Sunday, 21 August 2016

Alpine training camp

My training partner Nick on Mt Buffalo

The idea started on a mid-week day, mid-year, and mid-winter, when I was getting almost daily photos emailed to me of friends sipping coffee, eating pastries and riding the famous cols of Europe in the mid-summer sunshine. I was sitting at my desk working, aware that I hadn’t been overseas for so long that my passport had expired. So I plotted a revenge available closer to home and started the ball rolling on an Australian alpine training camp when the weather improved.

November rolled around and the plan had come to fruition. 3 nights in Bright with riding buddy Nick, and a plan to ride as many kilometres and mountains as we could squeeze in between copious coffee, pastries and the odd beverage from the brewery.

After a weekend full of the usual kids birthday parties and other engagements, we packed up the car and headed off on Sunday afternoon arriving in Bright in time to check in at Bright Velo and have dinner at the aforementioned brewery.

Chosing Bright Velo for our accommodation was a part of the strategy for complete cycling immersion. It’s run by cyclist Wayne Hildred who is about to turn 60, but is still handy enough on a bike to have finished Melbourne to Warrnambool this year. He’s been doing this cycling thing for a while. And part of his job description at Bright Velo is to tell stories of his cycling exploits. They’re worth listening to. In the early 1980s he set the record for fastest time for the Melbourne-Warrnambool bike race, beating a record previously held by the late Russell Mockridge.  And there was a story of some argy-bargy with late French legend Laurent Fignon for doing a turn on the front out of turn in the European peloton. There are photos on the wall of Bright Velo cafĂ© of him riding in the bunch with Fignon and American Tour de France winner Greg Lemond.

We woke up the next morning for day one of riding. After coffee and croissant for breakfast we hit the road, starting with the Rosewhite loop that I’d never done before, and Nick had only ever ridden as a part of a stage of the Tour of Bright. Once off the main valley road back toward Myrtleford, we cruised through the appropriately-named Happy Valley to Rosewhite Gap, our first and smallest real climb of the campaign. The loop took us into Mount Beauty for an early lunch, with just under 100km under our belts. We turned left and climbed up to Falls Creek, where our plans for gratuitously excessive coffee and pastry intake were thwarted. Australia’s interpretation of an ‘all year alpine resort’ doesn’t stretch to anything actually being open during the week when it isn’t snowing. Instead we returned to Mount Beauty for more sustenance before making our way over Tawonga Gap in the hot afternoon sun and back to Bright. So the tally for day one was a bit over 180km and some good climbing.

Day two it was Mt Hotham’s turn. Fully fuelled by so much breakfast that Nick had to tuck one of his breakfast pancakes into a back pocket for later, we headed off. A short way out of the Bright on the road to Harrietville, half the road was blocked by some work on the powerlines. More about that later. From Harrietville, we headed up the Hotham climb. It starts steep, and then flattens out for a relatively benign middle section before getting very exposed, steep and alpine at the top. We were getting toward the end of the benign section when we saw our first fellow cyclist for the day. As we caught and passed him we saw a small group of cyclists catching us from behind. It was clearly peak hour. The first of the group came past in a distinctive white, blue and green kit. ‘Gerro!’. Shortly followed by a procession of Orica riders, including Matt Hayman (who had his breakthrough win at Paris Roubaix later in the same season) and new signing Jack Haig, not yet in his Orica kit.  

Further up the climb we passed the Orica car parked on the side of the road, looking back down the road, seemingly waiting for someone else. I kept looking over my shoulder for the next few kilometres, and eventually a lone figure came into view. As he got closer I recognised the bearded face of Sam Bewley, the big Kiwi on the Orica team. We had a chat as he came past. He said it was the first time he’d ever ridden Mt Hotham, and in his words ‘the boys put me to the sword’ in the steep first few kilometres out of Harrietville. I asked him if I minded if I took a photo, and he was happy to smile for the camera before pulling off up the road.
Sam Bewley on Mt Hotham

When we reached Hotham Village, it was as lively as Falls Creek – there was absolutely nothing open. A note on one of the closed doors said that they’d shut for the day because of power outages. We rode on to Dinner Plain (waving to the Orica guys who were on their way back, with Sam Bewley safely back in the bunch). Dinner Plain didn’t have any power either due to those powerline works down in the valley, and the owners of the Dinner Plain Hotel were taking advantage of the down time to oil their deck. Feeling sorry for us, they let us in via the side door, and we sat at the bar eating and drinking things that didn’t require electricity. Like some not very cold sugary soft drink, a packet of nuts and a muesli bar. I haven’t frequented the cafes on the mountains of France, but I’m figuring things are not this grim.

On our final day we rode up Mt Buffalo in the morning before departing in the afternoon. Buffalo is probably my favourite mountain to ride up, and the weather was perfect again. Not only that, but there was a coffee van parked in the chalet car park at the top, so my dreams of high-altitude caffeine finally became a reality. 

Nick had comprehensively beaten me up the climbs over the three days, so I tried my hand at a few other competitions. The ‘who can roll the furthest without pedalling’ at the bottom of the climb, and then the sprint to the Bright town limits. You’d think that the extra kilograms I carry over my mountain goat companion may have benefitted me in both of these competitions. But he’s a mountain goat crossed with a cunning old fox and he beat me in both.

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