Coach Steve and his date with the Peaks Challenge - Falls Creek
235km ride 4000m+ Elevation 13hr time limit
This is Peaks Challenge Falls Creek - recognised as one of the top 10 toughest one day cycling events in the world - and it certainly lived up to its name.
On March 13th I had the privilege to ride in the Peaks Challenge along with approximately 2000 other riders. It’s an amazing event and I recommend it to anyone seeking a new endurance challenge.
The Plan Due to the nature of the event (and its popularity) it’s a good idea to get in and book as soon as possible. I had heard about it through a friend who was planning on heading down and soon enough there were four of us all looking to conquer The Peaks.
Training began in earnest and before we knew it the weekend was almost upon us. Unfortunately due to different circumstances our awesome foursome became the terrific twosome (with fellow T:Zero athlete Nick Rinaudo). As always seems to occur there was a spanner thrown into the works a month out with our accommodation being cancelled by the provider leaving us in the lurch. Thankfully I was able to call on some friends (Cams Cycle Coaching) that were going down and had two available beds for the weekend.
As one of the foursome was from Sydney the plan was to fly in and drive the 8hrs to Falls Creek on the Friday morning. Possibly not the best idea given the Melbourne drive is half the time and with a navigator like mine with a craving for caffeine and a bladder like a sieve there were many pit stops along the way.
TIP 1: limit the hydration for your navigator on long car trips
We finally arrived at Falls Creek in the late afternoon and the final hour was a very winding yet beautiful climb to the top of the mountain. Having never been here before I was truly amazed at the views from the village yet also quietly sh#@%ing myself wondering if the training had been enough. Mt Nebo seemed merely a speed bump compared to these monsters.
Once we settled in and picked up our bikes that were transported there separately via bike trailer, Nick and I went downstairs to the bar (very dangerous unit location) for a sneaky wind down pint of the local brew and to discuss race day tactics (I think the extent of it was stop at each station for water refills and join any group possible).
Saturday came and we awoke to pouring rain so our group ride down from Falls Creek to Mt Beauty was postponed by a couple of hours. As the start of the ride is a descent for roughly 40-50min it was great to familiarise ourselves given we’d be joined by 2000 others the next morning in the dark. After the ride we grabbed the customary coffee and banana bread and exchanged stories with the others on who managed the top speed and how a couple slipped in the wet.
After the break some people proceeded to ride back up the mountain (like the next day’s ride wasn’t going to be enough for them) while the rest of us got the tour bus back to Falls Creek Village from Mt Beauty. From there it was the usual pre-race day routine of checking in, getting the bike setup finalised and asking those “experienced old hands” for any tips and tricks. That night we tucked into some great pasta meals provided by the tour and watched the football. Once my head hit the pillow I was out like a light.
Race Day I woke up the morning of race day and checked the forecast which read for perfect conditions. Compared to an Ironman I was feeling quite relaxed when getting ready (which had been the case all week). Nick and I rolled down to the start line and found ourselves slipping into the back end of the 11hr group. The initial portion of the ride was a descent down into Mt Beauty in the early morning light. It was quite the sight watching numerous flashing red and white lights making their way down the mountain as one. On the descent there were quite a few flats and a number of water bottles and lights scattered along the road.
TIP 2: Always ensure you get a pre-race service in the weeks leading up to an event and check over your tyres and bike components after transporting the bike.
From there it was a quick flat out to the first climb (Tawonga Gap) which is a speed bump compared to the other climbs (7.6km, 6.5% elevation 498m vertical climb) but a good warm up for the legs. A few people were singing at this stage but that didn’t last too long….thankfully.
From there we managed to join a few trains that were coming past but the negative part was that we seemed to be doing the majority of the work which perhaps drained a little of the energy early. Coming from triathlon, the ability to draft is quite a novelty.
TIP 3: if you do find yourself in an event such as this I recommend pulling some turns at the front. Everyone has the same goals and will make the day that much more enjoyable for all involved.
Along the way to the next climb at Hotham we stopped at the aid stations purely to refill the water bottles as it was slowly warming up between the climbs and at this stage we still had enough nutrition on board.
The second climb of the day was Mt Hotham (30km, 4.2% gradient and 1322 vertical meters). This is a long, tough climb punctuated by a few steep sections of 500-700m with gradients between 10-12%. At the mid-point, straight after a flatter section and aid station, Nick and I turned a corner and saw another climb. “It’s ok mate” I said to Nick, “the crest must just be over this hill and we’ll be on the descent”. Unfortunately I was gravely mistaken and we still had 10km of the climb to complete which incidentally was arguably the hardest portion.
TIP 4: read the race route thoroughly.
FINALLY, we reached the top and we were rewarded with spectacular views of the valley below and a fast and fantastic descent into Dinner Plains, aka LUNCH TIME!! At Dinner Plains we were handed cookies, drinks and salad wraps. At this stop we were also able to pick up our food bags which had the other half of our nutrition (wanted to save weight on the climbs!!). It was at this stop that Nick and I parted ways. Unfortunately in the final month he had come down with a severe chest infection and was unable to complete the final build. The climbs were taking their toll.
From there we had a long, hot undulating (to put it lightly) ride through to Omeo and Anglers Rest before hitting “WTF Corner” and the third and final climb to the finish line at Falls Creek (35km, 4.6% elevation and 1322 vertical meters). The website states “It hits you like a sucker punch in the face. The first 10km has nearly a 10% gradient and I swear people were walking past me quicker than I was riding.” When I read this I laughed and thought it was merely there to scare everyone. Meanwhile it should have been read as a warning!
To have this portion of the ride with 35km to go was torture knowing you’re so close to the finish yet so far. I was out of the saddle traveling a mere 9km/hr and felt my heart was about to leap out of my mouth. The aid station with 15km to go had many people puffing and in a daze and this was the stop where they had nice, cold, refreshing cola. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a can that tasted that good.
At that point I was told it was only a pleasant (compared to what we just went through) undulating ride to the finish. They weren’t wrong. The road circumnavigated a huge lake at the top of Falls Creek and with the sun starting to come down the views were spectacular. I managed to ride this final part with a group of four and we were all chatting about the day and how nice that beer at the finish was going to taste. With one last small, sharp hill to crest my legs and arms started to cramp badly, making me wonder if I was going to be able to get up first attempt. Knowing the finish was only 1km away I put my head down and pumped the legs and spent the final descent to the finish line reflecting on what I’d achieved that day. Over 11hrs 40min (235km) from the race start, 4000m+ elevation (over 5:40hrs of climbing) is the longest I’ve ever spent in the saddle.
Once finished and bike racked I made my way back to the finish line to watch the remaining competitors cross before the 13hr cut-off. While it is always fantastic to see the fastest cross the line it’s always those athletes walking the fine line with the cut-off that are truly inspirational. The support, cheering and atmosphere at the finish line at this point is always more like a party.
Later that night post showers, we headed downstairs again to the bar where there were many stories (both good and bad) exchanged over a few beers. Those who finished were able to tick it off their bucket list, while others were already plotting their revenge for 2017. I can honestly say that I would like to get back there again myself in the future.
Firstly, a big thanks goes to my wingman for the weekend Nick Rinaudo. We did a lot of training together in the lead up and it was great to hang out with you over the weekend.
To Brett Kerwick, thanks also for the weekend training rides. Was great to tag along and especially getting out to Tamborine for the first time. The timing of our events made it much easier to plan the long, hilly rides and I was so glad I was able to be there - and be a part of - your AAA domination.
Cam & Sheree Hughes from Cams Cycle Coaching. We were in a bit of trouble when our accommodation fell through but Cam was generous enough to allow Nick and I to bunk with his group and partake in their activities for the weekend. I also highly recommend the bike trailer transport option for future events. It definitely takes the stress out of packing up the bike and rebuilding before race day.
Obvious thanks goes to Coach Rich and the T:Zero Multisport Team. As always we had a great plan coming out of Busselton IM which included the recovery and the bike build. Looking forward to what the rest of the year has in store.
Finally (and certainly not least) to my amazing wife Natalie. You weren’t able to come down to Falls Creek (boys trip and all…) but thank you again for giving me the support and allowing me the opportunity to complete another goal. There is no way I could be doing any of this without you.