Thought I’d get this out tonight before DOMS Day 2 post-ride….
Just how cold was it?
Fretting over the conditions started a week out when long range forecasts predicted cold and fairly wet. Paparazzi gave us all the willies, talking about riding head-to-toe in neoprene (or was it merino?), prepping for the equivalent of a Canberra winter ride. Highlander lamented not finding booties, and Danny the Boy’s vegetable intake would assuredly ward off cold better than any base layer could. But as the days passed by, the forecast steadily improved and by Saturday morning the forecast rain had disappeared entirely, replaced with merely “Cloudy”. Cue rejoicing and elbow bumps all round – we’d worried and prepared for nothing! But damn the evening updates…. By 5pm, rain was back on according to both BOM and the Norwegian experts, and whatever would be would be….
6.30am at the start line was 6 degrees, with occasional faint drizzle. The best advice I got pre-ride was to put newspaper down my jersey, supposedly to dump it at the bottom of the descent of Falls. This kept me toasty on the descent along with my 4 other layers (base, jersey, gilet & rainjacket) but I folded the TV guide up in Mount Beauty to keep it for Hotham, and this I believe saved my ride. 1,314 people started this event and almost 250 DNF – almost 20%. Most of these will have abandoned at Dinner Plain after descending from Hotham in 4 degrees in rain and fog. Riders arriving at Dinner Plain were directed into the First Aid Hut to warm up. A sobering sight that will stay with me for a long time was the scores of shivering under-dressed riders, chattering teeth making them mumbling MAMILS, putting bin bags and blankets on, and slugging hot chocolate, to try and warm up. It was biblical, but my phone was out on the bike so no pics and I note too that this scene hasn’t made the official Peak’s video.
I had put both the newspaper back in and the rain jacket on at Hotham summit and wasn’t especially cold arriving for lunch, but leaving the hut after eating my wrap was another matter. Relatively dry under my jacket to that point, I forsaked my full change of kit in the valet bag and left that to find its own way home. Now wet gloves back on, I mounted and headed off on to the 1km long “gravel section”. It was smooth, but the rain now made it like riding through a deep muddy puddle for 3 minutes in low visibility. Temp remained stuck at 4 degrees. I was shivering like a junkie in withdrawal, so violently I thought I’d lose control a few times and it served to coat me in mud. No pave, but we all looked like Roubaix riders, and I’m not talking Rhodes! Then the drive train and discs protested for many kilometres to come… my kingdom for a rinse and lube! What else could I do to warm up? I then remembered the headband, down around my neck since Mount Beauty and moving that that up around my ears added surprising warmth and comfort and in time I settled down.
Good advice, but the low number of riders this year (down on previous years and well short of their 2,000 cap), and the many dropouts, meant it was mainly single riders after Dinner Plain to the Finish. This was effectively a solo ride for me, but for a train from the bottom of the Tawonga descent to Harrietville for 20km or so, which started as 5 riders and grew to 50-odd. That just wasn’t available for the run to Omeo or then on to Anglers Rest.
Mind Over Matter
There were stiff mental tests in this ride, the first for me wasThe Meg, earlyish on the first third of Hotham. Signposted, and well-flagged in advance, this “only” 300m section with grade from 10-13% really hurt, and had me questioning if I had what it took to get to Hotham’s summit, 25km or so distant. By the end of Hotham’s first third, 10km of climbing, my mind was looking for excuses to pull over for a breather. But entering the false flat 10km section, I convinced myself to keep going, at least until the last third when I knew it would ramp up again. There was a (apparently new) rest area before the last 10km of Hotham which afforded the mental re-grouping and I put in some music to get through the last third. Climbing now into the cloudbase, it got cold, and eerie with the visibility down to 50m or less – but perhaps this was a blessing in disguise. I couldn’t see the road rising off into the distance. CRB Hill (1.1km at 10% but it didn’t hit me like The Meg had) was tough, but I motored on and summitted as the rain came. Others behind me later reported sleet. Can’t comment on whether it’s picturesque or not!
After the shivering subsided, I motored on to Omeo, and left the newspaper in situ for most of this trip. This was the biggest surprise to me. I expected a big descent after Hotham but really it was just a gradual loss of elevation and with some climbs in there too, before a long drop into Omeo where as if by magic, a temp of 19 degrees fleetingly appeared on the GPS. Definitely a rest stop to linger at!
Leaving there led to the most scenic bit of the ride. After a decent climb there was a winding flat road along an escarpment and the sun came out for at least 20 minutes, and visibility opened up. I cruised this with little company and really enjoyed it.
The next test, the one most feared, was The Beast. WTF Corner and into Back of Falls: 10% average for the first 10km. Grinding at 6-7km/hr with tired legs, thankful the photographer wasn’t too far up the initial hill (“at least get past the photographer”), the gradient those first 2-3 km hardly relented. The 100m distance indicators on the GPS ticked over painfully slowly, in and out of the saddle (‘Don’t Stop. Don’t Get Off”) but soon I was bargaining with myself to make it 3km, maybe 5km and then either pause or walk a bit, but then there’d be a slight dip – yes even 7% was enough to give respite and convince you to make it to the next corner, to another ramp, and so on and on. And on. Now I started to understand why the timing guides (now washed off the top tube) allow ~1.5 hours for the 13km between WTF and Trapyard. 5km in, it eventually started to relent a little with some flat and even a short descent, but then, BANG, up hard again. Will it ever end? But hang on, I’ve done this for 6km now, 60% of this tough 10km done, keep going, activate the glutes, in and out of the saddle, don’t stop, don’t get off, one more corner, all this training, and then finally, it did ease off and a relatively soft run into Trapyard was an emotional release to realise this was going to happen.
In hindsight, I could and should have kept going without stopping at Trapyard. Water was low but not much needed at this stage. The Coke there didn’t agree with all the other bike fuel I’d been eating and I took off, now climbing again into the low viz. Jacket back on as temp was back down to four degrees for these last 20km. I was searching for the Mount Cope sign that we had ridden out to the day before and eventually saw it through the gloom, when only about 20m from it. Another mini celebration. Push on, no dam waters to sight in the fog, but this was the home stretch. Think about the hot shower, nay, DREAM about the hot shower… not long now……. Where’s the bloody dam wall… one last small climb, and don’t crash on the last corner. Quite the emotional release to roll in under the banner at 6.30pm, and I choked up, taking it in. One hell of a ride.
Ride time 10h22m Elapsed Time 11h33m so a surprising 1h11m in rest areas or wardrobe changes on side of road. Total climb time 4h46m including stops on Hotham and at Trapyard. But all in all, both body and bike held up.
What would I do differently?
- Wouldn’t be hard to trim 30 mins or more off rest stop time, and even that’s still a long way off Blue’s 8 total mins stopped during his sub 10 effort!
- Work on my descending: I was cautious down Falls given the crowds but Tawonga was only slightly damp and not as technical as forecast (though they said last year was the first time someone hasn’t done their collarbone on Turn 5). Hotham’s descent though was no place to pick up time this year in the horrid conditions there.
- Waterproof gloves. I went through 3 variations of normal gloves: Long, short, then short with dry liners that I’d saved for the home stretch. Breathable waterproofs though would save a lot of faffing.
- Join one of the Bicycle Network waves to maximise chance of trains…. I was within 5 mins of the back of the 10 hour group for the first 70km until they left me for dead on Hotham. I then tick-tacked with the 11 hour group and probably could/should have stayed with them. But thoughts had turned to making sure I finished rather than time-setting, and hence lingering in rest areas.
- Make sure the sticker covering the cleats are indeed stuck in on the soles of the new MTB shoes you buy! My booties performed well, but could do nothing about the muddy puddle coming up from the road entering the shoe via the cleat!
Will there be a next time? Why would anyone put themselves through this? Especially when they now know what lies in store? Better ask Highlander what’s made him do it 5 times now… I have until Wednesday 9am to sign up cheaply….