Read about the individual experiences at Peaks in the recaps
On 13 March 2021 over 1800 nervous, anxious and excited cyclists stood ready to embark on the 235km epic that is Bicycle Network’s Peaks Challenge. Amongst them on the starting line at Falls Creek 15 dedicated and well-trained Vikings waited, final words of advice buzzing in their minds, ready to put to test months of hard work and training. All that was left to do at that point was ride!
For some, Peaks Challenge is the ultimate cycling challenge, a way to test ones mental and physical strength in the most testing of situations. Other use Peaks to declare a self-ultimatum to train hard and get stronger and show that they can be stronger than they ever thought possible.
For the Vikings Cycling Club, it’s where the values of our riders and the club as a whole shine brightest – both those entering the event and those cheering them on from afar. Not to mention an avenue to showcase a bunch of strong riders across the cycling community. When we head down to the Alpine Valley, we normally come back with the goods.
Peaks – the Prep
At some stage at the end of the year or early in the next, often after the third serving of trifle and pudding at Christmas and the uncomfortable squeezing into lycra in the New Year, a rider confirms an idea they have toyed with for months – ‘Yep, I’m doing Peaks’. Whether the numerical metrics of 235km and 4500m of vertical climbing are actually considered is up for debate.
For 15 Vikings, the potential of entering turned into reality early and the most dedicated formed a training group to build in preparation over a number of months. The early days were filled with uncertainty ‘would this training actually be enough to pull this off’. The only confident riders at this stage appeared equally deranged, providing no comfort to the uncertain.
So started the inevitable but necessary ‘climbing training’. Black Mountain after Black Mountain ensued. A relentless leg-destroying 13 percenter that settles into a ‘more comfortable’ 8 per cent climb, 5 times each session, multiple mornings across many weeks. These sessions were ‘leg-openers’ to the weekend climbs up Corin – 45 to 60 minutes each climb, multiple climbs per ride – on stifling summer days only to be followed by soul-searching scrambles back up Cotter Road.
The determination of the riders was tested each time and it was here that the values of Vikings Cycling Club really shone-through. The group banded together each session, united by a common goal, always encouraging each other to keep going – ‘don’t stop riding’. A motto that would echo when the event itself was at its toughest. The group was spurred on, not just by each other, but those from the club cheering from afar waiting to hear of their training heroics at the next Norman club ride. And who could forget the partners and families of those riders, the ones that spent weekends hoping their loved-ones would arrive safe-and-sound. The ones that listen, without flinching, the blow-by-blow account of each hour that went by during each and every training ride. The ones that forced down with a smile the same-old meal of pasta and tomato sauce day-after-day-after-day. Teamwork really does make the dream work.
Peaks – the pre- Ride
The Vikings riders headed down to the Alpine Valley, a sense of optimism mixed with uncertainty. A Vikings convoy is always part of the Alpine Valley travel experience – stopping at various places on the way down. Once arrived, the riders checked-out the area the day before, tested their equipment and made sure the bikes that would carry them over the line were rearing to go. A fun couple of days ensued for the group who shared apartments at Fall’s Creek either side of the event – a tight group of Vikings who, despite having very different training approaches, speeds and goals, all revelled in the shared journey that brought them to this point.
Most importantly, the riders were stocking up on the fuel to see them out over the course of day. With immense appreciation from all the riders, a special thanks go to Mike Ryan in cooking meals for the riders over the weekend. This was no small feat when you consider the number of riders multiplied by the energy expended over the course of the weekend – we are talking a contribution of field-kitchen proportions.
Peaks – the Ride
The riders rolled up to the starting positions, temperatures cool but not freezing – a good start. The ride begins with a 30km descent to Mt Beauty, usually a challenge on-par with the climbing due to the excitement amongst riders creating a mixed-bag of unknowns on the fast, winding downhill run. This year, things were different. Smaller groups left in waves – a welcome feature and it wasn’t long before there was enough space for the riders to carve their own path on the descent. A small group of Vikings departed in the last group. With brief panic they’d be left behind by the starting groups, it wasn’t long before they caught up to the Bicycle Network ride leaders (aka the ones that ride to finish at certain times, providing a pacing tool for participants) and from there it was full focus on the hills ahead.
First up, Tawonga Gap. For those new to the course, Tawonga appears to pale in comparison to the juggernauts that are Hotham and Falls. For the uninitiated who go too hard are surely in for a day of pain. Once climbing, riders soon find out what Tawonga has to offer – a worthy candidate for a stage finish at the Tour of Bright. A winding path of steep pinches present themselves and don’t relent. Rhythm is key, as is a good understanding of one’s limits – something months of pushing up Black Mountain and Corin Climb has instilled.
With Tawonga under the belt, thoughts turn towards Hotham – The Meg an imposing thought for all. Savvy riding was needed to get to Hotham. It’s a one hour stretch between Tawonga and the bottom of Hotham, a long time to be exposed to the elements by yourself if you’re not careful. Every ounce of energy is needed for the climbs.
After entering Harriotville the ascent up Hotham begins. The riders break down the climb mentally – ‘get through The Meg than its relatively flat, regroup before the climb to Hotham’ – while slowly counting down the kilometres. The false flat appears and, with it, spectacular views of the mountain range. Then the climb to Hotham. The last part is hard. You never quite appreciate how steep the last 3 kilometres are until you’re on them. You never quite believe the ‘last climb’ really is the last climb.
At the top of Hotham, there’s short-lived relief. Two climbs down. But the day is getting long, the saddle more and more firm. Thoughts start to go awry. ‘My legs are cramping’, ‘I can’t keep this pace’, ‘Please, I cannot eat another gel’. As the kilometres go by these thoughts grow. The sun is getting hotter. The body starts to protest. The thought of any more climbs seem beyond ability. And ‘that bloody Omeo headwind’ that no one ever thought to mention in the pre-ride training chats appears.
The fight for each kilometer becomes bitter. There’s one more climb to go. The mind starts crunching the numbers ‘If I can get to the bottom of WTF corner by 3pm, I’ll have 2 hours and I might just make it’. The mind tells the body ‘that’s bearable, we can do this. You’ve done it before’. All thoughts are now bent on beating the time. ‘187km down, and it’s now 2:30pm, 2 and a half hours left. Can I even still make it? I can’t be at the back of Falls with any less than two hours up my sleeve.’
As the bunches thin out into spaced-out lonesome riders, any chance of catching a wheel to follow start to fade. The prospect of beating the time is in the air. It’s now a matter of perfectly sparing the remaining energy while riding as quickly as possible to finish in time. Each kilometre presents a defeated rider to whizz past, hoping your fate doesn’t match their own.
The last final climb is the ultimate test for tired legs. Every training session has been built around this last climb. Only, the pressure of the ticking clock and the fatigue of a full-days riding weigh ever-present. The mind turns again to arithmetic ‘There’s now 30 minutes left with 14km to ride – it’s 4:39pm, 21 minutes left and 10km to go’. ‘There are descents up ahead – I’ve got this’. There’s nothing left to do now but hope there’s still enough petrol in the tank. The last 10km has some helpful descents. ‘Keep riding’. Aero tuck deployed wherever possible – 60km/h, 50km/h. A slight rise; 300 watts – ‘don’t lose momentum! There’s the dam! Descend fast. Flat section, keep pedalling’. Around the corner, you’re right at the back of the dam. 5km to go, 4:51pm – 9 minutes left’. There’s only a few more corners until the dam. ‘4:54pm – 6 minutes. Keep going!’. 4:56pm, 4 minutes left, one climb, 2km to ride. Cross the Dam, out of the saddle, punch over the climb ‘keep pedalling’. The time’s 4:58pm ‘2 minutes left’. ‘There’s the final turn into the finishing chute’. Resting hopes that the Garmin is on the money all that is left to do is go full gas – zipping up the jersey, ensuring ‘Vikings’ is plastered across the chest on the finish line. The time is there, shining at the finish line. A sense of relief and nerves spiking as you put every last ounce of strength into the pedals ‘I’ve done it’.
The sense of relief and joy at finishing under time is matched only by the cheer that echoes from Vikings riders that remained at the finish line to see everyone make it through. It’s at this point that you realise what it means to ride with Vikings – from the supportive environment during those cold mornings up Black Mountain to the cheers and support sounded at the finish line.
Throughout the training journey and at the event there were club members with supportive and motivating comments, helpful training ideas and useful experiences to draw on.
The Vikings Cycling Club now looks towards an actioned packed remainder to the 2021 calendar with plenty of racing scheduled, testing challenge rides and the weekly ‘normal’ of our group rides.