Finally, a trilogy of 3peaks has delivered a GOOD, having already dished out the BAD (last year) and the UGLY (the inaugural year, 2010). Good perhaps doesn’t do it justice. Conditions for this year’s edition were sublime. Clear skies, light winds, even on the tops, and mid 20’s at best.
So at least the weather delivered. As to whether the body delivers, well that is another matter entirely. My build up was not ideal, but not terrible, despite the crappy weather that has repeatedly sloshed Sydney. The commute over the last few months has frequently been a wet affair. Changing tyres 2 weeks out allowed approx. 20 mL of water to be drained from each of my rims, courtesy of the Lane Cove weir crossing, which has been in overflow mode for weeks. Missing first the Johnny Warren Classic, then the Otway mtb enduro due to sickness a few weeks ago was also disappointing, as I was kind of counting on the Otway to deliver a good dose of “gravel in the knicks” and put some major sting into the legs. However, countering Chris’s attacks up Galston the weekend before 3peaks seems to have been an ample substitute, given that my legs were sore for the following three days. The week prior was a blissful one of tapering, which simply means not stressing the legs at all, and staying out of trouble.
Anita disobeyed the rules of tapering by having an altercation with a car on the Monday whilst riding home from work which resulted in some impressive bruises and grazing. Unlucky, and very lucky! Close inspection of the bike and steerer failed to reveal any fractures, splits or points of impact, so at least the bike was going to be able to deliver should the pilot be able. Time would tell.
Come “race” day I ended up actually having a cracker, but, as with Anita’s situation, it almost didn’t happen at all. On the Friday eve before the big drive down to Falls Creek, having disassembled and reassembled Anita’s fork, and ferried the stuff we were taking down the stairs, I noted a dull pain in the lower left part of my back. Over the next three hours this got progressively worse till I could barely move. At some point of the evening I must have pulled a nerve/muscle or slipped a disc. Anita, wearing her physio’s hat and after much prodding thought the disc scenario unlikely. This was little comfort though, given that the pain was so severe even rolling over in bed was excruciating. By morning it hadn’t improved. On reflection Anita and I both concede we close to bailing getting into the Hamster-mobile. She wasn’t feeling confident about the whole affair either (underdone and accident-sore). BT had pulled out with knee issues, GK was also out with a leg injury, and it was looking like Anita and I were next. But Ham was hardly on top of his form either and he was going, so get into the car we did. I juiced up on anti-inflammatorys and over the ensuing hours managed to get a good massage out of a blanket I had jammed between the lower crook of my back and the seat.
Accommodation at the Falls Creek Country Club turned out to be our best digs on the mountain yet. In total we were 7. Chris and Kev had departed on Friday and stayed en route in Canberra. Tim had work complications and thus flew down to Albury on the Saturday. Matt, new to most of us, came up from Melbourne. Having registered at the event center, dinner at the apartment (yummy risotto, lasagna and salad - many thanks to the chefs ) turned out to be a jovial and relaxed affair. Having tweaked kit and attached numbers, we were all in bed relatively early in anticipation of the big day.
We awoke to crisp mountains air and lovely star-lit skies. My back, although still extremely sore, in part due to lots of massage the night before, at least allowed enough movement for me to consider starting, although Anita was not convinced this was a good idea. I wasn’t either, but I knew I had good legs, and I also knew that if I didn’t, she wouldn’t either. Despite her apprehension I knew she had the depth to get through the course again.
We assembled at the start area joining 1000 others on this unique challenge. The buzz of excitement owed as much to the bone –dry conditions as to the knowledge of what was to come. Wave after wave of riders set off down the mountain. Anita and I agreed that we'd descend the 30 km to Mt Beauty together and take it from there. Chris, Kev, Matt and Tim were a little too speedy for us and slowly drifted out of sight. This descent was a real joy – rather than the wet nerve-wracking ordeal of previous years, although it was cold – which contributed to the painful rattling of my lower back. But on the few sections of up where spinning was engaged, providing I kept the same position the legs felt good and the back wasn’t too bad. It was changes of position that were going to hurt more than anything.
With Mt Beauty attained Anita and I wished each other well as the Tawonga climb started and I got the engine rev’d up – as much to get some heat into my system as anything. Last year I remember holding ~16 km/hr up much of the 6 km climb. This year I seemed to be sitting on 17-18. The legs felt good. I soon passed Tim, and about a km from the top passed Chris, Kev and Matt. I soft pedaled down the other side, expecting to be caught by the guys, but instead fell into a small group who didn’t mind rolling it over along the valley road up to Harrietville – in stark contrast to last year when in driving rain no one wanted to work. The numbers in our group swelled, and soon we had a paceline of 20 guys rolling over, soon catching another bunch up the road.
At Harrietville I didn’t stop, bottles being mostly full, and got to the business of gently getting that first steep km out of the way before settling into a rhythm on the 30 km Hotham climb. A fyxomatosis clad “Archie” attached himself to my wheel, along with “Rohan” and one or two others, where they sat for much of the next 15 km. I was riding my own tempo, but it was nice to have a few in tow for when the climb went flat in the middle, where the load was shared by 3 or 4. Funnily enough I would share the work with these guys again over the last 20 km.
My initial strategy was not to stop at the lunch stop (Dinner Plain, 110 km), butat the feed 10 km below the top of Hotham, with the hope that full bottles at this point would carry me through to Omeo (at ~160 km). This turned out to be a mistake of sorts (although I did enjoy my first piss for the day – confirming my state of dehydration), as I ended up downing another bottle before the top, whilst still having a full bottle to spare – which I had to lug all that way only to stop again. The last 10 km were significantly steeper and harder than I remembered. Additionally, I lost the company of some really solid wheels, with whom I probably could have shared more miles. By this stage my back – remember my back? – well as long as I didn’t shift position too badly the back increasingly ceased to be the issue. It was now legs that occupied my thoughts.
The brutal finish to Hotham done with, I rolled into Dinner Plain with the clock at 4:15, filled bottles with the Powerade on offer, and was probably gone by 4:18. My plan between here and Omeo was to ride tempo, not stressing the legs but refueling on the assortment of bars I had with me, letting gravity do most of the work such that I would be in the best possible condition for that dreadful hill at the end. The “Winners” bar I had from last year proved almost inedible, but I forced it down anyway. I was disappointed to discover that I had another of these – which was subsequently jettisoned at the Omeo feed. A “Cliff” bar, on the other hand, proved far more palatable (as were my supermarket grade chocolate fudge bars), but somehow i'd only packed one of these (I actually had a second but my pockets were too full of crap to find it). During this frenzy of tortoise-like eating and drinking I patiently waited for the next fast group to come through. Much to my astonishment, that fast group – or any group for that matter, failed to materialize until about the 150 km mark. Of four who crept up on me, two looked like rank amateurs (as did I, with non-matching kit, my hairy pins and a stuffed animal under the saddle) and two looked pro, one in full Rapha kit. I swapped turns with the two “pro” dudes, until on the last big climb before Omeo it all split to pieces. I wasn’t about to burn myself up at this point, with my bottles close to empty and a planned pit round the corner. I stopped atop a crest just before Omeo to ablute. A clear stream of urine indicated that my hydration was somewhat back on track. Much to my astonishment, of the four others who rolled into Omeo just ahead of me, only one (Mark) stopped to refuel. Again, I filled bottles and discovered the delights of the “Cadel” gels on offer – much more palatable than the paste-like GUs. I grabbed three.
I waited for Mark on the climbs that followed, on the understanding that we’d work the flat over the next 30 km on the way to Anglers Rest. This proved to be a good decision. As well as affording me another chance to piss, we worked the flat wiggly bit sensibly, just tapping away at 31 km/hr whilst drinking and nibbling. We didn’t see another rider. What a sublime piece of road (you just have to ride it), soon to be followed, of course, by the diabolically awful bit of road known as the “back-of-Falls”. What a juxtaposition. As Mark and I approached Anglers, I pulled up short to (again) take a piss. Whilst relieving myself, Archie and crew (from the Hotham climb) came past drilling it to the Anglers pit.
I still had a full bottle, and another 10 km till WTF corner so saw no reason to stop at Anglers for fluid. Hence I rolled over the pick-a-plank bridge and proceeded along the next gently climbing 10 km at an even gentler pace (20-23 km/hr). Just ahead of me, another hairy legged chap in a Z-team jersey (Kiwi Tim, who flew past me up Hotham, BTW), was maintaining a similar tempo, and presumably strategy, but for a slightly different reason. Whilst I had 39*25 up my sleeve, Tim only had 39*21, and had even more to be nervous about (The climb starts at 19% for half a K before leveling off to a mere 8-9 % - for about 5 or 6 km). Tim and I didn’t see a soul on this stretch until, once again, just before THE corner was turned, Archie, Rohan and Glenn rolled up. Hence, with exactly 200 km and 7:15 on my clock, and 35 km to travel, it was game-on. But climbing the back-of-Falls is a very personal and internal game – one that had been playing on my nerves for some time. Even though last year I cleaned it in 39*23, I sensed that being way ahead of last year at the same point, and probably more spent, cramp was not far away.
I was expecting an almighty grovel and was not disappointed. In the end I had to ride most of it out of the saddle, which was the only way to keep on top of the cramp just below the surface. Especially on that upper sector where the ~8-10 grade is constant. The soreness of my back also became a bit of a factor here. Archie and co ever so slowly disappeared ahead of me, as did Tim, but with a mixture of riding then running the steeper sections that were too much for the 21! Luckily for him he was/is a top runner in a former life. I adopted Archie’s method of weaving to get me through the steeper sections. Rapha dude eventually came back to me (the one who missed the feed at Omeo), and Archie and “Glenn”, who I would get glimpses of around the corners, were gained again at the Trapyard feed, where I again refilled bottles and grabbed a slice of awesome fruitcake. Both Archie and Glenn still looked strong and I was hoping I’d be able to hang with these two till the end. Fortunately this was the case.
It was a pleasure to work the last 20 km as a group of three. We even picked up a straggler just outside the last km who had hit the wall big time. We rolled into the finish with my clock saying 9:09 – way faster than I thought I was capable of, and, remarkably, just inside the top 20 (19th in fact), of the 900+ who finished the event. The fastest time, by BTW, was set by Nick Mitchell, who last year posted a 7:51, but this year could ‘only’ manage an 8:08. Amazing ride! To say I was pretty happy was/is an understatement. Even with the back issues (it took quite a while to straighten the thing after getting off the bike), it rates as one of the best days I’ve had on the bike. Just one of those magic days where good legs collide with good lungs – I usually succumb to sickness as I ramp up to such targeted events. Rohan, one of Archie’s crew who was a little stronger than the rest on the last climb, remembered me from the Hotham pace-setting and thrust a beer into my hand. We had a couple of these, basking in the mid-afternoon sun, washing down pizza and sausage sandwiches. How grand life can be.
I wasn’t sure who of our bunch would be next to arrive. I suspected Chris, who was showing ominous punch in the lead-up, but was not surprised when Kev, who seems to excel in long events, popped out of the finishing tent, at 9:50, some 25 min quicker than his time of last year. Chris was only 10 min adrift (with a similar improvement), basically smack on 10 hrs – a great ride by both of these guys. Whilst Chris and Kev hit the showers I was anxious about the others on course. Even though I didn’t suffer as badly as last year, I was still shocked by how difficult the top of Hotham and the back-of-Falls had been. Both Ham and Anita had less Kms in their legs than last year, but like all of us, the combination of knowing the course and having great weather might conspire to get them both home in good time.
It was a bit of a wait, and required donning the finishing jersey as the sun lost it’s pep, but first Matt, then Ham, Anita and Tim showed up together with the clock at ~11:40, all safe inside the 13 hr cutoff. They had ridden much of the course together, keeping an eye on each other, sharing the ups and downs of what is a pretty arduous journey by any measure. It was great seeing them home, Anita in particular, as she could easily have succumbed to the lure of a lazy day watching Flame Robins and drinking coffee, had I not cajoled her out the door. Well done Mudge! Fingers crossed the scabby sit bones heal quickly (what were you doing?) This meant that all 7 were returned safe and sound. Super effort guys! And a super course too. It was nice to be able to actually see the high plains country, and lovely Omeo valley this time. We retired to the hotel for hot showers, then to the pub for hot chips, steak, beer, and a forensic deconstruction of the days horrors and triumphs, and perhaps even thoughts – or not – of next year.
(L-R); Tim (Z), Archie, Rohan and Glenn