Ride Report – ACE250
After having done numerous AAC200’s , I thought it was about time that I tackled the ACE250 this year. The 3 peaks challenge in March is basically over the same course, but as those that rode that day will attest, we had 68mm of rain that day & I pulled out having reached Anglers Rest (where we were staying), cold & wet & completely over ‘it’, without having tackled the ‘infamous’ back ‘o falls climb…so having been defeated by it once, (well defeated by the weather, anyway), I had added incentive to ‘tick’ this box on my virtual ‘bucket list’. As usual, I promised myself that I’d do the training preparation, lotsa miles, lotsa hills & turn up to the start in peak ‘nick’ to do this…also as usual, none of this happened!
. I’d done virtually no hills in preparation, quite a bit of endurance, but zero hills. As a coach, I’ve always maintained that these rides are about endurance, rather than climbing, so despite my lack of preparation, felt reasonably confident of ‘making it’ if I rode within my limits…even if I did need to ride ‘shanks pony’ some of the way up the back o’ falls!
….I did make a concession to ‘preparation’ by only getting ‘half’ p!ssed in the brewery on Saturday night!.
I’d chosen the 4am start for a couple of reasons, I was excited by the prospect of climbing Hotham in the dark, seeing the sun rise whilst climbing & the spectacular vista that would be on display. Also, given the usual weather conditions at this time of year, I’d be 5 hours or so into the ride before it started to get hot.
Awoke at 2.30am, had set the alarm for 3, but woke up early & figured I wasn’t going to get back to sleep, so may as well get up. Everything had been prepared the night before, so, breakfast, get dressed & I was down at the start line by 3.45am. It seems everyone was keen to go, as start line already had heaps of riders milling around. In keeping with the French theme of Audax, a buxom French ‘wench’ was giving out kisses & hugs to all the riders like we were going off to war or something, she singled me out for special attention having spied the French frame I was riding!
I milled about with the other riders, looking at equipment & chatting. One bloke on a Cannondale had everything including the kitchen sink on board & questioned me about my lack of ‘kit’. He had a rain jacket, arm & leg warmers, a gillet, shoe covers, helmet cover, microwave, eperb, GPS, satellite phone, enough spare parts to build a complete new bike, etc etc
….I started to think that perhaps I was under equipped with only a bit of food, a couple of tubes & a set of armwarmers in case of some cool descents…meh, I figured I’d done enough 200’s in these conditions that I didn’t want or need to carry that much ‘junk’…still, seeing guys going out like this makes you a little nervous that you aren’t prepared. A quick countdown…& we were off!
I have no idea how many had chosen the 4am option & it was difficult to estimate in the dark, 50?, 100?, but it was a spectacular sight watching the combinations of blinkies & fixed lights head out toward harrietville for the climb up Hotham. The ‘pace’ was on from the start, obviously some guys had set themselves to do it quickly. I was soon back with a bunch of 20 or 30 watching the tail lights of the quicker guys disappear up the road. Given my preparation, or lack of, my strategy was to ride at my own pace, not spend too long in the controls & see how the day unfolded. There wasn’t a lot of talking in the bunch, infact it was eerily quiet, all riders seeming to be contemplating the challenges ahead…or like me, yawning their heads off!
. Harrietville loomed out of the darkness quite quickly….although I’ve ridden this road 100’s of times, it’s quite a different experience in the dark & took a little while to get my bearings as to exactly ‘where’ we were at any time. The climb to Hotham commenced & a number of riders seemed to be caught in the wrong gear…I immediately dropped down to my lowest, although not needing too & sat in the bunch spinning up that 1st 2km that is quite steep, watching guys get shelled out the back everywhere…the pace wasn’t that quick, a lot where obviously taking it conservatively, (as was I). I must say a fascinating experience climbing Hotham in the dark, the click of gears, laboured breathing, almost the only sounds & with ‘sight’ limited to the extent of the ayups beam, a very eerie experience. We climbed steadily, up past the Meg, you could look back down the valley & watch the lights & blinkies of others several ‘switchbacks’ below making progress up the mountain. I reminded myself to start eating & sipped from my bidons, more out of habit than need, as it was still quite cool, but I knew this was ‘insurance’ for later on. As we got up toward Buckland gate, dawn was starting to break, rather than the spectacular sunrise I was hoping for, we could see that the upper reaches of Hotham were covered in cloud & with wet roads, it had obviously been raining, the coolness of the morning started to seep beneath my ‘summer’ jersey & I started to wonder whether I would regret my ‘minimalist’ approach to clothing…still, nothing I could do about it now!.
The sun came up rather quickly through the clouds, sending streams of light down through the vally below, a truly spectacular sight, it was still dark enough below to see heaps of other riders lights coming up the road behind me. Given the number behind, I was obviously in the front half, but feeling great & riding conservatively, whilst at the same time making reasonable pace. Through Buckland gate & onto the hardest bits of Hotham, CRB hill & Hopes Rise….now it was cold, a freezing wind roaring up through the valley, with visibility in some sections down to about 50m…cold, but needed to push on, still feeling great & having no substantial clothes to put on, was no point stopping. The cloud cleared a bit at the top of Hotham, the early morning sun’s rays providing a bit of respite from the chill. Numerous riders were stopped at the top, putting on extra clothing for the descent to Dinner Plain. I put on my armwarmers & kept going. The temp was much warmer than I expected on the ‘other’ side & I made it to Dinner plain without feeling the cold too much. A quick ‘natural break’, a cookie & I was off, leaving a number of the ‘pace setters’ from earlier still having coffee…I felt great, so didn’t see any reason to hang around, wanting to get as many miles under my belt as possible before it got too hot later, as it surely would.
I love the descent from Dinner Plain to Omeo, it’s quite undulating, but pure riding pleasure, with some spots hitting 80kph on the descents. Into the Omeo control, still feeling fantastic, a salad roll, a natural break & I was off, again, leaving quite a few that had arrived at the control before me behind. I was eating & drinking constantly & feeling a million bucks, but wondered ‘when’ my lack of preparation would catch up with me…I had a feeling the back o’ falls would be my nemesis!
. An uneventful, but spectacularly beautiful ride to Anglers Rest, where I had my longest stop of the day, eating, had a can of coke & contemplated what was to come. It was at this point that the 1st of the ‘whippets’ from the 6am group came through…they were surely on a mission & wasted no time at all in getting in & out, filling bidons & off again.
Ah, well, I finished my cookie & coke & decided that sitting wasn’t getting me anywhere (literally)
& headed out to face what I was convinced would be my undoing. Arm warmers off now & I was feeling pretty good about my minimalist clothing decisions. It wasn’t hot, maybe 25deg, but certainly warm enough whilst climbing that I was glad I didn’t bring too much ‘junk’….( I gave a thought to my Cannondale ‘mate’ whom I hadn’t seen since he went off the ‘back’ at Harrietville). The 10kms from Anglers Rest to the start of the back o’ falls climb, flew by….all of a sudden, the sigh pointing to the turn loomed around a corner….gulp!...straight into my lowest gear & up we go!
Anyone who tries to tell you that the 1st 5km of Falls isn’t steep….is delusional!...for those that know Hotham, think steeper than CRB hill but 5km long!. I’d done a reccy before 3 peaks, & had ridden the 1st 5km before, but not with 150km already in the legs. I settled into a steady rhythm & wondered how long it would be before I was walking, like a number of my compatriates around me. Each corner provided no respite, I tried mumbling some encouragement to those around me, but pretty much was alone with my thoughts as we climbed. The cloud cover had lifted & the temp was climbing, particularly with the exertion of climbing it was getting hot. Audax had thoughtfully left unmanned 50 lt water bottles every couple of km’s up the climb which were very well patronized. I didn’t stop as I didn’t want to break my rhythm & it was so steep I was worried about ‘clipping’ back in again without falling off!.
After about 5km, it levels out, well when I say ‘levels out’, it gets down to about 7% from the 10 to 15% of the 1st 5km. Someone said, “we’re through the worst”, which I found encouraging, as I was still making reasonable progress at around 8-10kph & feeling better than I thought. A bloke fell in front of me after cramping in both quads & calves at the same time & couldn’t clip out quickly enough. He was Ok & I pressed on. The road surface has improved significantly from 3 peaks, where it was all still pretty loose after being sealed, nothing to complain about now, those bits that were still a little gravel didn’t make much impact as I was going so slow!. All of a sudden I was at the Trap yard gates & I knew that the going was significantly easier now & started to feel confident of my ability to not only finish, but also to not have to walk any of the climb. A quick water stop & was advised we were 4km from the top…stopped & gave a gel to a bloke that had food flatted & kept going…all of a sudden to dam at the top of falls was in view & I felt tremendous euphoria that I had ‘made it’ (even though there was still some 60km to go…surely Tawonga was only a speed bump compared to the climbs we had completed?). A muffin, some creamed rice (Ok, I had seconds as well!
) & off again. The descent down falls was uneventful, but as we lost altitude toward Mt beauty I could feel the temperature rising, & it occurred to me that it must have been quite a hot day in the valleys, but we hadn’t really noticed as we’d been at altitude all day. Thankfully Tawonga was in the shade & although hot, I counted off the KM’s to the top. Rang SWMBO at the top & she said she’d be at the finish, I said “bring beer”
. Uneventful descent of tawonga although spied my 1st ambulance of the day, hope everything was OK & it reminded me to keep my wits about me for the final descent. Rolled into Bright & across the finish line to raucous cheers of friends & family who SWMBO had rounded up to meet me at the finish….& an icy cold brew from the Brewery which didn’t even touch the sides!...total elapsed time was 13 hr 15 mins….very happy camper, & was well inside my pre-ride estimation of 14 hrs plus (if I make it).
Post ride thoughts:
1/ If you’re considering the 250, do the 4am start, it’s spectacular…having to carry lights & a redundant set as well is well worth it.
2/ ‘gear’ as low as you can get…you’ll be grateful on the back o’ falls
3/ I’ve done plenty of 200’s where I’ve felt worse after than the 250. For me, spending nearly the whole day at ‘altitude’ meant it was much cooler than climbing Tawonga & Buffalo in the heat of the day & therefore left me feeling much less ‘knackered’
4/ Great day, great organization, great vollies, well done Audax. Immediately after the finish I said, “I’m never doing that again”…24 hours later I was already talking of how much time I could take off my 13hrs if I bothered to actually train!