Bright Day 3 – The big one, 3 peaks (2012)

It was the reason we came down to Bright. All the hill repeats, all the cold dark rides months before, were all in preparation for this day. Finding yourself underdone on this loop would make an already long day, a horrible day. With about 15 of us, a support car, and great weather, this ride would surpass all expectations.

It was the reason we came down to Bright. All the hill repeats, all the cold dark rides months before. They were all in preparation for this day. Finding yourself underdone on this loop would make an already long day, a horrible day. With about 15 of us, a support car, and great weather, this ride would surpass all expectations.

The time had finally come. After spending a day and a half in Bright already, we almost needed reminding that the whole reason for coming down here, was to try tackling the stupidly long 3 peaks loop. “The longest ride you’ll ever do”, “the hardest ride ever!”, “on par with the hardest Tour de France mountain stages”, the list goes on. By now this loop has a legendary reputation amongst Australian cyclists.

A quick summary of the last two days before we we took on this 240km loop. Yesterday, 115km – Gaps loop; day before – Buffalo and back, 16km climb. Looking back at it, it probably wasn’t that logical! But shit it’s hard to just sit around on your hands in Bright when there is so much amazing riding around.

Going over 2 mountain passes over 1700m elevation, the weather can make or break a ride like this. Just like any alpine region, Mt Hotham and Falls Creek can turn from “nice” to “get me out of here!” weather incredibly quickly. Today it was looking good. Forecast to be about 8 degrees at the top of Hotham, but otherwise clear!

Knowing that it was going to be such a long day, we’d organised a support car to do a bit of following us around, and also to meet up with us at certain spots during the day. Having this luxury makes a ride like this so much easier. Everyone packs their own little bag, with a selection of clothes, food, drink etc. Getting cold? No problem, get more gear from the car. Love it!

6am: A crew of about 15 of us, made mainly of TMCC riders, plus a few Gold Coast mates who left the mild QLD mornings to come down and test themselves in the Alps. We’re heading out of Bright towards the start of Mount Hotham. Its a nice cruisy warm up before things get serious.

Our bunch had a broad mix of ages and abilities. As much as we’d love to keep the group together up Hotham, anyone who’s done any sort of climbing will know it’s near impossible to keep it that way, especially for 30km uphill! Keeping that in mind, it felt like we’d barely done a kilometer, before Danny, out of no where, decided he was going to take off! We wouldn’t see him again for another 25km!

And Hotham begins! “The Meg” is the first of a few steep sections that make up the monster 30km climb. With the sun coming out, coupled with the effort of climbing, things are starting to warm up.

Yellow poles and yellow lines means we’re in snow country. Thankfully not much around in November.
The road up Hotham is on a ridge line the whole way up. The view over the surrounding alps on a clear day like this is fantasic.
CRB Hill, ouch. About 1.8km of pain. After climbing for 15km or so, this really puts sting in the legs. Steep, straight up, with no rest. They put a KOM on top of it in the Tour of Bright too, fun!
Is that the summit in sight? Could it be? We must be almost done! Sadly not, the final drag up the top is still to go, and it’s amongst the hardest sections of the entire climb. And yes, that is snow.
From this shot, you go down a sharp descent, then grind out the final couple of K’s cut into the side of the mountain. Then it’s a nice descent into Hotham Heights village to give you time to wipe the dribble off your face/arms/hands/bike.
Owen bombing it down the the short descent that has become the iconic Hotham shot.
Finally caught him! Doing most of the climb solo off the front, it took a bit of work to catch Danny. He was on a mission going up Hotham. The tallest peak in the background, is the snow capped Mount Bogong. It’s a monster. 1986m elevation, thankfully no tarred road up it!
Climb done! Now its just an easy descent into Hotham Heights village. With the chairlifts in the background, it’s amazing how much this place changes in winter.
You can actually ski over the tunnel in winter.
While far from freezing, it was bloody cold up the top. Regrouping in the sun, and out of the wind, we didn’t want to hang around too long, still another lazy 200k to go, oh boy.
After a fairly rough year health wise, Fish was stoked to get up Hotham. Compared to last time we tackled Hotham, there were far less expletives, and he was looking far fresher. Must have been those white arm warmers!

With everyone up Hotham, and the realisation that 200k’s are still ahead of us, a few decided to bunker down at the Hotham General for a coffee, and cruise back down to Bright at their own leisure. With the pain that awaited us at the back of Falls Creek, that decision may have been the smartest of the day!

Onwards to Omeo! After telling everyone “it’s all downhill to Omeo for lunch!” spirits were high. It was good to get the bunch together for a while too.
Getting back down to the flat, there is some beautiful country side on the way to Omeo. The roads, as you’d expect, are pretty quiet. There’s not a lot out there.
As you can see, dead flat roads to Omeo! Great views though!
Hosco and Glenn attacking the sprinters points in front of our support car driver/photographer/soigneur!

By this stage we’d been on the road for almost 5 hours, and at around 11am it was a bit of an early lunch but no one seemed to care. Omeo is really the only place you can get a decent feed between Hotham and Falls Creek. It’s a bloody long way to go on an empty stomach.

Owen rolling into the back of Omeo
Perfect! Bakery, car spot right out of the front for the support van, “SENSATIONAL!”
Priorities & mateship. Ezio gets a little help from his friends, in the way of Danny helping out with the sun cream application while he enjoys his coffee!
Ham and salad rolls, vanilla slice, florentines, coffee and coke! Pretty much anything to keep the energy up!
Casually deliberate. Owen, Richard and Glenn, ready to get on with it.

From Omeo to the ‘Back of Falls climb’ is about 40km of again ‘dead flat roads’, that snake through Anglers Rest. It’s easy riding before things really get ugly.

The winding roads of the Anglers Rest area. Minus a couple of car clubs coming screaming around the corners, we had the place to ourselves. The mood was good, but a little nervous with the thought of what was still to come. Only 2 of us had done the Back of Falls climb before.
The calm before the storm. A quick snap of the bunch as well roll into the base of the climb. This is the last time we’d all be together for the next hour or two.
The turn to Falls Creek is easy to miss. It’s a tucked away sharp left hander that sends you almost vertical into the sky.

By now, the rumours of just how hard this climb was were flying. Somewhere along the line, I told people it “wasn’t that bad” and was “about 7km long I think”. In reality, the climb itself is almost 13km long, with the first 5km being absolutely brutal. Pain Lane, as it’s known on Strava.

Aside from being steep, there are a few other reasons why this damn hill is so hard:

  • There is very little rest
  • It doesn’t wind around much, so you can see these huge ramps almost never ending up the road. It becomes a massive mental battle
  • You’ve probably already got 150-200km in your legs! Far from fresh for a climb like this! We had 150k at this point
  • Mentally being out of the game before its begun. There are so many stories about this thing. It’s easy to get intimidated
Hosco does a bit of last minute stretching before he gets the hurt on.
“What am I getting myself into!” Glenn’s last easy pedal strokes for the next hour or so.
The Gold Coast boys get things underway. You can see the first right hand turn up the road. After that turn, she just keeps going up and up, even steeper!
The last two to start. Owen (tanned), and myself (Eamonn, office tanned) get the 28 tooth cog ready for a hammering.

Sadly there aren’t many photos of the suffering that went on up this climb. Your main photographer, had other things to worry about (we’ll get to that). And the support car driver was more concerned with making sure everyone got up without keeling over half way up.

There is however this photo. With over 20 years of hard road racing, Richard knows how to suffer, and suffer he did, just like everyone else. With no gears left, you start looking for ways to make the pain subside. Zig zag up the hill, open up your jersey for more airflow, or just stop looking up the bloody road and the hill, and ride your damn bike.

I’d done this climb once before, a couple of years ago, with far less form. And had to stop twice, I just kept blowing up. This time, the legs felt great, starting last, with the motivation to catch everyone, I emptied the tanks and went for it. A quip from Danny as I went past offering “Shirley Temple’s free for a year if you get the KOM!” only fuelled the fire. Shirley’s being the biggest most over the top coffee you can get at our local cafe.

Digging in hard, I soon found myself on an empty road, with no one else around, thinking ‘hey I should probably take some pics for the website’. So here they are. If you squint, you’ll see the pic on the left was taken at 178bpm (bottom right stat), sillyness! But a good challenge, one that paid dividends in coffee!
This road all the way into Falls is like a rough white sort of pebble mix. By this point the climb was done, and we were just looking for a spot to regroup to assess the damage behind.
Ezio & Owen on the left, glad to be done with the climb. Andrew on the right, battled cramps even before the climb, so the fact he got up made it all the more impressive. He was pretty damn happy too.

There may also have been a few comments asking for clarity on how the climb was “about 7km long, not too bad!”. Telling the guys it was probably going to be the hardest climb you’ll ever do on your bike wouldn’t have been a great sell! And besides, there were great views!

Victorian Alps high country. Scenery unlike anything I’ve seen before. It’s also starting to get cold again. Who would have thought at 1500m!
The rockwall along side the Falls Creek dam. Only 10 minutes to Falls Creek now.
The Gold Coast boys, having started the Falls Climb first, roll into Falls Creek.
32km to Mt Beauty, means 32km of descent! On the right, the main Falls Creek carpark, and snowless sky runs on the hill ahead.
The Falls Creek vending machine. Ready to cater for any emergency! In the warmer part of the year cycling is heavily ingrained into this region of Victoria.
Time for a bit of fun. The 30km Falls descent is one of the best around. It feels great to tick the k’s over so quickly too. At the top of Falls Creek we’re upto about 180km!

Mount Beauty! By now its been over 10 hours since we left Bright, and we’ve ticked over the 200km mark. Now on 220km. Everyone’s starting to deteriorate. Cramps, sore asses, sore legs, “over eating all this sweet shit!” the list goes on. It’s way too long to be on a bike’

Things are really heating up now. Time to ditch all that warm gear that’s now soaking in sweat. One climb to go, Tawonga Gap, and we’re pretty much done.
Just outside Mt Beauty, we look back at Mount Bogong (far right) from a different angle.
Signs to Bright! Sadly via Tawonga Gap. While it’s nothing compared to Hotham or the back of Falls, it’s still a pretty testing climb, with reasonably steep grades the whole way up.
The top of Tawonga, some relieved faces. Frosty, top right, one of the Gold Coast gang, was a machine all day long. To be riding that strongly at his age was incredibly impressive.
Signs of a long day. It was kind of like that last stage of the TDF now, just a formality, with a bit of a sprint at the end! An easy descent back down to Bright, and we’d be done.
The full crew (minus the wonderful Jessica, photographer and support car driver extraordinaire!). You’ll have to excuse some of those terrible poses. After 230k’s they probably seemed like a good idea.
The sun was getting low in the sky, the time was approaching 6pm, what a day!

The next few shots are of most of us getting the final meters done, arriving back where we started, 250 kilometers, over 12 hours later. The place we stayed at had a pebbling driveway. There was some very dodgy riding/walking through it on barely functional legs!

Done! A huge thanks must go Jessica for putting up with us all day long, and to the gents from the Gold Coast, who shared a bit of support car driving too. Also thanks to Gordon from Pioneer Cottages, for all the tips. From estimated times for rides, to weather, to where to get the best parma in town! Cheers! Also a massive thanks must go to the significant others, for allowing the whole long weekend to happen! It was great to have such a big crew down there.

Best of luck to all those competing in the 3 peaks challenge this weekend. Sadly it’s been modified because some of the roads faired quite badly in a recent spate of bushfires. But I’m sure the new route up Buffalo would still provide plenty of challenge.

PS: This ride happened on November the 11th, 2012. So this post was a ‘little’ late! Apologies, hopefully the wait was worth it, and will rehash some great memories for those who were there. Until next time! Cheers!

1 comment
  1. CB says: March 17, 20136:27 pm

    Great write up and pics Eamonn!

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