There are two theories of long distance riding. The first theory is that you go to beautiful places and enjoy the journey. The second theory basically says, it doesn’t matter if you’re in Tuscany, the French Alps or at home, it’s still just a road with a bike with a rider on it – so go and smash it up. Obey Rule 5, or something similar.
The strength of that first theory is that cyclists don’t get fields of dreams. Our performances, once over, remain personal memories. It’s inconvenient to go back to most places where you may have ridden well at one time. Cricketers and footballers and netballers and tennis players can take the family down to the oval/court, any given weekend. We can't. And if you’re talking racing, the actual venues are often particularly unlovely in any aesthetic sense (most criterium tracks, for example). So there are great reasons to ride in beautiful places over lovely roads, as ultimately, your personal reminiscences are all you get. Enhanced memories of the grey-blue skies of dawn, gazing out over the valleys, with massive ascents and careening down precipitous slopes over bridges and gullies. Those externalities are the reason for doing this. The exertion is worth it, if you get a great view.
The strength of the second view is that competing is great fun. There’s something affirming about knowing you have given everything. It’s fun to put someone in the hurtbox. Whatever you do now, all things being equal, you will one day not be able to do. In that case, you live in the moment, and the richness of the inner experience, the emotions involved, and riding it as hard as you can (while you can), are the essence of the activity. The view off the side of the hill is well enough, but doesn’t count for anything.
Three Peaks Challenge, until 2013, catered primarily for riders who subscribed to the first theory. Although times were published, essentially you were challenging yourself in spectacular but very difficult terrain, and just finishing was a significant achievement. Up until last year, everyone was more or less equal.
In 2013, Bicycle Network (Victoria) introduced a small but significant change – a special jersey for those who could complete the course in under 10 hours. Also, they had to change the course, replacing the awesome Mt Hotham with the far more friendly Mt Buffalo. And the pig that is the Back of Falls with the longer but less steep Front of Falls. An easier but much less spectacular course, along with a reason to get it home in under 10 hours… Once the organisers put a little carrot out there for riders to basically turn themselves inside out to get inside 10 hours, on a slightly easier route, the participants responded. And many more people got home very quickly. Many people had to abandon as well, but due to the hot weather, not, I emphasise, the 10 hour jersey.
For 2014, the course reverted to the more challenging “normal” course… but the 10 hour jersey lure was retained. The organisers had announced that the event sold out a month early. They had also brought forward the cutoff times around parts of the course due to, they claimed, an improvement in standards... and the improvement in standards between 2012 and 2014 was astonishing… but we’ll get to that, so time to tell my story…
(to be continued)
Lol im hanging for the next instalment already,
As one who participated in both this years and last and also having a few mates do the same the consensus is....the normal course is significantly harder.Even 10kg lighter and i think a fair bit fitter than last year i still found the course more demanding,especially the back of falls, (I smashed all of my power numbers to date including raising my FTP by 13w)...Its obscene to say the least and although i only!! achieved 10.36 i will be back for more next year(i had said i wouldn't if i finished)...ho hum well we are creatures of choice and change..
PS i was one of those after the coveted <10 jersey but i didnt like the number 2014 and prefer 2015
One of my "bus buddies" did it for the first time this year. He's pretty fit but made it in half an hour before the cutoff. He reckoned it was pretty brutal, and complained about a lack of suitable climbs within accessible distance to train on that could go anywhere near preparing one for the event
Looking forward to part 2!
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A small note on preparation. Strava tells me I have done 3211 km this year with 47km vertical. Obviously, that includes 3PC itself, plus a little bit since. In December I also did 1700 km with 24 km vertical. I'd gone up Bellbird Hill three times (twice on Boxing Day) and Crosslands/Sommerville several times. The weaknesses with this were - the bulk of training was skewed to December/January. And I had not gone past 170 km on any single ride. I really, really like to go past 200 km in the weeks before an event like this. It may be mostly psychological, but I also feel it flicks on certain metabolic pathways - for whatever reason I have always felt stronger with a really long ride under my belt.
I did 3PC in 2012, and was under no illusion as to what was required. Two years ago I finished in 11 hours 10 minutes, with an unfathomable (to me) 1 hour 20 of stops. In 2012 I suffered dreadfully up Hotham, and had no idea how I was going to get to the finish. But I got to Falls and cleared it with some effort but without undue fuss. I even felt I finished strongly, passing many more people than passed me. A ride time of 9 hours 50 plus change meant the 10 hour jersey was in reach this time. I'd also lost 10 kg in the intervening two years, and done more TT work.
Pre-ride nutrition? Tales of cyclists eating monster amounts get a bit dull. I will spare none of the gory details. My dinner on the Saturday night was a 600 g rump steak cooked rare and served with plain rice. To steal a phrase from John Self, the impossibly priapic, self absorbed, corpulent anti-hero of the Martin Amis novel "Money" - it was so delicious I almost cried. I recommend eating well before 3 Peaks. My particular nutrition plan, however, is unlikely to work for anyone else.
As a result of losing weight, or possibly not, I can develop a furious hunger. I did that this weekend. There were three days, Saturday, Sunday and Monday, when I let myself go and literally ate as much of whatever I wanted. Between Friday morning when I left Sydney, and Monday evening when I got home, I gained over 2 kg, despite riding 3 Peaks in the meantime.
But you were expecting me to talk about bike riding? OK...
Sunday morning, the day of 3 Peaks:
Got up early, did the usual checks, breakfast, dress, down with the guys to the start. 6 of the guys I went down with were in the first group, and we were right up in the front 80 or so. Dave says to me “Josh, where’s your helmet?”. Yes, so ummm, back to the lodge I ride, like a bruised salmon jumping upstream against the riders arriving at the start, fuming, of course. I'm sure every single one of them thought words to the effect of "what's that tool doing? Oh right no helmet, what an idjit." If you saw someone who resembles that description at about 6.20 on Sunday, yep that was me. Get the helmet, ride back… Falls Creek has these drainage grates. I went through one, and dinged my back wheel. My rear brake immediately started rubbing and complaining. No puncture though, and the rear brake at least works… so on with the show. I get to near the front again. By now there’s double the number of people, and I’m well separated from my mates. I got back to them, I won’t tell you how. No subterfuge was involved. Nor did I push my way through (although I tried that first). It’s a sidelight anyway. Your normal routines get all mucked up at these events, so stuff can go wrong, but just don’t forget your flipping helmet.
A few encouraging words from the organisers and we were away… at 6.49 am.
So the race, sorry, ride strategy. Go around with my good mate Dave, get to the bottom of Falls in one piece sticking to somewhere between the 9 and 10 hour ride plan. Then try to keep it together up Falls. he weaknesses with the plan were – can we stick together down Falls, can we get in a good group between Germantown and Harrietville (19 km basically flat), can we climb Hotham in 1 hour 45 without killing ourselves, can we get in another good group between Dinner Plain and Omeo, and then around to Say What corner, and will we have enough left to not to fall apart up Boffa?? And are we going at similar enough standard that neither of us would feel like riding at a pace the other couldn’t handle?
For the sake of space (this is obviously going to be long, by the time I'm finished), I've made some assumptions that the reader knows the course. If not, this is it http://www.strava.com/segments/6807586. There is over 10 km at about 10% throughout the course. 4 km near the top of Hotham, 6 km on the Back of Falls (9km at 8%, but significant parts of that are 7% or so, with a short flat section) and occasional pitches further up Falls, a few short nasty sections around Omeo and the 400 m Meg which is lower down Hotham. Tawonga doesn't get above 8% I reckon. The length of the climb is one thing, and these climbs are long. But gradient is the killer.
Last time I did this, the start was very narrow, and restricted. They let through cohorts of ten or so riders. This time they broke the entire field up into 4 or 5 waves, and the entire wave went together. The course commences with the 30 km descent down the front of Falls. This made for some “interesting” moments early on. Near the front of the field, after the first 5 km or so, you have passed those who are more tentative descenders, and you only have to be wary of the occasional faster descender who had started behind you. Further back, I understand it’s not so well structured, and basically a free for all, the whole way down. I heard stories of crashes that occurred, but didn’t see any myself. On the results sheet, there are three riders who started but did not record a time for Tawonga Gap, the first peak at 40 km. I assume those three suffered serious, irretrievable crashes or mechanicals on the downhill. Almost certainly, at least one of them was a guy who started in the front 50 who overcooked it on a left hander and went straight into the scrub (which I've heard about from 3 separate sources, as I said, I didn't see it).
The organisers provide guidance for this section which states “the road is closed but don’t use the whole road”. Frankly, this is useless, and no one at the front end of the field follows it. No one. Not a single rider that I saw did not extensively ride on the right hand side of the road. I personally would prefer not to use the right hand side of the road through the apex of blind corners, but this particular road clings mostly to the right hand side of the ridge line heading downhill. What that means is, the left hand corners are blind, and the right handers are open. Meaning you would generally be riding on the correct side of the road through the apex of blind corners, but for right handers you can see well ahead, and it’s safe to use the other side of the road. Everyone else is doing it anyway, at the front end of the field, and a person who stuck strictly to the left would be basically an obstruction (whom you would pass anyway at the first right hander). But no doubt further back in the field, there is greater inconsistency between the extent to which riders are prepared to use the whole road. This is quite clearly an issue.
Three Peaks is 235 km, but the first 30 km is just a warm up, no serious physical exertion at all. You have to concentrate, and your descending skills get a workout, but that is it. I did the descent a minute faster than last time, taking it easy (2012 I pushed it up the 3 or 4 small climbs within the descent). It's faster at the front. At Mt Beauty, Dave and I were together with another of our group, Chris, and we took it relatively easy along the 3 km up to the Tawonga turnoff. 48 minutes down.
(to be continued)
Onwards. Well this is incredible. It’s taken me 2000 words just to get to Mt Beauty. At that rate, it will take me 16,000 words to finish the course, and much longer than 10 hours in terms of writing. Will BN give me a 10 hour jersey if I can spend less than 10 hours on writing my report? Probably not.
Dave, Chris and I started up Tawonga at a very even pace. We passed a few riders at the bottom, presumably good descenders. Dave and I swapped every km or so, sitting on 15-16. The very even gradient allowed us to maintain a constant pace for a constant effort. Chris stayed with us halfway, then asked us to go on without him. He easily could have stayed with us, but just wanted a slightly easier pace. A few riders went past us, and we stopped catching slower riders. I did the last turn up to the top, and we comfortably crested Tawonga in 28 minutes 40. In 2012 I did it in 31 minutes, and at that pace I was almost ready to spew by the top. Total time at this point was 1h16, against the Matt de Neef ride plan which had 1h17 for the 9 hour completion. https://www.bicyclenetwork.com.au/general/great-rides/94887/
Descending, we again used most if not all of the road, and did the steeper first half very quickly. Once it flattened out to -3% or so, we faffed about, and a large group caught us from behind. Chris was in that group. By the time we got to the bottom there were at least 50 riders in the group. Turning left at Germantown, we started rolling turns, and soon had a really good pace going. This is a crucial part of the course, because the difference between puttering along here at 30 and purring along at 38 is nearly 10 minutes. And you don’t use much more energy in a large group. Rolling along we caught smaller groups and the odd solo rider. By the time we were 5 km from Harrietville we had about 100 riders and were sitting on about 40. Every single rider was rolling through, and everyone (make that n-1, there’s always one…) appeared to be comfortable in a large group.
The absolute domination of the front end of the event by roadies, clubbies and others who clearly ride a lot of miles in groups, was obvious at this stage. There were plenty of guys out there who I assume ride solidly near the front of their club rides, who race at a good level or who are otherwise getting solid bunch riding experience at good pace. This is not a skill you can learn on the day, and is pretty much essential for staying near the front. In terms of bikes, every single rider I saw was on a road bike, with standard set up. Except one. Tani Ruckle who was the first woman to finish (I’ll get to Tani Ruckle, who I didn’t see till much later) was riding a road bike, with tri-bar clip ons.
Dave and I had no intention of stopping at Harrietville, and I would say a minority, less than 30% of that bunch pulled in. At Harrietville, we had covered 74 km in 2 hours 8 minutes at nearly 35 km/h. The 9 hour plan had one here at 2 hours 5 minutes, the 10 hour plan 2 hours 22 minutes. The basically flat section from Germantown to Harrietville we did in 32 minutes at 35 km/h.
We crossed the School Bridge, and Mt Hotham starts just 200 m later, even before the left hander, the gradient starts…
Dave, Chris and I found ourselves in with some of the remnants of the large group which rode to Harrietville. Some started the climb faster, some slower. I think we were around the middle. Our group stayed together, with the same 2 or 3 riders making the pace, over the first 2 km at 6% or so, and on through the next 4 km at 5%, to the Meg. Really, a lot is made of the Meg, and it is steep. But it’s so short, that a minute of effort or so, and you’re past it. Back at 5%. The first section of Hotham goes for 10 km, we covered it in just under 40 minutes at 15 km/h, and that felt cruisy. After 10 km it flattens out. We stopped for a quick comfort break and carried on. We picked up a fast moving group, and worked hard up to our first rest stop at Buckland Gate, that 8 km in 18 minutes at 26 km/h. That section is flatter, not flat. And that did not feel cruisy. Filled bottles, ate a cheese sandwich, we got back on after 4 minutes. With the earlier comfort stop, that was 5 minutes total stopped on Hotham.
What this doesn't capture is the intensity of the ride. You're switched "on" the whole way. Even where you are physically comfortable you are constantly analysing your form and asking yourself, "Am I going too hard?", "Could I go at this pace all the way to Hotham/Dinner Plain/Omeo/etc and if not, where am I going to ease it up a bit? Or could I go harder? Do I spend some chips to stay with these guys or ride at my own pace for this section?" It's not physically intense like a race or a much shorter club ride, but you have to pay attention the whole way. Of course, my brain, no one's brain, can focus like that for half a day, so my mind was wandering around as well. For some reason, the dismal final presentation of Septa Mordane, Sansa and Arya's tutor (last episode, series one, GoT), was running through my head. Is a metaphor going on there? No, or at least I don't think so. Probably just a striking scene that has stuck in my head.
After Buckland Gate, it's cruisy for a little while, before the jagged teeth of Hotham start biting at your quads. Dave and I were on our own here. We ambled up the 7% section, to the first descent and onto CRB. Two years ago CRB was agonising. This time, it required effort, obviously, but nothing spectacular. Strava tells me I did CRB in 7'15 at 13 km/h (two years ago, 8'04 at 11.5, and at the same HR). Cresting CRB the road gets interesting. At some point it switches from the right hand side of the ridge to the left hand side of the ridge. That seems to be on a left hander not far after CRB. You can see riders further up the hill on what seems to be the wrong side. Anyway, it's about 5% through this section, and it's about 2.5 km from the top of CRB to the next descent. We sat on about 15. At some point the Drapac team came through, filming. Darren Lapthorne was out there, with the green and gold piping round his sleeves. He and some other Drapac riders were doing the event, have finish times. They were nothing like the fastest though, so it's was training or filming or something. If you see a Drapac video with me in the background on Mt Hotham, well it was filmed at 3 Peaks.
Onto the next sharp descent and the final drag which some call Diamantina but others call "that last bit" - usually with some adjectives I'm not allowed to use. Like CRB, into the bottom gear, and cruise as much as possible. Mostly seated, Dave and I averaged 12 km/h for this 2 km section, and did it in 10'53". For me, this was exactly 2 minutes faster than 2012 and a heck of a lot less painful. Riding along the highest paved road in Australia, you know you are there when you can see a pond/lake of some kind off to the left. Down to the Hull Skier Bridge...
Hotham time was 1 hour 46 exactly, which includes 5 minutes of breaks and was 17 minutes faster than my time in 2012. Total time to the Bridge was 3 hours 55 minutes. The 9 hour plan has you there at 3'45, and the 10 hour plan at 4 hours 12.
(to be continued)
Why they let people ride these mass participation events with tri-bars is beyond me.
Enjoying the read so far rogan, looking forward to the next instalment.
I agree. Spied a few bikes with tri-bars at Three Peaks and assumed they weren't allowed. They also should ban the use of rear mounted bidon launchers.
I'm loving the contrast between this story and my experience as a first timer. Looked at the time once, when the Lantern Rouge passed me on Hotham at 10:40, and decided it didn't mean I was out after all .
[edit: which explains why it was so surprising to find out I'd taken 1 hour 33 mins of breaks...]
What a great write up of the 3 peaks. Keep those next installments coming.
They rode it at a social pace and had plenty of time stopped. One of the team mechanics, who is not by any means an athlete, was riding with them.
Really enjoying the report so far. I've booked accommodation for the ACE250 again next year but I'm thinking I should have entered this instead. How hard is it to get accommodation at Falls?
Thanks guys, I'm onto it.
A brief response to some of the above:
Porridgewog - I didn't do 2013 but the normal course is definitely harder. I know 2013 was extra hot, but I don't think people would have enjoyed Back of Falls at 35C either...
Trailgumby - the only comparable climbs in Sydney are Cottage Point, Somerville Rd, Bowen and Bellbird. Not the same, but they at least go for some distance at a steep gradient. Old Bathurst Rd is meant to be tough too but has more traffic. Even the steep side of Akuna and Hawkesbury Lookout only resemble the "easy" parts of Back of Falls. There are some very steep climbs in the eastern suburbs (Coogee and Edgecliff) and north shore (Balmoral/Clifton Gardens, some at Collaroy and Avalon, also Pretoria Pde in Hornsby) but they are all relatively short.
Ross/biker jk - I wasn't bothered by the tri-bars and only saw one rider with them (Tani Ruckle). She probably knows what she is doing. I did see a lot of rear mounted bidons. Not too bothered by them either.
warthog - I don't arrange it for our group, but not too difficult if you get in early, preferably before Xmas. Best if you are in a small group - the preponderance of ski lodges in Falls works well if there's 4 or 6 of you (or more).
There are good reasons for doing ACE over this, the main one is price. 3PC is not cheap, ACE is less expensive. If you zip around the 3PC course you don't pick up food and hydralyte at every stop, you can feel like you aren't getting value - of course the fee is going to the community groups, police for road closures and BN staff and so on, I suspect Winners and Hydralyte are more or less free to BN. Don't get me wrong, I'm not whingeing. 3PC is a great event with high levels of enjoyment, I suspect ACE is a bit more low-key.
Dave and I zipped down to the entrance to Mt Hotham. From two years ago I remembered some intimidating climbing between Hotham and Dinner Plain, which really took the wind out my sails, and caused me to need a lengthy stop at Dinner Plain. Not this time. We got it rolling, and passed some riders (including Mr n-1, remember him? He started yelling something or other, possibly about how dangerous it is to overtake leaving only a bare 2 metre gap on a straight road; in truth it could have been anything, but he wasn't just saying "g'day". I can't hear very well at 60 km/h. I was feeling good, so kicked over one of the bumps, Dave and a couple of green and black TFM riders came with me and I didn't see Mr n-1 again till he went past when I was stopped at Omeo). The "climb" I expected to see was limited to a couple of little bumps, and a three minute effort just before DP. We were fast through there. That 13 km segment, well, I did it a full 5 minutes faster than 2 years earlier. So at Dinner Plain. I didn't really want to stop but Dave needed water so we did. We were stopped for only two minutes, but Dinner Plain adds, I reckon, another 90 seconds of tooling around at low speed on the entrance road, and 400 metres to the total distance of the ride. To exit you then have to give way to incoming riders. It's not a good stop if you're concerned about time. Timing at this point exiting DP was as follows: 116 km in 4 hours 17 minutes including about 7 minutes of stops. The 9 hour plan has you at 4'22 at this point, but with no more stops allowed for in the plan. The 10 hour plan has you at 4 hours 50 with 5 minutes of stops later in the ride.
Have I talked about the weather yet? It was basically sunny all day, with a bit of cloud cover in the last couple of hours. During the next section it started to get very warm. The Garmin says it was 23 when we left DP and was 28-29 for most of the descent. Certainly, from DP to halfway up the back of falls it was very warm. I started in summer kit with just arm warmers, and was warm enough like that standing around at the start. I pulled the arm warmers down to the wrist going up Tawonga, and basically didn't use them at all after that. Perfect conditions.
The road between DP and Omeo descends in about 5 discrete sections. Dave and I were picked up by a guy in blue, Joe, and with a few other riders formed a group of 6 that was rolling turns beautifully. We really hit this section very hard. Everyone was rolling off at the right pace, no one charging through. When we hit the several uphill sections the pace would stay solid but manageable, and the rolling would stop - whoever was on the front would set the pace. Interestingly though, we didn't pick up many riders from in front, and a few riders from behind bridged up to us (including Drastic, and Mike, both of whom I know quite well), despite our group really working hard through this section. My guess is that there were loads of fast strong groups charging between DP and Omeo, and Strava tends to confirm this; I was 266th for this 43 km segment on the day (Say What?!). Look, I suppose Dave and I didn't flog this the whole way, because once we got to the last climb, the segment known as "Wherefore art thou Omeo?" we backed it off a bit, and let the group get away from us. But we didn't hold back that much, and at that point it's only 10 mainly downhill kms to Omeo. What I do remember about that uphill is, it was much harder in 2012. And this 43 km segment as a whole, we did it in 1 hour 12, at 35 km/h, which for me was 6 minutes faster than two years earlier.
There is a point about halfway along this section of rolling country where there are a series of dairy farms. The number of flies was just incredible. You could feel them hitting you all over. At some points you had to nose-breathe due to the severe risk of an unwanted protein supplement. Several times I did the "gaack" tongue-lip-spit of an unwanted arthropod invader.
I was getting sore and tired along this section, with my old friends, neck and back, paying a visit. They never became unmanageable, just a dull ache. My legs were OK.
We got to Omeo and took a break. I had another cheese sandwich, filled water, had a comfort stop. By this stage, I'd had a bar between Germantown and Harrietville, half a bar on the flatter middle section of Hotham, a sandwich at Buckland Gate, another sandwich at Omeo. I grabbed the Winner Chews at Omeo and ate them. In terms of actual food, that was it. No gels all day. I did use two bottles of formula, one weak between the start and Buckland Gate, one stronger (which I didn't finish) between Buckland Gate and Anglers Rest. I finally decided to try Hydralyte at Anglers, and didn't love it, but drank it up the Back of Falls... we'll get to that... I downed most of a Coke at Anglers as well, and some nurofen. Filled my plain water bottle at Buckland Gate, DP, Omeo and Anglers, and most times there was a fair bit left. People worry a lot about on-bike food. You're not trekking the Simpson Desert. Take a few things you like and know you can eat and you should be right...
Anyway. We were stopped at Omeo for 6 minutes and left the Omeo rest stop with 5 hours 37 minutes on the clock. The 9 hour ride plan? 5 hours 40 at Omeo. Dave and I scooted up the short steep hill to get out of Omeo and found ourselves in a large group of about 20 riders. It was 5 km of basically flat countryside to the next test, the 4 km 4% Bingo Gap...
(to be continued)
Warthog,regarding accommodation we had a unit exactly opposite the start line and it worked out at 66 a night for three nights..
That's not bad at all, thanks . I guess there were a few of you sharing expenses at that price.
So. I tried to finish this off earlier today. I got as far as one sentence. That sentence was "So."
Our group of 20 got to Bingo Gap, which one of the crew I went down with called "Jack and Jill Hill". I saw no pails of water, or variations on that theme, but it's Bingo Gap on strava. Of our group of 20 or so, there were 8 or so who rode off the front, Dave and I with about 6 other riders, and a few others behind. You'd think a minute or so here would be of minor significance. But the distinction here is as follows - those riding faster still feel good, and will probably form a bunch at the top, and get to Anglers at good speed. Those riding more within themselves at a lower speed will also form a bunch, but it will be a slower moving bunch. Of the guys in the front bunch, I'm almost certain some of them got in in under 9 hours. Without spoiling the ending, in our second group of about 7, none of us got under 9 hours. But was I faster up Bingo than 2012? Yes I was, 3 minutes faster over 4 km.
Over Bingo Gap, there's a short descent to the first Bike Eating Bridge, with a short rise following. It's nasty, and you are doing a good speed as it's in a gully, but they let us ride across it. I bunny hopped off at the end, there are some ugly flaws in the woodwork there. Very soon after we went through someone had a nasty crash here, and all other groups, both at this one and the second bike eating bridge (just after Anglers) were forced to get off and walk. Up the other side, and you then are on the slightly rolling and very curvy road to Anglers, along the river. I did a few turns turn, Dave was strong and working hard, Mike who is a member of my club, who I have ridden with a lot, was working too. There was a degree of reticence from some of The Others. I never have a problem in this situation. It's dead simple. You just stop pedalling. They will come through. Of course, it was usually Dave or Mike, but that's life. This road is basically flat after bike eating gully except for the last bit, which drops 100 m in 4 km to the rest stop. It's 18 km from the top of Bingo to Anglers. Once you are sure you are descending, you are basically there.
Into Anglers. "Hello chaps". Chris was there! Dave and I were shocked, having left him well behind on Hotham then blasted from Dinner Plain to Omeo, and taken only a short stop there, we didn't see how he could be in front of us. Turns out he had gone from Buckland Gate, 11 km from the top of Hotham, bypassed Dinner Plain and Omeo rest stops and gone all the way to Anglers on two bottles. A close analysis of strava suggests he'd been there for 4 minutes before we got there, and absolutely smashed it from the top of Bingo Gap. Dave and I had a bite to eat, filled our bottles, had a comfort stop. Where was Chris? Well...
Two years earlier I remember Anglers as a veritable oasis. A place of cooling water for bottle and body, and chance to lie in the soft couch grass and late afternoon sun under the shade of... what are they, some deciduous thingies, a couple of beech trees? Trees are not my thing, but it's a beautiful spot with vines creeping over the wooden fencing. This time it was somewhat less idyllic. Riders were doing quick stop and goes. Pit stops. No one was lying around. Except Chris. Chris was lying on the grass in the shade all right. But all around were umm, numerous [droppings] of unknown provenance. Am I allowed to use that word? How about "deterreds"? It certainly had a deterrent effect on me.
Chris was lying on the grass, as I said, moaning about stomach pains and stuff. As a show of sympathy, I got my iphone out and took a shot. He looks awful. I won't share it. Dave and I finished our break (which appears to have been 11 minutes, from strava, which is more than I thought) and got ready to leave. Chris decided to join us. We rode the 20 metres to the bike eating bridge, walked across, waited a minute for Chris, and got rolling. Same as before. I did a couple of turns, Dave was working. Chris did a turn or two. After a couple of km, Dave pretty much stayed on the front the whole way. This is much a continuation of the pre-Anglers riding, very curvy, quite scenic, if you like that sort of thing. There are two distinct differences though. It is slightly uphill to WTH corner (every time I type Say What it gets censored by the forum software). And at this stage, the beast has moved from back of mind to front of mind. No one wants to spend whatever chips they have left here.
There are few landmarks after Anglers, so most people look at their garmins or whatever. Do you want to know exactly where THAT corner is? I can tell you. Firstly, the corner cannot appear until there is a substantial body of uphill land to your left. So for some of the way it's impossible that the corner could appear. Secondly, there is only one substantial manmade structure along this road. It appears ahead and on the left hand side of the road, and you pass it at a right hand bend; I think it's a house of some kind, I remember it being quite white. When you pass that house, you have about 1 km to go to the corner. Next landmark, a "Falling Rocks" sign, when you see that you have about 600 metres to go.
And finally, about 200 metres out, there's a standard sideways "T" indicating a lefthander coming up. "Come to momma", the sign mocks the tired cyclist, like a demon zombie. Perhaps a demon that has escaped from a demon film into a zombie film. You know what I mean. It wants to eat your brain and consign you to hell. Don't go straight, the gravel starts just up the road, you won't get to Albury. You turn left... you go to momma...
great read. Keep them coming!~
The last part.
In the interests of space, I have decided to minimise the time talking about actual cycling, and maximise the florid descriptions of topics that are of marginal relevance. Just kidding.
I went for a spin today with some of the guys, including Dave and Chris. I rode with Dave yesterday as well, and on Wednesday. Dreadful. I feel dreadful. I have no ability to make a sustained effort and even a sub-threshold effort is almost impossible to maintain. I can still do a short ~20 second effort, my anaerobic system seems to work, and of course was hardly used at 3 Peaks. I'm descending very well (for me) too, 3 Peaks is a descending master class. But like the old MTV ad, everything else sucks.
After 3 Peaks, I get a bit of a lull. I have nothing in cycling terms to aim for in the immediate future. You get home, and you see all the little jobs around the house - they still need to be done. You've missed a couple of days of work, so it's a bit hectic. Plus, you are feeling a bit unfabulous and lethargic generally. Hopefully in a week or two it will all come back together, and I'll be riding smoother. I contrast this with Fitz's 208 which I did in October 2013, in just over 8 hours. Two days later I smashed it out up the M7, and took a large number of top 10s and a couple of KOMs. There was absolutely no chance of something like that happening on Tuesday this week. Three Peaks is much tougher than Fitz's 208.
Anyway, back to the action. Where were we? Oh yes. There. We hit the corner at 7 hours 11 total time and 6 hours 51 moving time. That's an average speed of 27.6 total and a moving average of just over 29. So just before the corner I dropped it into the small ring, and the 28. I did a spin, spin, spin thing for 20 metres, and then we hit the climb. That first little bit up to the first right hander, that is actually OK. I arrogantly said "see you" to Chris, and sat on Dave's wheel. Around the corner, and there's a problem. Huge cramp builds in my left thigh and behind my right knee. I lose Dave, he's dancing on up ahead, I didn't see him again. I let out a James Brown yelp, as an agonising disabling spasm in my left thigh brings me to a complete halt. But unlike James Brown, I do not feel good. I pulled over on the right. I sat like that for 30 seconds, everyone riding past asked if I was OK, including Chris. Just a cramp guys, just a cramp. I got off the bike. Feeling better. But I need to walk it out to be sure. Did I walk up the hill? Well, I certainly did not walk down the hill. I only needed 20 metres. Legs feel OK. With an air of some trepidation, I remount the refractory carbon pony (stop thinking that. I don't mean it like that). This is tricky. First push needs to be a good one, I can go across the road for 5 metres before I need to be working uphill again. But any hint of cramp and I will be stopped and looking at a very slow climb. With worse gradients a few km up ahead, I need to get this going now. Fortunately, my legs shut up, and I was able to get it rolling. After a short distance, you're on to the comparatively flatter 7-8% section that goes to about the 3 km mark. That is manageable.
The steeper bit however, I felt. It starts just before the 3 km mark of the hill and goes for 2.5 km. It's basically 10%, very similar to Fitz's Hill. Unlike Fitz's Hill, it twists and turns, and every time you come to a corner you think "This must be it". It isn't, it just goes on and on. I was doing under 8 km/h for a lot of this, and my cadence on a 39x28 was in the 40s. I was riding slightly within myself to avoid cramp (the back of my right knee in particular was being troublesome, my left thigh was OK) When and if I do this again, I will really strongly consider using a compact. I don't like them and I don't want to ride with one. But, the mathematicians among you will already have worked out that 2.5 km at 7.5 km/h takes 20 minutes. That hurt. Two years earlier I remember surviving quite well through this section, holding it together well, passing a bunch of riders, not many passing me, and blasting home. This year I passed hardly anyone, got passed by many, and certainly didn't blast anywhere. Even so, I was faster in 2014 than 2012, for the first 5 km, for the first 9 km and for the entire climb. Your memory is shaped by your perception of how well you're going. And I certainly wasn't going as well as those around me.
I finally got Chris within sight, and passed him again. Going maybe 0.5 km/h faster it takes 25 minutes to catch 200 metres. This time as I passed I did not say "See you later". I said "Going forth and multiplying, this hill is". Or words to that effect. Yoda-talk swearing. Anyway, the course flattens out for 500 m or so, then as Matt de Neef might say, "skywards again". There's a ridiculous right hander that I reckon hits 15% at about the 7 km mark. I saw my only crash of the day somewhere around this section, a guy appeared to cross wheels at low speed, and over he went.
Finally, it flattens out. Past Trapyard Gap. No stop. From here on it's mostly 6% sections followed by flat sections. That the sort of ride I would normally smash. Yeah. Not last Sunday. Nine hours was out of the question by now, and I was easily going to make 10 hours. Tani Ruckle came past me at some point. I got to the 220 km mark at 8 hours 24 riding time. At that point there is a flat section, another 1.5 km hill at 7%, followed by 12 mostly downhill kms to Falls Creek. A quick calculation tells me that under 9 hours riding time is on the cards, but considering how I feel, it's going to be close. I struggle over the last hill, and start the descent. I keep trying to latch onto riders who are still passing. And failing. Although mostly downhill or flat, a headwind had sprung up. And there are three short rises in this section. With 5 km to go I was on 8 hours 50. Finally, with 3 km to go, a large group of about 12 riders came past. I latched onto them, went over the dam wall, and up the last pinch. The lady with the cowbells was there again. A few people voiced what everyone was thinking, the end of the climbing. 8 hours 57. It's just over a km downhill to the finish. I swept in with the group. Dazed and exhausted. 8 hours 59 minutes and 11 seconds ride time.
I wore the <10 hour jersey for the first time today. It fits me. Except at the sleeves, which are too loose for my scrawny frame.
My official stats for the day:
9 hours 22 minutes and 6 seconds was my finish time. That made me 161st. Dave, who went on to smash all comers over Back of Falls, he finished in 9 hours and 8 minutes, and was 99th overall. Chris finished about 15 minutes behind me and was 263rd. My moving average speed was 26.3 km/h, and total average (incl stops) 25.1 km/h. My average HR was 152, and actually went down over the last 35 km after WTH corner. 152 is 80% of max, which over 9 hours is a tough day out.
My 28 minutes 40 odd up Tawonga made me 256th there, My Hotham time of 1 hour 46 was 277th for the day and Back of Falls I did in 2 hours 3 minutes plus change, for 343rd on the day. My total climb time of just under 4 hours 18 minutes was 271st.
Three of the guys I went down with finished in the top 40, well under 9 hours (two of them together, basically in a sprint). Between the three of them, they were stopped for 21 and a half minutes total (6, 7 and 8 minutes).
Some more statistics:
In 2012, the last year for which there is a comparison, out of 962 starters, the fastest time was 8 hours 8 minutes, there were 16 riders under 9 hours and 90 riders under 10 hours (or 10% of the field). Conditions in 2012 were very similar to 2014, it may have been slightly warmer in 2014, but essentially both days were dry and warm all day, including relatively warm 10C at the start in Falls Creek. In 2014, out of 1740 starters, the fastest time was 7 hours 36 minutes (2 riders did that time), there were 6 riders under 8 hours, 74 riders under 9 hours and 415 riders under 10 hours… or 24% of the field… My 11 hours 10 from 2012 had me in the front third of the field. If I had ridden 9 hours 22 in 2012 I would have been well within the top 50 finishers.
Under 8 hours? Orica Green Edge have done this course as a training ride. They did it in about 7 hours 30 minutes… Standards have definitely improved.
Was preparation enough?
Yes, but I have liked to do an additional 200 km, not a smashfest, about 3 weeks out. I tried, but I couldn't arrange it with work.
What would I change?
Reduce stops. Apart from that, not much. Get fitter and lose more weight?
I thought it was fine at the time, I wasn't hungry at any stage. Given I suffered cramps late in the day I would have a bidon of electrolyte in the first half of the ride. I switched to hydralyte at Anglers, but probably should have had it earlier. I could have downed some magnesium tablets as well. I had a Coke at Anglers, and thought that was enough sugar, but I was quite clearly fatigued in the last hour, and should have popped a gel on one of the flat spots on the back of falls somewhere.
Rides like this are highly satisfying. You work for months or years to get yourself fit and strong. If you're a reasonable climber and you're racing A grade at your club, or sitting on the front on strong bunch rides, you can probably do this with just some specialised endurance training. If that isn't you, a fast time at this event must be put together from months out. Bicycle Network publishes a 3 month training programme. That will get you around the course, but it probably won't get you under 10 hours on its own.
The competitive type rider now dominates this event. Everyone I saw, and remember, I was in the front 10% of the field all day, but everyone I saw appeared to be working towards getting a good time. Even the official 10 and 10.5 hour pacesetters were way under 10 hours. I said at the outset there are two philosophies on events of this kind. The second philosophy, the competitive philosophy dominates this event. Not many people are riding it to smell the roses or look at the view. That's fine with me, to misuse an old joke, once I couldn't even spell competitive, and now I are one.
Of course, it is deeply satisfying to target something like this from months out and achieve it. But was my ride perfect, and can I do better? No, and yes. Am I completely happy with my time, knowing I can probably squeeze more out of it? No. When and if I return, will I be trying to do it faster? Of course...
Timed social cycling events, in this case 3 Peaks, have something for both types. Lovely quiet roads, great views, challenging terrain and great support from BN and their volunteers. But, if you go down with 13 competitive mates all primed to try and smash each other, then you can do that too. With 235 km and 4200m vertical, including about 10 km at 10%, certainly enough room to challenge most participants. Just remember, it’s not a race…
(not to be continued. That's it)
Great write-up, Rogan!
Mate where did you get the numbers for your placings?
Great write up Rogan! Having riden this course as part of the ACE250, I'm hanging to read your account of what comes next:)
awesome write up ( I think I took as long to read it as you did to ride it )
One day I will get down there and complete this ride. Its on the list
Thanks everyone. Even detailed reports struggle to tell the reader what it's really like on the day. I thought I'd have a crack at it.
Porridgewog - full race, sorry ride times are here:
It's a bit of a pain to work with, but you can sort by ride time total, by each of the 3 peaks, and by total for the 3 climbs. You can also export the data as .pdf, which is a bit easier to use.
cheers for the write up, I did the event (a lot slower, mind ), nice to get another perspective on the day.
Seeing your prep on Strava (and seeing a mate's Strava in the lead up to the 2013 3PC) makes you realise how special this is. Strong, fit riders taking extra time to train is intense. It's surely a similar commitment as completing an Ironman triathlon.
I like the idea of these epic rides but if you were cramping over an hour from the end with another climb to go, and did this on a standard crank, then I'm out
Looking forward to seeing you on the road again. Have another week off then prep for the road race season!
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