The Audax Alpine Classic is an annual bike ride in the Victorian high country, held on the Australia Day weekend. There are a range of different distances, but the classic ride is the 200km course, from Bright to Falls Creek, back to Bright and up to Mt Buffalo before returning to Bright. Depending on the weather, which this year peaked around 30°C, and the various climbs, the Alpine Classic has a well deserved reputation for being one of the harder rides on the cycling calendar.
There are four main climbs and a lot of small climbs, ranging from fun through to painful. If you plan to ride the Alpine Classic one day, it is worth knowing in advance what you are in for.
Germantown to Tawonga Gap
After a casual ride out of town, the Classic starts with a climb over Tawonga Gap from the Bright side, with a 14km climb that starts gently but ends with a 6km steep part with a couple of short sections that have a gradient above 10%.
Climbing it just after sunrise makes for a cool climb with great views of the Kiewa Valley and Mt Bogong on the descent.
Mt Beauty to Falls Creek
It is 30km from Mt Beauty to Falls Creek, with an altitude gain over 1150 metres. It is really two climbs: an undulating climb up to Bogong Village and then a steady climb from the bridge at Fainters Falls up to the ski village at Falls Creek.
Some (very approximate) modulo 5 maths helps me break the ride up:
5km – Cranky Charlie and the end of the first sustained climb. The road undulates from here to Bogong Village: you slowly gain altitude but there are a number of descents along the way, which become unwelcome climbs on the way back from Falls Creek.
15km – Bogong Village. Just after the village is a descent down to the bridge across the East Kiewa River; this is the last descent and it is always a rude shock to climb back up this on way back from Falls.
25km – Howman’s Gap and the tollbooth, with a constant 5 to 6% gradient up to the village. About 2km before the village, you get your first glimpse of buildings which is always good motivation!
30km – Falls Creek! As you can see from the photo below, the checkpoint is (mercifully) at the start of the village.
Tawonga South to Tawonga Gap
The third climb doesn’t mess around: you turn off the Kiewa Valley Highway and climb 7.6km at an average gradient for 6.3%. There is no flat spots to catch your breath: it is just up, up, up. Along the way there are the Lawler mineral springs (if you need water) and beautiful views of the Kiewa Valley from Sullivans Lookout.
The descent is fantastic: the initial steep drop down to the walnut farm and then it’s a shallower downhill back to Germantown and then to Bright for food and drink, before heading out to Porepunkah and the last climb of the day.
The Mt Buffalo climb is the longest and hardest part of the ride: after a short climb to the tollbooth, it is then a steady 18km climb to the Gap at the top. I always break the ride into parts: the initial climb to Eurobin Falls, the brief flat section at about 8km in, the climb up the exposed rocky sections and then the winding climb to the Gap. At the top there is a short descent before a 5km ride, with two more climbs, out to Dingo Dell. That last climb starts at Lake Catani and winds up for about 2.5km; it is short and cruel. If you are already exhausted from hauling your tired body up the side of Mt Buffalo, this is the icing on a cake of pain!
If you are doing the 200km version of the Classic, then you will get to Buffalo in the early afternoon, with the heat of the day reflected off the rocks and the softening bitumen squelching under tyre.
There are two water stops on the way up, including one at Eurobin Falls, shown in the photo below with the cliffs of Buffalo looming in the distance. Dingo Dell is a checkpoint stop, so there is plenty of food and drink, along with a cafe if you need a coffee fix.
As you climb Buffalo, you are treated to spectacular views of Bogong, Feathertop and the High Plains to the east, the Ovens Valley below and the mountains around Stanley to the northwest.
The descent from the Gap is a lot of fun, but you need to take care: there are tired cyclists, cars travelling in both directions (overtaking cyclists) and a number of hairpin bends.