Peaks, Falls Creek 2017
Ride report
Once more with feeling. The profile for Peaks looks like a few lumps, but those big lumps are 30 and 35km long and each over 1300m vertical climb. Click on this link for a virtual flyover.

The lead up to Peaks 2017 was fraught with too much work, too much rain, too little training and probably a late(ish) entry into the challenge. The weather predictions looked ominous with Thunderstorms and rain, however the day dawned relatively mild and weather forecasters were now predicting light showers in the evening. So, fingers crossed looked like we would be OK.

About 06:30 roughly 1763 cyclists assembled along Slalom Dr in Falls Creek Village. I joined Ben in the melee of flashing lights and nervous energy, not sure where the others were but thought, bound to come across them somewhere along the ride. Thankfully it wasn’t that cold – Garmin said 7C. It was a year since the last Falls Creek with brain snap and subsequent retirement just after Omeo. Said brain snap didn’t make sense as I had successfully finished Falls Creek Peaks in 2012, Gold Coast Peaks in 2015 and Cradle Mountain Peaks in 2015  At this stage the brain was determined to complete the ride within the 13-hour time limit.

It was not that long before we were waved off and the 32km descent beckoned. There had been a spot or two rain, but the road was quite good and I rolled past Ben. Nonetheless, I was very aware of other unknown erratic riders and slowed for a female rider and after a short while Ben whizzed by and then a nature break called (joys of colder weather) and Ben was not to be seen until the finish. I continued to roll down steadily and before long views opened toward the valley and Mt Beauty. A reasonable number of spectators/supporters lined the road as did gear discarded by riders. The cheers and the encouragement were most welcome. Plenty were pulling off extra gear, but all I needed was to roll the arm warmers down and unzip the Gilet, ready for the first climb of the day.
Tawonga was a steady climb of about 7km and about 40 minutes later the summit arrived, I grabbed a bite of an energy bar and of course the camera managed to catch me with my mouth full. Thence the decent down Tawonga and as with previous years several riders down in the dirt on Corners 5, 7 and 9 (I think). The promise of a free beer for all riders if no-one fell off, meant no free beer at the end.
A nice speedy roll into Germantown and left onto the Alpine Way heading and on the first lump a few hi-fives from the kids. Then I just caught onto the end of a group rattling along well in the 30’s but not long after the last few riders fell off the back and by the time I noticed, a jump was required to catch up but I soon decided it was not worth the effort to get back on and so a relatively lonely run to Smoko and then Harrietville for the first stop, fill the bottles, collect some Gels, remove the Gilet and warmers, then head up the Mountain.

It was now time for the daunting 30km Mt Hotham climb. The average gradient stats are 4.5%, which sounds tame but that average is a function of a few small descents during the climb coupled with steep 13%+ pinches and the last few km are steep double digit gradients.  It is a long tough climb as is the back of falls that is the last climb. The plan was to ride a sustainable pace up Hotham and retain ‘something in the tank’ for the back of falls. The very start of the climb is double digit gradient and then steadies and before too the long at 80km mark the ‘MEG’ arrives. A short steep 14-16% ramp before settling back to 8-10%.

Not long after the MEG, I saw Stu by the side of the road, so I said hello. He looked like he was waiting for someone and looking back down the mountain. In retrospect, I should have asked more, but brain was pretty much focussed on going forward. Also around this time passed by a rider with his bandaged butt hanging out of his shorts and right wrist strapped up. He had fallen on the Tawonga descent and commented that next stop he would get more strapping for his wrist and some more bandages at dinner plain. A couple of days after the ride I found it was Wayne Schwass an ex-AFL player. His story made the local paper and he finished in a bit over 12 hours.

The rest stop at Buckland gate was a chance to briefly rest the backside. As I was pulling in, some poor chap had an unclipping incident and fell over as well as knocking over some others and bikes. Suitably embarrassed he eventually hopped up. Time to top up the water bottles and grab an energy bar with minimal faff. Said hello to Alanna while topping up water bottles and then back on the bike and continue the climb with a steady rhythm. Thankfully the wind was behind which gave some assist on the climb, in 2016 I seem to recall a cross headwind.  CRB was the next steep pinch with 15-16% ramps and Alanna cruised past climbing up CRB. In the distance the final ramp toward the top could be seen (as it can for most of the climb) and looking back presents a spectacular mountain view. Toward the top some harder than usual cross winds at Mt Blowhard and Diamantina tried to blow the bike off course, but in grand scheme it was not that bad. The spectacular scenery was offset by the last steep pinch or was it the other way around? At this stage I was getting a bit hot and the wind helped cool. The base layer was coming off at Dinner Plain! Toward the top of Hotham an increasing number of riders were walking.

Soon it was over the summit and pointing down and zoomed through the tunnel into Hotham Heights and then a fabulous fast spin down and over the undulations toward Dinner Plate, all helped by a nice friendly cross tail wind.

The halfway mark of Dinner Plain was a stop for water and stock up on gels and bars. Off with the base layer and pack the warmers etc into the return valet bag. I could manage to swallow a few bites of the chicken wrap, just didn’t feel that hungry. The actual structure of the stop at Dinner plain with fragmented locations of food, water and valet meant it took a while to faff around with a lot of riders jostling for position. I saw Alanna and Mark across the way, but by the time I had finished faffing with clothes they had gone.

Thence back on the road toward Omeo, but it seemed to take an eternity for the traffic as an increasing number of riders waited for the traffic controller to wave us out. Yet again assisted with a decent cross tail wind. Riders quickly separated and this section was pretty much on my own. Probably my fault as the Emonda descended speedily and distanced other riders quickly. The sneaky peak arrived quickly and again a steady climb but not long into it a bunch rapidly formed ahead as we all compacted. Sadly said bunch was not of much use on the climb. Into the bargain the temperature was around 30C, which made said sneaky climb a bit of a bugger and I was starting to feel it!

Once over the top of the sneaky peak it was a steep and speedy descent toward one last little climb prior to Omeo. At this point the wind swung around to a very stiff headwind. Unlike last year where the rest stop was easily visible at the start of Omeo, the rest stop was now hidden in the centre of town. Just what we need 160km into the ride – not! As I rolled in the Omeo rest stop, Alanna and Mark were rolling out, no sign of Ben, Stu or Chris. At this stage with the sun beating down I was looking for some blockout – sorry we have run out – WTF! Some sunburn coming my way :-(

After Omeo it was straight along the valley into a 40kph+ headwind, 32-33C with baking heat radiating from the road. On the slow grind up a climb (another sneaky peak) it wasn’t too long before I started to overheat and feeling pretty rough and faint. I found a little shade and had a significant rest stop. Thence a little further and another rest in the shade. The plan/hope (at this stage) was to struggle on and reach the shadier section that snakes around the side of the hills near Anglers rest and get a bit cooler and recover. Then planning/hoping with altitude the back off falls should become cooler. While snoozing in the shade I thought maybe that Stu and Chris could have gone by. The paramedics pulled up and asked if I needed help, but I said just needed a rest. I was pretty determined to finish!

Eventually, with few more shorter stops, the cooler shadier sections and rolling corners appeared and I was beginning to recover. Before too long a bunch appeared and I hooked on for a tow along to the second last stop at Anglers Rest. It was a somewhat crowded stop and the water leakage from the water bottle filling station was forming a nice bog. A coke from my valet bag helped revive me. The marshals were advising walk across the timber bridge, however just before I left one rider rode across the bridge and managed to pick up a splinter with the resulting sss—sss-sss—sss sound. Thought I would walk across, as did others.

We followed along the shady undulating road alongside the beautiful Mitta Mitta river heading toward WTF corner. I noted some lovely camping sites along the river, but that would have to wait until another day! The earlier plan had been to conserve energy for the back of falls climb, however the heat and headwind had toasted me and said spare energy had dissipated.

I was feeling somewhat apprehensive and exhausted as I turned into WTF corner realising that this was the beginning of something like 8km with 10% average and plenty of steeper ramps. I just peddled steadily with a 10-15sec stop now and then just to get the heart rate back. Thankfully it was cooling and this was helping me feel better.  While you initially feel, you are the only one in a world of hurt, I could see everyone else was also in a world of hurt. Strained faces, walking riders and DNFers with bikes upside down, ambulances loading up riders, paramedics treating others and silver space blankets covering others littered the climb, as did discarded clothing (I guess to lighten the load). It was a cyclists ‘war zone’.

After what seemed an eternity, I crested the first steep part of the climb and the undulations into the last stop at Trapyard gate. As I rolled in a lovely angel was handing out cold cans of coke. The sugar, caffeine and now cooling weather with a spot or two of rain all contributed to feeling better for the last push up to the summit.

Thankfully it now a lower gradient in the 6-8% with just the odd steep ramp. Looking at the clock, I calculated that I would not have much time to spare to beat the cut-off. With a cool wind in my face and the scent of home, I pressed on feeling much better and soon I was passing everyone. A brilliant sunset beckoned and as I crested the top it was into a stiff cross headwind (oh joy) and then the knowledge that just a few lumps and bumps with 13km toward the end.

On the run down around the corners in some sections it was a strong tailwind, followed by a corner with a crosswind trying to take out your front wheel. At this stage, it was getting dark and the last section toward and over the dam was straight into a strong headwind. What the heck, bury yourself thence a little bump and a race for the finish. I passed a guy at the top of the very last little bump and he let out a loud whoop of joy. Thought I should do the same, but was too tired and pressed on for the finish.

As I rolled toward the finish banner, spectators were cheering and I heard the announcer call out my name and rolled through somewhat in a daze until to my left I heard Emma, Ben and Sonia screaming. It lifted my spirits but took a while for the brain to compute that I should stop - it was kind of slow motion. All done with actual ride time of a tick over 11 hours 12 minutes (too much time sleeping beside the road!) A drink and into the marque, finishers jersey, collect the valet return and put the warmers back on as it was 9C and starting to feel chilly. Hugs from the girls and Ben collected some food for me, yum thanks Ben :-)
Did not see any of the other Bike North guys and now was pretty much Lanterne Rouge time and it was beginning to rain a bit, not to mention getting cold. The thought of a shower, decent feed and relax was far too attractive, so back to the apartment. Thanks to everyone that helped and shared in making it to the end of this ride. Special thanks to Emma for all her support helping me make Peaks, Falls Creek 2017. Also, I should thank my Emonda which performed flawlessly. (far better than the rider).

Later checking results I saw that Ben smashed out a sub 10, Chris (12:55), Alanna and Mark (11:38) and unluckily Stu had a bad day and had to pull out at Trapyard, nonetheless an epic effort for everyone. Noted also from results: 2197 entrants, 434 DNS = 1763 starters and then 200 DNF. Click here for Peaks, Falls Creek 2017 Highlights

Greg Boyd, March 2017