After a week of very enjoyable cycling, it's back to earth for me. The Alpine Classic again demonstrated why it is the best cycling event in the country at the weekend, I got in heaps of miles and even had the odd beer or two.
For those who don't know, the Alpine Classic is a series of rides put on each year by Audax Australia in the town of Bright, Victoria. As you'd expect from the name, there's a bit of climbing involved in each of the distances, which range from 70km to 250km for the one-day rides. I was a bit surprised to learn that this year is the fifth time I've been to the Alpine, after visits in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010. I've ridden the 130km ride twice (plus one DNF) and the 200km once.
Given the unfortunate demise of the Semaine Federale, several people got together to run a series of rides over the week preceding the main event. It was nice to be able to get some miles in, some brevets up and to explore some of the countryside around Bright. There is plenty of excellent riding in the area and not all of it involves heading up massive hills. I was glad to knock off three 50km and one 100km ride as part of a plan to get myself back into some sort of form ahead of the upcoming Mallee Routes, which seemed to work ok.
Another good thing about getting to Bright a week early is that you get to see that atmosphere build. Over the course of the week more and more riders arrive and by about Thursday there seems to be more bikes than cars on the roads. The polished concrete floors of the Bright Brewhouse clatter to the sounds of cleats as people enjoy a post-ride beer and the supermarkets of people being far too fussy about what they eat.
Alpine week is also a great chance to catch up with many old friends from epic rides of years gone by, to embellish tales of grand feats and to plan new ones. For those of us getting ideas above our station, seeing the legendary Matt Rawnsley receive an award for 100,000km of Audax rides at the club AGM helped put our own achievements back in perspective.
Bushfires this year meant the Alpine Classic had to be rerouted to take in multiple climbs of Mt Buffalo. While this was a bit of a shame, it also meant a new challenge, with those entered in the 200km and 250km ride enduring three ascents in the summer heat. I was happy enough to make it up once.
For me, the highlight of the ride is always the experience at the finish. After coming down that narrow lane to a round of applause when I finished near the end in 2010, I've always spent an hour or so cheering in the last riders. It's great to see the elation on people's faces at the reception - unlike the finish on any other ride I've been on. The cheers for those near the very end are always the loudest. And that's how it should be. Can't wait for next year.
A few years ago, Audax Australia put on a week of very enjoyable rides starting and finishing in the Victorian town of Bright in the lead up to the Alpine Classic. Sadly, for reasons I'm not entirely sure of, the Semaine Federale en Australié is no more, for the time being at least. That is a shame as events like this seem to take a few years to build a following. In its place a bunch of Audax types has put on a week of regular Audax-style rides, and I've flown up to join in the fun.
One thing about Victoria in summer is that it's hot, very hot. This is particularly noticeable if you've arrived from the cooler climes of Tasmania. After a few days of unaccustomed riding from the airport on Saturday and around Lancefield on Sunday, I decided to take a chance and try the 100km ride on "Bright Monday". There were around 20 other riders on the various distances from 50km to 150km, many of them familiar faces from Audax rides of years gone by.
The pace from the start was a bit of a surprise, we steamed out of town on the Great Alpine Way at around 30km/h, meaning we were in Myrtleford in an hour. Most of the other riders stopped for morning tea at the bakery, but I was keen to push on and get as much of the ride done as I could before the hottest part of the day. It turned out to be a smart decision.
Up and over the hill past the Gapstead winery and down the other side I was feeling strong and was at the halfway point at Everton in a bit over two hours. Turns out halfway was well over 50km, more like 57km. I scarfed down a bite to eat and got back on the road.
It was warm now, even hot and I could feel myself flagging as a gentle headwind knocked a couple of km/h off my speed and the overhead sun meant little shade from the trees alongside the rail trail. Happily once I crested the hill, I was quickly refreshed by the downhill run and lunch at the bakery at Myrtleford.
Lunch over, the full heat of the day was making itself felt. The temperature was in the high 30s and a short rest rest stop was in order at the old Eurobin station where I was able to take my jersey off and soak it in some water for at least some temporary relief from the heat. Some of the following group caught up to me here and I expected their company along the remainder of the ride back to Bright, but I was also keen to keep on track for a decent time for the day and sadly didn't see them again. All up I covered the 115km in a little over six hours, five not counting breaks. For someone who is not all that fit at the moment, I'm pretty happy with that result. I should be a good week of riding, as long as the temperature doesn't top 40!
It's not that it has taken me this long to get around to doing my annual review of my past year's riding, it's more a case that 2012 wasn't really anything for me to crow about. I've long since given up setting goals - given how infrequently I tend to hit them it's a bit of an exercise in futility. For what it's worth, here's the year that was in a nutshell.
All up I rode 4,008km last year. That's somewhat consistent with my result in the previous couple of years, which are themselves down about 2000km on average because I'm doing a lot less Audax riding in Tasmania than I did in Victoria. (Something to do with the terrain!) On the bright side, my average speed is up a shade from 19.6km/h to 20.3km/h, which might be a sign I'm getting faster or it might be assign I'm not doing as many hard rides. Or neither or both, who can tell? There were only 68 rides, an average of 32km long. I blame work. I didn't have time to train for the Alpine Classic, which also meant I wasn't fit for the Oppy. As it ended up I couldn't get the time off work anyway. Does it sound like I need a new job or what? As a plus I finally cracked he 40,000km mark since I took up cycling again a few years back. Some people probably do that in two.
What is interesting is how small the daily and weekly differences are between good and bad years, of couple of kilometers a day or a handful a week. Something to keep in mind in 2013.