Free Peaks – 240km in a day, 5000m of climbing

Months ago an opportunity arose to join a local group of riders in the Victorian Alps. The planned ride would be so epic it would take the group over a “warm up” category 2 climb, then two HC category climbs – all in the one day, over a stretch of 240km. Two riders from the TMCC put their hands up and joined the group.

The idea was to copy the legendary 3 Peaks Challenge route, but to start in Mount Beauty instead of Falls Creek. Going the weekend before meant that we didn’t have to battle the crowds, nor did we have to pay the quite pricey entry fee – hence the “Free Peaks”. What it also meant was that we wouldn’t have had the support that comes with the actual race. However, due to the generosity of a couple of amazing women (who gave up their entire day) we did, as it turns out, end up with not one but two support cars. This was fantastic; food, drink, gear changes, too easy.

From Mount Beauty, over Tawonga Gap, up Hotham, down to Omeo, up to Falls Creek then back to Mount Beauty! Check out all the data on Strava

We headed off from Mount Beauty at 5:30am. Having not experienced winter-like conditions for some time, the cold in the morning was brutal. There was a lot of “Shit! Hes got his full winter kit on! Jacket, booties, winter gloves.. I’m going to get changed and put more on!“. Closely followed by “Shit! He’s going with bare legs! He’s gotta be mad! Or he’s onto something… maybe these leg warmers will be too much!“.

Before we knew it we were rolling, and the ride had started. We picked up John and Brett from Better Biking NZ in town then headed up Tawonga. John has been running cycling tours of Europe for 8 years, and would be guiding most of the group through the Pyrenees and French Alps later this year. Today was a bit of a test for those embarking on the 28 day, 2600km trip.

Back to the ride, starting with a climb was great. Everyone was warm and chatty, but we all knew this climb wouldn’t even come close to what was ahead.

Approaching the summit of Mt Hotham

With an icy descent done, we headed through the oddly named ‘Smoko’, had a quick stop in Harrietville, then started Hotham. Make no mistake, its a big climb, 30km worth, real HC material – but it was really enjoyable. The scenery was great, and the gradual switch backs and turns seemed to go on for ever. The dense bush opened up and all of a sudden we were blanketed by thick fog. With the fog came the icy and thin air, we were now at about 1600m with a couple of hundred still to climb. Out of no where came a short fast descent, then BANG, straight up. We later found out that section is called CRB Hill, its about 10-11% gradient for 1.5km and boy did it hurt.

With a coffee down at the top of Hotham and everyone accounted for, we pushed on for 60km to Omeo. With the actual 3 Peaks ride next weekend there were quite a few other riders out, a number of which we picked up in our bunch and compared stories over what we’d been upto earlier in the morning.

After our group had destroyed everything on offer at the local bakery in Omeo, we moved on, now heading to Falls Creek. By now the support cars were getting significantly lighter too – everything from boiled eggs, to gels and bars, to absolutely absurd amounts of Coca Cola were being consumed along the way.

The road from Omeo to the start of the back of Falls Creek climb was great. It was real easy riding, great weather, everyone was all smiles. After safely navigating a couple of wooden bridges with gaps between the planks wide enough to easily fit your average roadie tyre, a loud “WE’RE HERE” made its way through the bunch.

Coming around that corner (see the above photo, we came from the left), firstly seeing “Falls Creek 37km” then noticing how steep the road going up was – there was swearing, shaking heads, and then just general quiet from those contemplating what was about to be attempted. We all knew what we were going to do, it was just a matter of how much pain and suffering it would take, and more importantly, how long would that suffering last.

Suffer we did, most agreed it was one of, if not the toughest climb they’d ever done, especially considering we all had 176km in the legs. There was swearing and even a bit of ‘delivering the mail’ (zig-zagging), but everyone got up. Once up the 9km steep section, the top was great. It really had that high country look. Rolling into Falls Creek felt fantastic, mainly because we knew all we had left was a 30km descent, then it was done. By this point it’d been over 10 hours since we left Mount Beauty.

The descent down Falls Creek was breathtaking. Easily one of the most amazing descents around, if not the best in Australia. Being able to soak up the scenery and relax, knowing everything that we’d accomplished in one day felt great.

Done and dusted. We wound down over a beer or two at the local pub, compared stories and inhaled as much food as we could get our hands on. We’d done what we planned to do, without incident, with everyone rolling back into Mount Beauty.

It’s going to be massive to outdo this one.

If the photos in this post weren’t enough there’s a full gallery to check out too.

  1. Geoff McQueen says: March 7, 201110:21 pm

    Great shot mate… hope you didn’t have to stop to get that and then catch these boys up without any momentum…

  2. Nathan Hawes says: March 8, 20114:28 pm

    Hey Fellas, what a huge effort well done, hey me riding the Scarborough hill this morning felt like something similar. what is the next challenge men??

  3. David Meikle says: March 9, 20111:17 pm

    Men – weather permitting as rain predicted – 5:15am at Tarrawanna Roundabout – Asquith Avenue to Sea Cliff Bridge.

  4. John Dean says: March 9, 20113:40 pm

    Good turn of word … an excellent long day and an excellent mix of guys to ride with, we meet again soon.

  5. […] Mother of all Rides. Difficult yes, but very rewarding.” I’m not sure it tops the 3 peaks ride, but its most definitely in the same ball park of stupidity and epicness! You can check out the […]

  6. […] the success of last years trip we return this December to take on the legendary 3 peaks loop. The hill repeats have been done, the support car is ready, its going to be a blast. Check back in […]

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