The third edition of the Melbourne Dirty Dozen nearly didn’t happen. It was originally supposed to be held in May but when it became clear VicRoads wasn’t going to give us a permit in time, we had to postpone the event until after winter.
It took us most of the next four months to get all of the paperwork in order and all of the necessary approvals in place. There were several times in that period where I was ready to call the event off.
But, somehow, we got through it and the event went ahead as planned on Sunday. And boy am I glad I persevered.
In the past few years of organising cycling events I’ve learned that there’s a great relief at turning up to the start and being able to focus solely on the ride itself. In the months beforehand, the ride is often just about permits, logistics and planning, and thoughts of actually riding in the event get pushed into the background.
It was an amazing feeling to be able to get on the bike on Sunday morning and just focus on my own ride. I remarked to someone beside me early in the day that actually riding the Dirty Dozen was the easiest part of the process for me. I was only half joking.
Over the past 14 months I’ve been getting sick a lot more than usual and finding it much harder to recover. I feel fatigued a lot of the time, and there are times when even short rides (think 30km) have left me exhausted. Some tests late last year showed that I’d had atypical pneumonia, but a recent bout of fatigue-related illness — which has lasted several months — has stumped the doctors I’ve spoke to. All the tests came back fine, and there was no real explanation. But something clearly wasn’t right.
All this meant I came into Sunday’s ride having done a grand total of 55km in the 20 days leading up to it, and having pulled out of Amy’s Gran Fondo the week before having felt I simply wasn’t up to it.
Even though it was a relief to get on the bike on Sunday morning, I was more than a little nervous about it. My plan was to see if I could get through the first seven climbs and then reassess from there.
If you’re new to the Dirty Dozen concept, here’s the short version. In 1983, a guy called Danny Chew put together ride in Pittsburgh, USA that saw riders taken on a baker’s dozen of the hardest climbs in the city. In 2012, David Blom and myself brought the concept to Melbourne, creating a ride with 13 short but steep climbs in the Dandenongs. We had 50 people that first year, more than 100 last year for DD13, and more again in 2014.
The first seven climbs of Sunday’s ride were all in close proximity to one another, allowing me to tick through them reasonably quickly. The first climb of the day, Frame Avenue (300m at 14%), was designed to be a nice warm-up and introduction to the day ahead, but it proved to be harder than I expected and left me more than a little worried.
Around the corner at The Serpentine (700m at 13%) I took on the second climb of the day with a small group, my legs and lungs starting to warm up a little. But there was still a long way to go.
The route from the top of The Serpentine to the start of climb #3, Wright Avenue (500m at 13%), was a little twisty, leaving many riders by the side of the road consulting their route map. But having looked at the course dozens of times in recent months, I was able to find my way there quickly and get started on the steep ramp of “The Wrightmare”.
I didn’t try to take a run up at the wall like I might normally, trying to save as much energy as possible, and I got through it fine. Three down, 10 to go.
From Wright Avenue we headed down the Belgrave-Ringwood Rail Trail toward Upper Ferntree Gully for a new addition to DD14: Talaskia Road (200m at 17%). This was one of the four climbs I was most concerned about on the day, thanks to a final section that peaked at 30%.
Thankfully Talaskia is short, and I was able to grind my way up and come to a stop safely in the grass at the end of the bitumen (see feature image above). Looking back down the road at the carnage below was satisfying but the stairs to the top felt harder than the climb itself I reckon!
The bonus climb up Ropley Grange awaited us en route to the next climb of the day. It was only a short rise, but it certainly contributed to the fatigue that was starting to build in the legs. After getting back into Upwey it was on to climb #5: Hughes Street (1.9km at 8.4%).
In the context of the Dirty Dozen, Hughes is one of those intermediate climbs — it’s tough, and certainly harder than something like Frame Avenue, but it’s definitely not as tough as, say, Mast Gully Road. I managed to tap away reasonably comfortably up to the Tourist Road, before heading towards Upper Ferntree Gully to tackle the trio of streets that make up the Janiesleigh/Jones/Olivette climb (1.4km at 8.6%).
It was at this point, on climb #6 of 13, that I realised I’d be able to push beyond the seven climbs I’d been aiming at. I was feeling comfortable, even on the steep stuff, and I hadn’t started to get the hot and cold feverish flushes that have been plaguing my riding lately. At the top I descended Hughes Street then headed around the corner to tackle the second hardest climb of the day: Mast Gully Road (1.5km at 13%).
The plan was a simple one: get through it in one piece, saving as much energy as possible. That’s all good in theory, but trying to drag yourself up several ramps of 20% in short succession does require a certain amount of energy. It was a slow grind up the first ramp before the left-hander and I took full advantage of the brief respite, taking a deep breath before tackling the second and final ramp.
It hurt, but then Mast Gully always does. I’d like to think that even the strongest riders find Mast Gully Road at least slightly unpleasant. It was certainly a relief to reach the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road again, knowing that I’d ticked off the first seven climbs and that I still felt like I could push on.
Where the first seven climbs of DD14 were in reasonably close proximity to one another, the remaining six required a little bit of riding to get between them. But the feedback I got on the day was that the course seemed to flow well, and that riders were excited at getting to explore some parts of the Dandenongs they hadn’t ridden before.
Climb #8 was Brae/Braeside (400m at 16%) a short climb just out of Kallista that felt harder than it really should have. This made me slightly worried — with another tough climb up next, Invermay Road, and another three climbs after that, was I going to be able to make it through?
I’m always impressed when I round that bend and see the wall that is Invermay Road (1.2km at 10%) ramping up in front of me. It’s a suitably terrifying stretch of road that translates to a couple of minutes of grinding and hard work. The views at the top are always worth the effort though. Besides, it’s hard to complain about climbing Invermay Road once when you know that John van Seters climbed it more than 100 times on his way to an Everest on it. Simply mind-boggling.
It’s funny that with a ride like the Dirty Dozen, you don’t find yourself counting down the kilometres to the end — it’s all about the number of climbs you have left to go. And when you’re in that mindset, the descents come as a bonus. It’s not like when you’re out for a regular hilly ride and the descents are the reward for the climbing. In the Dirty Dozen the descents are an added extra — a couple of minutes to rest the legs before the next challenge. The descent off The Wall after climbing Invermay was one of those bonuses.
Priors Road (1km at 10.1%) was climb #10 for the day and like some of the other “intermediate” climbs of the day it wasn’t extremely difficult, but it was hard enough to add a little bit more fatigue to the legs. And that’s the job of those intermediate climbs — they just tire you out, little by little, so that when you hit the hardest climbs they’re just that little bit harder.
After a beautiful transfer down Grantulla Road and through The Patch (via a gradual but lengthy climb), we turned on to another new climb for this year’s edition: Dalmonte/Alpine (500m at 10.2%). A few people told me afterwards this was their favourite climb of the day. The climb was only short but the steep and narrow switchbacks on the residential streets were a beautiful little diversion en route to the final two climbs.
Maskells Hill Road (400m at 11%) returned to this year’s edition as climb #12, it’s fearsome opening ramp providing more than a challenge for ever-tiring legs. But by this point I knew I was going to make it through the ride; it was just a case of how much the final climb, Terrys Avenue, was going to hurt.
Before I got there I still had the second bonus climb of Bolton/Batesleigh to go. With a nice downhill section leading into the climb I was able to build a bit of momentum and push through the first ramp. The rest was a case of tapping away until I got back to the main road to Belgrave. Terrys was waiting.
My right hamstring started cramping on the first steep section of Terrys Avenue (700m at 14%) which was strange; I don’t remember ever having a hamstring cramp while riding before. I tried getting out of the saddle, moving around the saddle; anything that would ward off the cramps really. Nothing seemed to work, but when I got to the downhill section of Terrys I took the opportunity to have a bit of a stretch and prepare for the monstrosity that was to come.
For the first time all day I found myself “delivering the mail” — zig-zagging from side to side in an attempt to reduce the gradient somewhat (while staying inside my lane and being mindful of following traffic, mind you). This made the final ramps just easy enough that my hamstring stopped cramping, and I was able to grind my way to the top.
I think what makes Terrys so hard — apart from the fact it comes at the end of Dirty Dozen — is the fact that it’s just that little bit longer than any of the other climbs on the day. Sure, there’s a nice downhill section in the middle, but that ramp to the end drags on, particularly when your legs are screaming that they’ve done enough climbing already that day.
It was a great relief to pop out on to the Tourist Road once again and follow Hughes Street back down to the start at Thompson Reserve in Upwey. I’d made good time — despite having started near the back of the field I came in somewhere in the middle.
This was partly deliberate; I wanted to get back as soon as I could to make sure everything was going OK with the BBQ, but it came at the expense of standing around at the top of each climb waiting for groups to reform. This meant I rode some sections of the course alone, and the groups I was with I’d often be with for only a little while before moving on. Thanks to the guys that spent some time chatting with me throughout the ride, and to all those that came up and said hi at the BBQ afterwards.
As much fun as the ride was — and it was a lot of fun, not to mention satisfying to be able to get through it — I think I most enjoyed standing around chatting to everyone after the ride. Trading stories, comparing notes about the day’s climbs — it’s all part of it, and a great way to wrap up the day. It was particularly satisfying to hear so many people enjoyed themselves — after so many months of putting the ride together, to have it all fall into place and hit the mark was tremendously exciting and more than a bit of a relief.
And a big part of that is down to the great support I had on the day and throughout the planning of the event. Thanks first of all to David Blom for designing the course that we all tackled on Sunday — I’ll think you’ll agree it was a great mix of challenging and enjoyable. Thanks to my dad Ron and to my partner Sharon’s brother, Craig, and sister-in-law Deb, for their terrific help at the post-ride BBQ.
Thanks to Nicole van Bergen for her help at the BBQ as well. And finally, a huge thanks to my partners in crime Sharon, and Andy and Tammy van Bergen. Not only did these guys plan and organise the post-ride BBQ so I didn’t have to, they were invaluably supportive and helpful throughout the whole process. Quite simply, the event wouldn’t have gone ahead without their support and guidance. Thank you.
In closing, I just wanted to say a quick thank you to everyone that’s visited The Climbing Cyclist since it began. I realised the other day that it was five years on Monday since I published my first post on the site. I never would have thought the site would have been around this long, let alone that I would have had the opportunity to meet and ride with so many great people along the way. Thanks so much.
Did you come along to DD14 on the weekend? How did you find it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
1. Tayfun Usgrabul
2. Anthony Rhook
3. Kevin Turley
4. Ben Naismith
5. Simon Phillips
6. Matt de Neef
7. Adam Wynd
8. Tim Pittaway
9. David Blom
10. Andrew McPherson
11. Alec Woolley
12. Karl Gerstlauer
13. Thomas Price
14. John Whitten
15. Lewis Brown
16. Andrew Craig
17. Fergus O’Connor
18. Craig Short
19. Kris Dieber
20. Martin Kelly
21. Ben Walhout
22. Kangri Rinpoche
23. Kye O’Donnell-Stone
24. Loc Tran
25. Andrew North
26. Frank Herruer
27. Sander van Amelsvoort
28. Robert Rozycki
29. Marek Warmbier
30. Michael Ferguson
31. Chris Adnams
32. Dave White
33. Rico Eberhart
34. Dave Mattner
35. Kein Juan
36. Michael Tennant
37. Jon Thornton
38. Blair Calvert
39. Brian Hender
40. Anthony Dean
41. Gavin Rossetti
42. Rod Wainwright
43. Cameron Wells
44. Leon Smith
45. Matthew Porter
46. Cameron Hosking
47. Brian Esposito
48. Craig Esposito
49. Jamieson Gontier
50. Ian Porter
51. Michael Conan-Davies
52. John Forbes
53. Nathan Pasco
54. Scott Barrow
55. Matthew Hender
56. James Stratford
Did you complete all 13 climbs in Sunday’s Dirty Dozen? Do you want to be added to the event’s honour roll? If so, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with a link to your Strava file or equivalent and we’ll add you to the list.