Episode 11: climbs galore (and then up some more)

Route: Warrandyte, Kinglake, Healesville and Yarra Glen ‘loop’
Distance: 130km
Duration: 4 hours 34 minutes

Matt and Dougie at the start of the Myers Creek Road climb.

It took me two full days to recover from my trip to the Victorian Alps. My legs ached, I felt constantly tired and I had barely enough energy to drag myself off the couch. But I would do it all again in a heartbeat, of course.

After a pretty quiet week on the bike, the Donvale Demon and I lined up Sunday for another long ride. The plan was to meet Matt and Dougie — the great blokes we’d ridden with up at Falls Creek — at Warrandyte and get in a big day of riding.

When we got to Warrandyte around 8.30am Matt and Dougie introduced us to their mate Martin and to Dougie’s uncle Richard. The two of them were along for the ride too and after a quick bite at the nearby bakery, the six of us set off toward Kangaroo Ground.

In my last post I spoke about Matt and Dougie’s great strength in the flatlands and this was again on display on Sunday morning. After negotiating the hilly 5km to Kangaroo Ground, Matt and Dougie jumped to the front of the bunch and set a cracking pace on the way to Kinglake.

As we got to the base of the climb, Matt moved to the front of the group again and started tapping out a pretty quick tempo. I rode up beside him and tried to stay with him as he spun his way up the mountain. I had started the climb thinking “I’ll just take it easy up here — there’s plenty more climbing to come today”. But with Matt setting a great rhythm at the front, my mindset quickly changed and I decided I’d have a crack at a new PB.

When we got to the steeper part of the climb I managed to find a little bit extra in the legs and found myself pulling away from Matt slightly. I pushed myself pretty hard, thinking I was comfortably inside my PB but, as it turns out, I was about 10 seconds slower than last time. I guess it’s important to be “on” from the very start of the climb if you’re looking for a new PB.

Matt setting the pace on the way to Toolangi.

Kudos should go to Richard who put us all to shame, climbing Kinglake on a fixie. He was riding a 52×16 but never looked like he was in trouble, and managed to grind his way to the top in no time at all. Credit should also go to Martin who set a cracking pace up the climb, despite very little riding in previous weeks. The Demon, too, was impressive, slashing at least two minutes off his previous best up Kinglake.

At the Kinglake township we bade farewell to Richard and Martin, but not before a truly memorable cycling yarn from Richard. Apparently Richard was out on Yarra Boulevard doing a few laps recently when we saw a rider in full Team BMC kit. As he tells it, his first reaction was: “What a wanker!” until, as he got closer, he realised the rider bore a striking resemblance to the reigning Tour de France champion.

Richard managed to catch up to the red-and-black-clad rider and, while riding beside him, turned to see if his suspicions had been correct. Sure enough, he was riding next to Cadel Evans. The current Tour de France champion. Out on the Yarra Boulevard.

At this point in the story, Richard was sure to point out that Cadel was “just turning his legs over” but if it had been me, I would have left that detail out. Better still, I would have said: “He seemed to be working pretty hard but I managed to catch him.” Richard apparently pushed himself to beat Cadel up one of the ‘Vard’s many short rises and, content with that little victory, left Cadel to his own devices.

It was a story that Richard obviously enjoyed telling, and why not! It’s not often you get to ride beside the reigning champion of the most challenging bike race in the world. Thanks for the great yarn Richard!

Bunched up, descending toward Castella.

After Richard’s story and after saying goodbye to he and Martin, Matt, Dougie, the Demon and I set off toward Toolangi. I’d planned out a difficult circuit for us to try if no one had any other ideas, and they all seemed to be happy to go along with it. (I suspect they might have been less enthused a few hours later.)

We descended from Kinglake, and burned through the scenic rollers to Toolangi, Matt and Dougie setting the pace at the front once more. At Toolangi we followed the road around to the right and into the descent of Chum Creek Road. If you haven’t ridden Chum Creek Road (up or down) do yourself a favour and get out there. ‘Tis a truly gorgeous piece of road.

Once at the bottom of the climb we covered the remaining (busy) kilometres to Healesville and pulled up at the Beechworth Bakery. The food was good but I’ve never seen so many motorcyclists in one place before. This wouldn’t normally be a problem, but with the unnecessary throttling of engines in the carpark, the parking of their bikes close to ours, and the many unfriendly looks thrown our way, it made for a largely uncomfortable dining experience.

Having fed and watered ourselves, we saddled up and made our way to the start of the Myers Creek Road climb. It’s a climb that I’ve only done once and I barely even remember that ride at all. In fact, I wasn’t even sure where the climb started, how long it was, how steep it was, or where it finished. All I knew was it was steeper than Chum Creek Road which has an average gradient of a little under 4%.

If I was unsure about what the Myers Creek Road had in store, then the Donvale Demon was totally oblivious. He was inside the bakery buying lunch when the rest of us were discussing the climb so when the road started going up, he had no idea what was going on! But, in true Donvale Demon style, he got his grind on and got through it.

The Donvale Demon, garbed appropriately in red.

I got through it too, but again I fell into the trap of following Matt. I let him get about 80 metres ahead of me in the opening kilometre of the climb before realising I didn’t feel like climbing alone. So I burned a few matches and bridged the gap and from there on in it was a matter of just keeping up with him. He’s looking very strong and I’m hoping he does decide to do 3 Peaks as well — he’ll smash it.

After the group reformed at the top of the hill, we got stuck into the rollers between Toolangi and Castella once more. Rather than heading back up to Kinglake, we turned left onto the Melba Highway; a move that, in hindsight, was probably a little misguided.

I remember it being a pretty busy stretch of road but on Sunday, it was a bit beyond that. There was an almost-constant stream of traffic on the way into Yarra Glen and to top it all off, the road surface in the emergency stopping/cycling lane was dreadful. If we weren’t dodging potholes or shredded tyres, we were trying to navigate safely through the frequent piles of rocks and glass. It was a pretty ordinary experience and one that I feel bad for putting the others through.

As the road flattened out and we continued along the Melba Highway, I went from feeling bad to just feeling slow. Matt, Dougie and the Demon were powering along at 40km/h+ and I found myself off the back for most of the next 10km. I was feeling tired, hungry, dehydrated and, as an added bonus, I seemed to have developed some tendon pain in my right knee. Dejected, I stayed at the back and just concentrated on riding at my own pace.

Matt and Dougie made us work hard in the flatlands.

That said, I did have to laugh when Matt came back at one point and quipped: “Do we need to find another hill for you to climb mate?!” I laughed, copping it on the chin. Little did he know that there was another hill just around the corner.

After a quick stop in Yarra Glen to refill our bidons, we turned on to the Yarra Glen-Eltham Road and got stuck into the climb to Skyline Road. I used to ride this climb reasonably often, having lived in Eltham, and so I knew what to expect. I took off up the hill, relishing the opportunity to be at the front again, rather than languishing at the back.

Of course, as soon as the road flattened out again, I found myself behind Matt and Dougie once more. We covered the ~15km to Watsons Creek in no time but then it was time for the final climb of the day. If you’ve ever ridden from Yarra Glen to Eltham you’ll know the climb I’m talking about. It’s a roughly 4km-long stretch of road that’s not all uphill, but it does have some nasty pinches that really hurt at the end of a long day.

By this point I suspect the others might have been regretting their decision to let me set the route — I know I was. We limped over the final climb feeling well and truly spent and then relished the final mostly-downhill stretch back to Warrandyte.

View from the top of the Myers Creek Road climb.

It was my biggest training day so far, with 130km and 2,100 metres of vertical covered. Of course, it was a great feeling to have gotten through it and to have gotten one step closer to another tilt at the 3 Peaks Challenge.

I’ve got every reason to think I’ll be able to finish 3 Peaks this year. I’ve done far more training this year than I did last year and I’m hoping that I’ll be able to finish in under 10 hours riding time (an average speed of 23.5km/h — certainly achievable).

From here on in it’s all about consolidating the great base I’ve developed and getting in a couple more long rides.

If you’re on Twitter, don’t forget to come and say “hi” and the same goes for Facebook and Strava.

In the meantime, thanks for reading and please stay safe on the roads (and look out for Mercedes drivers in the Bayside area).

52 days to go …

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4 Replies to “Episode 11: climbs galore (and then up some more)”

  1. I have pretty much that identical photo at the top of Myers Creek Rd on my phone! Great views!

    SOOOO many motorbikes at Marysville too last weekend.

  2. Good ride. You can do much better than the Beechworth Bakery in Healesville – that place is soulless. I like Eludae which is up the west end of the main street nearest to where you enter Healesville from Chum Creek.

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