The Audax Alpine Classic - The Experience

Alpine Classic - 200km. 4am start. Sunrise from the top of Mount Buffalo. What could be better?

La Velocita's Kirra McDonald writes about her experience of this awesome ride held in Bright in Victoria's High Country.

The Decision

Well… What started as a lovely Christmas BBQ soon became an afternoon of coercion… and then became some agreeance to participate in a ‘ride’… Which became the sudden and abrupt realisation that I was about to embark on not just SOME RIDE..

For most riders, The Alpine Classic could be considered a BIG ride… maybe even MAMMOTH ride… or possibly sheer stupidity, or potentially greatness…  But at the end of the day, the only regrets had are from the chances not taken, so I decided to give in and search for up… 


It sounds so romantic…. Up before dawn, watching the sunrise over Mount Buffalo… with only a couple of hundred other cyclists.  Knowing that despite climbing Mt Buffalo, Tawonga Gap, and Falls Creek and the rest of the 200km still await you…

And well… it was not so romantic, but more so a day of up, and more up.  But in all fairness, getting to the top of Mt Buffalo in time to witness a spectacular sunrise was the perfect way to get the day under way.  

Yes, we did get up VERY early. 2:55am to be precise.  Leaving our accommodation in Harrietteville to get into Bright for our 4am start!  Yes, 4am.  

The Start.

The ride out was something you kind of had to be there to see… Imagine a few hundred cyclists, chattering quietly. White beaming lights and red flashing lights with a vast ocean of fluoro yellow safety vests.  Not the average bunch ride you would say.  

Everyone rolled out of the start line... All that could be heard were the 'beeps' of timing chips.  Soon after the start people were just silently admiring what they are seeing, not much in the pitch of darkness, but just red flashing lights for miles.  

Mount Buffalo. In Darkness.

The route dictated our first climb to be Mt Bufffalo.  It's an interesting concept climbing in darkness.  Normally you can see the numbers on the Garmin, normally you can see what is coming.  But in the dark you could only feel it. 

As the climb began, you could hear some people still chatting, as though this was nothing more than a cruise along Beach Road, and others, had gone quiet, just there breathing could be heard as gradient kicked in.  

As promised, we got to the top of Mount Buffalo with plenty of time to witness the sun come up.  And well it was sure worth it. 

At first, meekly appearing it grew into a spectacular sunrise, with a colour palette an artist would be proud to display.  But as beautiful as it was we still had a few hundred kilometers and a few more pesky hills to conquer (ok- that is ambitious, getting over the massive humps is more appropriate).

The descent of Buffalo is superb.  Not too many tight corners, but enough flowing road to make you taste the air as it rushes into you.  Riding back into Bright, we acknowledged the intelligent 'late' 6am starters, but we knew we had the catch of the day with that sunrise.

Tawonga Gap. Hotting Up.

Moving on!!!  We got ourselves onto the next one… Tawonga gap, the front side.  Not a bad climb, short-ish, but has a cheeky kick at the end.  At the top, there was a beautiful lookout, but to be fair, we didn’t stay long.  We had a quick drink, another banana and on we went! 

The descent down the back side of Tawonga was an absolute pleasure.  For all the time it takes to get up, the down time is significantly less, but still thoroughly enjoyed!  Small respite for the legs in a sense unless you dare to push it…

Mount Beauty.

We arrived to a food station located in Mt Beauty.  Can I just say, I have had many many cups of coffee, but with a 2:55am wake up, and not ONE coffee by 9am this was without a doubt the BEST coffee I have had!  Well for today at least.  Not too long here and we decided it was time to get a wriggle on.  Yes, surprisingly we had a few more hills to climb!  Next.  Falls Creek.

Falls Creek.

Now bear in mind, I have not ridden any of these climbs before, so I really didn’t have any idea of what I was in for.  But all I could think of was being told, Falls Creek is an awesome climb… Just watch out for the last 4kms or so…  Well.  Wow.  They were right. 

The climb of Falls Creek was superb!  The first 26kms anyway!  The views are breath taking, the trees of white bark, standing tall on the mountains surrounding us, the lush greenery surrounding us, it was picturesque.  Except the last 4kms, lets not talk about those. 

But the bit after the last 4kms was excellent!  Our second food stop.  I have to say the fruit cake, highlight of my day!  That and the chance to stop and realize that we are well over halfway, and we are actually doing ok.  Our legs might be a bit tired, and our heads a bit fuzzy, but this is actually going really well! 

A storm had actually passed through the day before, we hear a volunteer say “if you want to go, go now, otherwise they will be closing the road for about ten minutes to finalise some repairs from the storm damage”.  So, off we went. 

We managed to descend Falls Creek with no drama’s.  It was fast.  And to think of how long it took to get up it, we were just blitzing down it.  Was it worth it?  Oh my yes it was!  By far the best descent for me of the day.  Perhaps the task vs. reward was at play but it was so enjoyable!

Tawonga... Again.

Moving on, it is getting warmer and we are definitely getting more tired.  And all I can think of is we have to get back over Tawonga! 

How much was I looking forward to seeing the lookout at the top again!  This climb, was just brutal at this stage in the day.  It’s only about 7.5km but wow, it seemed like the longest climb out of all of them!  My legs were hating me at this stage.  I had consumed more banana’s than I could bare to think, and I just wanted to see some down… downhill and homeward bound?  Nearly!

I was on my way up, and this male cyclist flew past me.  I thought maybe I was at a standstill?  Maybe I was just buggered.  But onwards and upwards.  Upwards.  Yes.  There was a lot of up.  And before we knew it there it was. 

A sheer and immediate sense of relief to see about 50 other absolutely spent and tired and sweaty cyclists taking reprieve from a hill that sucked the energy from most…  A moment to take a well-earned drink here.  To gather our minds and the long awaited descent!!! 

Oh this was just the best.  After all the climbing we had done for the day, knowing this was it.  We were pretty much done.  Down Down Down and DON’T STOP!!!

The Finish.

I was so happy to see the T-intersection that said Bright to the right, Harrietteville to the left.  RIGHT!  

Riding back into Bright was just beautiful.  Riding under the big leafy green trees that cover the whole road.  Shaded.  Tired.  Relieved.  Amazed.  Thankful.  

We took our last right hand turn, and under the finish banner we rode.  It was over just as quick as it started.  A BBQ where a mate said “c’mon, why don’t you do this ride with me”.   I may have been cursing him up all the hills for the ‘stupid’ suggestion. 

But as I reflect on my day, I am thankful.  Thankful for the idea, for the challenge.  Thankful that I was able to finish.  Thankful that we got through safely, and with some laughs we finished a 200km ride, with approximately 4000m of climbing.  

Wrap Up.

Something I had never imagined I would be doing 2 years ago when I started bunch rides.  Something I had never thought I would finish, let alone start.  Tick off both of those.  Am I happy with myself now? Yeah, of course I am!  The concerning thing is as I sit here and reflect on an awesome day of riding, I am entertaining the thought of: “What about the 250?” 

Who knows!?  A lot can happen between now and then, but what I do know is that I had a great time out riding a very well-organised cycling event, that I could certainly recommend to anyone who loves their cycling and who wants to push the limits on the bike.  Audax Alpine Classic 2015- done.  Happily so.