Whenever Andy and I tell people about the origins of the Domestique 7 Peaks Series we take them back to the first ride of the first series. It was October 2012 and we’d gone into that first series with the hope of getting 25 people along to our ride at Lake Mountain. When 100 turned up to Marysville on the morning of the ride we were both freaked out and ecstatic.
Fast forward three years to last Sunday and we had the same feeling but on a much different scale.
Registration numbers had been sitting pretty at around 400 riders until about a week out from the event. At that point, the long-range weather forecast came online, showing great weather for our ride to Lake Mountain.
Rider numbers increased.
There were more than a few moments of panic as the number of signed-up riders went from 400 to 500 and then, in just three days, from 500 to 700. We knew that not everyone that signed up would come along but even so, it was clear we had a monster crowd on our hands.
One of our biggest fears was that we’d run out of parking spaces at Gallipoli Park in Marysville — the start location for the ride. But to our great delight, most people took our advice of parking outside Marysville and riding to the start.
The morning’s preparations went off without a hitch and when 9am rolled around Andy and I delivered our customary pre-ride briefing. One of the most satisfying moments of the day was asking the crowd how many people were attempting Lake Mountain for the first time.
The Domestique 7 Peaks Series was really founded as a way of introducing people to Victoria’s great climbs so to see a considerable percentage of the crowd raise their hand was amazing.
With the briefing done, it was time to send the vast sea of riders off in waves.
As is typical at these rides, Andy and I started towards the back of the field after helping our volunteers pack up at the event village. The steep opening kilometres of the climb proved challenging without a warm-up but it wasn’t too long before the most challenging section had been conquered and it was on to the gentler, more undulating slopes.
I rode the majority of the climb with a British expat named John who’s living and working in Melbourne after having moved here via Hobart. It was his first time climbing Lake Mountain so, as well as enjoying our conversation, it was great to be able to see the climb from the perspective of a first-timer.
The great views, the changing landscape, the trees that still bear the scars of the Black Saturday bushfires — it was all new to John. Seeing him experience it all for the first time was a reminder to soak it all myself, lest I forget how beautiful a climb it is just because I’ve done it plenty of times before.
I’ve written in the past that one of my favourite parts of these rides is being able to work my way through the field and chat to people along the way. With so many people on the mountain, it seemed as if there was a familiar and friendly face every few minutes.
As a result, the climb flew by, even though I wasn’t riding particularly hard.
Early in the second half of the climb we were passed by a fresh-looking Brendan Canty who was taking things very easy indeed. Brendan’s been coming to our Domestique 7 Peaks Rides for several years now and it’s been incredible watching the progress he’s made. From an impressively fast former runner in those early years, Brendan has progressed through the ranks of local racing and recently signed a contract to ride with Drapac Pro Cycling for the next two years. Just last month he was racing the likes of Vincenzo Nibali, Alejandro Valverde and Philippe Gilbert at the Abu Dhabi Tour.
Brendan was good enough to ride with us for a bit, having a chat about his past few months and the season ahead. As he rode off — still taking things incredibly easy — the progression he’d made as a cyclist was clear.
There’s just something about the way the pros handle themselves on the bike that sets them apart from us everyday punters. Maybe it’s the fluidity and efficiency of movement, maybe it’s the pro kit, maybe it’s just the way they hold themselves. Regardless, Brendan Canty has come a long way in the past few years and we can’t wait to follow the next phase of his progression.
Where the weather for last year’s ride had been terrible (but not quite as bad as an infamous ride we did up Mt. Buller a few years back), the cycling gods were smiling on us on Sunday. The sun shone bright as we climbed our way to Lake Mountain in cool but very pleasant conditions.
I’d gone into the ride thinking I’d have a bit of a go at a PB but when the time came around, I was more inclined just to enjoy myself. The result was a time about 10 minutes slower than my best but I was anything but worried. It was my first proper mountain climb since the Snowy Mountains in March, and I was relishing the opportunity to be out climbing in good weather, and with so many happy folks around.
There was a point during the planning for this year’s series that Andy and I very seriously considered charging for events like Sunday. In the end, and with some great support from Steve Plummer of Tourism North East, we decided that the cost-free nature is a key ingredient in the Domestique experience.
On Sunday I certainly felt that we had made the right decision. The fact that anyone can come along for free means there are no expectations. And then when participants have a great time with other like-minded riders it creates a real positive energy around the ride that is much harder to achieve with a paid event.
It’s been funny going through social media and emails in the days after the ride and hearing from people that were there but I just never saw. I guess that’s the downside of having so many people at an event like that — it’s simply not possible to get around to everyone and have a chat.
To the people that did come up and say hi: thank you so much. I never get sick of hearing how much people enjoy the rides Andy and I put on, and nor do I tire of hearing how useful and enjoyable people find this site. It’s beyond satisfying to know that the time and energy we put into these endeavours is appreciated by so many, and when that positive feedback is so concentrated, as it was on Sunday, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by it all.
So, a big thank you to those that have expressed their gratitude to Andy and I, either in person or online. If it ever seems like we don’t appreciate the praise, please know that’s not the case. We both get a massive buzz from creating something of value and being able to give back to the cycling community.
According to our rough estimates, we had between 600 and 700 riders at Lake Mountain on Sunday — at least 200 more than our next-biggest ride to date. To think that, just a few short years ago, we would have been happy with a turn-out of 25 seems bizarre now. I know I say that every year, but this year’s ride took things to a new level for us. Thanks to everyone that was part of it.
Everyone that did the ride will have their own story of the day but one story that caught my attention was that of Deborah d’Avigdor. Deborah drove all the way down from Katoomba in the Blue Mountains, especially for the ride, before turning around and heading back. That’s a simply amazing effort.
In the lead-up to the ride we’d been pushing hard to get as many women along as possible, as we always do with our Lake Mountain ride. And while we didn’t get an exact count, it seemed there were well over 100 women on the mountain. Great to see!
In closing, there are a handful of people we’d like to say a big ‘thank you’ to. To my dad Ron, my partner Sharon, Andy’s sister Nicole, Dr Ryan McMullan (who thankfully had a quiet day!), and our two lanternes rouge Danny and Steve: thank you for donating your time. We couldn’t have done it without you.
We always say that it costs a lot to put on a free series which is why we’re ever grateful for the support provided by our terrific sponsors. To our long-time partners Tourism North East, to CycleCover, to Pro4mance Sports Nutrition, to Sommerville Sports Australia and to Bicycle Buyer/Swiss Eye: thank you for believing in what we do and for making it all possible.
As ever, thanks to the wonderful Kirsten Simpson for the photos you see in this post. You can download low-resolution versions of any of Kirsten’s 600+ images from the day just by heading to her website and using the code “Domestique”. Of course, if you’d like to buy a larger version of any photo you can do so there as well.
Thanks again to everyone that came along on Sunday and thanks to you for reading. There’s a bit of a gap before the next ride on the calendar — Mt. Buller in March — but with any luck we might have some more news for you before then …