It was wonderful to wake up early Sunday morning and see shining stars piercing through clear dark skys. The prospect of starting the 30km descent in bucketing rain again obviously didn’t appeal to me, but then again, it wouldn’t have held back anyone from starting.
I can’t really say that I trained for this event, but I was cocky enough to think that since I ride my bike up and down Beach Road and race a couple times a week that I should be able to get over those bergs okay. If I said it were easy, I’d be telling a big fat lie.
There were about 200 kilometers of highs during my ride. Mt Hotham and myself never get along very well but this time she had pity me. A nice tailwind, nobody pushing too hard, and we caught up with a group of friends who we don’t regularly get to spend enough time with. It was a nice civil pace and somehow I managed to beat my time to the top of Hotham by 20 minutes compared to last year (great touch by BV to send out text messages to everyone’s emergency contacts letting them know how we were tracking along).
Lunch was waiting for us at Dinner Plain where we were able to sit on the grass and enjoy the sunshine. We must have spent an hour there chatting away and getting a change of clothes. It wasn’t easy to pick up and get riding again, but I always look forward to the ride onward to Anglers Rest.
A good bunch of us settled in all the way to Anglers Rest enjoying the winding roads and sunshine. Thankfully no one was out to break any course records and by our calculations Nick Mitchell (who was breaking course records) would have already been close to the final climb up Falls Creek (2hrs ahead of us).
Nick smashed the course in just over 8hrs again coming across the line first. On Saturday night I had fleeting thoughts about the possibility of sticking Nick’s wheel for 234km’s and then hitting him at the line to win his bike, but the moment I hit “WTF Corner” at the base of Falls Creek I knew I was kidding myself. A 19% climb at the 200km mark really shows you what you’re made of. By this point of my ride, Nick was already enjoying beer and pizza back at the hotel.
I was enjoying every single pedal stroke of the day until I hit the climb to Falls Creek. It’s a climb that messes with your sanity. It kicks, flattens out, kicks again, flattens out, and continues to taunt you with long sharp gradients for 15kms. Even with a 27t cassette I couldn’t spin my legs fast enough to keep on top of the gear. I came up behind someone walking early in the climb who I recognised as the same guy I passed a few hours ago walking up Mt Hotham (how did he get in front of me?). Since I had succumbed to the fact that keeping up with Nick Mitchell was a total pipe dream, the very least I could do was boost my ego by smashing this bloke. I put on my poker face and rode by him like he was standing still. My pace gradually slowed. I heard a someone riding up behind me. I looked back and it’s him locked on my wheel. “G’day,” he says with this taunting smile on his face! He appeared to be enjoying himself! I then hear him zig zagging behind me using the entire width of the road. I push harder but I can’t drop him even though he’s riding twice the distance as me. To my relief I hear a pause and then “clip clop, clip clop”. For God’s sake, he’s now walking and I still can’t drop him! I see a sign that says 25km to Falls Creek. My speedo says 6km/hr. I nearly cry.
I finally built up enough energy to attack and drop this bloke while he was still walking (there was no way he could keep up to me on the descent by foot) and caught up to my mate Craig at the rest stop who had been waiting there long after he rode me off his wheel.
Back to the highs. The final ~15 kilometers is the most spectacular section of the ride. I was able to recompose myself at the rest stop, have some fruitcake and spin my legs out. Riding through the Bogong High Plains is one of the most gorgeous places I’ve seen in Australia. It has to be the highlight of the day for me. Firstly because of the thought of that massive steak I was going to be eating within the hour, and secondly, because of the awe inspiring scenery. As exhausted as I was, I didn’t want this road to end.
A total of 960 riders began the event and a record 893 finished (93%). 45% of riders were from Victorian and the other 54% came from interstate. Those that did not finish mainly retired due to mechanical problems which would have been extremely disappointing. While eating the best steak I’ve ever tasted in the pub afterwards I couldn’t help think about all those hard-nuts still out there climbing Falls Creek approaching the 13hr time limit. Those are the ones who truly did it tough.