7 Peaks Domestique Series ride #12: Mt. Baw Baw

It was a bittersweet feeling rocking up to Noojee on Sunday morning, knowing that the final ride in the 7 Peaks Domestique Series was about to begin. On one hand it had been a long and tiring few months and I was looking forward to a rest. But the 7 Peaks series has also been one of the coolest projects I’ve ever been part of and I’ll be sad once it’s over.

The day started with a 5am alarm and a nearly-two-hour drive out to Noojee where the designated carpark was virtually full … 45 minutes before we were set to get underway. After getting ready at a leisurely pace, the 20- or 30-strong bunch rolled out in dribs and drabs and headed for the first challenge of the morning: Vesper Hill.

Being only a handful of kilometres out of Noojee, Vesper Hill is always a brutal start to the day. Without a substantial warm-up on Sunday, the initial kilometres of climbing were uncomfortable, and then the road ramped up to around 8-9% and it was just a matter of gritting the teeth and pushing through the 4km or so to the top.

The best part about summiting Vesper Hill is the awesome descent down the other side. We flew down before climbing a bit as we approached the second pick-up point of the day, Icy Creek.

Image: Kirsten Simpson
Image: Kirsten Simpson

A few of us — including my eQuipo tranQuilo teammates Fletch and the Donvale Demon — had started a few minutes behind the main bunch but we expected to catch everyone when we got to Icy Creek. But it wasn’t to be. We rolled through the tiny town, past a whole bunch of cars, and out the other side towards Tanjil Bren. And then I got a flat.

I wasn’t particularly worried about the time (the ride was supposed to start at Tanjil Bren at 9.30am) but after spending a few minutes fixing the flat, I was starting to get a little concerned. The Donvale Demon had pushed on (he wasn’t feeling so good and figured we’d catch him) which left Fletch and I riding together as we pushed through the gorgeous rolling hills on the way to Tanjil Bren.

We arrived at the final pick-up point just after 9.30am and after Andy and I held the final pre-ride briefing of the series, we sent everyone off to tackle what is arguably the hardest of the 7 Peaks: Mt. Baw Baw. Even though Joel Nicholson had volunteered to bring up the back of the field as lanterne rouge — he was feeling a little sluggish after riding more than 600km on Thursday — I was still keen to wait for everyone to leave so I could work my way through the field.

The final rider briefing of the series. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)
The final rider briefing of the series. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)

Just last week I started a new job working with Wade Wallace at the terrific Cycling Tips website. Ever since I started I’ve been trying to convince Wade to come along on one of our rides and so it was great when, at the end of the pre-ride briefing, I saw that he’d made it.

It was great having Wade along for the day ... until he rode off and made it look like I was standing still. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)
Image: Kirsten Simpson

You could hardly miss him in his fluoro yellow CT kit.

Wade, Andy, Fletch and I set off down the hill toward the start of the climb and after crossing Big Tree Creek we started the 1-in-20-like opening section of the Mt. Baw Baw climb. I think we probably went a little bit harder in that section that I might normally have and when we got to The Gantry — the start of the really steep climbing — I wasn’t feeling as fresh as I might have liked.

Andy and Wade quickly opened up a gap but I was determined to have someone pace me up the mountain so I burnt a few matches and joined them. About a kilometre or so into the climb Andy had a flat (his second of the day) and so it was just Wade and I climbing our way through the bunch.

He looked like he was doing it easy, barely raising a sweat, while I was puffing and panting like nobody’s business.

I’m really glad Wade was there to get a feel for what we’ve done with the series, and you could tell that he really got it. He spent the whole climb offering words of encouragement and advice to riders as we passed — a great touch I thought.

All smiles. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)
You’re not fooling us, Gareth. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)

The first time I climbed Mt. Baw Baw it took me about 58 minutes from The Gantry to the village. On my next two visits I went 42 minutes and 41 minutes and so on Sunday, my goal was clear: break 40 minutes. I knew if I could stay with Wade (and Chris Mason who joined us early in the climb) most of the way up I’d have a fairly good chance of notching up a new PB.

There’s a popular quote about climbing hills: ‘it never gets easier, you just go faster’. It’s a phrase I’ve used on this site in the past, but I’m starting to think it’s not entirely true.

Sure, if you’re going at your absolute maximum, the climb will feel equally as painful regardless of how strong you are. But on Sunday, I was climbing at or close to threshold the whole way up and it still felt considerably more comfortable than previous attempts. That’s not to say that it wasn’t uncomfortable, but I can certainly remember feeling more challenged by the climb.

'Don't look up. Don't look up.'
‘Don’t look up. Don’t look up.’

With about 2km to go, Wade and Chris chucked on the afterburners and I just couldn’t go with them. Sure, the road had flattened off slightly, but I hadn’t had long enough to recover from my efforts to be able to jump with them. Instead it was a solo effort in the closing stages, and when the road flattened off in the last 700m I flicked through the cassette into a bigger gear, pushing for the line.

I’d made the stupid mistake of not starting a stopwatch at The Ganty so I had no real idea of my time when I got to the top, but my feeling was that I’d probably scraped under 40 minutes. A look at Strava on Sunday night showed that I’d done The Gantry to the village segment in 38 minutes and 44 seconds. Awesome.

Climbing mountains can be a family affair. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)
Climbing mountains can be a family affair. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)

But, as ever, my experience of the day was only one of many. Last time we visited Mt. Baw Baw we had 80 riders get up the mountain but on Sunday the number was close to 120. Throughout the series there’s been a really nice mix of new faces and familiar faces and Sunday was no exception. Some riders had come along for their first 7 Peaks ride, others had been there for a few and more than a handful were back at Mt. Baw Baw after joining us late last year.

I had so many people tell me that they’d struggled so much the first time they climbed Mt. Baw Baw but that, on Sunday, they’d found it considerably easier. It’s so gratifying to see a) people wanting to come back out and take on Mt. Baw Baw again and b) that the 7 Peaks Domestique Series has undoubtedly made many riders much stronger in the hills. It’s pretty cool to have been part of that.

At the top of the mountain we were treated to some terrific hospitality courtesy of Tammy van Bergen (yet again!) and the team at the Mt. Baw Baw Alpine Resort. In the weeks leading up to the ride we’d told the folks at the resort that we’d be coming and they really did look after us. From setting up ‘Cyclists on road’ signs throughout the climb, to erecting a marquee where riders could get their 7 Peaks stamp and something to drink, the Baw Baw team were a great help. The slices of orange on ice that the team handed around were a real highlight!

Image: Kirsten Simpson
Image: Kirsten Simpson

After wandering around and chatting to a whole bunch of riders at the village — including Kosdown Performance Cycling‘s power couple Von Micich and Shane Miller, the latter of which had climbed Baw Baw in 30 minutes(!) — it was time to pack up and descend before riding back to Noojee.

I’m normally a huge fan of descending mountains — you’ve earned it, after all, why not enjoy it? — but when it comes to Mt. Baw Baw I’m always a little hesitant. Not only have I witnessed a crash on the way down, and seen another on YouTube (he was fine), but I also know the road surface is rubbish on the way down and there are several corners that come up a lot faster than you might expect. But, thankfully, Fletch, my brother Brendan and I got down the hill in one piece.

It’s always a rude shock when you cross Big Tree Creek after the Baw Baw descent and it’s straight into a 4km-long climb back to Tanjil Bren. On Sunday, it was very humid under the canopy of the native forest and the climb was a really sticky and painful grind. But once at the top, we were treated to a nice downhill and, from there, some amazing rolling hills back to Icy Creek.

Once we were out of the forest and onto more exposed roads, the dry heat of the early afternoon hit us. In those final rolling kilometres back to Noojee, the fatigue really started to kick in and when I got another puncture near the top of Vesper Hill (a 1.6km climb from the Mt. Baw Baw side) I wasn’t particularly impressed.

But, Fletch and Brendan waited for me — as did another rider, Nathan Pasco, who’d suffered a puncture at the same time. After changing the tube on the gravel verge in the hot sun, it was back on the road and time to descend the final kilometres back to Noojee.

As soon as I got back to the car I packed up my gear then wandered over to the creek that runs through the park. Standing in the icy-cold water and splashing some on my face was the perfect end to what had turned into a pretty hot ride. And after freshening up, it was over to a cafe in Noojee for a bite to eat with some of the gang before taking the long drive back home.

Image: Kirsten Simpson
Image: Kirsten Simpson

And so I need to conclude this final 7 Peaks Domestique series write-up in the same fashion I’ve finished all the others: by thanking those that have made this whole thing possible. First and foremost, a huge thank you to Tammy van Bergen for her tireless efforts in supporting the rides, with Sunday being no exception. The support that she’s provided throughout the series has been invaluable.

A big thank you to Kirsten Simpson who, once again, was kind enough to come along and take some stunning photos of the ride, some of which you see in this post. You can see more (and buy) images from the ride at Kirsten’s website or on her Facebook page. Thanks again to the folks at the Mt. Baw Baw Alpine Resort, and a big thank you to Winners Cycling who provided pre-ride nutrition, Emma & Tom’s who provided the juice at the top of the climb, and Cycling Express who are providing the series’ major prize: a Mavic Cosmic Elite wheelset.

Cycling Express has also been good enough to provide us with a handful of $20 vouchers for riders that put in impressive or memorable efforts throughout the series. For Sunday’s ride, Andy and I would like to nominate the following individuals:

  • Zeinab Fakih and Willy Gunawan, for their great tenacity throughout the series and for finishing things in style with a great effort up Mt. Baw Baw
  • Brad Lyell, for throwing himself so fully into the series and for improving so much throughout
  • Katrina Breen for another inspiring effort towards the back of the field
  • Chris Mason, for his memorable ‘wrestler suit’ impression as he stood in rolled-up bib & brace at Tanjil Bren to apply sunscreen. We got a good laugh out of it — thanks Chris!
The view from the Mt. Baw Baw Alpine Resort.
The view from the Mt. Baw Baw Alpine Resort.

And just before I wrap this up, a couple of quick reminders. Remember that if you complete the 3 Peaks Challenge or Scody High Country Cycle Challenge in March, the climbs in those rides can count towards our 7 Peaks series and give you an extra entry into the major prize draw. The same applies if you climbed Mt. Buffalo as part of the re-routed Audax Alpine Classic in January. Just be sure to let us know that you completed the climbs, and send us a Strava link (or equivalent) to prove it.

The same goes with the weekend of March 30 and 31. If you do any of the 7 Peaks during that ‘Picking up the scraps’ weekend, they also count towards the 7 Peaks Domestique Series.

And finally, this Sunday we’re having a quiet little get-together at The Shadow Electric between noon and 2pm to celebrate what has been a great series of rides. For full details visit the 7 Peaks hub page or the Facebook event page. If you are thinking of coming — and we’d be delighted to have you there — please let us know so we’ve got an idea of numbers.

Until then, thanks for reading and a big thank-you to everyone that came along on Sunday — it was a wonderful way to end the series.

Honour roll

The order of these names doesn’t necessarily reflect the order in which riders finished the climb. If we haven’t got you on the list, let us know! If we’ve spelled your name incorrectly, 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 with the details (and a Strava link or similar to prove it!)

  1. Eli Thurrowgood
  2. Sean Pinan
  3. Sean Emmitt
  4. Shane Miller
  5. Paul Makepeace
  6. Jayden Manintueld
  7. Jarratt Morgan
  8. Graeme Parker
  9. Cyrus Monk
  10. Greg Nichols
  11. Roland Esdos
  12. Glenn Marriott
  13. Luke Cambeth
  14. Steve Turman
  15. Steven Payne
  16. Jaimie Barber
  17. Tony Fifoot
  18. Robert Drew
  19. Thomas Price
  20. Matt de Neef
  21. Wade Wallace
  22. Chris Mason
  23. Brent Sword
  24. Chris Burton
  25. Jennifer Brown
  26. Rod Dowies
  27. Peter Whelan
  28. Kris Dieber
  29. Paul Muldowney
  30. William Lai
  31. Duncan Hallihan
  32. David Louis
  33. Selim Ahmed
  34. Dom Burton
  35. Jamie Hunter
  36. Jordan Di Luzio
  37. Mark Dobson
  38. Carl Luxton
  39. Dom Cryan
  40. Veronica Micich
  41. Kevin Goodall
  42. Peter Mitchell
  43. Jodie Mitchell
  44. Matt Fletcher
  45. Brendan de Neef
  46. John van Seters
  47. John Bursill
  48. Matt Proitsis
  49. Raj Wilson
  50. Russell Nash
  51. Katherine Taylor
  52. Liz Hall
  53. Shea Dawson
  54. Donvale Demon
  55. Lysiane Belton
  56. Michael Krischunas
  57. Matt Parker
  58. Jon Thornton
  59. Gareth Pellas
  60. Chris Dunn
  61. Stephen Tippett
  62. Rohan Wills
  63. David Taylor
  64. David Leong
  65. Nigel Welch
  66. Murray Campbell
  67. Anthony Hoare
  68. Andrew Beard
  69. Nic Hamley
  70. Cyril Dixon
  71. Brad Lyell
  72. George Voros
  73. Di Brayford
  74. Peter Kinden
  75. Nathan Sampimon
  76. Reid Bates
  77. Heidi Goodall
  78. Nathan Pasco
  79. Julie Jackson
  80. Josh Aitken
  81. Nicole van Bergen
  82. Iain Fraser
  83. Greg Campbell
  84. Greg Burns
  85. Bruce Wright
  86. Barton Duncan
  87. Willy Gunawan
  88. Nicholas Wong
  89. Roger Murphy
  90. Kate Hall
  91. Brad Clark
  92. Robert Haines
  93. Ben Craven
  94. Michelle Mumford
  95. Andrew Moodie
  96. Cam Bruce
  97. Tiana Ellis
  98. Zeinab Fakih
  99. Joe Egan
  100. Sue Madden
  101. Wendy Garrett
  102. Paul Semmens
  103. Lynne Richards
  104. Bob Dickins
  105. Sue Bourke
  106. Andy van Bergen
  107. Sonia Hutton
  108. Barry Richards
  109. Peter Humm
  110. Gavin Wright
  111. Peter Anderson
  112. Dale Schrader
  113. Mick Beasley
  114. Shane van Seters
  115. Katrina Breen
  116. Joel Nicholson

Previous rides in the series:

5 Replies to “7 Peaks Domestique Series ride #12: Mt. Baw Baw”

  1. Love the writeup Matt. As I said on FB, thanks for an amazing ride. I only did 2 of the peaks with your group (Sunday, and Buller in Dec in the rain), and Buffalo and Lake Mountain at other times. I’m stoked to have done 4 of the 7 – but the 2 with your and Andy’s groups were both fantastic experiences. Great motivation to do the tough climbs, when there’s such a large, diverse, like minded, enjoyable bunch of people to do them with.
    As you said – all the support you guys had made it doable, but to yourself and Andy, hats off. Great idea, beautifully executed – kudos!
    Thanks too for making me famous in the pic at the top of your blog!
    Look forward to riding with your group again soon. I’ll be watching your site for the next adventure 🙂

  2. One rainy day after I’d read everything on Cycling Tips, I found a link to The Climbing Cyclist on the CTips website. I clicked through, started reading and thought this guy is nuts. Why would you want to ride up hills? Many months passed and for reasons I can’t remember now, I decided to go on one of Matt’s rides. Then I went on another. Soon I was hooked. It quickly dawned on me that the 7 Peaks Domestique Series was very cool. Such an amazing collection of talented people – a great writer, strong cyclists, brilliant photographers and supportive partners working hard behind the scenes. The weird thing was, all of these people were all really friendly and helpful. They didn’t just say “nobody gets left behind” they actually meant it.

    Congratulations Matt and Andy for creating such an enthusiastic, nurturing community of hill climbing nuts. I have grown heaps this season as a direct result of all of the work you have done. A big, sincere thankyou.

    I really enjoyed the final day on Baw Baw despite having a frightening blowout just above the Gantry. I improved my time on the climb by 8mins overall and by 4mins on the steep part.

    I know that you and Andy must be totally stuffed from organising all of these rides. You both deserve a break. However, I hope that after you’ve rested, you will have the energy to offer something similar next year. Perhaps you could delegate some of the grunt work next year. I’d be happy to help out.

  3. Our Bendigo crew rode Baw Baw a few weekends back. Great ride spoilt only by those damned march flies!
    Thanks for so many great articles over the past few months Matt. Your site has become our bible when it comes to planning our conquest of the 7 Peaks.
    We plan to climb Buller this weekend to complete the challenge, while you enjoy the celebrations in Melbourne.
    Keep up the good work, and thanks again. We all have some great memories, and photos, of what’s been a great summer on the bike.


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