The Ride

Back in March a few of us set out to make a short film around one of the most magnificent circuits in Australia. A 235km loop, three mountain passes with nearly 5,000 vertical meters of climbing, and beautiful weather thank goodness. Some of you might know this route as the 3 Peaks, the Audex Alpine Classic, or the Queen of Victoria. Whatever you call it and where ever you start from, it’s always difficult and always rewarding.

Full map and profile

We started from Bright and stayed in this beautiful big house just outside of Bright called Kangaroo Ground. There were seven of us in total – Wilf Sweetland (producer), Joel Harmsworth (director/camera), myself (the swany), and the four strapping young lads who were gonna smash this route while being filmed (Malachi, Will, Peter and Tim).

We set off at a reasonable 7am and to our delight we had a beautiful forecast to look forward to. From Bright we headed straight to Mount Hotham – a 30km climb that ascends to the ski village at 1750m. If you look at the profile, it’s actually made up of three pitches that snakes its way through some of the most stunning and rugged terrain I’ve ever seen.

Mt Hotham Profile on Strava

It’s always a relief reaching the top Mt Hotham Village, but however tempting, I don’t recommend stopping there for too long. The next rest point is Dinner Plain which is a long slow descent which is both mentally and physically difficult to reach if you’ve spent too much time at the top of Hotham. If the weather is bad on the top of Hotham, Dinner Plain usually offers some relief.

The best place to stop for lunch in my opinion is the old gold mining town of Omeo. There’s a little bit of climbing from Dinner Plain in order to get to Omeo, but descent into the town is exhilarating. There’s a great bakery that you’ll be sharing with all the motorcyclists and by this point a coffee and sandwich will have never tasted better.

After Omeo is my personal favorite part of this loop. You have to work damn hard to get this far and the reward is some stunning terrain that feels like you’re riding on a completely different planet. The massive open landscapes and deep river valleys that the road is chiseled into is absolutely spectacular. If you need another coffee and and want to stop to smell the roses, Anglers Rest is only 30km’s from Omeo which should take you about an hour.  If you’re interested in the history of the Blue Duck Hotel at Anglers Rest, it’s a pretty interesting read.

At this point you’re deep into the forgotten mining areas of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. I find it fascinating that a place so remote used to be bustling with activity by prospectors and miners who have come and gone.

Another ~15km from Angler’s Rest is the turn-off from the much feared climb up to Falls Creek. However, this time I decided to take a detour by myself away from the movie crew and continue onto Mitta Mitta. Every time I’ve been this way and turned to Falls Creek I’ve wondered what continues on. Do I ever wish I had a camera with. This is a ride I’ll have to write about another time because it knocked my socks off and deserves some special attention. I think staging myself at the Blue Duck for night and doing a day ride to Mitta Mitta and back is the way to go about it next summer.

At the same time as I was riding to Mitta Mitta, the other guys were climbing up “Pain Lane” to Falls Creek. This is the second massive climb and definitely the toughest. It rises to 1200m in 5km and I’ve seen many grown men weep on this section.

Falls Creek Climb Profile on Strava

However, once at the top it levels out again and you’re rewarded with some mindblowing terrain that makes you feel as if you’ve landed on the moon. Once you make it this far it feels like you have a new lease on life. Just like the landscape opens up, it feels like a weight is lifted off your shoulders. Falls Creek is now close by and the thought of reaching the end of the ride and a nice big meal starts to become a reality.

The Falls Creek Alpine resort is over 1700m in elevation. By this time these guys have ridden 180kms and have climbed over 3500m. Even though there’s a 1500m descent one you’ve reached Falls Creek, it’s far from being over. Mt Beauty is at the bottom of the descent and is a good place to refuel. At this late stage of the ride it’s not a good idea to stop for too long otherwise you’ll never get going again. To finish before dark, you really need to keep an eye on the time and convince yourself to keep moving.

Tawonga Gap is the final climb of the day. Only 7kms long  and 900m in elevation, it packs a punch and is nearly impossible to hit really hard. The conversation always turns to food and everyone begins fantasising about the massive feed their going to have when they get home.

The guys arrived back to the house at about 8pm where I had a feast waiting for them. They were absolutely shattered. Wilf and Joel (the film makers) were just as exhausted after chasing these guys around all day. As hungry and tired as everyone was, it took over an hour before they could stomach real food.

The Centenery 1000

There’s no disputing the stunning beauty of this ride. However, the film makers wanted to do more than show a bunch of pretty pictures.

We set out looking for some cycling history in the Victorian Alpine and were blessed to have been put in contact with Mr. Malcolm Powell. Malcolm is an Australian cycling historian, still loves to ride, and continues to have crack at the crits every weekend. He represented Australia in the 1962 Commonwealth Games and came in 7th in the 120 mile road race held in Perth, Australia. He has stories about our cycling heritage that you won’t find anywhere on the internet.

A story that Malcolm retold originated on some of the same roads we traveled during our ride through the Victorian Alps. It was truly epic stage of the Centenary 1000 race in 1934.

The Centenary “1000” | Remarkable Contest Reviewed

The Gippsland Times, Thursday, November 8, 1934

As anticipated, the great Centenary “1000” cycle road race around Victoria, organised by Dunlop Perdriau on behalf of the Victorian Centenary Council, resulted in an outstanding demonstration of determination and endurance. The course and conditions of the contest were selected and framed with the intention of providing a race equal in severity to some of the stages in the world-famous Tour de France.

Unfortunately, the elements took a hand, greatly intensifying the difficulties of the mountain stage, but despite the appalling conditions the contestants had to face in crossing the Alps. Of the 107 wheelmen who faced the starter in Melbourne, 61 riders completed the 1052 miles course in the face of weather and road conditions unprecedented in any long distance road race held in this part of the world. Under normal dry conditions, the mountainous stage of the Centenary “1000” was a “tough” one, embracing as it did long severe climbs over Mt. Buffalo and Mt. Hotham, but unfortunately ‘the worst October weather conditions for 64 years had to be faced by the contestants and blinding rain storms, howling gales, and morasses of mud had to be fought through by the riders. Their task was a cruel one, made worse by the fact that owing to the field of riders being weather-bound at Mt. Buffalo for 24 hours, the itinerary had to be re-arranged, necessitating one stage of 216 miles having to be covered in one day, of which over 90 miles was across the Australian Alps. Four inches of rain and snow on Mt. Hoth am intensified the difficulties and smashed the hopes and machines of champions and tyres alike. Yet despite the terrible road conditions and having to ride many miles in the dark at the end of-the 216 miles stage,-64 riders out of the 75 that set out from Mt. Buffalo, duly checked in at the end of what was probably the hardest day’s ride ever achieved by cyclists in a long distance road race. The severity of the climb up Mt. Hotham (6006 ft.) may be gauged from the fact that H. Cruise – the winner of the championship section of “Centenary Thousand”- was glad to get down to a 49 inch gear, whilst making the 19 miles ascent up the stony mountain highway.

From the start of the contest, it was apparent that there was a lack of harmony amongst the group of 29 scratch men. There was too much watching each other and not enough concerted team work directed to over taking the men on the outmarks. Early in the race, the riders in “C” and “D” groups-really third and fourth class riders-showed by systematic pacing that if the back markers were to have a say in the destination of the rich handicap riders, they would have to adopt similar unselfish tactics. On one stage, the third, the scratch men really made a determined sustained effort to overhaul the front division, with the result that the scratch group “got up” 20 miles from the end of the stage, and Fernand Mithouard of France “won in a close finish from his co-markers. As a matter of fact, on two stages “out markars” actually registered faster times than the back men.

Before the start of the big event, the general opinion was that the men on outmarks would crack up from the stresses incidental to the sustained efforts necessary to complete such an arduous course, but experts were amazed to see’ ‘the manner in which the “C” and “D” riders stuck to their task.

As a matter of fact, the “A” and “B” groups thinned out more than the “C” and “‘D” men, as will be noted from the following figures. Leaving Melbourne, there were 29 starters in the “A” (scratch) group, of which 12 completed the course; in “B” group, 29 started and 15 finished; in “C” group, of the 27 starters, 18 finished, ‘while in “D” group (4th class riders) out of 22 starters, 16 finished.

By their tactics, the scratch group practically made a present of handicap prizes to the 3rd and 4th class men, who, by a grand exhibition of unselfish pacing and plucky riding, thoroughly deserved every pound they won. It is of interest to note that F. Etubenrauch (“D” class) the winner of the handicap division of the race, rode the official course in 57 hours 33 mins. 10 3/5 secs, equal to an average speed of approximately 17.1/4 miles per hour, while H. Cruise, winner of the championship section, took 53 hours, 50 min. 33.1/5 sees., an average of approximately 18.1/4 miles per hour. The scratch group, owing to the tactics adopted, only gained during the whole contest, 3hrs 42 mins on the leading “D” rider, and only 1 hr 33 mins on E. Toseland (S.A.), the best rider in “C” group.

Unfortunately, falls robbed the race of considerable interest, the International, P. Chocque, being early out of the contest through a broken collarbone, while his compatriot, M. Mithouard, retired on the second last stage of the race. Hubert Opperman, O. Nicholson, J..Buckley, and other leading Australian cracks were also forced to retire as the result of mishaps en route, but the winner of the Australian road championship for 1914, well earned his success in the richest and most notable cycling race ever staged in the British Empire.

All told, 10 contestants participated in the distribution of the prize money (£ 2500) tile principal winners being:

–A. F. Stulbenranch, £585, HII. Cruise, £521, Sidney Myer Gold Cup (£105) and Blue Riband and gold medal, J. Duffy, £219, S. Howden, £134, E. Toseland (S.A.) £128, E. Hallett £71, T. Sharman (N.S.W.) £50, H. C. Williams £.4, Watson (N.Z.) £42, F. Mlithouard (France) £41 and trophies, and N. Bosari (Italy)£36 and “Champion of Alps” blue riband and gold medal. The scratch group won £893 in cash prizes and trophies, the “B” group £187, “C” group £451, and the “D” group £909.

The “Centenary Thousand” from start to finish was full of colorful incidents and will be long remembered for the heroic efforts of the contestants in battling through to the finish, despite unparalleled storms and difficulties. The race was certainly an epic one, remarkable for the staying power and pluck of the contestants and their indomitable will to finish.

Thank You’s

I would sincerely like to thank Wilf Sweetland, Joel Harmsworth, Graeme Pereira, and Rob Law (music) for the hundreds of hours they put into creating this film. It’s extraordinary the amount of work that goes into a production like this and it’s been a pleasure working with them. Also, thank you to Rapha for funding this project and to the riders who put themselves through this gruelling ride. If you’re interested, the whole thing was filmed by Joel using a Canon 7D and mostly with a 24-105 IS USM lens.