7 Peaks Domestique Series ride #5: Falls Creek

This is the first of four blog posts about a recent trip to the Victorian Alps for the 7 Peaks Domestique Series. Stay posted for the remaining instalments.

As a cyclist in Melbourne, there are no shortage of great riding routes nearby. Beach Road is pretty much at our doorstep, the Dandenongs are close to hand and the Kinglake Ranges are only an hour’s ride away. But as good as these areas are for a weekend ride, they fade into the background when placed next to the Victorian Alps.

With a handful of the country’s best and most challenging climbs within riding distance, the Victorian Alps really are a must-see for any cyclist who’s keen on a bit of climbing. For the past few years I’ve been fortunate enough to take more than a couple trips to the Alps and they’re always a highlight on my cycling calendar. And with four rides already completed in our 7 Peaks Domestique Series, it was time to head to the Victorian Alps to tick some more climbs off the list.

My partner Sharon and I drove up on Thursday and joined 10 others at Quay West Falls Creek where we’d stay for the next three nights. After settling in on Thursday night, we were up early on Friday for the first ride in our trip: the climb from Mt. Beauty to Falls Creek.

It's a 30km climb from Mt. Beauty to Falls Creek.
It’s a roughly 30km climb from Mt. Beauty to Falls Creek. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)

It was surprisingly cold when we left the hotel — no more than 5°C — and as we began the frigid descent I was glad I’d gone for arm warmers, leg warmers and a jacket. But by the time we reached Mt. Beauty about 45 minutes later I was regretting the extra layers and sweating profusely.

After a few minutes spent chatting to the riders who were starting to congregate, we got our pre-ride briefing underway. It looked as if we might have a sizeable bunch if the crowd in front of Andy and I was anything to go by.

A definining feature of our Domestique Series is the fact we always have a lanterne rouge — a rider who sticks at the back of the field to make sure no-one is left behind, to offer some support for riders that might be struggling a little. Andy’s sister Nicole had kindly volunteered to take up lanterne rouge duties for the climb which left Andy and I free to work our way through the crowd and ride at our own pace.

There were many smiling faces on the climb ... and many carrots for us to chase down. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)
There were many carrots for us to chase down. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)

I started near the back of the field, riding with my good mate and eQuipo tranQuilo team mate Matt ‘Fletch’ Fletcher. As we got settled into a rhythm in the opening kilometres of the climb we passed a whole bunch of riders, saying ‘hi’ as we went. One of the funniest moments of the day was when Fletch and I were riding alongside one bloke whose name I can’t remember, having a bit of a chat. At one point the bloke turned to Fletch and said ‘So, are you the Fletch Bomb?’

I think it was the first time Fletch had been recognised from Twitter and he was a little taken aback. Deep down I’m pretty sure he loved it.

The Fletch Bomb taps out a cracking pace.
The Fletch Bomb taps out a cracking pace. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)

As we powered through the undulating middle section of the climb, Fletch and I were joined by Brendan Canty — the bloke who’d tapped out an incredible 48 minute effort on Mt. Buller a few weekends before. I knew if Brendan decided to lift the pace there was no way I could stay with him but he seemed happy to take it easy and chat.

As Fletch, Brendan and I approached the Kiewa River and the start of the climbing proper we continued to pass many riders. I told Fletch that my plan was to go under 1 hour for the final ~14km of the climb (from the river) but that I was also keen to save something in the tank for the other rides we had planned that weekend.

But as soon as we crossed the bridge, any plan to take it easy went right out the window.

Fletch drove the pace until we hit the final section of the climb.
Fletch drove the pace until we hit the final section of the climb. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)

In an attempt to push for a sub-60-minute time I found myself riding rather harder than I might otherwise have done. Before long we lost Fletch off the back (sorry mate!) and it was just Brendan and I picking off riders as we went. I was much closer to my threshold than I would have liked but once I started the climb hard I figured I might as well keep going hard.

Of course, just because it was a hard effort for me doesn’t mean Brendan was in any difficulty. In fact, while I was huffing and puffing and trying not to go into the red, Brendan was tapping away very comfortably, enjoying the cruisy ride. On one hand it was demoralising to see how easily he was doing it (and how easy it was for him to chat), but on the other hand it was really great to have someone to distract me from the discomfort of pushing myself.

The last 4km from the tollbooth to the summit always seem to be a little harder than the rest of the climb. Whether that’s due to a slightly steeper gradient, cumulative fatigue, increased altitude or a combination of these, I’m not sure. But they certainly did feel harder than the lower slopes of the mountain.

The final section of the Falls Creek climb always seems to hurt. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)
The final section of the Falls Creek climb always seems to hurt. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)

I stopped my Garmin as we entered the Falls Creek village and saw that we’d done the final section in 48 minutes — 8 minutes faster than my previous best. I later found out that I’d done the entire climb from Mt. Beauty to Falls Creek roughly 30 minutes faster than my next-best time. A good result and well worth the pain.

There was, however, one minor downside. On one of the very few flatter sections in that final 14km from the river I remember coasting very briefly to let my body recover before the next effort. As I did, I felt my heart flutter. I looked down and saw my heart rate increase to 206 beats per minute, then 227bpm before dropping back to 170-odd. Given that my heartrate at max effort is 196 this was slightly worrying.

It wasn’t painful or even uncomfortable and it only lasted about 3 seconds, but it did make me a little nervous. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on it and if it happens again I’ll be looking to get some sort of professional advice.

Great day for a ride in the mountains.
Great day for a ride in the mountains. (Image: Kirsten Simpson)

But of course, the 7 Peaks Domestique Series is about far more than my own individual efforts. It’s about the dozens of other riders that join us for the climbs, to test themselves, to achieve something — whether that’s getting a stamp in their 7 Peaks passport or something bigger.

After Brendan and I reached the top I spent the next hour or so watching riders trickle into the village, all but a few with looks of great satisfaction on their faces. There were plenty there who were doing their first ever mountain climb, some who were out for a new PB and others who were just there for the 7 Peaks stamp. But everyone had a story; a reason for being there. It was great to hear those stories and to have helped people achieve a goal, however minor our assistance might have been.

In the end we had 81 82 riders make it to the top — an incredible turn-out given how far away from everything Falls Creek is. I’d be confident in saying most of the riders had made the trip up from Melbourne as well — an awesome effort.

12-year-old Tristan Hocking-Brown signs in after finishing the climb.
12-year-old Tristan Hocking-Brown signs in after finishing the climb.

It would be remiss of me not to thank our wonderful support crew of Tammy (Andy’s wife) and Sharon (my partner). You’ll be hearing more about them in the following posts, but it’s worth spelling out here just how much support they do provide. From handing out nutrition (thanks to Winners Cycling ), to dropping off water halfway up the climb, to taking photos, to taking names for the honour roll, to providing drinks at the end of the ride (courtesy of Emma & Tom’s) … Tam and Sharon did it all. Thanks so much girls!

And while we’re on the subject of inspiring efforts, Andy and I have a number of $20 Cycling Express vouchers to hand out to riders that impress us during the climbs. For the Falls Creek ride we’d like to award the vouchers to:

  • Johanna Dobson who, at 13 years old, put in an amazing effort to get through the climb, thanks to some help from her parents Fiona and Mark.
  • Esther Shortland who was convinced, at the start of the climb, that she wouldn’t make it. But with a truckload of perseverance and some great support from her husband Ray, Esther managed to get to the top. Inspiring stuff!
  • Tristan Hocking-Brown who, at 12 years old, is (I believe) the youngest rider to complete one of our climbs so far. Tristan’s effort on Falls Creek inspired many of us and it was great to see him back up his effort with another climb the next day!
Esther Shortland (with husband Ray) completed the climb despite thinking she couldn't. (Image: Wil Sweeton)
Esther Shortland completed the climb despite thinking she couldn’t. (Image: Wil Gleeson)

But the day didn’t end when we got to Falls Creek. Later that day three of us — myself, Evan Henley and John Gogis  — headed back down to Mt. Beauty for another tilt at the mountain. There were a number of riders that weren’t able to get up to Mt. Beauty from Melbourne in time for the morning session and so an ‘unofficial’ afternoon session was put together.

In the end there were 9 of us for that second climb — four guys and five girls! — and it was a great little bunch to ride with. We stayed together for the first few kilometres but after that things started to split apart. I found myself at the front riding with Shari Aubrey from Lead Out Cycling.

I rode most of the afternoon session with Shari Aubrey and had a great time.
I rode most of the afternoon session with Shari Aubrey and had a great time.

It was terrific chatting to Shari as we made our way up the mountain in the late afternoon sun. But as we hit the final 4km of the climb, the previously constant chatter dropped off quite noticeably. I don’t know about Shari, but I was certainly struggling after the hard effort I’d put in earlier in the day. It was quite a relief to get to the village for the second time and Shari and the other girls were stoked to have made it up. Great stuff ladies!

After a dip in the hotel’s cold plunge pool and toasty-warm spa it was time for an amazing pasta dinner courtesy of Tammy, Nicole and one of our other roommates, Julia. It was the perfect end to a tiring and challenging day and it set us up perfectly for the big day we had ahead of us.

Thanks very much to Wil Gleeson and Kirsten Simpson who provided most of the stunning images you see in this post and in the gallery below. To see more of their photos, visit the Hells 500 Facebook page. Thanks too to Neil Smithies for the video you can see embedded below. The Strava files from my morning and afternoon rides can be found here and here respectively.

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 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. Peter Westley
  2. Hamish Moffatt
  3. Graeme Robertson
  4. Evan Henley
  5. Brendan Canty
  6. Matt de Neef (1 hour 32 minutes)
  7. Ben Culton
  8. Darin Lynch
  9. Harry Brennan
  10. Ross MacPherson (1 hour 29 minutes)
  11. David Franjic
  12. Tony Stuyt
  13. Tim Lier
  14. Sam Slaney
  15. Christophe Pical
  16. Kris Dieber
  17. Matt Fletcher
  18. Tim Pittaway
  19. John Gogis
  20. Neil Smithies
  21. Daniel Foster
  22. Stephen Tippett
  23. Colin Morris
  24. John Bursill
  25. Matt McCullough
  26. Tim Ransome
  27. Lex Sonnenberg (1 hour 43 minutes)
  28. Brendan de Neef
  29. Jen Fankhauser
  30. Meg Brown
  31. Gary Lucas
  32. Tom Lucas
  33. John Van Seters
  34. Glenn Hocking
  35. James Hu
  36. Cyril Dixon
  37. Pauline Seux
  38. Dominic Cryan
  39. Sean Dent
  40. Jordan Di Luzio
  41. Sam Thompson
  42. Rohan Wills
  43. Peter Quinlivan
  44. Cameron Messer
  45. Emma Hassall
  46. Stacy Hassall
  47. Michael Krischunas
  48. Matt Price
  49. Natalie Wong
  50. Dave McLean
  51. Nigel Welch
  52. Paddy McIntyre
  53. Andy van Bergen
  54. Matt Hardinge
  55. Mat Hamblin
  56. Julia Spicer
  57. George Voros
  58. Brad Lyell
  59. Peter Kennedy
  60. Rossco Hames
  61. Aaron Rouge-Serret
  62. Jurien Dekter
  63. Karl Gerstlauer
  64. Ian Michelson
  65. Larry Bird
  66. James Harvey
  67. Nick Tarnay
  68. David Taylor
  69. Bruce Watman
  70. Nathan Dux
  71. Wendy Garrett
  72. Darren O’Leary
  73. Tristan Hocking-Brown
  74. Brian Beardon
  75. Johanna Dobson
  76. Fiona Dobson
  77. Mark Dobson
  78. Simone Dwyer
  79. Eli Thurrongood
  80. Ray Shortland
  81. Esther Shortland
  82. Nicole van Bergen

Previous rides in the series:

12 Replies to “7 Peaks Domestique Series ride #5: Falls Creek”

  1. Great write up, I really enjoy reading about all of the great Victorian climbs on your site. Unfortunaly I couldn’t make it up to falls, it’s a great place, I Cross country ski there in winter and have always wondered about riding my bike up the road, actually cross country skiing introduced to climbing on my bike, it’s good off season training. I’ve just ordered a new groupset, the SRAM rival with the climbers kit including a 11-32 cassette and huge rear derailleur, Have you ever reviewed/tested one? Can’t wait to try it out at Mt Buller soon. Keep up the great posts


    1. Thanks very much Nick! Nope, I haven’t tried the 11-32 cassette – sounds spin-tacular! I reckon you could get up just about anything with that (especially if you’ve got a 34 at the front!) 😉

  2. Great write-up Matt. Wish that I wasn’t working. Sounds like you’ll be pushing to finish Three Peaks well under 9 hours the way you’re going. Keep up the good work

  3. So wish I lived in Victoria so I could tackle these mountains regularly.
    Good to see some of our team mates could get over, Ray and Esther Shortland and hope they can pass on some tips for the three peaks this year.
    Love your website!

  4. “Hotel’s cold plunge pool”?

    Most people I know of at Falls Creek use the aqueduct. It’s about 10 metres downhill of the sign/stone walls that marks your arrival at the village. It’s for all of us too cheap to stay at Quay West 🙂

    Apologies if you already know it!

  5. That jump in HR you mentioned might indicate that your HRM is playing up. I had issues with mine early last year. The indicated HR would be in the 200s, but my actual HR was only in the 100s. I ended up replacing my HR strap and I haven’t had problems since. See http://forum.slowtwitch.com/gforum.cgi?post=3685351; PS. If you drop dead of a heart attack tomorrow, please don’t blame me. 😉

    1. Hi Jon, good to see you yesterday. It definitely wasn’t a HRM issue. I felt my heart flutter before I looked down … the HRM just confirmed what I was feeling. Cheers, Matt.

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