Evan Henley's Bass Coast Classic
It seemed as if Evan had been bugging us for months about the Bass Coast Classic — a ~130km ride he’d planned out that took in the quiet backroads of South Gippsland and the Bass Coast. The ride had been postponed a number of times (for various reasons) but on Saturday, finally, it was on. Unsurprisingly, it was totally worth the wait.
But, I almost didn’t make it. I’d been sick a few days before and I didn’t have a car on Saturday to drive myself the ~90 minutes to Glen Forbes for the start of the ride. But thanks to Dougie (aka Grinderman) — who was still recovering from an epic 436km one-day ride two weeks earlier — and his kind offer of a lift, I was able to get there after all.
I left home at 5.30am, riding to Dougie’s place in Collingwood before he drove us out to Glen Forbes to meet the rest of the crew. It was a small bunch (compared to the 7 Peaks series anyway!) with just five of us there for the ride: routemaster Evan Henley and 7 Peaks mastermind Andy van Bergen representing Hells 500; myself, Dougie and Fletch representing eQuipo tranQuilo.
The longest climb of the day — 4.4km at 4.4% — started no more than 100m from the car and I think it’s fair to say it was a rude awakening for all of us. Not because of the gradient — it was no steeper than the 1 in 20 — but because the pace was well and truly on as soon as the road tilted skyward.
Dougie’s epic rides had obviously done him good as he sat at the head of the bunch, driving us uphill at a fairly uncomfortable tempo. Even Evan — Mr. Double Baw Baw in 34 and 36 minutes respectively — was finding the going reasonably tough to start with. That said, he might have been bluffing if his form later in the day was anything to go by.
Even though the pace up that first climb was quite swift, there was still plenty of time to take in the surroundings. With the road taking us higher and higher, the views over South Gippsland were truly stunning.
From the top of the climb we headed south towards the coast, descending as we went. It was downhill most of the way to Archies Creek at which point we turned east and headed inland. As we rolled through Archies Creek I could see the road ramping up on the far side of town. Evan, it seemed, had also seen the climb and he was off, attacking the hill out of the saddle. It wasn’t more than a few seconds before all five of us were throwing ourselves at the climb to see who could take the KOM honours.
In the end it came down to staying power as the climb was a little longer than most of us expected. Andy had shot off the front early on the climb and with a scary display of strength, he managed to hold on until the road crested several hundred metres later. Turns out he was only one second behind the Strava KOM.
From the top of the climb the road took us south again and it wasn’t long until we were rolling into Wonthaggi. From there it was off towards Inverloch via the great coastal road and Cape Paterson.
The last (and only) time I rode from Wonthaggi to Inverloch I was on my own and it was blowing a gale. I must have averaged in the low 20s for that 11km stretch along the cliff tops and it was a real slog at the end of a long ride. But on Saturday, with the wind behaving itself, it was far more pleasant. We all took turns at the front and I had the somewhat unfortunate luck of pairing up with Dougie.
It was a battle to stay level with him as he pushed into the wind and as somebody behind me quipped at the time: ‘the scary thing is, he could keep going like this all day’.
That coastal stretch between Cape Paterson and Inverloch was one of the highlights of the day for me. It felt good to be sitting at the front of the group doing some work, dragging everyone along at close to 40km/h. It was also really cool to pass a bunch of the early-risers in the Great Victorian Bike Ride as they took on the penultimate day of their ride.
From Inverloch we headed inland once more and up towards Kongwak. I hadn’t done much research about the ride before Saturday so almost all of the ride was a surprise. I knew we’d be climbing in the vicinity of 1,200 vertical metres but I wasn’t expecting the terrain to be as challenging as it was.
What the course lacked in long, sustained climbs it certainly made up for in shorter rises dotted around the place. Looking at the Strava file from the ride I can see that the inland section north of Inverloch is actually reasonably hilly which would explain why it felt like pretty tough going at times.
Once we hit Kongwak and the southern edge of the hills (does anyone know what these ranges are called?) it was uphill for most of the next 7km. I remember hitting that first rise but I don’t remember it being a solid, sustained climb. But as we hit the top of the hill and looked over Gippsland to the east, it became clear we’d climbed a reasonable distance. Once again the views were incredible.
The plan had been to head north-west before Korumburra, thereby avoiding the South Gippsland Highway, but we missed the turn-off and ended up in town, requiring 6km of highway riding before we were back onto quieter roads.
Even that short amount of time spent riding on the side of the highway made me realise how much nicer it is riding on quiet backroads. Not least because of the often-thick layer of gravel and debris that seems to invariably cover the shoulder of country highways.
Riding on the South Gippsland Highway also gave me a feel for what it must have been like for Dougie and Fletch, riding kilometre after kilometre along the Princes Highway as they made their way from Sydney to Melbourne over five days.
If the stretch between Cape Paterson and Inverloch had been a highlight then the descent into the small town of Loch was too. It was a wonderfully fast 5km section that took us to a well deserved lunch stop with a touch under 100km in the legs.
There’s a really nice little cafe/bakery there in Loch where we all grabbed something to eat and drink before saddling up and, with slightly reluctant legs, pushing into the final 40km of the day.
There were a couple of short climbs between Loch and The Gurdies (awesome name) and on each of them my legs felt progressively more fatigued. That said, I still thought I was climbing reasonably well … until Evan flew past me in the big chainring, making it look as if I was standing still. It happened a number of times throughout the day and it didn’t get any less demoralising!
From The Gurdies it was onto the Bass Highway for a brief spell which, surprisingly, wasn’t too unpleasant. The shoulder on the Bass was noticeably wider, smoother and less debris-covered than the South Gippsland Highway had been and, with Fletch and Evan up the front dragging us along, we were able to move along at a fair clip.
As we turned left off the highway at Grantville Evan warned us we were just about to hit the final climb of the day. It turned out to be 1.7km long at 5.5% and while I felt good at the start, it didn’t take long for my pace to drop and for Evan to fly past again … in the big ring of course. He ended up snaffling the KOM on the climb with an impressive VAM of close to 1,200. The bloke can climb!
After the final climb of the day we descended for a few kilometres before it was into the final 4km back to the car. For the whole day I’d been keeping a close eye on our average speed with a view to finishing at 30km/h or above. We got as high as 32.4km at one stage but from when we started climbing out of Kongwak it was all downhill. As I started the final 4km of the day my average was sitting on exactly 30km/h so I made a concerted effort to push for the finish.
I managed to reel in Evan and Andy who had opened up a bit of a gap on the climb and by the time the three of us reached the car my average had ticked back up to 30.1km/h. Win!
Looking at the ride on Strava you wouldn’t think it was that tough a ride. Sure, it was more than 130km long but with only 1,280m of climbing it shouldn’t have been as hard as it was. Perhaps it was the fact we had attacked that early climb reasonably hard, or the fact I’d been sick during the week, but I got back to the car feeling knackered. Even Dougie and Fletch had found the day tough, despite their Herculean efforts in previous weeks.
I’m glad Evan persisted with organising the ride, despite the setbacks, as it really was a great day out. I really had no idea there were such great roads to be explored in that part of the state and I’ll definitely be back for more. As well as the great roads and the awesome scenery, it was a whole lot of fun riding with such a great bunch of blokes. It was great just rotating through the group all day and having a chance to chat with everyone.
Thanks to Evan for organising a great ride, thanks to Dougie for the lift to and from Glen Forbes and thanks to you for reading! Don’t forget you can join the TCC community over on Twitter and Facebook and if you’d like to follow me (Matt) on Strava you’re more than welcome to do so.
Until next time, thanks for stopping by and please stay safe on the roads!
The Strava file for this ride can be found here.