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The 2011 Three Peaks Challenge - 235km

So what drove me to undertake a second dose of suffering and self flagellation?

It all originates from last year’s finish. I was cold, wet and exhausted. Despite my achievment I felt deflated as I finished in the dark on my rims. I felt deprived of warmth and the brillant scenery that the Alpine region had to offer. I felt obliged to repeat that misadventure bathed in warm sunshine.

I entered the event a bit undertrained in comparison to last year. The day prior to the event started off wet and foggy, however the weather cleared sufficiently in the afternoon to allow me to undertake a warm up ride on the back side of Falls Creek, past the section where there was a multitude of flats experianced by many riders last year. The newly laid surface of last year had been worn down by a year of snow, cars, et cetera thus diminishing the sharp slate pieces that had punctured plenty of tyres.

The weather forecast for the event promised showers and possible afternoon thunder. Not what I had hoped for.

I spoke to the old chap who ran the local grocery store/liquor shop/post office. He happened to mention that the weather during last year’s event was perhaps the worst day of the year (inclusive of winter). I replied that I was too busy suffering to notice the weather.

The morning started off foggy. The weather radar via Karen’s iPad looked threatening with a line of heavy showers bearing down from Albury.

I dressed with the expectation of getting wet. I kissed Karen “Goodbye” and set off for the line.

This year every bike was fitted with a transponder which tracked your whereabouts at each checkpoint. This allowed Karen to follow my progress along the course.

Much to everyone’s consternation the rain started as we reached Mt Beauty. The intermittent showers were heavy. Luckily the air felt much warmer than last year.

Tawonga gap seemed much easier than last year and I made quick time over the 6 km at 7% gradient. I then proceeded down the fast descent, careful not to crash in the wet conditions.

I joined a group on the way to Harrietville. They appeared well organised with a rotating paceline. I was happy to be making good time despite the inevitable face spray.

The stop at Harrietville was welcome as I refilled by bidons and grabbed the Snickers bar that I had packed via the valet service. I was keen to get underway, the rain had stopped for the start of the climb only to return near the summit almost 2 hours into the climb.

For the last 10 km we were shrouded in fog. Visibilty was reduced to less then 10m. This appeared a blessing as I was not able to see the steep gradient near the top. The 11-13% gradient on the Garmin provided the only clue to the steepness of the slope, apart from the effort. Near the summit of Mt Hotham we were hit by significant crosswinds which seemed to shift over the last 500m pushing me over the top.

The route data recorded by my Garmin during this event is available in the Routes section of this website. After bringing up the map for our weekend rides, you'll need to click on the white “M” in a blue square beside where it states “Falls Creek”.

All of a sudden I was tearing down hill towards the lunch stop in Dinner Plain. The weather had cleared on the east side of Mt Hotham with the increased visibilty revealing a glorious landscape. I restricted my lunch stop to 20-30 minutes mindful of the time I spent last year shivering uncontrollably huddling up to the nearest similarly hypothermic rider. Unlike last year where the announcer urged poorly clothed or underprepared riders to quit, the atmosphere at lunch this time around was far more relaxed.

I left Dinner Plain after beginning to feel cold again and headed down towards Omeo Valley. The sun and road were kind to the riders as we cycled through pictureseque rolling hills dotted with dairy cattle who appeared oblivious to the suffering of the cyclists passing through.

On the way I got chatting to a few cyclists, most of whom were attempting the ride for the first time. I was surprised to find a lack of second timers. Though I did manage to meet one second timer clad in the sky-blue jersey. He explained his rationale for his second attempt being that he was forced to walk a part of the inital climb and as such felt compelled to return. When I met this guy again at the finish line he commented that he now did not feel bad about walking last year given the severe gradient up the Falls Creek climb.

Matt climbing up from Omeo
Matt climbing up from Omeo, enjoying some sunshine

The ride to the base of the Falls Creek climb was pleasant if not a tad warm, punctuated by two pit stops. Unlike last year there were no bananas at Anglers Rest (Greg: “I didn’t get no bananas at Angler’s Rest last year!”), which was a bit of a dissapointment. I did, however, refuel with a snickers bar and bottle of coke in anticipation of the climb ahead.

The climb began in Earnest as my Garmin clocked up 200km. It began with a gradient of 17%. “Let the pain and suffering begin” was a cry I heard from a cyclist up the road. For the first 3 km the gradient oscillated between 11 and 15%, then levelled off to an 8-9%. Many cyclists by now were walking, some out of exhaustion, some from the fact that they had not changed their rear cassette from a 25T to a 28T (smallest gear). I felt as if I was going up Bellbird Hill/Bowen Mt and got into a sustainable rhythm.

I felt myself getting hot and was disheartened by the odometer which crawled ever so slowly 203, 204, 205, ...

Matt climbing up to Rocky Valley
Matt, nearing the end of the ride, climbing up to Rocky Valley

I was determined not to let the mountain defeat me, and used the thought of seeing Karen and the kids at the finish line to spur me on.

As the altimeter on the Garmin reached 1400m I felt the weather cool as a light mist rolled in. The zenith of the climb had been reached at 1700m 10km from the finish. I was re-energised as I sped towards the finish at a lively speed.

Matt finishing
Matt riding the home stretch to the end of the ride
Matt at the finish
Matt having just finished the ride

An afternoon thunderstorm several minutes from the end did not register as I reached the finish line. The clapping and cheering from the crowd along with a familial hug allowed an outpouring of emotion and sheer joy - endorphin induced. The exhaustion, pain and cold that I felt last year was absent. I had accomplished my goal. I was happy with my time. Everything had gone according to plan.

I may do the Three Peaks Challenge once again, however I would be just as content if I do not.

I’m sure Greg understands, we have conquered an Everest (Greg: “Too bloody right!”).