In planning for the fifth edition of the Melbourne Dirty Dozen, I wanted to see if I could make the event harder than last year. DD15 was tough, sure, but by changing up a few climbs I figured I could take things up a notch.
While I think I achieved that goal, it would seem the cycling gods weren’t satisfied. They wanted DD16 to be even harder. And so it was that we woke on Sunday morning to the sound of rain that only got heavier as the day wore on.
As is traditional with the Dirty Dozen, there came a point in the week before the ride when most of the prep had been completed and it suddenly dawned on me: I actually had to get through the ride myself. No easy feat — I’d been sick in the lead-up (seemingly a recurrence of the frustrating fatigue-based illness of a couple years prior) and had pulled out of Amy’s Gran Fondo a week earlier as a result.
I did everything I could in the days leading up to DD16 to be ready. I dramatically increased the amount of sleep I was getting and cut out as much physical exertion as I could. And yet when I set off on Sunday morning, a light rain falling in Warburton, I genuinely didn’t think I’d be able to finish my own ride.
I figured I’d see how I went in the first half and, if I was feeling as bad as I had a week earlier — completely devoid of energy — I’d head back to the start and help my volunteers get lunch ready.
I took it as easy as I could on those opening climbs, conserving as much energy as was possible on damp gravel climbs at well above 10%.
Climb #1, Madeline St/Croom St was a tough little opener, my 34×28 setup already leaving me reaching for extra gears. Brett Rd (Climb #2) was even harder, requiring a solid effort just to get up the steep concrete ramp at the end. Brisbane Hill Rd, while steep, came and went without too much hassle and it was time for the first of the new additions for 2016: Yuonga Rd.
I’d always been tempted by Yuonga Rd — that little street that comes off the opening kilometre of the Mt. Donna Buang climb. So when I got a chance to ride it in reconnaissance earlier this year, and found it was as good as I’d hoped, there was no doubt — it was going straight in DD16.
The rain made the steep, unsealed ramps very soft on Sunday and it required a concerted effort to maintain forward momentum without losing traction. Still: those rainforest views.
From one stunning climb to another. Ferntree Ave/Brides Pde was one of my favourites in last year’s event and the same was true this time around. The way it takes you out of town and into the bush in less than a kilometre is stunning. And with the rain keeping the dusty gravel in check, the two steeps ramps on Climb #5 were conquered with relative ease.
But the hardest was certainly yet to come.
If there was one climb that got people talking last year — in our first visit to Warburton — it was Leila Rd/Story Rd. The steep gravel ramp (20%+) to the top had many a rider reduced to walking, unable to get purchase on the loose surface. This time around the rain made traction a little easier, but certainly didn’t reduce the gradient at all. That’s one beast of a climb.
I’d gotten through six climbs and figured I might as well keep going, if for no other reason than to see people tackle Clarke Ave: a new addition as the first half of the transitional ‘bonus climb’. After a steep, rough concrete ramp, Clarke Ave turns to clay — hard enough to climb on a dry day (as I found out during recon), and seemingly impossible in the wet.
I managed to get further up it on Sunday that I did a few months back, but still couldn’t quite tame the beast. Kudos to those who managed to — it was quite something to witness!
Over the top of the stunning Mt. Little Joe climb and down towards Yarra Junction we went, heading for Milners Gap, a peak we’d tackle from both sides. While not the hardest of the day’s climbs, this hill certainly isn’t easy (from either side!) and only served to increase the fatigue in one’s legs. There was something quite beautiful about the rain falling gently as we tapped away, ticking off climbs #7 and #8 as we went.
Down in Yarra Junction we stopped briefly at the rest stop and enjoyed a much needed energy hit courtesy of our friends at Winners Cycling (more on them below). And then, with the rain getting heavier and the wind starting to pick up a little, it was on to the Lilydale-Warburton Rail Trail and back towards Warburton.
That flatter middle section of the course does two things: it gives you a much-needed break after the first half of the day’s climbing, and it lulls you into a false sense of security. You start to relax, tapping away easily on the flat trail … and then you get to Climb #9.
Dee Road treats you nicely to begin with. A beautiful flat section alongside the river, some lush fields to your left. And then, ever so slowly, the gradient increases. And then it increases again. And again. It’s truly stunning by the top, winding its way through lush rainforest, but by that point you’re out of the saddle, grinding away at 15%, trying to keep the bike moving. She’s cruel, is Dee Road.
McKenzie King Drive, the day’s 10th climb, is noticeably easier. Well, as easy at 700m at 10% can be. I was starting to get quite wet and cold by the top of this one, but at that point I knew I’d be able to scrap my way through the remainder of the climbs. The next one would be among the most challenging.
Hooks Rd, Climb #11, was another new addition in 2016 and it was every bit as hard as I was expecting it to be. With much of its length above 20%, and with 10 climbs already in the legs, this was a genuine struggle. But, eventually, having dragged myself and my bike up at around 5km/h, 11 climbs were done, and only two remained. After a wet and treacherous descent, we crossed the river and headed towards Surrey Rd.
While Climb #12 wasn’t a new addition in 2016, the top section was. Rather than taking the right fork up Kent Rd — the easy way — this time we went up York St — the steeper, tougher and less-sealed way. Maintaining traction at 20%+ on wet gravel on a road bike, on exhausted legs is never easy. As others around me dismounted, some succumbing to cramps, I managed to find something in my legs to power through to the top.
It was a sweet, sweet feeling. That climb had defeated me on a different ride a few years earlier; to make it through in one go this time was very satisfying. But I wasn’t out of the woods yet.
If you haven’t ridden Martyr Rd before I’d highly recommend it. Even if you just ride to the base and look up. It’s one hell of an imposing hill and getting up it is beyond satisfying. It’s also beyond difficult, and that’s in dry conditions on fresh legs. Try doing it after 12 or 13 climbs, in the wet and, yeah, it’s a difficult few minutes.
I wasn’t sure how it would go in the wet. At 28% it’s that steep that finding traction could have been an issue. But thankfully, the concrete surface (bitumen would run down a hill that steep on hot days) offered a little more grip and stopping the back wheel from slipping wasn’t too hard. Keeping forward momentum was.
I was definitely relieved to get to the top without stopping, and relieved to be able to get moving once I got there. I was soaked through and freezing, and a delicious post-ride BBQ was calling.
Rides like the Dirty Dozen simply don’t happen without a lot of support and I need to say some big thank-yous here. My partner Sharon took responsibility for everything BBQ-related and did a stunning job, rallying a squad of volunteers and putting on a great spread. Thanks Sharon, to her brother Craig and his partner Deb, to Sharon’s mum Betty for the lovely veggie burgers, and to my dad Ron for slaving over the BBQ for hours.
Thanks to David Blom for his help with fine-tuning the course and to my partner-in-crime Andy van Bergen for his on-the-day assistance, and general support in all things cycling. Thanks to Doug, Sally and the team at Cog Bike Cafe for getting behind the event and opening early — the coffee was certainly appreciated at 7am!
Thanks to Phil Wallens and the Warburton traders’ association, and a big thank you to Winners Cycling for continuing to throw their support behind local, grassroots cycling events. The great folks at Winners have a great deal going for DD16 participants (and you readers) — just head to the website, place your order, then use the code “DD16” to get 20% off. Everyone wins.
The rain at this year’s event meant that numbers for DD16 were down a little on last year, but judging by the feedback I’ve received, those that came along had a blast. I know I did. It might have been wet and cold, but in a way that only added to the experience. And the way I figure it: anyone that’s crazy enough to come out and climb 13 stupidly steep streets for fun is probably crazy enough to do so when it’s raining. And so it proved to be.
Much to my surprise, I managed to complete Sunday’s ride in one piece. And even more surprising: I’ve managed to recover pretty well. Which is good because tomorrow morning my CyclingTips colleagues and I are off to Bali for four days of cycling, photography and, hopefully, a whole lot of fun.
Be sure to stay posted to the site for a video from Sunday’s Dirty Dozen (UPDATE: you can see the video below). I also have another two videos in the works: one from The Redback MTB race in Alice Springs last month, and one from Hells 500’s Ol’ Dirty.
In the meantime, thanks for reading!
Click through to see my Strava file from DD16.