3 Peaks Challenge 2014

I finished the last ride report I wrote (http://www.southperthrouleurs.com.au/2013/09/24/uwct-championships-trento-italy-50-54s-race-report) with a flippant ‘Did someone mention 3 Peaks?’

It was a throw-away line to tidy up the article – to be honest, I had to google 3 Peaks to make sure there was in fact a ride. Who in their right mind would want to ride up to 2 different ski resorts over a 235 km course with over 4.5km of vertical climbing?
Welcome to 3 Peaks 2014.

So how did I end up at the starting line? I think we all like a challenge, and 3 Peaks is, perhaps, the most challenging single day amateur road race that Australia has to offer.  A bit of peer pressure, my roster looked good for early March – why not???

Registration the day before was a smooth process. The ride up the hill from our accommodation (Bogong Village, 15 km down from Falls Creek) was a bit more strenuous than I would have liked 24 hours before a massive event but it was good to have the opportunity to test out the corners on the way home. I am pretty ordinary descender and was particularly nervous about the start of the race – 30 km of almost uninterrupted downhill on a cold morning, no warm up, with a crowd of testosterone-fuelled riders all desperate to get down the mountain as quickly as possible.

Sunday arrived with almost perfect weather –  a bit cool  (10C) at the start line but warming up quickly as the sun came up, with the early start (0630 for the 1st wave, which included most of the SPR contingent) getting us out of the Ovens River valley before it got too warm (30C at Bright that day, but mid 20’s on the high plains that day).

My friend Niall Henry & I had done a bit of training together, we are pretty evenly matched on the hills and we get on well so we decided to tackle the ride together.

with Niall at the start line, Scody 3 Peaks Challenge 2014
with Niall at the start line, Scody 3 Peaks Challenge 2014

Niall (an SPR member for a year or two, but not known to many in the club as he has only done a handful of the group rides) came to the road scene from mountain biking so he was in his element on the drop from Falls Creek (1600m) to Mount Beauty (365m). I think he could have stopped off at Bogong Village, had a cup of tea and still beaten down to the bottom but he patiently rolled with me as I slowly worked my way down the hill. I was very relieved to arrive at Mount Beauty safely. A quick skit through town and it was straight onto the 1st climb of the day, Tawonga Gap: 7 ½ km at a bit over 6% for a gain of just under 500m. It was difficult to know what pace to tackle this at, given there was still almost 200km of cycling to be completed. We took it relatively steady, Niall driving at about 270 watts for most of it (the powertap wheel stayed at home,  I rode my Shamal’s so didn’t have power). Quite a few riders passed us but I was content to let them go, with a plan to ease into the day with the hope of arriving at the last climb relatively comfortably.

The drop from Tawonga Gap was fantastic, long sweeping bends on a closed road. Unfortunately we heard later that one rider came off quite badly on one of the straight stretches – haven’t heard how he went, but my overall impression of the day was that there was far less carnage to write about compared to my previous write up on the Trento race.

A group of about 8 of us (including Matthew Seale) finished the descent together and started a pace line on the very gentle climb up to Harrietville. The roll became longer and longer and I think there was almost 40 riders in the bunch when we pulled off  at the drink station for a top up of our water bottles – 75 km under the belt and the biggest ascent of the day ahead of us.

The course profile
The course profile

Harrietville to Mt Hotham has the distinction of being the only Hors Categorie climb in Australia. It had been on my bucket list for a long time and it didn’t disappoint. Despite being HC it was actually not the most difficult climb of the day. It was long (30 km) but with an average gradient of only 4-5%, a few steep ramps but  a mid-section with a false flat that saw us pick up casino online quite a bit of speed. I actually had time to enjoy the spectacular views of Feathertop and the surrounding bare ridges rising over the forested valleys and slopes.

We still had a bit of energy left in the legs at the summit and managed to earn ourselves a Strava cup, 10th overall for the rolling descent from Hotham summit to the lunch stop at Dinner Plain (13km, average speed 40.3 km/hr). The organisers had arranged a valet drop off service here so we ditched the warm gear we had worn on the 1st descent, grabbed some more fluid and food and got back on the road in about 10 minutes.

Leaving Dinner Plain led us onto the beautiful Bogong high plains. I had ridden this road (in the opposite direction) when it was still unsealed, solo, 30 years ago, on a touring bike so relished the opportunity to see it again from the comfort of a sleek racing bike in the company of a peleton, which varied in number from 3 to 6 as we gradually descended through the rolling hills to the old gold mining town of Omeo.  I was paranoid about dehydration and cramping so again filled up the bidons at the designated refuelling station. The few minutes lost were worth it, I think.

Omeo marked 158km on the dial – only 77 km to go.

A few km out of Omeo saw us turn out of the valley for a long but gentle climb towards Anglers Rest, the 2nd of the designated valet drops. We nervously but safely traversed a precarious bridge crossing ½ way along. The splintered, widely spaced wooden beams were the down fall of Matthew Seale, however – he nobly sacrificed skin off his arms & legs to save the paintwork on his Willier, great effort on his behalf to finish the ride, given what lay ahead.

We all knew that the ‘back of Falls’ was the big challenge for the day. Dave Manners (who rode the Alpine Classic in January, different starting point but same route) had warned me – ‘its like riding up Gooseberry. For 9 km.’

It couldn’t be that bad.

Yes it could.

I think it would be a tough climb when you are fresh. When you turn into it with 200km in the legs, it is torture.

We struggled up. There were casualties. Tom Barratt, who had blitzed the 1st ½ of the ride, struggled to keep any food of fluid down about 10 km out of Dinner Plain – we saw him 3 km into the climb, standing beside his bike, his face a variant of SPR green, looking very sad and sorry. Others, I heard, stopped and cried. The ride booklet said it was 9 km at 9% but the 2nd ½ had some flat bits, I swear that the 1st 4-5 km felt like 15% – I had a compact on the front and a 27 on the back but was grinding at a cadence of 50, hoping desperately that my Garmin wouldn’t go into auto-pause mode as I struggled to maintain momentum.

At 210 km the road flattened out and we got some relief. I hadn’t studied the profile in enough detail to remember what was left of the ride – I knew we had more climbing to do and I knew that the last bit was relatively flat but couldn’t remember how long the easy run home was. Fortunately the last two or three ascents were short and relatively gentle and at 225 km we crested a ridge and saw the ski slopes in the distance. The last 10km was fast – not much energy left but we were spurred on the thought of finishing.

At this stage Niall & I had no other riders to work with.  We picked up a solitary cyclist about ½ way up the 2nd last climb but he sat on our wheels till the finish, a bit annoying but both of us pulled some long turns and we swept over the Rocky Valley Dam wall at the base of Falls, up the final pitch and crossed the finish line together.

As is often the case after an event such as this, I was a bit emotional after crossing the line. And tired. Exhausted, actually. And thirsty. It was an exciting place to be, riders still poring in, people standing, people collapsed, all had given everything to get to the finish line.

I had hoped to do under 10 hours so was pretty pleased to clock 9hrs 10 min on the route – 8hrs 53 min riding time. This pace saw Niall & I come in, I think, 103rd  & 104th  respectively, I was very happy with this result given that there were over 1,900 riders on the starting line.

I was particularly pleased to have shared the ride with Niall. For the majority of the ride he drove me just a little harder than I would have gone if I was on my own. As it turned out, I did have the reserve to cope with this and so got a much better time courtesy of him. There were, I think a couple of occasions when he was flagging and I spurred him on a bit – it was a great partnership.

John Doyle was the next SPR rider across the line. The wounded Matthew Seale and the ill Tom Barrat crossed the line not much later – an amazing effort on Tom’s behalf given his inability to keep any fluids down for the 2nd ½ of the race. Nick Churchill was very close on their heels and all the above riders nabbed a coveted sub 10 hr jerseys, fantastic achievements all round.

SPR ride of the day undoubtedly went to Ben Madsen. We knew he had the history (he finished 16th last year on a different but equally challenging course) but has been troubled a bit by injury of late and I wasn’t sure what form he was in? Dropped on the Thursday fast ride a few weeks ago didn’t auger well, I thought. But he had been saving for the day! I think we need to test him – he flew around the course. In the leading bunch till ½ way up Hotham when three freaks managed to get away, Ben was in 6th position less than 2 km from the finish when, due to, he thinks, fatigue, he miscalculated a very slight turn and came crashing off his bike. Broken finger, skin off a few limbs, puncture and bent chain rings, he still managed to get his bike into some semblance of working order and cross the line in 11th position with a time of 8 hrs 17 mins. His Strava ride (just posted today, I think) has more cups than grandma”s china cabinet. In awe.

Jerry Hall-Ghossein also had a blinder of a day, coming in 34th at 8 hrs 42 min. His hard work on those KP & Reabold repeats is certainly paying off.

Special mention to new SPR member Peter Leman. Pete spent 2 days in bed at the beginning of the week with a nasty chest infection. He could barely talk the day before the ride (a blessing, really, because when he does talk not much of it makes sense 🙂 ). He still managed to complete the ride despite feeling absolutely wiped out before he even got on his bike – a truly extraordinary effort.

3 Peaks is over. For another year.

I hesitate to finish with thoughts of the next challenge.

Because, driving up to Falls, Ben mentioned he was thinking of doing the Haute Route…..



PS – ride video on the 3 Peaks website – Matthew”s bruised & battered back features @2.43


8 thoughts on “3 Peaks Challenge 2014”

  1. super effort Jim! although you’ve made it sound like quite a fun day you haven’t quite convinced me yet of having a go at it myself.

  2. Great effort Jim and the rest of the boys especially Tom. I’m not sure how he carried on and finished under 10 hours having seen the way he was suffering after Dinner Plains, chapeau Tom.
    The back of falls creek is absolutely brutal, I haven’t seen anything like it and hope not to in the future. Rough road, no scenery to look at, 10-15% gradient for 9kms, and even a snake on the road to make it a tad more challenging.
    Another event ticked but I don’t think I’ll be back for that one.
    Many thanks to Nick Churchill for organizing the penthouse, we certainly enjoyed the spa and the beers overlooking Falls Creek. It was a weekend to remember!

  3. Great write up Jim and well done to you and Niall.
    Very kind words regarding my ride – thank you:)
    I echo Jerry’s sentiments re Tom’s determination and resilience to finish – not being able to hold down fluids from Dinner plain (115km) and still get a sub 10 hr jersey is remarkable.
    I haven’t done anything like the Back of Falls with such a steep gradient for that duration either and wasn’t on top of the climb.
    Personally I think the biggest nod should go to Nick who organised the whole trip and somehow manage to devise a plan that would get everyone to/From Falls with people flying in/out at different times. Somehow he managed to score the pent house for the group, complete with spa and spectacular views; such a venue made the pre/post celebrations so much easier and enjoyable. We also discovered who the MasterChefs were in the group (Tom, Matt & Jerry) – great food thank you:)

  4. Awesome effort Jim. Both you and Niall made it seem effortless, at least from my perspective.

    I didn’t have much left at the top of Mt Hotham, and then managed to escape the guard rail and nasty drop when I front wheel punctured at 70km/h on the way into Omeo.

    Mt Hotham and Back of Falls were the reason for me coming back again after last year’s diversion due to landslides.

    The combo punch is well worth their reputation and my disdain for compact cranks has changed forever.

    So next challenge? 5 Dams is the same distance but less than half the climbing and no Back of Falls or HC climbs.

    I just looked up Haute Route and there is now a Dolomites version that looks great to target in 2015.

    Shall we pencil it in?

  5. Well done all and thanks for the write up Jim. I have to say the best bit for me is your concern of your garmin going to ‘auto pause’, classic.
    Hope you’ve all recovered well.

  6. Excellent write up Jim, and congratulations on an awesome ride! Congrats and kudos to the other boys that rode so well as well.
    (remind me to avoid a SPR hills ride for awhile until all this “training” has dissipated)

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