February 8, 2012

Guest post: 2012 Audax Alpine Classic (200km version)

On Sunday January 29, David Blom rode the 200km version of the Audax Alpine Classic. In this guest post, David describes the big day while reminding us that when you’re travelling to the Victorian Alps, the journey is just as important as the destination.

David at the Tawonga Gap. (Image courtesy of David Blom)

For my road trip from Melbourne to Bright, I decided to take a rather unusual route. Rather than heading up the Hume Highway or travelling via Gippsland I took the Melba Highway to Yea, through Merton, past Bonnie Doon (and the wonderful Lake Eildon), up past Mansfield and past The Paps.

Then it was on to the most wonderful stretch of road between Mansfield and Whitfield. I passed over the Tolmie Gap before stopping at Power’s Lookout for a brief stretch of the legs and to take some photos of the King Valley.

View of the King Valley from Powers Lookout. (Image courtesy of David Blom)

As I drove through the King Valley and the towns of Whitfield and Cheshunt, I wished I had longer to take in more of the region’s wonderful food and wineries. Continuing on, I took a gravel road out of Cheshunt (Rose River Road) to Dandongadale and took a break at the Lake Buffalo Dam:

The Lake Buffalo dam. (Image courtesy of David Blom)

Then it was through to the town of Myrtleford and on to Porepunkah where I was staying.

After a large pasta dinner and a nervous night’s sleep, I gathered at 6.20am with about 2,000 other riders for the start of the Alpine Classic 200km version. My group’s strategy for the ride was simple: get through at the best pace possible, meet up at key places and enjoy the ride! I was determined to eat before I felt hungry and drink before I felt too thirsty. I also add another rule to this list: take Nurofen before your back even thinks about seizing up!

After what seemed like a very lengthy wait to finally get past the start line (we were sent off in waves), we finally crossed the start line at 6:37am.  My group had gone no more than 50 metres beyond the start line when we heard a loud bang. It didn’t take long to realise it wasn’t the starting gun going off. Sure enough, a rider to our right had his tyre explode literally on the start line sensor! Fortunately, it looked as if the poor bloke had a few people to help him out, so we were off and riding.

The pace was easy through to Germantown, as everyone seemed to be worried about conserving energy for much later in the day. A feeling of moving forward though the pack seemed to accompany us all the way up the climb to Tawonga Gap. The Bright side of the climb was smooth and overall it was relatively easy. That said, the cool of the morning, some shade from the sun and having fresh legs made it much easier than it could have been.

Descending from Tawonga Gap was fun but the road on the Mt. Beauty side of the mountain was much rougher. There was also a large number of riders on the road at the same time (the climbing was yet to string the crowd out), clogging up the road. Taking advantage of my 90kg frame, I was able to fly past many of the lighter cyclists on this first descent, slowing a bit for the photo point, before stepping on the gas and rolling into Mt. Beauty in style.

Morning tea consisted of hot cross buns sans heat and crosses. (Let’s call them current buns!) After refuelling with a coffee and refilling our bidons with water and cordial, we were off to tackle the highest point of the day: Falls Creek.

If you include the stretch from Mt. Beauty to Bogong, Falls Creek represents a massive climb; one that is much harder than the category 2 score given to it from the bridge crossing [ed. You’re right. The climb from Mt. Beauty would probably be Cat 1]. Here the heat started to take its toll on people and the mass of riders stretched out. I still had the feeling of moving forward through the pack, despite seeing a few of the front-runners already on their descent.

The Falls Creek turnaround. (Image courtesy of David Blom)

After arriving in Falls Creek at 10am and still feeling very good (with half the climbing done), I had a quick chat with some people from the Bass Coast Triathlon Club in Inverloch — I must get down there and do one of their triathlons! I refilled my bottles, enjoyed a biscuit, chugged down a few lollies and applied some more SPF30+.

It was time to descend. The adrenaline kicked in once more and the exhilaration of flying past fellow descenders, the very few cars on the road and people still climbing was wonderful. In the blink of an eye, I was back in Mt. Beauty.

Descending Falls Creek. (Image courtesy of David Blom)

The false-flat through the main street was tough as the sun was seriously starting to bake. As I rode through town, I dinged my bell at the people who lined the streets and high-fived a young kid, thinking to myself: “Almost halfway there.”

The climb of Tawonga Gap (from Mt. Beauty this time) was much tougher than the first climb of the day. The 100km of riding to that point obviously took its toll, but the Mt. Beauty side of Tawonga is also a bit steeper than the Bright side, the surface is much rougher and the midday sun was starting to have a serious effect.

Climbing became a matter of just grinding away as a mixture of sweat and sunscreen ran into my eyes, causing all kinds of discomfort. Once I reached Tawonga Gap I realised I was halfway through the ride and allowed myself time for a quick photo:

View from the Tawonga Gap. (Image courtesy of David Blom)

Then it was time to fly down into Bright. I knew the road surface was smooth on the way into town so I let loose on the descent and arrived at the Bright Cricket Ground in no time. As I rolled into Bright I felt happy with the morning’s efforts and hungry for the toughest part of the day, which was yet to come.

My lunch stop in Bright consisted of eating a salad roll, getting some more fluids onboard, reapplying sunscreen, sitting in the shade for a few minutes, loading up with energy gels, and, perhaps most importantly, getting myself mentally prepared for the Mt. Buffalo climb.

The ride through Porepunkah was rather easy, but all of that changed once we passed through Mt. Buffalo National Park entry gates. With the mercury nudging 38ºC and the road melting in front of us, climbing simply became a matter of survival.

I no longer felt like I was moving forward in the pack. Instead it was more a see-sawing: I would ride past someone who would overtake me not long after. Just before the second water stop, I caught up to another rider and asked him how he was faring. He said he had hit the wall and asked if I could spare an energy gel. I was happy to part with my last gel (I couldn’t stomach it) and together we worked out way to the next water stop.

For mine, this was the highlight of the day — being able to assist a fellow rider. When you ride in an event such as the Audax Alpine Classic there’s a real sense of everybody being there to help each other complete the ride. That’s one of the things that makes this sort of event so worthwhile.

After topping up my bottles on the second Buffalo drink stop, I made use of the ice cubes the volunteers were refilling bottles with and placed a few in my helmet. This stroke of genius cooled my head and the combination of ice and the lower temperature at higher altitudes made climbing much easier for the last 10km to the crest of the mountain.

Once I reached the crest I found the strength to ride the short downhill stretch past Lake Catani at great speed. Despite being a bit steep and at the end of a long day of climbing, I found the final stretch to Dingo Dell quite easy. After all, the highest point of the ride was so close.

The final few kilometres to Dingo Dell are challenging, but rewarding.

At Dingo Dell I enjoyed the wonderful hospitality of the fabulous Audax volunteers once more. I grabbed a coffee, an apple and custard turnover, got my sunglasses cleaned, and applied some more sunscreen before bombing down the mountain.

Apart from one scary hairpin bend, where my back wheel went a little bit sideways on the melting road, the Mt. Buffalo descent was brilliant all the way to Porepunkah. Rolling past Porepunkah I got a burst of energy and sprinted my way into Bright and charged for the finish line.

After crossing the line after a long, hot day in the saddle, I enjoyed some fruit-in-jelly, listened to some fine music from The Band Who Knew Too Much and traded stories of the day with other riders.

As I made my way back to Porepunkah to clean up for dinner, I saw more people heading through Porepunkah towards the finish line.  After my dinner and a celebratory beer or two, I noticed the last rider, being accompanied by an official on a motorbike, making his way towards the finish line.

He crossed the line as the sun came down on what was a most wonderful day.

Have you got a climbing-related story you’d like to share? Send Matt an email at theclimbingcyclist@gmail.com with the details.

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One Comment

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  1. William Tao / Feb 29 2012

    Thank you for such a wonderful report. I have done the 140KM ride this year, and it was my first time to ride the Alpine Classic after taking up cycling in July last year. I really got into it in no time, but unfortunately I must admit I am not a very strong climber, although that doesn’t stop me from enjoying the weekly climb up Mt Dandenong via Devil’s Elbow and a few repeats at the Wall. I am planning to give the 200KM ride a crack next year, but, probably would have to upgrade my aluminium bike to a full carbon 😛

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