UPDATE: I’ve created a ride guide that gives you realistic checkpoints to aim for, whether you’re hoping to finish in 8,9,10,11,12, or 13 hours. Please note that this is just a guide: everyone’s ride will unfold differently. Don’t worry if you lose time on one sector — you might well make it up on another. Click here to download the guide. Please let me know if you spot any errors! Thanks to everyone that helped put this together!
You would have seen by now that the route for this year’s 3 Peaks Challenge has been altered as a result of bushfires and, most recently, landslides. Bicycle Network Victoria has published the new route but you might well be asking yourself: ‘how does this compare to the original route?’ And more importantly: ‘what can I expect from 3 Peaks now that the route is different?’
At first blush, the revised route appears to be easier than the classic 3 Peaks route. The first climb, Tawonga Gap, is the same as in the original route. But Mt. Hotham has been replaced by Mt. Buffalo and the Back of Falls has been replaced by the more popular Mt. Beauty to Falls Creek climb.
Mt. Buffalo is certainly an easier climb that Mt. Hotham — it’s 10km shorter and has none of the steep ramps that make Hotham the beast that it is. And while the Mt. Beauty to Falls Creek climb in the revised route is longer than the Back of Falls climb — 30km vs. 23km — the former doesn’t have the nasty 9km opening section that makes the Back of Falls so hard (particularly after 200km).
If you take a look at the profile below, you will notice the addition of another small climb in the revised route — Rosewhite Gap. It’s about 4km long and while it looks it’s an extra climb, the original 3 Peaks route also features a 4km climb just after Omeo — a climb that most people forget about as they anxiously approach the Back of Falls.
Don’t worry: those elevation figures aren’t accurate.
So, the revised route is certainly easier but there’s no doubt it’s still going to be a very tough day. Starting a long climb with 200km in your legs is never easy and when it’s the long Falls Creek climb you’re up against, it’ll be far from a walk in the park.
As I did a few weeks ago, before the route was changed, I’ve written up a section-by-section guide to the 3 Peaks Challenge so you know what to expect. I find that rides of this length become much easier — at least mentally — if you break them up into bite-sized chunks. Get through one section, give yourself a pat on the back then move on to the next section. Don’t think about the ride as one, long 230km epic — you’ll only intimidate yourself and start to feel demoralised.
A huge thank-you to Josh Goodall who was good enough to write the parts of this post that covered sections of the course I haven’t ridden before. Josh has trained for and raced in the Tour of Bright on these roads so I thought he’d do a great job, and he did. Thanks very much Josh!
Section 1: Falls Creek to Tawonga South
The day starts with the long descent from Falls Creek to Mt. Beauty. With nervous energy and adrenaline pumping through your body, you might be inclined to push hard on the descent. Don’t. You’re better off just turning your legs over gently, getting warmed up and making sure you get through the descent safely.
After 13km of descending you’ll cross the East Kiewa River and for the next 13km or so the road is quite undulating. Take it easy on the descents and just spin comfortably up the short climbs. After roughly 25km you’ll reach a left-hand bend after which it’s another 4km downhill into Mt. Beauty. Enjoy it!
From Mt. Beauty to Tawonga South — and the start of the first proper climb — is largely uphill. Again, use these early kilometres to get your legs warmed up and to find a comfortable rhythm. No use burning yourself out before you’ve even ticked the first peak off the list.
Section 2: Tawonga Gap climb (peak #1)
After 34km you’ll turn left onto the Tawonga Gap Road and from there it’s 7.6km to the top of the first of the 3 Peaks. At an average gradient of around 6% it’s a tough little climb and with virtually no flatter sections to speak of, it’s important to find a comfortable rhythm early.
While the gradient is quite consistent throughout, there are a number of hairpin bends where the gradient increases quite noticeably. Two such corners can be found in the first 3km of the climb.
It can be fun tackling this climb in a small group but make sure you’re climbing at a pace that’s comfortable for you. There’s no point putting yourself in the red just to keep up with other riders if it means you’ll hit the wall within the first 50km of the ride. Remember, this is the first (and easiest!) of the 3 Peaks so make sure you’re saving plenty of energy!
There’s a small rest stop at the Tawonga Gap so once you summit the climb you can take the opportunity to refill your bottles and/or grab something to eat. Of course, if you’re feeling good you can push into the next section of the course without stopping. Either way, make sure you give yourself a little pat on the back (safely) as you start to roll towards Germantown.
One down, two to go.
For more information about the Tawonga Gap climb, visit this page.
Section 3: Tawonga Gap to Mt. Buffalo tollbooth
The descent from the Tawonga Gap to the Great Alpine Road is one of the most enjoyable in the Victorian Alps. Unlike most roads in the Alps, corners on this particular descent are nicely cambered, giving you a nice, fast and flowing descent.
Enjoy yourself as you bomb towards Germantown but remember to stay safe, and look out for other riders around you. The descent flattens off somewhat after about 6km of descending (roughly 47km into the ride) but you’ll still be able to maintain a high speed in the next 8km.
After 55km you’ll reach the small community of Germantown. From here you’ll take a right turn and follow the Great Alpine Road for six flat kilometres to Bright and from there through to Porepunkah (another 6km). At Porepunkah you’ll reach a very large roundabout at which point you head straight ahead onto the Mt. Buffalo Tourist Road.
The 6km from the roundabout to the start of the climb might look flat on the profile (compared to Mt. Buffalo) but they’re not that easy. There’s a couple annoying sections of climbing that slow you down before you hit a crest and descend towards the Mt. Buffalo tollbooth.
Section 4: Mt. Buffalo climb (peak #2)
There’s no doubt that climbing Mt. Buffalo is easier than Mt. Hotham, but don’t get me wrong: this climb will still make you suffer. The revised route has the climb finishing at the Mt. Buffalo Chalet which is about 21km from the tollbooth. There’s a slightly flatter section after 7.6km of climbing, and a brief downhill and flat section after 18.4km of climbing but apart from that, the climbing here is very steady and consistent.
The gradient hovers around 5% most of the way up meaning it’s reasonably easy to find a comfortable rhythm.
One thing that Mt. Buffalo and Mt. Hotham have in common is incredible scenery and sweeping vistas. Try to look around every once in a while when you’re climbing Mt. Buffalo — from the stunning gorge after 1.5km of climbing, to the sheer rock faces and ferny-roadside sections, this really is a stunning climb.
To get to the Mt. Buffalo chalet once you reach the plateau (after 18.4km of climbing) you’ll need to take a left and climb for another 2km.
There is a rest stop at the chalet so make sure you’re adequately fed and hydrated before turning around and starting one of the best descents in Victoria.
For more information about the Mt. Buffalo climb, visit this page.
Section 5: Mt. Buffalo to Ovens
After the descent of Mt. Buffalo you’ll be deservedly patting yourself on the back, with just over half the distance already in the bag. After returning to the big roundabout in Porepunkah you’ll head left along an enjoyable false-flat, pointing ever so slightly downward for 19km to the township of Ovens.
The surface is usually in good shape with occasional rough patches; there’s sometimes mud or dirt on the blacktop, and you may even encounter the occasional bovine. There isn’t much else to see.
Livestock and mud notwithstanding, many people will make great time along this stretch. It’s probably even worth waiting a few minutes in Porepunkah or soft-pedalling towards Ovens in order to get swept up by a group. You’ll save a lot of energy sitting in the bunch — energy that you’ll be glad of later. But don’t be a wheelsucker — get out into the wind and do your turn. The whole group benefits if everyone’s helping out.
Section 6: Ovens to Running Creek
A sharp right at Ovens onto the delightfully named Happy Valley Road heralds a change in scenery. You’ll be following some gentle undulations upward through woodland for about 15km before the third climb of the day takes you up and over Rosewhite Gap. Holding a steady grade for most of the way — an average of 4.2% for 4.3km — the climb of Rosewhite is hardly a major challenge compared to the rest of the day’s adventure.
But with two substantial climbs already under your belt and plenty of road left to go, you’d be wise to spare your legs by spinning a lower gear with a higher cadence (80-90rpm). Be sure to enjoy this steady climb through temperate forest!
The climb of Rosewhite Gap ends at a bus shelter in a gravel bay. From here it’s a sharp left into the descent. The surface of the Happy Valley Road is mostly very good, but you should still take care to avoid the occasional surprise pothole or debris. The corners and grades on the way down are not as challenging as those of the peaks behind you, although most of us will still need to pay attention and touch the brakes occasionally.
In good conditions this all adds up to a flowing descent on smooth hotmix and can be one of the highlights of the day. It’s also the last hill descent of the ride so enjoy it while you can.
At the bottom you’ll roll into the Running Creek food valet stop. Stock up on food and drink before heading off towards Mt. Beauty and the final challenge of the day.
Section 7: Running Creek to Mt. Beauty
After turning right onto the Kiewa Valley Highway the road becomes quite undulating. There are only a few flatter sections and you’ll want to be carefully rationing your strength. After Running Creek it’s a 26km push to the town of Mt. Beauty and hitting the rollers too hard will sap your energy.
Even the one or two false-flat sections can feel like a drag; it’s all trending slightly upward, but there’s something to keep you going . As you progress there’ll be ever more frequent, tantalising glimpses of the mountains ahead.
When you reach Mt. Beauty, take a moment to get enough food and drink on board before you embark on the final climb of the day: the 30km ascent to Falls Creek.
Section 8: Falls Creek climb (peak #3)
Once you’ve fuelled up, taken a deep breath and composed yourself, it’s time to hit the final challenge of the day: the long climb back up to Falls Creek. It’s the longest climb of the day, and with 200km in your legs before you start, it’s going to hurt.
The good thing (or maybe bad thing, depending on how you look at it ) is that finishing the day with this climb will be easier than finishing with the Back of Falls (as per the original route). Not only are there a few downhills and flat sections in the first 16km of the Falls Creek climb, but there’s no horrendously steep opening section as there is on the Back of Falls.
That said, the climbing does start as soon as you leave the roundabout in Mt. Beauty. It’s a solid 4km uphill before you reach a sharp right-hand bend and the first bit of respite for the climb. As you can see from the profile below, the road definitely tends upward throughout, but every so often you’ll get a nice little downhill or flat section where you can rest and recover.
While you’ll likely be quite sore by the time you’re climbing Falls Creek, do take the time to look around and enjoy the scenery. It’s a stunning climb throughout and there are some magical views on the left-hand side of the road in the first 16km or so.
About 16km after Mt. Beauty you’ll pass the Bogong Alpine Village and start a nice descent towards the East Kiewa River. After you cross that bridge it’s about 13km to the top, almost entirely uphill. There are one or two spots where it flattens off very briefly but as you can see from the profile, you’re basically climbing all the way to Falls Creek.
That said, the gradient is a manageable 5-6% and it should be easy enough to find a slow but steady rhythm. About 9.4km from the bridge (and about 25km from Mt. Beauty) you’ll pass the Falls Creek tollbooth at which point the road seems to get fractionally steeper. It’s not a huge increase, but at the end of the long climb and a very long day, you’ll be feeling it.
But not long after passing the tollbooth you catch your first glimpse of the Falls Creek village. Being able to see your final destination is a great incentive and you’ll likely find a little bit extra in the legs as you push towards the finish.
The road from the entrance to the Falls Creek village to the finish line is slightly steeper than the climb to Falls Creek but by that point you really won’t care. The job is done. You’ve ridden 230km, climbed roughly 4,000 vertical metres and completed the 2013 3 Peaks Challenge. Congratulations!
For more information about the final 13km of the Falls Creek climb*, visit this page.
So that’s what you can expect from the course. Of course the weather will play a huge part in how the day pans out and I suspect we’re all hoping for a clear, dry day with temperatures in the mid-to-high 20s. Regardless of the forecast, make sure you’ve got a rain jacket with you — the weather in the Alps can turn bad faster than you might think.
So how do you rate the revised course? Personally, I’m not as disappointed as some people — I’ve done the original 3 Peaks route twice before and riding this route will give me a chance to see some roads I haven’t yet ridden. It’s a shame that the original course isn’t a viable option this year — especially for those that haven’t completed it or are travelling a long way to get there — but I’m not sure much more could have been done by Bicycle Network Victoria or the relevant emergency services.
Good luck to everyone that’s riding 3 Peaks this Sunday — I hope you have a safe and memorable day. Even if you’re a little disappointed about the route change, try to enjoy the day — it’s a challenging but rewarding ride on some of the best cycling roads Victoria has to offer. What’s not to like about that?
Thanks to Emma Bolger and the Bicycle Network Victoria team for inviting me up to Falls Creek to attempt the 3 Peaks Challenge once more. I’m very much looking forward to the ride and grateful for their support.