When the entry opened back in August last year for the 2014 Alpine Classic (my 5th), I was in a dilemma. Should I get on the ACE 250km bus again or tackle the 200km classic? In the end, the new option of "Sunrise over Buffalo" won the day but missing out on the 250 loop niggled me constantly. I have a crush on this loop and its wonderful road - see my previous post on this road.
A week out from the event and Mark and I were planning our Saturday ride. The tradition seems to be something flat and easy in the valley but we had had our eye on Hotham for a while. Mark was coming up with his family, I was riding solo for this weekend. Let's put this on the table - it was Mark's idea and I was not going to say no. "You've got all day", he said, "Why don't you do the 250 on Saturday. We can ride up Hotham together and you can keep going. You don't need support and if you have a mechanical, I can come and get you". I had my plan and the opportunity to bag both rides. All I needed now was some co-operative weather! Hells 500 would be proud.
One of the challenges of riding in any Alpine region is dealing with the huge temperature variations. You can be climbing out of the valley floor in 30C+ only a few hours after descending for 30 mins or more in 5C. The Alpine Classic 2014 was one such example.
The ACE 250km loop
Mark and I rolled out of Porepunkah at a very civilised 6.30am, wasted 10 mins catching up with a few others in Bright and finally got on the road to the bottom of Hotham by 7am. It was a cool start but nothing that a gilet and arm warmers couldn't deal with. We passed a few small groups on the Alpine Raid, a delightful sounding 2 day version of the 250, with an overnight in Omeo and were soon on the lower slopes of Hotham, an ever challenging 30km climb. Mark left me to press on ahead (I had a long day and we had managed to waste a chunk of time already!). The higher I climbed, the cooler it became, with the sun disappearing behind the gathering clouds. I was starting to wonder if it was going to rain.
The rollers out to Anglers Rest were as pleasant as ever and after riding it the opposite direction in late November, it is definitely easier in the anti-clockwise direction. I had planned to buy some water from the Blue Duck Inn but the surprisingly cooler temperatures meant I had plenty of water for the Back of Falls. Ah, WTF corner and the Back of Falls. Dealing pain and suffering since 2009. Many a broken dream on this remote stretch of highway!
I'm not sure if it was the relaxed mood, the cooler temperatures, the conservative riding (I had another day to come) or all of the above, but the climb felt easier than many an assault of the hill. The worst was soon over, the ever beautiful High Plains were crossed and the second food stop at Falls Creek was upon me. Just the Gap and a few rollers to go and I would be ready for a beer and a sit in the river.
Sunrise Over Buffalo 200km
Why is the Audax Alpine Classic my only "event" of the year? It's the camaraderie, the volunteers, the atmosphere. Most of my riding is done solo or in a group or only 2 or 3. Although everyone rides for themselves, the collective support for the Alpine Classic is always a beautiful thing. "There goes another pair of pink socks". "Nice shoes".
For our early 4am start, I was riding with Mark and we knew of a number of others on this ride and many of the others offered on the day. It was a chilly start as the collective headlights of 400 or so bikes rode out of Bright and down the valley to the lower slopes of Buffalo, the first climb of the day. As ever as soon as the road turned upwards, the bunches split and the riders were spread out across the mountain. I've written about climbing in the dark before and it is special. I've even said I'd never climb Buffalo in the dark again but, somehow, in the company of others I had forgotten I ever said that!
We were soon over the top and dropping down to the lake before the final pinch to Dingo Dell. It was at this point, with the sun just starting to appear, that we realised how cold it was, around 3C, with a 19km descent to come. I had cunningly packed my warmer top (which I would later dump back down at Porepunkah on the way through) and I needed it. Once we had had a quick refuel, the descent was every bit as cold as expected and we were shivering by the time we flashed past the park entrance booth.
The other wonderful thing about Audax rides is that they know how to feed the riders. Back through Bright, we couldn't resist another stop! We were out to enjoy our day not set any records. Tawonga passed uneventfully. I was enjoying my new found confidence descending and I was now at the point where I could hold my own on the technical descents - thanks new bike and new wheels! After another obligatory food stop (we may well have returned heavier than we left), we were soon on the slopes of Falls Creek.
The mercury finally started to rise on Falls but it was never overly warm and the ever meandering slopes were as fun as ever. We passed a few riders, we were passed by riders and it was only the last few kilometres that seem to drag at our wheels (don't they ever?). Re-fuelled once more at Falls (quiche and creamed rice - yum!), we dropped off the mountain and straight into a now 30C+ Tawonga Gap. This was tougher. I have a love - hate relationship with her slopes. When the mercury is friendly or the shade generous, it is a beautiful climb but when the full fury of the sun is on your back, it can feel like an endurance test. Today it was the latter and we plodded in place of glided up the mountain, safe in the knowledge that this was the last effort of the day.
Once over the top, Mark seem to decide that he had to set some kind of land speed record down into Bright and it was only 5km out from the town that I finally managed to catch him. "I want to get under 10 hours" he said and we rolled in with 10 mins to spare (not too bad for a "social" pace).
I looked back on my two days with satisfaction over a beer in the Buckland river. Backing this up from yesterday felt good and another landmark for me after the Festive 500 in two consecutive days.
I must also mention Marty and Mitch who, not content with the ACE 250 added a lap of Buffalo onto the end of the ride for a 320km and 6000m day! Chapeau!
474km, 9 100m of climbing and 20 hours in the saddle.
ACE 250km loop - http://www.strava.com/activities/108741713
Sunrise over Buffalo - http://www.strava.com/activities/108990418