This January, I also attempted the Alpine Classic, and for the second time straight, I failed. I was gutted after the ride swearing that I was not a climber and that I was never going to climb again. On the drive home, I calmed down, balanced myself and started to reassess. By the time I got home, I’d convinced myself that if I could do the climb at the beginning of a ride I’d be fine. It was only with 100km under my belt that major hills bested me.
So I entered the SHCCC. The climb up Mt Buller is the first real climb of the ride and starts around the 30km mark and is either a Category 1 or HC category climb, depending on your source.
Last Friday and the time had come. I packed and headed down to Mansfield, a 3½hr drive. I arrived in Mansfield about 4pm and easily found the caravan park I was staying at. It had poured all the way down and I was relieved that it started to clear up about half an hour out of town. As I unpacked the car, I realised two things: 1) it was cold, and the night was only going to get colder and 2) I’d left my blanket at home. I’d have to buy another, but with nothing resembling a department store in town, I had to drive a little over an hour to the nearest Kmart. In all, by the time I rolled back into town again it was pushing 7pm and I was beat.
I grabbed some dinner and hit the sack. Thanks to an 8.30am start, I was able to sleep in until 6.30. the last couple of major rides I’d done had required 5am starts, so this was bliss. By 8 I was at the start line, and ready to go. I had my map, my timing sheet and my plan.
My plan was essentially the same as it was for the Lake Hume CC. Stick with the pack as long as possible and then catch up with them again at the top.
It started off well and I stayed with the pack for the first 20km or so. Averaging a little over 30km an hour was a great start, but for me it proved impossible to maintain. Over the next half hour, we climbed towards the toll booth that marked the start of the climb and I was trying to balance my effort – not too hard, but don’t back off too much. I was only a little behind schedule and if I avoided the water stops and climbed well I could still make the top by 10.45am. As we hit the toll booth, I was about 4min off my goal time, but feeling pretty good. I hadn’t pushed and I knew that I’d make up a lot of time on the homeward runs. I’d planned on a 12kph climb but it was all guess work. I had absolutely no idea what was ahead of me or how I’d do. I’d failed at every attempt to do a Cat 1 or better climb. Rather than outline the climb, I’ll just lean on the words of theclimbingcyclist. His excellent description of the climb is here.
I didn’t mind the climb. Yes it was long and at times hard but for the most part I enjoyed it. I always felt like I was making progress. That’s what really ground me down during the Audax Classic. With Mt Buffalo, I never felt like I was making any progress, and it was soul destroying. With Buller, I always felt like I was chipping away, and the blue progress markers on the side really helped.
I ground away, eager to see the 10km to go sign. Once I saw that I felt like I was really counting down to the finish. I danced with a couple of riders at times and we encouraged each other along. I’d pass someone and he’d kick a minute later and pass me, and so on. We carried it on for a good portion of the climb but by the time we reached Hell Corner we split. The 13% climbs really tested me by this stage and I was constantly shifting from sitting to standing just to keep going. I kept thinking how cruel it was for the hardest, steepest part of the climb to be at the top. But I kept going and even managed a fist pump or two at the top. And then it got weird.
First, I’d climbed at just under 12kph. My plan had been to average 12kph, and the fact that I was so close was just plain weird. My official climb time was 1h22m38s, or 11.97kph. Freaky
Weirdness no. 2: At the top of the climb we just stopped. The road was barricaded to force us off the bikes while they removed our timing chips for the KOM/QOM. There was no option to keep going or to turn around. You had to get off and walk through the pitstop. Once there, I wasn’t even sure where the exit was to get riding again. Surely it makes more sense to have a timing mat at the top and collect the timing tags at the bottom. What if I didn’t want to stop? If I was doing the hundred I would have preferred to go non-stop.
As it happens, I appreciated the chance to rest. I’d done the climb without stopping and I was elated but tired. I took the opportunity to eat, drink, stretch and pee. In the end I only stopped for about 15mins before heading off to find some road again. Judging by the scene at the top, some people were settling in for an extended break.
I’d reached the summit 14 minutes behind my schedule and I was keen to get going. The descent was fantastic. I love descending but am always careful to stay in control. I stayed below 60kph all the way down, and just loved rolling through some of the sweeping downhill curves. Once the true descent had finished, I pushed hard to keep the momentum up. It dropped off at times, but considering I covered the 40km from the summit to the Jamieson turn off in just over an hour I’d say that I did ok. It could have been better, but a few kms before the Jamieson turnoff, the wind picked up. As I turned off, it occurred to me that I was 50min ahead off the cut-off time. Considering some people looked set in for a very leisurely lunch at the top, I suspect a few people had to fly to get around the corner in time.
As I turned, the wind that had been coming from the left was now directly in my face. Straight on and strong, and at pretty much that point I hit a wall. I struggled to keep going over the next couple of kms and very soon found myself pulled over having another stretch. I was just on 100kms and seriously contemplating turning around and heading back to Jamieson. The climb was done and that had been my main goal. But I knew that if I didn’t try to keep going I’d hate myself. So I took some gel on board, fuelled up, stretched out and went on, planning to re-evaluate at the Piries water stop.
The next section was probably the hardest of the day. It was mentally draining pushing against the wind, and I fell into the old habit of watching the speedo and counting the kms. Thankfully, by the time I reached the water stop, my legs were feeling better. The chatter was all about the wind and I was grateful to hear so many others were finding it tough work into the wind. Remarkably, I’d only lost 2 more minutes in the last section, but with the hills for this section still to come, I knew that I’d be rapidly falling away.
At Piries, I decided to keep going, and I’m glad I did. The hills felt a lot harder than they should have, but I dropped down to 34/28 and spun away. I was carrying three gels and three bottles and I drained most of it in that 35km stretch out to Jamieson.
By the time I rolled in, I’d been passed by about 50 people but I didn’t care. I’d made to the turnaround point and I was glad I hadn’t quit. I was now 35km from home and just on my planned finish time but I didn’t care. I ate, drank, stretched and peed again and I was on my way. Another short stop, perhaps 10 mins. Once again, most people looked to be settling in for a lengthy stop.
I’d been counting the people who came into Jamieson after me, and as I headed out I counted some more. I figure at least 50 people rolled into town Jamieson after me, and at least another 100 where still there. I’d heard that a fair few people had missed the 1pm cut-off.
The ride back was a totally different story. I was mentally recharged and raring to go. Knowing that the majority of the return leg to Mansfield would be down with a tailwind gave me a boost. I knocked off the first two hills fairly easily (not quickly, but easily), but the third one really hurt. The sustained 5% bit me hard and I had to pull over a couple of times for a breather. About 200m from the top, a guy passed me, pulled in front and then promptly leant over the side of his bike and started puking. I checked he was ok, but his mate was right behind me and them. One still puking, one looking concerned. As I crested, I breathed a sigh of relief. It was virtually all downhill from here (literally and figuratively). Compared to the trip in the opposite direction, I flew. I had the wind behind me and I got to enjoy the ride again. No one passed me, and I started working at closing the gap on those in front (I caught the couple in the distance with about a km to spare). About 10mins after I crested Martin’s Gap, I heard an ambulance screaming towards me. I guess the guy puking didn’t recover. I hope he’s ok.
I was glad to finish, and absolutely chuffed to have completed the whole ride. I was proud for having continued on.
With that, my ride season is over. I’m still going to be riding, but it’ll be about maintenance rather than improvement. It’s time to focus on my running and swimming again. The Half Ironman is only 8 months away and there’s a marathon to be had between now and then.