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It’s been a couple days now for it all to settle in, but this past weekend was one of the best trips to the Victorian Alps I’ve had in recent memory. Tourism North East arranged for an itinerary of absolutely everything I love to do within a 3-4hr drive away, and most importantly, Mrs CT got to enjoy much of it as well.
The mid-November Bright “training camp” is a regular on my annual schedule which falls two weeks before the Tour of Bright. Lucky for me Tourism North East asked me to help promote their 7 Peaks Challenge in an effort to get cyclists out of the city, explore some new and challenging roads, and bring some tourism into their region of the state.
What is the 7 Peaks Challenge?
Victoria’s 7 peaks Alpine Ascent Challenge is an at-your-own pace cycling challenge which takes you up winding mountain roads and past spectacular views right to the top of Victoria’s Alpine Resorts. The challenge for the next five months is to take on the toughest and most beautiful climbs in Australia. There is a passport that will be the proof of passage, getting a stamp for every summit you have climbed along the way. Once you have completed a peak and submitted your stamped passport, you will go into the draw to win prizes including a Scott Foil Team Issue bike valued at $8,000.
You can tackle the 7 Peaks anytime from October 26 2012 – March 31 2013.
PEAK 1 :: MOUNT BULLER
The first peak I tackled over the weekend was Mt Buller. My wife and I were put up at the Deck on High on Thursday night which is a newly renovated hotel with eight rooms which used to be the Mansfield Bank. I met with Simon Gerrans in his alma mater on Friday morning which is the perfect launching pad to tackle Buller. The base of Mt Buller is approximately 30km away from Mansfield which is a nice warmup. Once you reach the park gates it’s a 16km leg breaker to the top. The road averages only 4% which doesn’t sound like much, but there are pitches of 13% which take a bite out of the legs. Gerro’s best time up the mountain has been ~39 minutes, so I asked him to set a pace that would hit that time just so I could see what it would feel like. He wound his SRM up to around 400 watts and set a tempo which was impossible for me to follow for much longer than a couple minutes. After I asked him politely to back it off a touch but he still had me in deep in the red while we cruised up with a finishing time of 50 minutes. While he had me in the hurtbox, I tried to slow the pace down by asking Gerro to tell me tales of how the final moments of Milan San Remo played out, his Tour Down Under countback win, his National Championships win, and all the other highlights of his highly successful 2012 season. Transcribed interview to follow…
Before coming into this I knew that climbing Mt Buller would be a little painful. But what I was really concerned about was the decent. The last time I was in Mansfield I watched Gerro and Nibali locked onto Cancellara’s wheel down the Poggio to take one of the biggest wins of his career. The fact that he did this meant that I’d be trying to hold onto one of the best descenders in the world down Buller. We put on our GoPros (footage coming soon) and had some fun. I had a hard time holding Gerro’s speed through the corners, but it certainly maked a difference following some of his perfect lines. The one thing you’ll always notice when riding with almost any pro is how comfortable and skilled these guys are at descending.
In my opinion, Mansfield has to be the most underrated town in the Victorian Alps to spend a riding weekend away. There’s more than enough rides to keep you busy for a week and the town is full of restaurants and shops. Other rides I’d recommend are Mansfield to Jamieson and apparently around Lake Eildon is out of this world (there are some rail trail shortcuts to help you keep off the highway).
PEAK 2 :: MOUNT HOTHAM
My wife and I made the two hour drive to Bright (take the C521 Mansfield-Whitfield road – absolutely stunning) and checked into our accommodation. I’m hesitant to tell you about this little B&B because it’s a little gem and I’m worried that I’ll never stay there again if too many others find out about it. We discovered it last Christmas and booked for two days, stayed for ten. It’s called Peetsfields B&B and run by a wonderful couple named Sally and Martin Peet and I can’t recommend it highly enough if you and your partner are looking for a quiet place off the beaten track.
The next day I met with the crew from St Kilda Cycling Club who were holding their annual Bright training camp. We climbed my nemesis, Mt Hotham. You can bascially break down Mt Hotham into three climbs. Each one of them lulls you into a false sense of security which makes you think you’re going alright until the road kicks up and belts you in the face. I’m riding this new Specialized Tarmac Pro which has a “mid compact” chainset which has an excellent gear ratio for the steeper sections of Hotham. 36/52T on the front and 11-28 on the back (Dura-Ace 11 Speed). We’ll see how I go with it next weekend at the Tour of Bright.
PEAK 3 :: MOUNT BUFFALO
I woke up on Sunday feeling like I could tackle one more peak for the weekend. The SKCC crew was ascending Mt Buffalo which is one of my favorite climbs. It’s 20km at an average of 5% which suits a big guy like me just fine. It’s long enough to be challenging, but nice and steady which enables you to keep on top of your gear, get a rhythm, and hit it really hard.
It’s a shame that the beautiful Teahouse at the top of Buffalo is no longer open for business but there’s a place to get a coffee if you ride to Dingo Dell. It’s worth doing the extra kilometers and riding up The Horn if you’re feeling like a bit of gravel (only a couple kilometers at the end) and want a view that’ll take your breath away.
Not only is Mt Buffalo a great ascent, but it’s probably one of the funnest descents in the Victorian Alps as well. It’s as fast as you want it to be with nice gradual corners. The only problem is that some of the corner apexes are a bit bumpy, so it’s best to keep your bottom slightly off the saddle, weight on the outside foot, and let the bike bounce around as it wants. If you try to fight it and keep too ridged, you’ll loose traction and it won’t end nicely.
I had started the weekend feeling ambitious and hoped to climb Falls Creek to conquer four of the peaks. However, after three days of climbing it’s not an easy task. If you’re looking for a theme which will get you out of the city this summer and exploring some new roads, definitely consider doing the 7 Peaks. There’s much more to do than bike riding that the whole family can enjoy. Going to Mansfield for the weekend and climbing Mt Buller and doing some other rides is something I’d recommend. You can get in three or four more peaks during a long weekend to Bright, and Baw Baw and Lake Mountain are only daytrips away from Melbourne. If you’re from Sydney, the Victorian Alps is a seven hour drive away which isn’t out of the question. If you’re worried about not being fit enough, Matt, The Climbing Cyclist, is holding a “7 Peaks Domestique Series” of rides to help riders of all abilities to conquer all of these climbs this summer.
This weekend away to Mansfield and Bright was paid for by Tourism North East in an effort to promote the 7 Peaks and local businesses in the area. Thank you!