Tag Archives: 7 Peaks

Great time of year to get on your bikes…

It might be pro road cycling’s off-season, but the traditional Aussie summer thwack of leather on willow is still being drowned out by spinning freewheels and the clacking of plastic cleats on cafe floors. Yes, the sun is out, the tan lines are crisping up nicely, and Australia’s cycling community is putting a collective leg over like Errol Flynn in a…. hang on, just updating my cultural references… like Mick Jagger at a… no… like Chris Froome on his honeymoon? It’s Aussie bike-riding season! Well, technically it’s always bike-riding season, what with the National Road Series (NRS) happening all winter, and all the state-based and club-based road races too. And it’s never a bad time to ride a bike, right? But this time of year is extra sweet. The weather is warm but not yet boiling, the dive-bombing magpies are calming down a bit, and you can head out for a ride reasonably confident that you won’t get drenched. In Melbourne, where I live, there’s racing more days than there isn’t. You can race in the morning, at night, after work, on the weekend, on the road, on a velodrome, down a mountain, up a fire trail. You name it, and you can attack it with two wheels and a fistful of energy gels. There are sportive rides, mass-participation rides, hill climbs, coffee rides, gravel grinds, mountain bikers dodging snakes (that should be an Olympic sport now that I think about it) and the rest of it. It’s a great time to be riding in Australia. And the professionals know it. It’s their off-season, which for the Aussies (and some adopted ones) means heading home for some time with family and friends, a bit of time off the bike, and then back into training in warm weather to start the build up to January, when Nationals and the Tour Down Under get the serious season underway. It’s a great time of year to spot internationally-famous riders catching up with old mates on the local roads, and dropping in to club races for a bit of fun. Chris Froome is even heading to Tasmania to race a crit with Richie Porte on December 7th. Froome has just gotten married, and he’s not a renowned crit rider, so don’t hold your breath for a massive performance from the former Tour de France champion, but still. How many times has a Tour winner raced in Australia, let alone in Launceston? Richie deserves a medal from the Tassie Tourism Board for that little effort. It all sort of starts this weekend in Melbourne with the Melbourne Kermesse Championships, where the local racers get a chance to have a go against some World Tour pros. A kermesse (not the green singing frog) is a Belgian style of circuit racing, sort of like a giant criterium. This circuit, around an industrial estate in suburban Scoresby, is not exactly the pinnacle of cycling’s natural beauty, but its sweeping curves should be fun to race on.

This is part of the Melbourne Kermesse Championships course. It's in a business park.
This is part of the Melbourne Kermesse Championships course. It’s in a business park.

Orica-GreenEdge riders Simon Clarke and Mitch Docker are racing in men’s A grade, along with Giant-Shimano’s Koen de Kort, Trek’s Calvin Watson, Garmin-Sharp’s Steele Von Hoff, and leading rider agent (better known as a Tour de France green jersey winner) Baden Cooke. The rest of the men’s A grade field is a good blend of NRS riders and Melbourne’s fastest club racers. They’ll be bang up for it, too. Women’s A grade is also peppered with internationals: Kimberley Wells, Road/MTB/Track star Peta Mullens, Rebecca Wiasak, National TT champion Felicity Wardlaw, and Bridie O’Donnell will be amongst the contenders. There’s also a team time trial and lower grades, for the up-and-comers and weekend warriors (and even some hack bloggers). A disclaimer: my club is sharing in the organisation (but seems inexplicably determined to avoid earning any credit or publicity for doing so). If that’s not your cup of espresso, this weekend is also the beginning of the Domestique 7 Peaks series, which is a great series of free, supported rides up some of Victoria’s best mountains. I did the Mt Buller ride last year and had a great time. In a couple of weeks Orica-GreenEdge has its annual Winery Ride, where fans can meet the team’s riders, another good chance to get motivated (and drink some wine afterwards). That’s just a tiny taste of the bike-related good times going on around these parts. Good fun is really what this time of year is all about. Get on yer bikes, it’s a great way to see the gun riders up close and personal.

Domestique Mt Buller: Ride report

If you ask me, the whole point of being a cyclist is being able to ride up hills.

It’s the purest form of self-expression on two wheels; a test of strength and character you can set against a backdrop as sublime as you’re willing to attempt.

For those of us following the heroes of professional racing, it is the battles on steep slopes that imprint most vividly in our collective memory. The names of legendary climbs resonate with meaning for those who have witnessed feats of strength, courage and daring as these pinnacles stretch into the clouds: Alpe d’Huez, Zoncolan, Col du Galibier, the Mortirolo, Mont Ventoux, the Angliru, Col de Peyresourde.

For those of us whose ambitions (and abilities) are more humble, the mountains present the chance to express our own passion for cycling, soaking up the burning, breathless experience of a truly lived reality, pushing deep into our reserves of glycogen and resilience, far from city desks and traffic.

Riding up mountains is the kind of hard work that makes it worthwhile building the fitness and determination required.

It’s also accessible to anyone with the inclination.

The only barrier to entry is a willingness to get out there.

Rolling to the start of the climb.
Rolling to the start of the climb.

Victoria, where I live, is lucky to have some stunning and challenging climbs within a few hours’ drive of Melbourne, but too many of us get stuck in our comfort zones, repeating the same rides week after week.

To drag riders out under their big skies, and generate some tourism during the relatively quiet summer season, the Victorian alpine resorts and regional tourism organisations have created the 7 Peaks series (http://www.7peaks.com.au/).

Riders register for a ride passport, get it stamped at the top of each of the seven nominated ascents at any time between October and the end of March, and can win prizes. It’s a great initiative that has been very popular, but sometimes we just need an extra nudge to get out of town.

This is a job for the Domestique crew

Domestique is a project created by Matt de Neef, creator of the The Climbing Cyclist website  and editor of Cycling Tips, and Andy Van Bergen, of hill-climbing obsessives Hells 500.

These guys know their hills.

Domestique organises a free ride at each of seven climbs of the 7 Peaks Challenge, spread across the summer, providing structured opportunities for riders who want to complete part or all of the 7 Peaks series.

The rides are for people of all abilities and levels of experience. They are not meant to be epics, they’re relatively short and fun.

In late February I joined the final ride of the season, at Mt Buller (near Simon Gerrans’ home town of Mansfield, about 3 hours drive North-East of Melbourne).

Looking back down towards the Mt Buller Alpine Village
Looking back down towards the Mt Buller Alpine Village

I was so impressed with the organisation and great vibe of the ride I followed up with organiser, Matt de Neef.

I wanted to find out what motivated him to spend the time and energy to organise a series of rides, for no reward other than personal satisfaction.

“Ever since we got into cycling Andy [van Bergen] and I have loved riding in the hills. And living in Victoria we’ve got some pretty great hills and mountains to ride up. We were both hooked by the idea of the 7 Peaks Alpine Ascent Challenge as soon as we heard of it, and we wanted to help introduce as many people as possible to the joy and satisfaction of tackling these great mountains.

We knew there were some things that stopped people from riding in the mountains — no-one to ride with, a lack of confidence, a lack of experience — so we sought to create an environment where those barriers didn’t exist (or didn’t matter) and where everyone, regardless of their ability, would be welcome to tackle the mountain at their own pace. We’ve been lucky enough to collaborate with the 7 Peaks Alpine Ascent Challenge and I think it’s fair to say we’re all very happy with how things have gone.

The series started in the summer of 2012-13 and we’ve just finished our second season. It’s been a steep learning curve for Andy and I but we’re having a great time doing it and we’re very proud of what we’ve achieved so far.

Across the seven rides we organised this summer we recorded more than 1,400 successful climbs (more than 200 riders per event).

Lake Mountain was the most popular ride for the series, probably due to its proximity to Melbourne. That particular ride was probably also the most popular given Lake Mountain is one of the easier of the 7 Peaks (once you get up the first 4.5km).

We’re already talking about what we can do to ensure the Domestique 7 Peaks Series is as good next summer if not better than it was this time around. This summer we’ve managed to strike up some great relationships with key supporters and we’ve approached this series as “proof of concept” year. I think we’ve shown that we can deliver something that is valuable to cyclists of all abilities and we look forward to expanding on that next year.”

As a proof of concept goes, I would have to agree with Matt that this was a stunning success. In fact, managing that success may prove to be a challenge in itself as the rides grow in popularity.

As to my own experience riding up Mt Buller, well I suppose I should share it.

The carnival atmosphere at the summit
The carnival atmosphere at the summit

I drove up on the morning of the ride with my friend Gus and his brother Gerarde, shoehorned into the back of Gus’ car with my bike folded across my legs.

A stop for the lunch of champions (a meat pie and a vanilla slice) from the bakery in Yea was washed down by a bidon of electrolyte mix as we continued on to Merrijig, 13km from the start of the ride.

A gentle roll to the ride briefing at the Mirimbah toll-booth, a chance to fill bidons and grab some free nutrition products from event sponsors, and we were away.

Never having attempted Mt Buller before, I wasn’t exactly nervous, but more prepared to just enjoy the ride and take in the scenery at a good pace.

Gus and I posing at the summit.
Gus and I posing at the summit.

I wanted to give it a good crack, without doing anything silly.

Mt Buller is a beautiful 15km climb, winding through forest and fern-lined gullies. It frequently opens out to provide stunning views across the valley.

I’m a competent climber; as a reformed middle-distance runner my hamstrings are about as supple as lumpy bits of wood, but I have a decent engine and I know where my anaerobic threshold is.

I settled into the climb, feeling my way into the gradient and trying not to fall into the trap of racing (this ride is not a race!) and blowing up early.

I maintained a solid tempo, and fellow riders became less frequent as the climb progressed. With the roads closed to traffic the climb was serene, just the steady hum of my tyres on the road set against the rhythm of my breathing.

I spent most of the second half of the climb alone, or trying to wind in someone disappearing around the next bend.

Buller panorama

Riding virtually solo, on empty roads, was a meditative experience.

The effort to catch each rider ahead of me grew harder, as the road wound through steep hairpins and ski lifts appeared overhead.

The last stretch of the climb is the most challenging, as the gradient increases to wring the last drops of effort from already fatigued muscles. By now, most riders will have been climbing for roughly an hour.

With sweat stinging my eyes, I made the last out of the saddle drive to the Mt Buller Alpine Village, the official end of the climb.

Aware that there is a final stretch to the true top of the mountain where the sealed road finishes, I continued up the final, quad-crushing pinch and reached the top of Mt Buller.

This is as far as the sealed road will take you.
This is as far as the sealed road will take you.

Sipping a can of coke with my mates at the summit, we were all buzzing with the sense of achievement.

The carnival atmosphere (complete with DJ, jumping castle and a horde of hungry cyclists) was pumping, but the descent and roll back to the car was calling us.

Next year we might stay at the summit.

I had a great day at Mt Buller, and so did my mates and just about everyone I saw on the ride. The Domestique series hinges on this friendly, accessible vibe, and the 1,400 successful climbs this year says a lot about the success of the project.

I will definitely be back next year, hopefully for all seven peaks, and if you live anywhere near Victoria (or are visiting during the summer) I highly recommend you come along.

I've never met this guy, but he was enjoying the ride.
I’ve never met this guy, but he was enjoying the ride.

More Information:

The Climbing Cyclist’s Mt Buller ride report with photos.

Hells 500.

7 Peaks Challenge. 

The ride on Strava.