Every Australia day long weekend the Audax Club run a series of rides out of Bright in the Victorian Alps know as the Alpine Classic.
In previous years I have attempted both the shorter long distances, of 130km and 140km and this year I thought I'd have a crack at the 200km ride. A key feature of these rides are the challenging Alpine roads, long climbs and in January, heat.
Unfortunately, in the week leading up to the event a lightning strike started a bushfire near Harrietville which was unfortunate as the ACE 250 route went through there, the AAC 200 went around there and I had booked my accomodation there.
Nevertheless, come Thursday the car is packed and we optimistically set forth after a call to the Motel said that everything was fine, we would see the fire but there was no immediate danger.
So we drove on, checking in occassionally with email and twitter to see how things were going. We learn't as we stopped at Holbrook for a play on the submarine, that the route had now been changed to reflect the fires impact and advice from authorities, it was now to be a 3 repeat of Buffalo for 210km.
Oh, OK. Called the motel again, are you sure everything's OK? Yes, it's fine, the media is exagerating come on up!
So a few hours later we were driving towards a smokey Harrietville but so far so good. We checked into our Motel and then spent the afternoon and early evening looking at the fire as it lazed down the mountain side about 1km away.
After an anxious night (moderated by an excellent smoked trout pizza at the Hotel) we decided to leave and try our luck in Bright. Happily, the first place we called had a room available ( a direct effect of the fire and people withdrawing from the ride) so we were now safe and set for action.
That afternoon I decided to try a descent from Buffalo, reasoning that I can climb a rough road safely enough, descending is a bit different. We drove to the top and I set off and was soon passed by Sue at the Lake but when I arrived at the bottom Sue had only just beat me down in the car, so with that accomplished we enjoyed the sights and sounds and food of Bright and relaxed.
Next morning I took a flat, earlyish, run out to Myrtleford after thunderstorms passed through early in the morning. I was surprised by the smoke which lay in the valley but as the morning wore on and the wind lifted, it cleared. We then relaxed amongst the Bonjour Bright festivities, heard a great French band and relaxed in the river and the pool at the Motel. Later we had dinner at the Ginger House which was awesome and then retired early for the ride.
I was up before the sparrpws, prepped and ready to go - so got a good starting position in the first wave of riders. Unusually, I felt relaxed and interested in how things would go and passed the time chatting with other riders, a guy on his first AAC (hope he did well) the guy on the shiny Moulton (as distinct from the guy on the red Moulton - 2 Moultons!!). The start went smoothly and a rush of blood to the head had me in a large and fast bunch rocketing away down the Alpine Hwy towards the climb. It is always a nervous time, joining a fast bunch of whom one knows nothing. You have to make quick assessments about who is safe to follow and your senses are taught ready to react to the least input. Not far down the road, there was the loud pop of a tyre blowout. As I was on the outside, I veered away, as did the guys in front of me to make room for the rapidly decelerating cyclist heading our way. Disaster averted, we powered on, through the roundabout and towards the Hill.
As the road started to tilt upwards the bunch began to fragment, I was beginning to feel the effort so when clear I pulled inside to let the faster riders past and to adjust to my own conservative rhythm for the climb. Once I had settled into my rhythm I found the going along quite to my likeing. It was cool and I the views were tremendous and the passing company pleasant and cheerful. Before long I found myself riding past Waterland and not long after that Dingo Dell hove into view. After a quick stop, ate a bit, refilled bidons and cleaned glasses, it was on for the descent.
I was a bit nervous about how this would go, as we had been warned at the beginning to expect traffic and be conservative, however after a few turns I found myself in open space and let things roll as they would. My earlier reconnaissance paid off as I tracked around the fast corners and recognised the tricky bits and slowed down responsibly. I passed quite a few less confident descenders and arrived back in Bright at 9.33am. 2 hours and 13 minutes for a lap. Awesome!
At Bright I had a quick bite to eat and then headed back up. The fast bunches of the first run had now given way to a steady stream of riders and as the temperature was starting to rise, I soon recognised that the second lap was going to be a bit slower. Quite a bit slower as it turned out. To the heat, my back was beginning to ache and no amount of standing and stretching seemed to help. I kept plugging away but was starting to experience all of the signs of bonking, cramps gripped my thighs and speed was dropping ever lower. I stopped once to suck down a gel before rolling into Waterland to drink and get sprayed. I grabbed an endurolyte tablet and again resumed my struggle with the mountain. By now the incipient cramps had become full blown wobblers and I yelled out loud a few times as I pushed through them. At long last I made it to the dell, at 12.33, some 2 hours and 40 minutes since leaving Bright. I sat for a while, did some stretching and eating and feeling a little better set off for the descent once more.
Again I enjoyed the ride down, passed a heap of people but once at the bottom and needing to push along things weren't looking so good. Legs were again cramping and my back, despite a few NSAIDs was complaining out loud. It was also much hotter now with temperatures on the lower slopes sitting around 35c and I saw quite a lot of riders stopped, slumped over their machines, or lying dramatically by the side of the road, however the roadside had sprouted a number of enthusiastic cheer squads who lifted my spirits greatly and I was able to push on back into Bright at 2.05pm.
However it was there, with the brewery on my right and the cool river on my left that I had a long hard look at myself and decided that another ascent was not a realistic option, legs were twitching, back was aching, head was spinning.
The two laps themselves weren't anything to sneeze at, 145km and 2780m of climbing and I enjoyed a beer and a swim in the pool (and some more cramps) afterwards. Just now, my back is quietly telling me that I did the right thing, while my thighs have the ache they only get when they are learning, it's a good ache.
Later we caught up with a few friends and celebrated their achievements. It really was quite an extraordinary weekend.
So next year can't come too soon. I've already booked the accommodation!