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Noticed no-one has posted a report on the 3 Peaks Challenge held in the Vic Alps on Sunday 11 March. Given there were quite a few from SA to ride, thought I'd get the ball rolling and put down my experiences should anyone else want a crack at it in future years. Besides, its my first day back in the office and I certainly don't want to work!
My event started 6 months ago when the person who got me into cycling (only about 6 months prior) decided to move to Tasmania. He convinced me to enter the event, get fit and drop some weight and we would meet up over there and do it. How hard could it be after only riding a bike for about 12 months...?
Then I read Donadude's posts, and reality slapped me around a bit. Still, 6 months out, something to aim for... I'm in! I dropped about 10kgs in the 6 months and trained as often as I could without a divorce and hoped that I had "peaked" for the event. I bought a heap of warm and waterproof clothing that I was told I'd need and made my way up to Falls Creek last Friday night. I also caught up with an old school friend and he decided to join us with a couple of his cycling buddies. That made us a group of 5 that would enjoy the experience together.
A quick pre-event summary... Managed a couple of warm up rides across the alpine plateau at Falls Creek. Absolutely stunning scenery and area. Crisp and cold though. Registration and bike checks were carried out quickly and easily with no fuss. All the volunteers were friendly and the riders briefing was straight forward and logical. No dramas in the slightest.
My only debate centred on what I needed to wear. I never feel the cold - riding in the Adelaide Hills during winter in temps barely above 0C I will still be in a short sleeved jersey sweating away. However, I read the horror stories of previous years with riders getting mild hypothermia and decided I should err on the side of caution and at least wear a vest and arm warmers for the start, strip them off before the first climb, and carry them to the clothing valet point at half way and work out what to do from there. It was forecast to be 4C for the start of the event at Falls Creek, and with around 30km of descent the wind chill factor would have to bring that down to close to 0C. Thats a long time to be that cold...
At this point, I should point out I don't have a Garmin. I don't know the exact gradients nor the lengths of the climbs, so if anyone wants to correct my embellishments, then there will be no offence taken in the slightest.
The descent went without a hitch. We started 2 at a time (for timing purposes I think) which spread the field out a little. I took it nice and easy, picking up the odd cyclist on the descent whilst a few others passed me. The morning was absolutely still and there was no noise besides the whirring of the wheels. Absolutely stunning. Over a couple of the rolling hills towards the bottom of the descent, and we were in Tawonga / Mt Beauty and about to hit the first ascent of the day.
We regrouped and I stripped off my layers and put them in my little back pack and began spinning up the first climb. Tawonga Gap is about 7.6km long at around 6% average gradient. Obviously some steeper pinches, and some less steep. Think Greenhill Rd climb, and it is pretty close. I was conscious of pacing myself and keeping up a high cadence to save the legs for later. I was feeling so strong I wanted to smash it, but restrained myself. I flew over the top and onto a very enjoyable descent down the other side.
The ride along the Alpine Way through to Harrietville was beautiful and fast. My little group organised itself into a train which morphed with other trains and individuals and was probably close to 50-strong by the time we reached the first food valet point (which we didn't use). We stopped quickly for a toilet break, grabbed a Winners Bar and refilled our biddons and were off immediately onto the first monster climb of the day - Mt Hotham. I also caught up with Tony (Tinker) Bell here and he intermittently joined us during the day...top company!
Hotham is about 30km long with an average grade of 4.3%. However, that average grade is deceptive. The first section...maybe 8km or so...probably averages more like 6-7% before a false flat in the middle section...maybe 10km or so... of perhaps 3% with a few little downhill slopes. We stopped at Buckland Gate to refill our water around 20km into the climb before the final assault on the summit. Immediately we were smashed by a series of sustained steep slopes of 15% or more that just kept coming. Little fast downhill lunges just kept bashing into these steep 1km long (probably more) ramps. I had never been to this part of Australia before and I was just blown away by it. The top part of the climb bursts through the forest and follows the mountain ridgeline and the views were breathtaking. Needless to say, the top third of Hotham smashed our little group to bits and it was every man for himself. I saw plenty of people walking their bikes already, but no way was I going to join them.
At one point I could see some buildings about a km away and mentioned to someone next to me that we were near the top. With a smile, he bid me look to my left where a couple of switchbacks were carved into the side of the mountain at some extraordinary angle and said we had to go up there yet. I'm thinking my guess of 1km from the summit, was more like 5km still to go!
I had a massive sense of accomplishment as I crested the top still feeling great, and made my way to Dinner Plain for the lunch stop and to regroup. I was pumped! Lunch at Dinner Plain was great and it was also the clothing valet point. I figured that it would be cool on the descent from the mountain but warm in the valley, warm climbing up the back of Falls, then cold again on the alpine plain on the top. Bugger it I thought. I left on my jersey only and put all of my warm clothing into the valet bag to be transported back to Falls. I noticed everyone else was keeping some layers, but I thought I could put up with the cold descent, and just lump the cold to the finish. Thankfully I was right and didn't have the added burden of carrying that stuff - phew! Gamble worked!
In the end I wasn't cold at all on the descent, as a series of "lumps" all the way down kept me working. Our little group again got a bit of a train working and succeeded in collecting other riders all the way. We all took turns to share the load and it was a really enjoyable section of road. A quick stop at Omeo and we were again on our way. A sustained climb not far from Omeo tested some of us, but I kept the legs spinning and felt fine. Probably similar to climbing out of Clarendon. Perhaps 4km at around 3-4%. Doesn't even register as a blip on the event's radar though!
The section through to Anglers Rest (186km mark) was phenomenal. Our train again picked up riders and when I had finished a stint driving it I noticed at least 30 other riders had jumped aboard for a lift. Just spectacular scenery and beautiful winding roads alongside the rapids of the Mitta Mitta River - still angry from all the rain it had recently had. We had a quick stop at Anglers Rest knowing that the back of Falls was now just over 10km away.
Finally the reckoning arrived. WTF Corner in all its glory was almost lost on me as an ambulance making its way forward nearly bowled me over... That couldn't be a good sign. After 198km in the legs and over 3000m of vertical, the back of Falls presents you with some 19% gradient for a km or so before "flattening out" to around 12% for the next 6-7km. I had read the reports of carnage, and, well, yep, thats what it was. I grinded my way up to the rest point about 10km up at Trapyard Gap without stopping which I was really proud of. I reckon I passed in excess of 30-40 cyclists walking their bikes, another 20-30 who had stopped in various states of distress on the side of the road, and one who was in the process of hurling up whatever he had recently put in his stomach. Amongst that were numerous cyclists zig-zagging all over the place to try to keep moving - presenting an ever present danger for those of us who managed to keep pointing forwards.
I was absolutely dripping sweat but strangely loving every moment of it. There must be some sort of nasty streak in me that enjoyed the feeling of conquering this monster while so many others battled their demons. I reached Trapyard Gap feeling great - all things considered - but I had to wait around half an hour before all of our group made it there. One of our team walked for over 5km up that mountain. He just had nothing left.
The ride to finish was done easily. We tried to form a train, but it didn't really work, so we just kept mashing our way to the finish whilst enjoying the amazing sights up there. We caught Zimm-Zamm up on the Alpine Plain, and I tried to fire him up a bit. However, he seemed to have a serious look about him, so we left him be. He blogged a lot about the event and I took many ideas from him - I wanted to buy him a beer afterwards, but I didn't see him again. Thanks mate if you are reading this....
At the finish the volunteers were handing out plastic garbage bags to put over people due to the cold and they insisted I take one because I didn't have any warm layers and it would have been sub-10C by this time. The guy in front of us was shivering uncontrollably and could hardly stand due to cramp. But I still had steam coming off me and didn't need any of the warmth that others seemed to need.
I ended up finishing the 235km long, approx 4400m vertical event in just under 12 hours. In reality, I think I could have gone at least 45 minutes quicker - probably more - not having to wait for our group, but I can't say I would have enjoyed it as much without the company, nor is it as likely that I would have pulled up so well.
Was it my most difficult ride... No. The first time I tried to ride up the Southern Expressway and had to walk the last 100m was more difficult. The time I bonked in 35 degree heat and ran out of water was the worst I have ever felt riding. This suggests to me that it is all about preparation. This is not a single day event - but a 6 month event for me. Training and preparation meant I could relax in by far the most enjoyable day I have ever had on a bike. Oh - and perfect weather (unlike previous years) didn't hurt!
I'm looking forward to reading other people's reports. Sorry about the lack of photos... One member of a group took a heap, but I haven't got them yet!
Also, if anyone wants to do the event in the future and is looking for some advice or info, please don't hesitate to ask. More than happy to help - especially as I took so much advice from the postings of other members.
Geez - what an essay. Only just noticed how long this is... Oh well.
I think pacing yourself was a pretty valuable lesson you learnt before you did it. Having people around you that you knew, and others you didn't know but were riding sensibly, sharing the pain, and encouraging each other, probably made it "easier".
Fantastic! I think I got a really good picture of the event. I think even if I could ride the full distance and climb like Pantani I would have a problem with the decisions about what to wear.... now that sounds corny, but from what I've heard and read it's a tough decision.
I'll let ZimmZamm know about your post.
Thanks for sharing. there are some great pics on Cycling Tips too.
Kudos Adam, it's one of my bucket list rides and what cassette ratio you used?
Never loved a granny gear so much in my life. I had a 34/28. Softest option out there - but don't regret it at all. Most had a 34/27 that I could see.
see any with 39/27 or 28 ?
Rob, I saw photos on Twitter of guys with 32 tooth rear cogs! Falls Creek is steep, but not that steep!
phew ! 32 on the rear seriously, what groupsets can take that as I know my dura ace 39/53 can only take 11-28 max due to the rear derailleur design
SRAM can take the large rear cassettes, check out MattK's roubaix on the next ride, has an 11-32 on the back.
IIRC Shimano have just announced the 2013 range can work with a 11-32.
The long cage rear derailleur's can take this kind of set up. Unfortunately I cant find the picture anymore.
I was one of those with a SRAM Apex 11-32 on the rear but with a standard front and long cage rear derailleur. Exactly the same ratio at the low end as a compact front and 28 rear. Much cheaper option for me and I was able to average 10.9km/h up the first 5 kms of Back O'Falls. A mate of mine beat me up using 39/27 without standing but his cadence was 35-40 at times compared to around 70 for me.