By David Stoke – Tri Alliance Online Athlete

What an awesome day and easily the toughest day I’ve had on the bike since I started riding about 18 months ago.

The morning of the ride was looking perfect – overcast, cool and hardly a breath of wind, if only it had stayed that way for the rest of the day! I rolled out of my friends house a mere 1km from the start line and joined a long line of riders heading in for the start. There was definitely a nervous air of anticipation from the assembled pack, and it is fair to say I too was slightly crapping myself with the thought of ascending Buffalo 3 times in a row (when the most I have ever done in one go is 1 and even that always hurts!). Not expecting the course change due to the bush fires (just out the back of my house in Harrietville!) my last two weekend long rides were course simulations: Harrietville-Tawonga Gap A-Falls Creek-Tawonga Gap B-Harrietville (7hrs and 155km) and Bright-Tawonga Gap A-Mt Beauty-Tawonga Gap B-Bright-Mt Buffalo- Bright (6hrs30min 140km), and I was hoping that these rides would  still see enough climbing to get me through the repeat loops of Mt. Buff!David

Before I knew it the flag was dropped and we were out and rolling as one big group, I was placed around the middle of the second wave and it was more than a little twitchy and chaotic for my liking, so I made the a decision to use a little bit of energy to work up towards the front of this group, stay safe and away from any wheel touches and hope for a good tow up the lower part of the climb. After about 5km the group sorted itself out into a nice 2 abreast pace line and I was placed well in about 5th wheel, managed to stay here all the way to the start of the climb and once the into the climb and the group thinned out to about 20, I managed to hang on with this group for 90% of the climb up to the gap.

A bit of a course description for those who haven’t ridden Buffalo: The first 10km out of Bright to the ticket box is a nice flat and slightly downhill roll with two short uppish climbs which are a good warm up for what is to come, once at the ticket box I always find it a tough climb up to the Eurobin creek crossing at about 14km. Beyond here the climb settles into a more steady grind with a couple of tough switchbacks, a nice! False flat just before the half way point of the climb (20km from Bright) and then a tough 5km section from 25-30km to “the gap”. It is an all too short decent to the Bright Chalet turn off and a nice bit of flat before a nasty 3km climb up to Dingo Dell.

On the first ascent I tried to conserve as much energy as possible, following wheels and holding a conservative pace. As I usually train on my own it amazed me how much drafting can help even climbing at about 12-15km/h. Heading up towards the gap for the first time I was pleasantly surprised that I was still feeling quite fresh, my speed wasn’t dropping too much and the little group of expanding and condensing, 10 to 20 riders I was in was helping nicely. As always, the last 3km push up to Dingo Dell got me breathing quite hard and it was very nice to pull into the control point (35km) for some breakfast after 1hr52min of riding. The spread that Audax put on at the control points for this ride was fantastic, with the first stop a great breakfast selection of fruit, muffins, pastries, tea, coffee and biscuits. It is very reminiscent of ultra marathon aid stations where you can get everything from salted potatoes, chips to fruit cake, doughnuts and everything in between!

I probably stopped here for about 15min – long enough to load up with two muffins, a banana and some biscuits. Feeling full and with re-filled water bottles I was ready to descend like a stone. However, with the road being so full of rider after rider still tackling the climb (3 and 4 wide at some points) it made it quite difficult to get much speed up, and with IM Melbourne so close, I wasn’t keen to take too many risks!

Even though it was a little slow, it didn’t take very long to reach the bottom of the climb, ascend the two little climbs after the ticket box and then the slightly up hill and flat run back into Bright (almost half the time it took me to get up – 61min).

Again, I took my time at the control point another – 15min stop for more muffins, more fruit and a drinks refill. When it looked like a reasonably big group was about to head out I made sure I got a hurry on to tag along so I wasn’t caught in no man’s land for the run back out for climb #2.

As to be expected this climb was proving to be much tougher than the first lap where I mostly used my 2nd and 3rd lowest gear. Now it was granny gear time for the majority, even so I was keeping a good cadence and my speed had only dropped about 2km/h compared to the first lap. This lap I really started to feel the legs as I dragged myself up to the gap and was starting to dread the push up to Dingo Dell as I descended past the Chalet turn off. This last 3km didn’t disappoint with the cloud now having dissipated and the sun reaching its highest point, feeling very hot I managed to pull in just after 12pm – 5hrs35min on the go, (just over 5hrs riding time) and happy I was able to do both climbs without stopping on the way up! I was sweating heavily at this point and knew I needed to cool down, eat and drink as much as possible while resting to give my system a chance to digest the food and absorb as much fluid as possible. With the temp increasing, I had already gone through 2.5L of high 5 and 2L water and was already starting to feel a little dehydrated. I headed inside the café and forced down another 600ml of electrolyte and a couple of salt tablets along with a salad roll a banana and ½ a em’s power cookie, all up I was stopped here for 25min. Feeling very full I managed to descend into Bright in 63min and was greeted with a frosty fruit icy pole by a friendly volunteer – heaven!

For this stop I knew I was going to need a bit of rest, gain a bit of strength and a little bit of time to digest my (second!) lunch before setting off, otherwise my stomach could easily do a revolt and spewing on the last climb in the hottest part of the day could lead to all sorts of trouble. So I took my time, enjoyed another salad roll and some fruit sitting under a nice shady tree, listening to the band on stage and mentally trying to psych up to tackle the last lap. In the end it was less of a psych up and more of a battle weary, resigned to my fate kind of let’s get this over with as it’s going to bloody hurt no matter what, all up I was stopped for just over 30min.

Heading out of Bright the course had significantly cleared out, and I couldn’t find a wheel to save myself, a North (HEAD!) wind was now blowing quite strongly, and the temp as I was later to find out had hit 36 degrees in the valley, what a start to lap #3.  I was trying hard to not let the tired legs and heat get to me.  I kept  telling myself – ‘this is what you came for, its meant to hurt, this is a test, see how deep you can dig’. So on I pushed and picked up a couple of riders as I headed through the ticket box, we shared some short pleasantries and very slowly helped each other up to the first water stop at the Eurobin Creek crossing – this would be my first stop on the climb – a quick 5min rest and a stretch and I was off again. It took me around 2km to find my legs after this stop and at one stage was peddling at 9km/h – ouch.  Once I got into the tempo of the climb I was able to get up a bit more speed and was trying hard to keep some resemblance of a decent cadence going. From here it was just about digging in and breaking the climb down from corner to corner. It was about 8km into the climb, just before the second water point where I started to see some serious carnage of spent riders on the side of the road. Admittedly I wasn’t in the greatest shape myself, my legs were screaming, backside and lower back hurting and that little voice in my head starting to say just join them – stop for a bit in the shade and even worse just turn around at the next corner. So for the next 3km I tried to block it all out, and just focused on getting to the next water point (half way) for a quick rest, re-fuel and then a final push for the top. It seemed to take forever, but once in site the aid station was as welcome as an oasis in a desert. The very helpful volleys sprayed me down with water, filled my bottles with heavenly water and ice!!! I tried my best to force down half an energy bar and some more salt – and kept telling myself the ultra marathoners aid station mantra – “beware the chair”. I kept myself to a strict 10min stop here, with a roughly 2min sit, 2min stand as I know how quickly 10min can turn into 30min and then how much harder it is to get going. Thankfully, after this stop I was feeling a bit better (closer to 30% than 100%), but it was still better than when I pulled in and was now determined to get to the top without any more stops.Buffalo

The last 10km is a bit of a blur of pain and mentally digging in, blocking out the voice in the head, continuing to breaking the ride down from corner to corner and asking the stopped riders on the side of the road if they were ok. They all said yes, with most just saying they were enjoying a rest in the shade. The main memory from this section was the “pop, pop” of air bubbles from the bitumen as I rolled along slowly – yes it was now that hot that the road was melting! Climbing closer to The Gap, even though I was firmly stuck in the hurt locker, I figured I couldn’t get much more fatigued or sore than I was now so just pushed on, slow k after slow painful k, again determined not to stop. It’s the approach that has seen me get through a 100km trail run and a 96km road ultra, 50km around the Tan and everything else in between, one foot in front of the other and don’t stop! I was never as happy to see the top of the Gap as I had before and the decent and some air flow cooling me down was wonderful, however very short lived.

Through the flat before the last climb I tried to soft pedal as much as possible and I reset my mindset to get through the last 3km – so close, yet so far. This section was particularly ugly and best not written about, except to say I did have one more stop to help an obviously in pain rider about 1.5km from the top. As I approached he was doubled over in pain and I thought throwing up. I offered some salt and he said yes, when I doubled back he said it was actually his legs, with both quads in massive spasm, he was unable to continue pedaling – either up or down!. I gave him 4 salt tablets and wished him luck before I continued on towards the top. Eventually the car park came into site and I knew I would make it.

Rolling into Dingo Dell for the final time I set the watch for 15min, lay down in the shade with my legs up and tried to eat as much of an apple as I could stomach. Thank goodness I set the clock otherwise I might have lay there for a bit longer, at least I had the descent in front of me, and then a slow roll into Bright.

Thankfully the road was now much clearer of climbing riders and I was able to open it up a bit more, straight lining the open corners, but still taking it a bit easy as the melted bitumen was still fresh in my mind from the climb up. Thankfully I kept the bike upright and again found myself at the bottom of Mt Buff no time at all. With my legs slightly recovered I found the short climbs after the ticket box tough without being impossible, and once through these I was able to enjoy the much flatter run back into town. Pulling into the finishing area I was ecstatic to finish under 11hrs, (10hrs40min total time and about 9hrs30min riding time). After a quick rest and a bit of fruit (and a congrats to the rider I helped with the salt – fair to say he was more than a little grateful for the help). Once I had recovered a bit, it was a very slow and more than slightly painful ride back to my friends house for a swim (float) in the pool and a glorious beer – heaven – satisfied that such a big day should hold me in good stead for IM Melbourne in 6 weeks time!

Checkpoint times:
Bright (Start)                      06:25:17 AM
Mt Buffalo – Dingo Dell 08:23:47 AM  – 1hr52min
Bright (Finish)                    09:37:04 AM  – 1hr14min
Mt Buffalo – Dingo Dell 12:00:50 PM  – 2hrs23min
Bright (Finish)                    13:29:14 PM – 1hr29min
Mt Buffalo – Dingo Dell 16:41:58 PM – 3hrs12min
Bright (Finish)                    18:04:54 PM – 1hr23min

See you all in Melbourne!

 

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