Crackenback to Perisher
Ride Report – 3 Dec 2016

The latter half of the year has been busy and hence not much riding resulting in the usual loss of fitness and increased Kg. A struggle to complete the 170km in the Bowral Classic and likewise a struggle with the 165Km in Fitzs Challenge.  The calendar cleared a few weeks prior to L’etape and I thought “I really should have been training, another struggle through the hills?” The overall profile and distance seemed do-able, sure why not? Apparently approx 2500 others committed to the 160Km l’etape race and about 1000 riders for the 130Km ride.

Booked an apartment in Jindabyne and arrived with plenty of time to spare and completed the rego process with minimal hassle and time. Jindabyne certainly had a buzz and Chris Froome was at the registration village, which was located on the shores of Lake Jindabyne. The weather was looking like it would be warm which, at the time, I thought as better than cold/wet conditions a couple of weeks earlier.

Start time was 07:00 @ at the Ski tube (Crackenback). Instructions requested arrival by 06:00 so I duly departed Jindabyne 05:20 thinking plenty of time. Not so! After climbing out of Jindabyne on the Alpine way within a few km a bumper to bumper crawl to the start. See snip from Cycling Central to the left. Experienced skiers on the ride commented that this was typical traffic on a ski morning and they had left even earlier. In retrospect, staying at Lake Crackenback resort would have been more convenient offset by greater expense.
I did notice a number of cars pulling over and riders jumping on their bikes and riding the last km or so to the start, while parent/partner/friend was left to fend with the traffic. I guess they were in start group #1 and worried they would not make the start.  I was guessing that if everyone is late then the start would have to be delayed. Anyway, all good, arrived prior to 07:00 and my start time was 07:20 as I nominated a steady average. Ran into Tobias (BN) in the melee near the ski-tube terminal and wished him a good ride, and I guessed he would make good time as he is a strong rider.

I duly rolled into my starting slot – group#3. Matt Keenan was talking 20 to the dozen with Chris Froome adding in comments. Weather was mild and misty – Garmin said 7C. Photo to right is start group#1 and eagle-eyed people can see Chris Froome toward the front. Also in postscript Stu (BN) can been seen just in front of the white van on the left.

A few minutes before 07:00 a huge bang with a tube exploding just a couple of bikes in front. Said rider, with head down, sheepishly moved his bike to the side. and proceeded to change a tube.  In not too long Froomey had flagged off the first and second groups and then proceeded to line up at the head of my group and lead us out!
Within a km of the start we noticed a number of riders walking back toward the start, some with broken bikes and others with ripped kit ? At the time assumed a clipped wheel, but later at the Jindabyne water stop it seemed that a deer had ran out into the riders and apparently a couple of carbon frames snapped and broken! From the start it is a climb, I had expected to plug steadily along the left and being passed by all and sundry, but my steady was faster than others and I was regularly pulling out to overtake.  Once over the first climb a longish decent with plenty of speed, but cautioned with the thought that other rides may not be that predictable. A few km along an ambulance and number of riders receiving treatment. Apparently this largish crash was due to a clipped wheel.  Heading toward Jindabyne farm gates were dressed up to celebrate l’etape and the locals were out by the side of the road cheering and ringing cow bells. Rattled through Jindabyne at 50-60kph with again locals/parents/partners etc cheering and cowbells.  Stuart later reported that riding with the front group they railed through Jindabyne 60-70kph – motoring! Once through Jindabyne a steady climb to east Jindabyne and a quick water stop and tucked arm warmers and gilet into the back jersey pocket. Plenty of spectators, cheering and hi-fives, though I guess with closed roads the choice was sit at home or come out and enjoy the spectacle. Nonetheless closed roads, cheering spectators and roadside with yellow painted bikes (not sure where they found so many bikes to paint) and other decorations made the ride quite special and this continued through the entire 160km!  From then on steady climbing toward Rocky Plain with a steadily rising headwind and warming weather. At about 50km into the ride the average was showing as 28kph and this picked up to 30kph average on the undulating downhill toward Berridale. Sadly, the undulating downhill was tempered by a significantly rising headwind. Speaking of undulating the entire course was constantly up and down, perhaps more than Fitzs Challenge in the Brindabellas. That said, really nice country to ride through. Entering Berridale, the roadside was lined with green painted bikes. Hmmmm.
Time for the sprint! I had intended to have a go, but after about 80km, 31kph avg, a bit over 1,000m climb plus a decent headwind resulted in not many “matches” left in the matchbox, decision was just a cruise through – as did others who had been hanging on my wheel for the past 20km or thereabouts. The rider to my right in the pic was Mick who had managed a leave pass from his new born child and was doing the ride (130Km) rather the 160km race. The sprint was slightly uphill and into a headwind and just after the finish was a welcome rest stop for water, some SIS Gels, banana and a stretch.
Thence back on the undulating road toward Dalgety with a typical headwind. At this stage the headwind was building and getting stronger with an occasional tail wind as the road wound around. By this stage most groups had started to break up and as usual the groups were either too fast or too slow and I just rode along at my own pace
It was a spectacular vista approaching Dalgety, plus nice weather. no traffic and just the breeze was quite magic. That said it was starting to get a bit warm heading toward 30C. Coming into Dalgety a number of spectators with fans – yes those things that blow wind, who formed the fan club. Speaking off fans in the far distance a wind farm was visible on the horizon. Wonder if it gets windy around here? I think every person who lived in or near Dalgety was on the main street cheering us on with Polka Dot (KOM) decorations. Wonder if there are any mountains are coming up?

A sharp right turn at Dalgety led us over the Snowy river via a timber plank bridge and heading upwards yet again. Thankfully a brief tailwind which soon turned into a cross and/or cross-headwind. Heading toward Col de Beloka. I happened across Grant who I had met up with at Fitzs earlier this year. Grant (from Cowra) is a recent convert to cycling and had shed another 4Kg since Fitzs and was riding strongly – left of me in the pic. At about the same time also caught up with Andreas who was riding with the north Epping Steam Rollers - polka dot jerseys behind). Had a chat and now 106(quality)km and my legs were definitely feeling the kilometres. Maybe I should have sheltered behind others and saved some watts! Grant and Andreas were definitely fresher than I was feeling and I guess Stu and Tobias were many km ahead.
A rest stop at the base of Col de Beloka, more SIS gels, water and banana. On the profile it appeared that Beloka was a nastier version of Fitzs Hill. On the approach you could just see the road ramp up to the left at a frightening pace. I had ridden through this road before on a motorbike and I did recall it seeming somewhat steep. After 106km it felt like a cliff. More riders were walking than riding with the odd bit of wildlife hopping across the road. Even riding it was hard to keep the front wheel on the deck. At the top of the Col De Beloka was the sign “Even Chris Froome’s legs are hurting.” – absolutely! Chris was later quoted as saying Beloka was like Mur de Huy.  I have not ridden Mur de Huy but stats tell me it is 1.2Km long and 120m climb, avg 10% whereas Beloka is 3Km @ 10% and 286m climb. 
After gasping up Beloka the “match-box” was pretty much empty. A somewhat lengthy water stop and thence steady riding toward Jindabyne in active-recovery survival mode. At this stage thinking about the published profile and how all the lumps and bumps are missing from the profile. The altitude stats from my Garmin in the following graph, illustrate the wall like nature of Beloka as well as all the other lumps and bumps that are smoothed out by the official profile shown at the start of this report, which make this ride a solid challenge and coupled with the headwind something to not be under-estimated.
Now at the top of the hills, we were exposed to the full force of the wind and on some sections a cross wind was knocking the front wheel out. If not gusting crosswind, then we were heading into a very stiff headwind. Ended up in a small group of riders but it was impossible to muster any form of collaboration – a couple were willing to work together, but most wanted to shelter. To add to the fun, the thermometer had now climbed to 32C, so it was hot and hard going. The last couple of steepish short bumps into Jindabyne were energy sapping.  The last downhill into Jindabyne was quite steep and the speed nudged up into the 90’s thence left and into the headwind toward Perisher. A brief thought that I could pull into the apartment and lie down was countered with the thought I have to ride to Perisher to get the car! Suddenly the road was much emptier and took my hot and addled brain some time to figure out the 130km riders had peeled off to the right at Jindabyne and hence less riders heading toward Perisher. I guess also some riders may have bailed out at Jindabyne.

The heat continued to rise, yet still some spectators on the roadside and one final high five (side five?) with the kids as I pedalled past the Alpine Way intersection. The head wind remained solid and the Garmin was showing 34C. The photo to the left is an indication of the heat and brightness, as well as the shimmering heat haze. I just kept steadily pedalling toward to the stop at Thredbo river to stock up on water, gels, banana and have a stretch. Thankfully the climbing now was less brutal than during the 106 – 130Km segment.
After the Thredbo river stop, all that remained was 22Km of uphill to Perisher. Whilst I had earlier thought the gilet might be needed for the mountains, the heat remained and was not getting any cooler with altitude. As the climbing continued, the side of the road was increasingly “littered” with riders stopped, walking or lying down in the shade.  The last water stop was due 7km from the top and as my water supplies dwindled thoughts of Falls in 2013 (40C+ temps) came to mind, but with 14km before the top an extra (welcome) water stop was added in by the organisers – well done!

Just after this extra water stop I had a chat with one guy who had a spring to his pedalling” and informed me there was less than 7km to go. Sadly, I informed him of the real state of affairs – 14Km to go. This required some cross Garmin fact checking and then his cadence and progress slowed considerably. Mostly the climb to Perisher was steady, hot, into a headwind and stacks of flies! There were a few extra steeper bits, but in general nothing like the brief punishment metered out by Beloka and the ongoing block headwinds. At the extra water stop one of the volunteers (a local) said the wind always blows off the mountain.

By now riders were well spread out and most not particularly interested in talking and in a private world of pain, battling against the heat, slope and wind. The last 10 km had a couple of ups and downs. The first down was past Sponars Chalet and at the top it was a stiff head wind and on the descent turned into a nasty cross wind trying to blow the front wheel out. On the climb up from Sponars, the final water stop – a splash of water and on my way.

Just 7km to go and one more climb up past Smiggins and thence into Perisher. Yet more groups at Smiggins cheering us home! Absolutely fabulous support along the ride and car free ? Amazingly at the base of the last climb a tailwind ? for the first half and then once it became a bit steeper the solid strong head wind returned ? Even with the altitude, wind and open mountains the temperature was still in the 20’s and the sun was beaming down. Perisher beckoned.

Thankfully, finished ahead of the SAG wagon. Ride time was 7hrs 26 mins, 3125m climb. Slow and steady finishes the race! Mental note – next time must do some training!

Had a wander around the finish village – plenty still happening + Kosciusko Pal Ale on offer. Had a chat with a few others and general consensus was a tough but great ride, then collected my bag – still seemed to be quite a few hundred bags still left to be collected! Later checked the results and some 400 DNFs in the Crackenback to Perisher race, roughly 20% of the field, which in my mind confirmed the course was as hard as it felt.
Changed into more comfortable clothing that was stashed in my bag and headed to the ski-tube terminal, as I arrived at the platform the train doors closed and the train headed off.  Anyway it looked like it was pretty packed. So waited for the next train, after some 45 mins or thereabouts another train came and just before met another rider who had not made the distance and arrived courtesy of the SAG wagon, into the bargain he had worn down his cleats from walking. He shared around some hot doughnuts and vowed to be back next year!