Tom Dougherty’s Peaks Challenge Falls Creek Ride Report

 

April 2016 was the time that I decided after 3 years of procrastination I would enter my first Peaks Challenge falls creek in 2017. A regular training ride of 70km was deemed to be long ride for me when I started this journey.

What was in my favour was a very understanding wife and 2 year old son that allowed me the time to train. A lot has happened over the 12 months leading to the event including 10,000kms in the legs, being made redundant, new job, a new set of wheels, a compact crankset, a new cassette, a kickr (who said cycling was cheap!), joining cycling inform and having an additional son born 4 weeks before the event.

With 2 weeks before the event I came down with the flu and had inflammation of the lower back, along with sleep deprivation of the newborn it was not the ideal preparation but I was not complaining …. come rain, hail or shine I was going to be there.

Heading up to Falls Creek on a road trip with my Dad I must admit I was very nervous. I had heard all the wars stories of the past about the weather, Hotham, WTF corner, crashes, mechanicals and the coke at Trapyard Gap. Having arrived at Falls a couple of days before it did allow me time to enjoy the friendly atmosphere and knowing that I had followed the program and should be ready to go.

As I lined up on Sunday morning, listening to the pump-up music it suddenly became real. Like it or not, I was in for a day of pain but if I finished it would be a great achievement.

The descent down Falls, usually fast and fun, was made even more so by the road closures but with a few nervous descenders you needed to keep your wits about you. Heading up Tawonga seemed to go very quick and in my mind, I had the voices of the Bicycle Network pre event chat in my head ‘turns 5 and 7 on the Tawonga descent’. As a result, I made the decision to lead out the descent with the group I was riding with and that was a great move and allowed me to use most of the road and stay out of trouble. A big group formed near the bottom of the descent and this lead to a beautiful ride into Harrietville at very good pace. A quick stop at Harrietville for a refill of water, a bar and banana and I was on my way again.

As people know Hotham can best be described as a climb in 3 phases, the first section went quickly and I was tapping out a good rhythm, by this time I was riding with the 10hr pace group and would stay with this for the remainder of the climb.

Trouble set in at the 92km mark when I had my first experience of legs cramps in both thighs, little did I know then that they would remain with me on and off for the remainder of the ride. I should note that I had not experienced cramps for over 3 years whilst riding and as people have said to me before expect the unexpected. It was at this time I needed to get some Hydralite into my bottles quick smart. The top section of Hotham is tough and with a cross wind guaranteed it was great to reach the top and I welcomed that mostly downhill section to Dinner Plain.

Dinner Plain was what I felt as a short stop, more drink, more food, more sunscreen, dumped the wind vest and was on the bike again with the 10hr group. The ride to Omeo can best be described as fast, whilst there are some climbs it is mainly downhill including a 4.5k section where my average was 65 and a top speed of 87 – It was at this point I had broken a promise to my wife (don’t go downhill too fast) but it was so much fun.

This fun was soon changed when I saw a rider who had obviously crashed and an ambulance attending that anything can go wrong pretty quick. By this stage the weather was getting hotter and as we got to Omeo which was 45km from Dinner Plain my computer was showing 38 degrees and I realised I had drunk 2 water bottles and needed to top up. To my amazement, the group I was riding with all didn’t stop at Omeo and continued on, it was at this time I was left by myself at 160km mark with 75km to go.

I filled up and headed out of Omeo knowing what was coming was a 40km/hr headwind and weather still at mid 30’s. I just plodded along from Omeo to the back of Falls Creek climb. There really isn’t any other way of describing it. There is some amazing scenery on the road — it truly is one of the best roads around — but I rode by myself for most of that section; I felt flat and I had all but given up on my sub-10-hour time and it was probably the low point of the ride for me.

A quick stop at Anglers Rest more sunscreen, water, gels and it was the 12km warm up to WTF corner. WTF corner came and I went up that first 1.5km section fairly quick and having the 34/32 on the gears certainly helped. To describe this climb as difficult is an understatement especially with 200km in the legs and seeing the carnage on the road was evident that it was as much a mental challenge as a physical one.

There were people lying on the road, walking, standing there like deer in the headlights and others just through pure exhaustion having run out of water. At this stage it was 33 degrees and trying to climb this road without much shade was the hardest climb I had ever done, there were some small pinches of false flats but that was soon followed by another ramp of 15%. I will not lie I thought about getting off a few times but in my head, I knew it was 10km to Trapyard Gap and a can of coke! If you can count to 10 over an hour that was me on the climb.

Perhaps the happiest part of the ride was seeing that Trapyard gap rest sign and downing that coke in 3 seconds flat, a couple of snakes and refill of the water bottles. To my amazement, I also saw a group of riders that I had ridden to Omeo with including a bicycle network 10hr pacer that were looking like they were in some discomfort, a quick check of my watch saw that the 10hr time was still perhaps out of reach. Back on the bike and finishing the remainder of the climb there were a few encouragements from the locals and we had reached the summit of falls creek.

The 10km stretch to the finish is a great way to end the ride and it was at this point I reflected on the day and the time leading up to the event over the last 12 months. The family support cannot be underestimated and that view of the lake is one of the greats sights ever. The irony was not lost on me when after one of the hardest days of riding ascending for over 4.5 hrs you finish on a descent! A quick whizz around the corner and the applause of the spectators and a victory salute finished the ride along with an encouraging word from a familiar voice of Dad.

Heading though the tent and having a chat to David it had dawned on me that the sacrifice was worth it, I had a lot of luck on the day and some bad patches but ending my first peaks in a total time of 10.13mins I was pretty happy.

Would I do it again? Ask me in a few weeks. Should you do it at least once? Absolutely.

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