Sunday, February 26, 2012

Marysville Lake Mountain Challenge 2012

Two years after we last did this event, our intrepid team of four (Dave Weeks, Dave Wilkinson, Andrew Matthews and myself) headed up to Marysville to conquer the climb up to Lake Mountain. For Andrew it was his first "big mountain" and for the rest of us, we knew exactly what kind of pain we'd be in! The forecast was for a warm and windy day which is exactly what it was in Melbourne; but not quite what we found in Marysville when we arrived.

There was a much smaller field than two years ago which was a bit disappointing, but I put that down to the loss of the "help out the town" sentiment that the first event had only a year after the fires. One thing I have noticed since then, especially in towns hard hit by fires like Marysville and Kinglake, is the changes to the fire danger signs. Where previously they had a five-point scale (Low / Moderate / High / V.High / Extreme); now there is no mucking about and on a six-point scale the second one is High and there's an extra category of 'Extreme' or 'Code Red' (as if we're supposed to remember what that means from a movie or something!) Thankfully there wasn't much going on in the fire danger stakes on ride day.

There's two distances for this ride - short (35k) and long (120k) - and both have the option of riding an extra 40k trip up to the top of Lake Mountain. Being the hard men of cycling that we are, we chose the short ride with the mountain option.

From Marysville it is a gentle downhill run all the way into Buxton about 10k's away. Very early on we found that the main obstacle wouldn't be heat, but wind, and the buffeting sidewinds on this section almost caused the bunch to go down a couple of times. At one stage (whilst taking a photo, oops) I had my camera in one hand and had to jam on the brakes with my other hand when someone stopped suddenly in front of me. With my rear wheel skidding out beside me I was very lucky not to go down in a heap.

About 28k into the event on the way back into Marysville there lies the first challenge of the day - a rather nasty short hill that really wakes you up if you weren't already. It is only 2.7k@7.6% but has pinches steeper than this, is not pleasant, and seems to go on and on as it winds around to the top. This is the first opportunity to see the pecking order for the day and it was Mr Weeks who disappeared up the road first (not sure if he was attacking the hill or just trying to get a gap so he could have a 'natural break') followed by Wilko with me and Andrew bringing up the tail. A short descent back into Marysville and we completed the 35k loop with "only" the climb to Lake Mountain to go.

Anyone who has done the 20.5k climb from Marysville up to Lake Mountain will tell you that once you get through the first 5k's it's all very easy. Translated, this means the early bit is ugly then it gets pretty easy. Indeed, after a km or so of introductory stuff it gets pretty serious straight away with the next 4.3k@8.1% with bits in there of over 10%. Suffice to say I found this pretty hard and had sweat dripping down my eyes as I struggled to keep the pedals turning. By this point both Dave's had disappeared into the distance and Andrew was drawing away so I was left to suffer and wallow in my own misery.

All good things (including those that don't seem so good or quite that much fun at the time) come to an end and it soon flattened out to a gradient I could cope with. After a burst of pace I managed to latch back on to Andrew and we continued the rest of the journey together at a more leisurely pace.

Almost exactly half way up the climb, after a short descent, you take a turn off the Woods Point Rd and  head up the Lake Mountain Rd. It is here you pass through the park gates (no need to pay a toll today) and begin the final 10k push to the top. This section has an average gradient of "only" 3.7% and if you are feeling good it is a great place to really push the pace - which I hadn't quite intended to do, but was drawn into when Andrew forged ahead.

You always know when the screws are getting turned as, apart from it feeling a bit harder, the chit-chat also stops. The screws were definitely inching their way tighter. First Andrew, then myself would push the pace and we leapfrogged each other up the road. With maybe 6k or so to go we had moved into the clouds and had more or less a block headwind. It was pretty eerie with visibility reduced to only 5m or so, made worse as I had to take my glasses off as they'd completely fogged up.

By this stage we were passing people left, right and centre (literally) as we flew up the hill. Somewhere on this last section I looked around, waiting for Andrew to come through for a turn, but couldn't see him. Which meant he was probably only 10m back (?) but I had no idea. So I did what every cyclist in this position would do - I put the hammer down and rode even harder! (It is here that I reluctantly have to admit that the Garmin never lies and though I thought I was going quicker, in fact, my pace never really altered ...)

Nearing the very top ("it must be here somewhere" I thought) it was just insane and you couldn't see a thing except the odd cyclist rolling back down the hill on the other side of the road. Finally the yellow painted road lined stopped so I guessed I was in the top car park. A hundred metres or so later a large building suddenly loomed from the cloud and I knew I was done.

With no glasses to help me see and minimal visibility I decided to take the top part of the descent fairly easily and so hung off the back of the guys as they started their way down. Not long into this I managed to hit a branch on the road which struck my foot and caused some serious pain. Ouch!! After this I was even more cautious (ok, maybe a pussy) and so rode very slowly through the fog down to the turnoff. I was glad to get off the top part of the mountain alive!!

After this it was a more regular, if not super fast, descent back into Marysville and the finish. Another great ride with great mates. We'll be back for event two in the series, the Baw Baw Challenge, in April.

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