After the 2003 Alpine Classic was cancelled due to bushfires, the day had come to enjoy another pleasant spin in the Vic. Alps.
Preparation had been non-existent as far as ‘killer 200k training rides with Mt Donna Buang thrown in’ goes but had been doing a few Dandenongs rides in the last few months and also been taming those killer cols along Kew Boulevard. Overall fitness and leanness was excellent after some pretty consistent disciplined tri-training so I was looking forward to seeing if I could ‘sub 8hr’ the Classic after going 8.55 last time.
Alas, Friday morning swim squad was an ordeal and halfway through I had to crawl out of the pool, feeling like death and face the fact that I was seriously sick and the whole Alpine thing may not happen. After going straight home to bed instead of work I slept for a few hours and took my resting heart rate (16 above normal).
Saturday morning, HR still 12 above normal and feeling really tired but a touch better. I pulled the plug on the planned 2hr plus run and enjoyed a bit of a sleep in before heading off to Bright with Di (I couldn’t really not go, she would have killed me). We stopped at the Ovens Hotel just before Bright for a pint of Guiness (medicinal purposes only of course) and arrived at the homestead in time for a quick reconnoitre of Mt Buffalo in the car (probably a bad idea (-;)
So it was finally Sunday, I still wasn’t sure I would be riding the thing but thought I’d see what the HR was doing up the first climb and make the decision to continue or not at that point. (I could always stop back at Bright after 130ks like a lot of people do anyway). The morning was cool but clear and as usual met a lot of roadies I know at the 6.20am start line, had a chat and then headed off at a sensible but solid pace in the first bunch towards Tawonga Gap.
I always like this climb, probably something to do with it being at the 10k point of the 200ks. The heart rate was behaving and I started to think that I might make the distance. Settled into a comfortable intensity (87% of max hr) and cruised over the climb, down the other side and into the valley below, catching some others and sitting in the bunch until the Falls Creek climb.
There’s something about this climb I also really like. It is 33ks long but probably 10ks of that is flat or downhill. When you get to the checkpoint at the top it feels like you are at a decent altitude and I guess you are. At this point your legs are still ok and you then get to do the awesome descent of the top 6ks which is a consistently steep stretch of road with some killer bends. I flew past the girls at one point and heard them call out. I gave them a wave (it is unusual to recognise anyone climbing as your heading back down due to the speed, everything’s a bit of a blur – perhaps they were rolling backwards??)
Back into the valley and riding through Mt Beauty I suddenly noticed how hot the sun was getting. The return climb back over Tawonga Gap was coming up which faces north and cops a lot of sun. This was going to be fun. I felt ok though and was reasonably strong apart from stopping at the fresh spring 2ks from the top to grab some water (best water in the world if you ask me).
The descent on the Bright side of Tawonga is a hero’s delight – consistent gradient, bends, surface and you can fly down without touching the brakes. Back into Bright and the second last checkpoint. Felt fine at this stage,perhaps reminiscent of Macca while winning at Forster Ironman in 2002 – first 21ks of the run he was thinking
‘how easy is this’, second 21ks he was thinking ‘I am never doing this again’. I didn’t even think about pulling out so the body was obviously coping well and I started to focus on the final climb of the day – the Mt Buffalo challenge!
Mt Buffalo is an incredible mountain. As you approach it on the road from Porepunka it’s granite outcrops rear up above you, almost blocking out the sun. It really is awe-inspiring, especially when you are riding towards it with 140km-old legs and struggling to hold a wheel in a bunch riding at 36kph toward the commencement of the climb. I reckon it was 1k into the climb that I blew and dropped from the pack, cursing and muttering to myself. I basically went from hero to zero in that 1k.
I had forgotten that the first few ks are pretty steep and then the gradient eases slightly before steepening again at the halfway mark. My suffering was continuous until the 9k mark of the climb where there is a water tanker positioned for riders to fill bottles for the last 9ks. At this point I had one bidon of water left, no sports drink but instead of stopping and refilling I suddenly felt great, declined the offer of water from the volunteers and flew up the next few switch-backs out of the saddle ‘Pantani-style’. As I did this I looked contemptously down below at the softies stopping for a drink and started dreaming of mountain top Tour de France stage wins.
Of course, there was some foolishness in my actions. I still had 9ks of climbing to go, the trees get sparse on the top half of the climb and the sun was getting vicious. I think it was about 3ks later that my world crumbled. I was out of water, I was wobbling all over the bike and had started to hold onto the brake-hoods instead of the tops of the handlebars because it seemed like I was less likely to fall off in this position.
After ‘botting’ some water off another rider I finally got to the checkpoint at the top, after a newly added section of climb that was the worst thing I have ever had to endure. Stumbling off the bike, I felt dizzy, nauseous and pissed-off all at the same time. After 2 bits of fruit cake, 4 orange quarters, a bidon of cordial, a bidon of water and filling another bidon with water and some electrolyte powder I felt together enough to start the final descent back down the monstrosity.
I must admit, this descent was almost worth the suffering to get to the top (not really but I’m trying to be positive). 18ks of non-stop fun and before long you’re back onto the valley floor and the flat ride back to Bright.
This felt so much harder than 2 years ago. I have never suffered as much on the bike as I did up most of Buffalo. But I felt pretty good at the finish, reasonably coherent and was lifted by my personal cheer squad as well – the girls had just done 130ks themselves but made sure they were around for my finish – top effort and much appreciated.
I ended up doing 8hrs 40mins total, 15mins faster than last time but a hotter day and tougher course up Buffalo – and despite what I was saying for most of the final climb, I am intending to do the classic again next year.