On the second morning of our Alps trip, the decision to stay at Bright instead of Falls Creek (as we’d done in previous years) started to bear fruit. Rather than spending 90 minutes or more driving down Falls Creek and over the Tawonga Gap to Harrietville, it was a quick, 20-minute jaunt down the Great Alpine Road instead.
I was on signage duty for the morning which meant driving up Mt. Hotham 45 minutes ahead of the riders and putting out our “Event in Progress” signs (as required by VicRoads and Victoria Police). It was a stunningly clear and beautiful day on the mountain and despite not getting to be there for the start of the ride proper, it was nice and peaceful making my way up the mountain on my own to start the day.
Having put all the signs out I parked the car at the top, got kitted up and began the descent to Harrietville. There was no way I’d be able to catch up to the main field of riders, but I was hoping that I’d be able to catch Andy who was playing lanterne rouge for the day and looking after the slowest riders.
I bombed my way down the mountain in exquisite conditions, the short and sharp climbs in the first third of the descent providing a testing warm-up for my cold legs. In the false-flat section I started to pass the first riders in the group, flying by many other smaller groups from then on.
I passed Andy somewhere around 7-8km from the bottom of the climb. By my calculations I’d be able to catch him and any riders he was with just before the summit.
I continued my way down, passing Dr Ryan McMullan and his wife Paula just after they’d passed through The Meg. I got to Harrietville, dropped in to the start village briefly to thank our wonderful volunteers then turned around and began the climb.
What followed was an almost entirely solo climb of Mt. Hotham. The main group was well up ahead, summiting the climb, and as I ticked off the early kilometres at the other end of the climb, a few riders flew by me, descending back towards Harrietville.
I didn’t want to go too hard on the climb — with Mt. Buffalo still to climb that afternoon and Dinner Plain the following morning, I was keen to keep something in my legs. I tried to find a rhythm in the opening 11km to the false-flat but it was hard going. I looked around every corner for signs that the road was flattening off, keen for a brief respite.
I sped up a little on the false-flat, but not too much — I knew all too well that the final 10km features a couple of nasty pinches that, if you hit them fatigued, will make you suffer. Hell, they’ll make you suffer anyway.
When I hit the start of the last 10km I knew from Dr Ryan’s last update on the two-way radio that he and Paula weren’t far ahead. A few kilometres later I could see them, tiny dots barely visible amongst the vast landscape of Mt. Hotham’s upper reaches. I found myself digging a little deeper, keen to catch them before moving on to catch Andy.
For some reason I started to feel stronger as the road got steeper. I was able to find a comfortable rhythm where before I felt like I was constantly in and out of the saddle, struggling for comfort. Well, I say I found a comfortable rhythm. You can only be so comfortable when you’ve been climbing at 10% for a kilometre or so and your legs are screaming at you to stop.
I caught Ryan and Paula just before the Diamantina, the final ramp before the summit of Mt. Hotham. Ryan told me Andy was just up ahead but I still couldn’t see him.
I grimaced my way through the final few hundred metres to the summit to find Andy perched over his bike, calming tapping away on his phone. He told me later that I’d only missed him by a minute or so.
You can see a fascinating visualisation of my ride using Strava’s FlyBy function, which shows the location of multiple riders through time. In this visualisation you can see yours truly descending Hotham to start with, my brother Brendan leaving with the main field, Andy bringing up the back of the main field and Ryan and Paula leaving a little late. I found it interesting to see just how close I got to them all on the climb.
I went into our Alps weekend having done very little training. I figured, somewhat naively, that I’d done these climbs so many times before, that I’d be fine. And sure, I got through Mt. Hotham in one piece, but it certainly wasn’t easy.
I said it on Instagram after the ride (see below) but, to me, Mt. Hotham is a climb that shouldn’t be underestimated, regardless of your fitness level.
Mount Hotham is a climb that simply demands respect. Whether you're racing, just trying to get to the top, or somewhere in between, Hotham always poses a challenge that shouldn't be underestimated. But like all the great climbs, Mount Hotham delivers in spades once you reach the summit. #wymtm @cyclingtips #domestique #7peakschallenge
After reaching the summit of Mt. Hotham I jumped in the car and made my way down the hill, packing up the signs as I went. From there it was through to Bright for lunch before the Domestique roadshow headed over to Mt. Buffalo for the afternoon. Two climbs down, two to go.
To be continued …
All photos in this post appear courtesy of Caz Whitehead. You can find more photos from the ride here.
You can see my Strava file from the ride here.