November 29, 2012

7 Peaks Domestique Series ride #2: Mt. Baw Baw

Yep, Baw Baw will do that to you. (Image: Tammy van Bergen)

UPDATE: Matt McCullough and the team at Steamfish Creative Media have put together a fantastic video that really captures the mood of the day. The video can be found at the bottom of this post.

Few hills in Victoria inspire fear quite like Mt. Baw Baw. Sure, reports of it being the hardest sealed road climb in Australia might be overblown — this is supposedly harder — but it’s still a climb that will make you suffer for almost every metre.

So when Andy van Bergen and I plotted out the dates for our 7 Peaks Domestique Series and put Mt. Baw Baw so close to the start, we probably weren’t expecting more than 20 people to turn up. We needn’t have worried.

The trip to Mt. Baw Baw started on Saturday afternoon when my partner Sharon and I, my brother Brendan and his partner Anneka, and my dad Ron all headed out to Toorongo Falls to camp the night. It was a great night away and it meant that the 7.30am start in Noojee the next morning was far more manageable than it would otherwise have been.

Brendan and I drove into the carpark at Noojee at 7.05am expecting to see one or two riders kitting up. Instead, the carpark was full and riders were already out on the road, warming up, ready to go. Awesome.

The carpark was full at 7am.

The carpark in Noojee was full by 7am. (Image: Tammy van Bergen)

The hardest part about the ride from Noojee to the start of the Mt. Baw Baw climb is the nasty Vesper Hill which starts 5km from Noojee. The climb starts gently enough but the second half seems to spend an uncomfortable amount of time at 10% or greater which, when you’re still warming up, tends to hurt a little.

It didn’t help that the pace was well and truly on for that first climb. Chris Mason put in the first attack of the day and it wasn’t long until the ~20-strong bunch was strung right out. I was burning a bunch of matches to stay a respectable distance from the front but part of me was wary of spending too much energy before the mountain was even in sight.

Our second meeting point of the day, Icy Creek, wasn’t far from the end of the Vesper Hill descent and there we were joined by another 15 riders or so. After a few minutes to allow the rest of the bunch to catch up we pushed on, and into one of the most picturesque sections of road I’ve ever ridden.

Most of the way to the base of the climb we were surrounded by lush native foliage and with only a handful of cars passing us by — most of which were part of our entourage — it was a great start to the day.

Great scenery, great weather, great company.

Great scenery, great weather, great company.

The pace through to Tanjil Bren wasn’t as hot as it had been up Vesper Hill but we certainly weren’t dawdling. The front group arrived right on 9am and the rest of the bunch flowed in over the next few minutes.

After roughly 10 minutes to regroup and after a quick briefing about what to expect of the Mt. Baw Baw climb, the now-even-bigger bunch rolled into the downhill stretch that would deliver us to the start of the climb.

As we hit Big Tree Creek and the road tilted upwards I could see plenty of riders trying to settle into a rhythm before the really hard stuff hit. I pushed my way forward through the groups, chatting with riders as I went, before stopping and waiting at The Gantry for the last rider.

Up, up and away.

Let the pain begin.

When the last riders hit that first steep ramp after the Gantry I took off as well, much as I’d done at Lake Mountain, using riders up the road as carrots. My plan wasn’t to set a new PB on the climb but rather to ride at a comfortable tempo — if that’s even possible on Mt. Baw Baw.

Even with a 34×28 and without trying to push myself, I spent the entirety of that final ~6.5km to the summit at or close to my threshold, just in an attempt to keep moving forward. There are just so many steep sections to contend with, including the always-painful Neulynes Hill, the long, straight section before Winch Corner, and, of course, Winch Corner itself.

With Andy’s wife Tammy taking photos at Winch Corner — which has a maximum grade in excess of 20% — I set myself the challenge of getting through it without getting out of the saddle. You know, put on a brave face for the camera and all that. With every muscle and tendon in my legs screaming obscenities at me, I managed to push through the chicane, coming out the other side where the road flattens off to a comparatively comfortable 13%.

Yep. Baw Baw hurts.

Yep. Baw Baw hurts. (Image: Tammy van Bergen)

There really are only a couple of flat spots on the Mt. Baw Baw climb and on each of them I found the brief reprieve to be most welcome. Probably the most satisfying part of the climb was getting into that final kilometre, where the road flattens off, knowing I was almost there, that the hardest work was well and truly over.

I flicked up through the gears and powered to the summit, spurred on by the encouragement being yelled by Chris Mason and others. Looking at the Strava file from the ride I can see that if I’d pushed straight through to the gate rather than stopping at the carpark, I might well have claimed a new PB on the climb. To be honest, I’m really not that concerned.

The whole point of the ride was to provide a welcoming and safe environment for riders and to help everyone get through the climb in one piece. So after getting my 7 Peaks passport stamped I headed down the hill in search of the last rider on the road.

Getting to the top of the mountain is always satisfying.

Getting to the top of the mountain is always satisfying. (Image: Maria Baranj)

Roughly 2km from the summit I found Andy riding alongside Brian Beardon. I turned around and together the three of us worked our way towards the summit. Before long Andy headed on up the road and Thomas Price joined Brian and I for the final push to the top.

It was a slow grind for those final kilometres to the summit but we got there in one piece and full credit to Brian for that. He’s been on the receiving end of a handful of nasty medical issues of late, not least stomach cancer — ‘If I throw up here it’s straight to hospital’.

The biggest challenge for Brian though was being able to suck in enough oxygen. A recently collapsed lung means Brian’s only able to breathe in a fraction of the air he would otherwise be able to. To drag himself through the hellishly steep climb of Mt. Baw Baw under those conditions must have been a real ordeal. Well done Brian — inspiring stuff!

Brian grinds away through the steepest part of the climb. (Image: Tam van Bergen)

Brian grinds away through the steepest part of the climb. (Image: Tammy van Bergen)

When Brian, Thomas and I reached the top it was to see that the rest of the riders had arranged a guard of honour for Brian at the entrance to the alpine resort. At least, that’s what I thought.

Turns out Andy and Tammy had organised a small celebration for my birthday (which was on Sunday, the day of the ride) and the rows of riders blowing party whistles were for me. It was a really touching moment and I’m very grateful (and a little embarrassed) that Andy and Tam went to the trouble of organising that mini-party.

In many ways, it was the perfect end to an awesome ride. The weather was exceptional all day, there was very little traffic to contend with, I was riding with an awesome bunch of guys and girls and, to cap it off, I was climbing one of my favourite climbs, on my birthday.

But even better than all of that was the fact every single rider that attempted the Mt. Baw Baw climb with us got through it! That’s 80+ riders who were crazy enough to take on the great mountain and got through it in one piece. Well done everyone!

Shari Aubrey pumps the air after conquering Mt. Baw Baw.

Shari Aubrey pumps the air after conquering Mt. Baw Baw. (Image: Maria Baranj)

At this point I need to say a bunch of quick ‘thank-you’s to the people that helped make Sunday possible. To my dad Ron and to Maria Baranj, thanks for coming out and taking some awesome photos. To my partner Sharon and Brendan’s partner Anneka, thanks for coming along and handing out juice and for being a friendly and encouraging presence at the top of the climb.

And a huge thank you to Tammy van Bergen for her awesome work in taking (amazing!) photos all day, handing out energy bars and gels, for taking people’s names for the honour roll and for organising a lovely birthday surprise.

Thanks to Matt and Wes from Steamfish Creative Media/Cycling-Secrets.com for coming along to film the ride. I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s really looking forward to watching the video you guys put together!

Movie star material?

Movie star material? (Image: Tammy van Bergen)

Thanks to Winners Cycling for providing plenty of energy bars and gels for the riders on the day. I know it was greatly appreciated by the riders. Thanks too to Emma & Tom’s for the delicious and refreshing juice at the top of the climb. And thanks to Cycling Express for their ongoing support.

Cycling Express has been good enough to provide the major prize for the 7 Peaks Domestique Series — a  Mavic Cosmic Elite wheelset. To go in the draw for that major prize, simply come along and complete a 7 Peaks climb with us. Complete 1 climb and you’ll get one entry, complete 7 climbs and you’ll get 7 entries. Simple as that.

Cycling Express have also provided us with 5 x $20 vouchers to hand out after each ride. After much back-and-forth between Andy and myself, we’ve decided to award the vouchers for Sunday’s ride as follows:

  1. Fastest Bloke: Steve Lightfoot (who beat Evan Henley by 1 second according to Strava!)
  2. Fastest Chick: Jennifer Brown
  3. Most Courageous: Brian Beardon
  4. Most Gentlemanly: Shane Stiles (for helping to fix 4 flats, push riders uphill and more)
  5. Best Pain Face: Adam Gruer (see photo at the top of the page)  If that’s you, let us know!
It wasn't just the blokes that were crazy enough to take on Baw Baw.

It wasn’t just the blokes that were keen to conquer Baw Baw. (Image: Tammy van Bergen)

An honourable mention should go to Evan Henley who, according to Strava, only just missed out on the fastest time on the day. More impressive than that though was the fact he completed the steepest part of the climb (the final ~6.5km) twice. As Evan himself apparently said:

The best warm-up for Mt. Baw Baw is Mt. Baw Baw.

And finally, a plug for the next ride in the series: Mt. Buller. We’re actually riding the mountain twice on Saturday December 15 — at 10am and at 4pm — to give people a greater chance of getting there at a time that suits them. It really is an amazing climb and you won’t want to miss it.

We’ve also been lucky enough to get a great deal on accommodation at Mt. Buller. For a total of $68 you get two nights’ accommodation — Friday December 14 and Saturday December 15 — at Neringa Ski Lodge. If you’re interested, get in a quick — we’ve only got a handful of places left! Just send me an email and let me know you’re keen.

Until next time, thanks very much for reading and be sure to check out the terrific photos below, courtesy of Ron de Neef, Tammy van Bergen and Maria Baranj.

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There are many more photos from the ride on the Hells 500 Facebook page.

Honour roll

These names were taken (more or less) in the order that riders completed the climb. But because we didn’t all start the climb at the same time, the list doesn’t reflect who finished the climb fastest.

If we haven’t got you on the list, let us know! If we’ve spelled your name wrong, you should have written it more clearly in the notebook … but let us know and we’ll fix it up! If you’d like your climb time listed, email me me with the details (and a Strava link or similar to prove it!)

  1.  Evan Henley
  2. Joel Nicholson
  3. Chris Mason
  4. Shane van Seters
  5. Stephen Lightfoot
  6. Nick Montgomery
  7. Jordan Di Luzio
  8. Brian McRobbie
  9. Will Halpin
  10. Geoff Foreman
  11. Shane Stiles
  12. Glenn Hocking
  13. Tony Stuyt
  14. Matt McLennan
  15. Matt de Neef
  16. Kris Dieber
  17. Cyril Dixon
  18. Mark Chapman
  19. Dave McLean
  20. Don Sirikhant
  21. Ben McKechnie
  22. Brendan de Neef
  23. Matt Whiting
  24. Tom Lucas
  25. Gary Lucas
  26. David Weiss
  27. Greg Foster
  28. Peter Turewicz
  29. Gordon Oakley
  30. Daniel Foster
  31. John Gogis
  32. Michael Frith
  33. Ric Falconer
  34. Henry Harte
  35. Adam Gruer
  36. Michael Yates
  37. Paul Parpevlier
  38. Robert Rusev
  39. Richard Mathison
  40. Victor Essers
  41. Jennifer Brown
  42. Matthew Bowen
  43. Darren Partington
  44. Daniel Robertson
  45. Gary Beazley
  46. Warren Howe
  47. Andrew North
  48. Julie Jackson
  49. Craig Beeching
  50. Paul Jamieson
  51. Adam Forcucci
  52. Chris Dunn
  53. Simon Cornish
  54. Phil Aarons
  55. Simon Atkinson
  56. Jack Walsh
  57. Adrian Tritschler
  58. Tim Pittaway
  59. Pip Grinblat
  60. Jon Thornton
  61. Brad Clark
  62. Stephen Tippett
  63. Stephen Chan
  64. Vlad Tsyrlin
  65. James Singleton
  66. David Ablatz
  67. Tony Lane
  68. Tim Ling
  69. Blair Calvert
  70. Peter Brann
  71. Brad Lyell (1 hour 11 minutes)
  72. Andrew Lay
  73. Shari Aubrey
  74. George Voros
  75. Robert Rozycki
  76. Ant Makin
  77. Thomas Price
  78. Brian Beardon
  79. Andy van Bergen
  80. Gareth Pellas
  81. Ron Nott
  82. Mark Dunt
  83. Jason Shell

Previous rides in the series

17 Comments

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  1. Victor Essers / Dec 3 2012

    After 4 years of using a touring bike in Melbourne for all rides (commuting and recreational), I’d finally gotten around to buying my 1st ever road bike. This was only my 2nd ride on the new bike (Specialized Roubaix Expert SL4: a new 2013 model), and I think the two of us will get along fine :) . Riding up Mt Baw Baw, I discovered that the power-to-weight ratio difference between the 15kg tourer and 8kg road bike really does help!

    Thanks to the support crew who organised this ride. Like Matt I was amazed that 80+ riders turned up for this. I have no doubt my average time was far better than it would have been if I’d just ridden up there alone.

    I recorded both the ascent and descent on helmet-cam, but haven’t gotten around to putting them on YouTube yet, but will do it eventually.

  2. Cyril / Nov 30 2012

    Hi Matt & Andy, Great article Matt and thanks again to both you and Andy for organising and all those who supported. I have a couple of points that need further confirmation & also some clarifying for others:
    Confirming:
    1. You guys are awesome. The photos from Tammy are fantastic
    2.Brian’s effort was outstanding and clearly the effort of the day. Awesome ride Brian.
    3. Baw Baw inspires fear
    4. the ride back to noojee is just beautiful
    5. great pain face by Adam
    Clarifying:
    1. there is no respite on this climb Matt!
    2. the gradient does not get any less steep after winches corner, it just goes on for ever, and straight up!
    3. the ride back down is treacherous but great fun!
    4. Why in my right mind can’t I wait to do this again!
    5. The wait while the movie stars did their thing ~ about 20+mins!
    6. movie star material? – ahhh ‘media whores’ sprung to mind.

    • Andy / Dec 2 2012

      Gold! Correct on all fronts…!

  3. Brian / Nov 30 2012

    Thanks for organising a great day and for the company on the way up. Baw Baw is always a great ride but with 80+ cyclists makes it a bit more memorable. Looking forward now to Buller.

  4. Chris / Nov 29 2012

    Thanks for a great day, the pic’s are fantastic, normally my riding drops off after the ATB so this has been a great way to continue the pedaling….Bring on Mt Buller…

  5. Evan / Nov 29 2012

    Another fantastic write-up Matt of a great day on the bike! Congratulations again to all that came and conquered!

    Love the photo Adam, that has got to be one of the best pain-cave photos I have ever seen!

    See you all at Buller!

  6. Jack / Nov 29 2012

    Just want to give Matt from Steamfish a huge thank you for driving me back to the carback after I completely wiped out on a guard rail on the way back down. If it wasn’t for him I’d have had a very sore ride back, made a lot more difficult by this:
    https://twitter.com/i/#!/MCMLXXXV/media/slideshow?url=pic.twitter.com%2FMz6ZaePs

    Thanks Matt! And also thanks everyone for a really good climb (up until the Guardrail Incident).

    • Matt / Dec 1 2012

      Hey Jack – A pleasure – - turns out we have a couple of seconds of you going over the rail before I dump the camera and run over. I’ll send it to you – hope those legs are healing up.

      Cheers

      • Jack / Dec 2 2012

        Hahaha, awesome. Hit me up at j.walsh[at]mac.com!

  7. Jon Thornton / Nov 29 2012

    Brilliant day and excellent article. Thanks Matt and Andy for all of the work you did to organize the event. See you at Buller.

  8. Simon A / Nov 29 2012

    Hated it, yet looking at a road trip to Dargo Hill when the weather is cooler for some reason…

    Thanks everyone who helped out, really looking forward to Buller.

    • Matt / Nov 29 2012

      As in you hated the Baw Baw climb? Or you had Dargo Hill last time you did it?

      • Simon A / Dec 4 2012

        Hated the Baw Baw climb, in as much as I hate cycling after a punishing ride, but get back on the bike the next day anyway!

  9. Dougal Hunt / Nov 29 2012

    Sounds like a great day had by all. Kudos to Brian and also Shane who not only acted as the mechanic but still finished near the top of the field!

  10. Lawson / Nov 29 2012

    Great article.
    Looking forward to meeting you all for Buller.

  11. Adam Gruer / Nov 29 2012

    Great write up as always Matt. That is me deep inside the pain cave in the photo at top of page. A fantastic morning on the bike, looking forward to some more.

    • Matt / Nov 29 2012

      Thanks Adam! Such a great photo of you. :P I’ll be in touch about the voucher. :)

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