Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Scody 3 Peaks Challenge

They don't call this one of the Top 10 hardest rides in the world for nothing.  Having completed it for the first time last weekend, I reckon the organisers have a fair claim to that title.  I had no idea Australia had such impressive mountains!

3 Peaks is a timed event for 1800 riders taking in Towonga Gap, Mt Hotham and Falls Creek. The 235km loop boasts just over 4500 metres vertical.  A new record number took up the challenge this year with the event selling out and also 11% riders were female which is great to see.  The challenge is to finish within the 13 hours deadline and avoid getting a tap on the shoulder from the Lanterne Rouge.

Heading into this ride, I have never felt so clueless before.  I'd never climbed this much on the road bike, my training had been a little sporadic over the last 6 weeks and the weather could turn very nasty indeed as I had heard so many horror stories from years gone by.  But I kept thinking "just 3 climbs, how hard can it be?" A sure sign of denial or just plain stupidity.  I was hearing stories of people setting up with 32t cogs or 28t with a compact.  Really?  In the end I discovered it's not the amount of climbing that get's you, it's the gradient.

The night before I carb loaded to an inch of my life with the Easy Riders crew I was staying with and settled in for the usual light sleep I normally experience before a big ride.  I was first to rise at 4:30am for a light breakfast just to top off the energy stores and I was on the start in the dark with many other keen beans by 6 to get a good place on the start grid.  The temperature and forecast was perfect and before long we were rolling out and cruising down from Falls Creek to Mt Beauty.  All the riders were pretty good and rode sensibly, except for one guy who I saw overcook a corner on my outside and head straight off into a ditch.  Not a great start for him poor guy, but it served as a great warning to take it easy and survive the first hour.
Ready, Set.....

The legs were feeling good and I got into a nice little bunch on the flat before setting the cruise control up Towonga, the first peak.  Over the top, it's a beautiful sweeping descent and I picked up one rider, we bridged across to another 3 and then the 5 of us caught a big bunch of 10 or so.  Cool, time to sit in and save some energy.  Harrietville is the next stop and we mostly all rolled straight through and onto the biggest climb of the day, Mt Hotham.  This is another truly epic climb, starting steep, then keeping a respectable gradient for the next 10km or so.  It flattens out for a while and just as you are getting comfortable, BANG! In come 3 big bergs in excess of 10% and it's at this point you start to realise a compact crankset would be handy!

Over the top of the highest sealed road in Australia and the views are beyond words.  I was stunned by the magnificent views looking back down the mountain and following the faint line that we had followed up the range for the previous 2 hours and momentarily forgot the pain starting to develop in my legs.  
Nearing the summit of Mt Hotham

Again I found a couple of willing wheels as we swapped off down the mountain and before long we pulled into the lunch stop at Dinner Plain to refuel.  I was surprised to find how hungry I was and spent the next 15 mins gobbling down lunch and repacking my belongings to complete the ride and send back what I no longer needed in my pockets.  Great organisation here, this whole process was very smooth and professionally run, so a huge thankyou at this point to the hundreds of volunteers who help to make this event so successful and so enjoyable

You cant stand around all day waiting for the right bunch, so I pulled out of the carpark and before long teamed up with a fit looking young guy and we were hammering the rest of the descent until he started to cramp so it was onto the front and steady as she goes.  Before long a group of 10 or so appeared including a couple of strong guys from Perth and Peter "Stealthy" Ogilvy.  Kudos to Stealthy here who stuck with me for the next 80 km's unlike Drastic who snuck through the lunch stop and set a cracking pace to break the 9 hour barrier!  Stealthy and I chatted away and stayed in touch with the bunch.  I was starting to lose my punch up the undulations and this was one of the hardest sections of the ride through to Omeo.  The section through to Angler's Rest was really cool.  It was kind of a winding false flat through a valley and we had about 5 or 6 guys taking turns and setting a good pace.  By Anglers Rest the temperature had soared to 30 deg and I needed water fast.
Drastic in full flight

Fresh water tasted great as I could no longer swallow energy drink and whilst the odometer looked promising with just 40km to go, this ride has a sting in the tail.  Undoubtably the hard part of the ride appears at "WTF" corner.  Right on 200km, the road kicks left and up and the next 9km @ 9% is no joke. It's now 32 deg, my eyes sting from the sweat and glare from the white road surface, I have to leave my sunglasses off so I can keep sponging the sweat out of my eyes and I am grinding up what seems to be a never-ending ramp.  I feels like an eternity passes before the odometer clicks over one more km and it takes every skerrick of my determination not to get off and walk (in fact a little later I do walk 200m or so up another steep ramp).  My cadence is so low, I cant get my heart rate over 75%, I just dont have the strength to push any harder and after pinning it for 200km on 9 hour pace, I give up a 70 places in the long haul to the finish.  I finally crest the climb alone and am left with a 10km flattish sector around the lake (with a head wind I might add) to finish in 9:19. Again the scenery is sublime and it's a great way to finish the ride. The sense of euphoria on finishing this ride proved what a great challenge it really is. I felt so much emotion at the finish and I was completely choked up as the crowd cheered on every finisher.
Thanks to Collette for this pic at the finish.  The smile says it all, "I did it!"

I'm calling it the toughest road ride I've ever done.  Last May I rode the second stage of the Tour of California from Murietta to Palm Springs:193km, 3000m vert and 47 degrees for the last 40km.  This was harder, and yet by 9pm that night, I was planning my return.  That's a good sign.  The sooner you forget the mutterings of "never again", the less it really hurt.

I hung around the finish for a while cheering on all the finishers and caught up with a few mates, but a shower, food and a nap were calling loudly.  Sunday night was one of the most glorious post ride celebrations I can recall with plenty of beer, steak and war stories to go around. Thanks to the Easy Riders bunch for an unforgettable weekend and for making me feel so welcome. Everyone was keen to hear about each others day, and an almighty cheer rose up when the last of our group made a grand entrance and beat the Lanterne Rouge with 10 minutes to spare.
Lake at the top of Falls Creek

Congrats to all Turramurra riders: Mary-Lou, Josh, Graeme, Soren, Dave, Tony, Simon and Andrew to name a few, I know there were lots more!  All I can say is if you ever get the chance to do this ride, go for it.  The scenery is just amazing, beautiful roads, great people, but don't forget your 28-34 gear!

Keep Riding
Some artisitc snaps here from Graeme Weatherill

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