  9. Peter / Mar 14 2014

    Well done Brendan! I’m sure I would’ve seen you at some stage during the day, as we only finished 7 minutes apart (I was wearing a black & white mountain goat jersey). It was my first attempt at the 3 Peaks, and first ride over 200km (my previous longest was 167km), I was confident in my climbing ability but not in the distance. The bit from the bottom of Tawonga Gap to Harrietville was a bit of a grind, and I have to say thanks to the younger guy that came around me and said ‘you look like you could do with a break’, it was greatly appreciated!
    The climb up Hotham wasn’t as bad as I expected, and I’d take two Hotham climbs over one Back of Falls climb any day. The decent towards Omeo was great, but I didn’t think some of the climbs would’ve been quite so big, the same can be said when leaving Omeo.
    It was pretty disheartening at WTF corner, the first initial part wasn’t too bad but turning every corner and seeing the road continually rise was nightmarish…
    I thought about walking a few times, but managed to keep turning the pedals over and was very relieved to see the sign for Trapyard Gap rest area. My feet were on fire by the time I got there, a quick stop for water fixed that.
    The last 12 or so km into Falls were a blast, although the wind was a little gusty in places, I tried popping a wheelie for the lady in the yellow wig ringing the cowbell but failed miserably, she laughed, I laughed and rode on finishing my biggest day in the saddle with a smile that couldn’t be wiped from my face.

  10. A Fat Fossil / Mar 14 2014

    Chimed out on Hotham.
    Had a preparation that included two weeks of repeats on Mt Buller. Felt great! Followed by the onset of a virus.
    Lost all riding in the week – 10 days prior to the ride.
    I knew I was in trouble when I was huffing and puffing walking – WALKING – around Falls!
    I must have been the last up Tawonga Gap. And lost 5 kmh on my usual cruise getting to Harrietville.
    The cutoff for Dinner Plain had been sliced. Front Runners might not know that the start had been delayed after the first wave due to a nut driving up the closed road. So more time lost.
    Twas climbing Hotham ok and got to the edge of the tough stuff when… My brand new NON Conti front tire went flat! Entering Cluster Ruck Territory Here.
    The Bike Network guys arrived. Assisted with a pump and I insisted on continuing.
    Not yet hitting the Dinner Plain Cutoff.
    Sloshed my way up the CRB hill etc and worked through odd cramping and nausea till 100 meters from the very top – when I went into shock!
    It was 2:00 pm – so the gig was up.
    Bike Network guys thought I had low blood pressure, so the meat wagon met us on Dinner Plain. I was checked out by a MICA guy!
    Then onto The Bus Of Shame.
    Last aboard I entered with “is this the bus of victory?!”
    Which was greeted with some muted groans and half smiles.
    But the worst was yet to come.
    (Things can always get worse)
    After battling nausea all the way down that mountain, through my unassisted unaided vision i spied what I thought was loo at the very back of the Bike Network Bus.
    I headed down there – a wobbly fat fossil in lycra – and attempted to enter the cubicle. Perked as it is past the very back wheels of the BN bus.
    Now, have you ever tried to get your lycra off in washing machine so you can take a dump? That’s what its like if you try this stunt, semi delerius, in the back of a BN bus – whilst it climbs The Tawonga Gap!
    Then – I couldn’t figure out what or how or indeed if it were even possible to flush the loo!
    At this point, I’d like to apologise to any readers of this esteemed blog who had the misfortune to have 1/ Failed to make the cut at Dinner Plain and 2/ Had the abject miserable misfortune to have been seated on that BN bus, near to the Loo. None of the pain I inflicted upon you on this, your darkest cycling hour, was intentional. I swear!
    The BN Bus chugged along and we hit the Falls Creek Climb.
    And remember what I said that things could always get worse…
    As the guns are dropping down around the final bend to the cheers of the assembled relatives and friends – yes, that’s right – the bus of shame is parked directly adjacent to victorious! A total confirmation of one’s total abject failure!
    But I don’t feel too bad – I’m coming back next year!
    (Remember – you haven’t given it everything if they haven’t called the MICA!)
    :)

  11. brit in oz / Mar 14 2014

    Well done, I was in the same bunch as you to Harrietville and finished 10.25 with a very similar experience and times. Great day for it but BOF was hard when the sun was out!

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