Feb 8, 2012

2012 Audax Alpine Classic - The Ultimate Sufferfest

You may recall from a couple of recent posts that in a moment of poor judgement last year I signed up for the 2012 Audax Alpine Classic.

Most keen cyclists know of this ride, but for the initiated, the Alpine Classic is a 200 kilometre one day ride which takes in the Victorian Alpine climbs of Tawonga Gap, Falls Creek, Tawonga Gap (backside) and Mt Buffalo. In addition to covering just under 200 kilometres, riders tackle around 3,900 metres of climbing over the course of the day. All of this while tackling the searing heat of the Australian Summer.

Day 1:

The Wolfpack (less McShiney) assembled and travelled from Melbourne to Bright in convoy. After about 4 hours of driving (and a short coffee stop in Benalla) Ethan pulled over to the side of a country road to show us Mt Buffalo, the scene of our make or break 30 kilometre final climb of the Alpine Classic.

I must admit that the enormity of what I was attempting was starting to set in on seeing the actual size and scale of the mountain before us.

We arrived at our little lodge and set about claiming our beds. The modest accommodation was a little on the small side, although was clean and comfortable enough to house 5 blokes and their bikes for the weekend.

We finished our day munching stuffing our faces full of The Ninja's famous home made gourmet pizzas.

Day 2:

A pretty leisurely day. The Wolfpack headed out for an early morning spin to loosen up the legs, before hitting the town for breakfast.

McShiney finally arrives late afternoon and in the middle of a massive tirade about how he shouldn't have to share a bed with another man, he remembers he has left his front wheel hanging up at home in the garage (some 4 and half hours away). After an emergency trip to the local Bright bike shop and $30 dollars later (thanks Cyclepath), McShiney is furnished with a front wheel capable of getting him through the ride.

Needless to say McShiney's concerns of sleeping in the same bed as another man paled in significance to the thought of not being able to start the ride at all.

After carbo loading on some of Etho's home cooked gnocchi, it was time for a bit of Australian Track Cycling Championships on TV before hitting the sack in anticipation of what faced us the next day.

Day 3:

Judgement Day.

6.20am, in the first light of the morning we assemble in the town centre of Bright with about 500 hundred other like minded maniacs anticipating the day of pain that lies ahead.

The bell rings, the tick of slow rolling free hubs and the familiar click of shoes going into pedals as the cyclists mount up and head off.

We rolled out of Bright and head towards the top of Tawonga Gap. A mass group of 'big guns' head on off up the road, it wasn't before long up the Tawonga Gap climb that we started realing these guys back.

First climb over, we head down the backside of the Mountain and on to the town of Mt Beauty. After a quick refreshment stop it was time to tackle Falls Creek.

The legs felt pretty good going up Falls Creek. The climb itself is just on 30km and from what little I remember it was a pretty steady gradient all the way up to the top. We didn't exactly set the world on fire with our speed, we just kept chipping away until we got to the top in the hope that we had conserved enough energy for Buffalo in the afternoon.

Descending Falls Creek was the most fun I have ever had on a bike. The Wolfpack (less Taka who was already a million miles in front) led by The Ninja set off in single file with the aim of getting to the bottom as quickly as we could. Unlike a few other riders I saw sprawled out over the road we all made it safely (alebit with a few hairy corners) back to the bottom of Falls and set our sights on the climb back over Tawonga.

Up until this point I had been feeling pretty good, but all that was about to change. The scale of the of the previous two climbs were starting to take their toll on my legs, this wasn't at all helped by the increasing tempreature which had now risen to 34 degrees.

I kept plowing on and eventually made it up and over the back side of the Tawonga climb, thankfully from there it was a downhill and flat run of about 20km back to the Bright Football Ground for lunch.

Lunch was pretty simple, a couple of salad rolls, some fruit bun of some description, an icy pole, an energy gel and some more electrolytes to keep me going. The mid day sun had crept the tempreature up to 38 degrees and there was talk of some people not wanting to go on and complete the ride. I figured that the worst was over and as I had already completed 125km, set out completed the remaing 71km.

Some members of the the Wolfpack needed some relief, so while they joined a line to the toilet I set off up the road to Mt Buffalo by myself.

If the Falls Creek descent was the best time I ever had on a bike, the 18km climb up Mt Buffalo was the worst. By the time I hit the base of the mountain the tempreature had risen to 42 degrees. Fatige had set right in and after 140 odd kilometres my will to keep going was diminishing fast.

I made it to the first water stop, at what felt like about 6k up the hill. Sitting wrecked on the side of road, my mind started playing tricks on me. About this time that I seriously questioned whether or not I could keep going, it was at this very point that I saw The Ninja, Etho and McShiney... the cavalry had arrived.

After a short stop (too short, I would have been happy to stay there forever at that point) we set off on up the rest of the hill. The Ninja took off by himself, the next time we'd see him he'd be coming back down when we had 4km left to climb.

I don't know where we were or how long it took, to be honest I can't remember that much.  All I really can remember is watching the back of McShiney's bike as he patiently paced me all the way to the top of that stupid mountain. After what seemed like an eternity we finally made it to Dingo Dell. I was the last of the Wolf Pack up there, but I was so happy to have reached the top of Mt Buffalo.

Etho had been up there a while making friends with people at the food stop. I had a biscuit of some sort and the best can of Coke I've ever had. McShiney needed to make a small repair to his bike, after that it was time to head off down the hill and home.

Mounting up for the last time, I let Etho and McShiney take off down the hill while I casually cruised down taking in some of the spectacular views the mountain had to offer.

Back at the bottom of Buffalo I kicked the chain up into the big ring and used what little power I had left to solo myself the 10 kilometres back to Bright. I was stuffed, but so happy to see all of the Wolf Pack waiting for me to roll across the finsih line with a clap and a cheer from the crowd that had gathered (I don't think they were there to see me).

We finished off the day with a few quiet beers, some war stories, a meal at the local pub and an early night.

The 2012 Audax Alpine Classic was the hardest day I've ever had on the bike and I had to go to some really dark places to pull myself through. I'm so pleased I kept pushing on managed to complete the ride with a little (lot) help from my friends.

I can't wait to give it another crack next year.