Audax Alpine Classic Ultimate 320

Ahh, as Australia Day looms on the horizon, the thoughts of some turn, not to BBQs, shrimps and lamingtons, but to compact cranks and maybe a 28-tooth cog on the back? Decisions, decisions ….. Audax Australia didn’t help by introducing another option, even more hellish but strangely attractive, to their signature cycling event – the Alpine Classic. After tackling the Bright-Hotham-Falls-Tawonga-Bright 250k ride on a few previous occasions, it seemed that there was really no other option but to end the ride in 2015 by ‘getting Buffed’. So the 320k it was. I tried to forget that I’d never finished the 250k Extreme ride feeling like I’d just love a quick spin up Mt Buffalo.

Once again, a 3am wake up call paid dividends with the early riders being treated to a magnificent sunrise up at the Razorback on Mt Hotham. There is something magical about climbing a mountain as the sky lightens and the landscape opens up around you. The chill was nice to offset the sticky warmth of Bright, just enough to merit pulling up the arm warmers, but not cool enough to justify the wind vest. The rumoured showers around the Dinner Plain side of the range remained just rumours as the sky cleared to a magnificent day.

With the arrival of daylight the much loved Audax reflective vests were rapidly discarded, revealing Lycra kit in a veritable kaleidoscope of colours and designs – pro team fan, club colours, previous epic, polka dots or stealth black anyone? The sock game also provided much interest – ankle, mid-calf, sky high, spots, stripes, even words of encouragement (‘time to hurt’ – indeed). Such distractions became increasingly necessary as the day rolled on. Omeo passed quickly, with a tailwind to offset those little uphill pinches in between the gleeful barrelling down from Dinner Plain. Unfortunately we had to pay for this, but a bunch formed to share the load heading for the Blue Duck Inn. The pace soon accelerated and I justified my involuntary rearward ejection from the peleton by telling myself that it would be dumb to arrive at the Base Of Falls completely toasted. Ultimately it probably didn’t make much difference as the brutal gradients heading up to Trapyard Gap ensured a total toasting anyway.

Luckily the climb is fairly sheltered and the temperature was very moderate by Alpine Classic standards. This meant that the wind howling across the top of Falls Creek was a bit of a shock. It would have been nice to find a friend or two, but riders were well strung out by this point and it was a slow slog to Falls Creek Village. Once there though it’s a 30k smilefest down to Mt Beauty. Which was also a good opportunity to digest all the food items rapidly stuffed down while simultaneously trying to apply sunscreen and fill bidons at the checkpoint.

The next major obstacle in the form of Tawonga Gap seemed considerably less daunting at a sub-30 degree temperature. I’d also raced up it in the Tour of Bright six weeks ago and it was very pleasant not to be quite so deep in the hurt locker on this occasion. Once over the top it’s an easy roll back into town, albeit harder to ignore the thought that it’s not over yet.

The plan? Do not sit down in Bright. Remain standing, and preferably keep one foot attached to bike, least you succumb to the temptation to have a quick pizza and a beer before ‘continuing’ (apparently nearly half of the 140 riders who started the 320k route at 4am got waylaid in Bright after 250k and forgot about the last 70k – oops).

Leaving Bright was difficult, although mostly because the wind was trying to blow us back. It would have been nice to stay and have a couple more custard tarts, but there was still one more climb to conquer. Compared to Mt Hotham and the Back ‘O Falls, Mt Buffalo is quite benign; the gradients are gentle and it’s a lovely, scenic climb. It just seemed an awfully long way on this occasion. At least my lower back pain was balanced by sore feet, which also distracted my attention from my legs. All good really. Spirits rose as I crested the Gap, cruised past Lake Catani and grunted up the final kilometre to the checkpoint at Dingo Dell. And there it was again – the sunnies wash service – yes thank you, please do rinse the sweat stains from my sunglasses … I love the support from the amazing volunteers on this ride – and this year was no exception.

From the top there is little other than a ripping descent between you and the finish line. With the wind behind, it was a sprint to the line, closely followed by a recovery pizza and a lie down. All in all, an epic day out.

Thanks to Audax Australia for continuing to stage this deservedly popular event.

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