The true joy of cycling still exists in France, far beyond the busy roads of Galibier and L'Alpe d'Huez.
Cyclists have always been drawn to the mountains of Europe and the famous passes of Alpe d'Huez, Passo Stelvio, col du Galibier and the Sella Ronda are ridden by tens of thousands of cyclists during the summer months of June, July and August. So is it still possible to have a truly pure climbing experience on the high passes of France? The answer is un-equivocally, yes, provided you know where to look.
When I first climbed the Alpe d'Huez and col du Galibier in 1989, I saw very few other cyclists and what I remember is the raw beauty of the mountains, solitude, grand glaciers and more marmottes than people. The feeling was all about connection and escape, just writing about it today gives me tingles. Since 2013 I have had the pleasure of guiding cyclists through France, Italy, Spain, Austria and Switzerland and almost without exception, the most cherished moments are those spent far from the iconic passes. These are the days where one gets a sense of what Galibier was like in 1989.
There are literally thousands of mountain passes in France alone and many can still be experienced in relative quiet where your ride will most likely be shared with just a few local club riders. These are the roads for the purist and travellers more inspired by beauty, wonder & the adventurous spirit than ticking a box on a list.
Far from missing out, riding the less travelled passes will give you everything the famous roads do, and so much more. Full blown high definition cycling with incomparable scenery and grand scale, shared with just a few others, an opportunity to immerse yourself in an almost spiritual journey from valley to summit and back again.
For many years the col de Sarenne (behind Alpe d'Huez) was favoured by locals as the much more beautiful alternate road to the famous ski resort. These days, the Sarenne is also busy, so the delightful small road to Villard Notre Dame and Villard Reynard is the "new Sarenne" of the Oisans. France is full of "Sarennes", the trick is knowing where to find them or at least travel with someone who does.
Regions such as the Maritime Alps, Southern Alps, Jura, Vosges, Massif Centrale and the Pyrenees are all places in France where hordes of cyclists, motor bikes, cars and buses can be largely avoided. Simplicity and purity are restored as you tune in to the sounds of nature, your own breathing and allow the spell of cycling in the high mountains to be cast over you. Experiencing the magic of these places makes many want to sing, some swear audibly for loss of superlatives and others are quiet, smiling & laughing more on the inside. One thing is certain, it is a feeling that will stay with you for a lifetime.
If you are looking for something different for your next cycling adventure, something that is not just about bucket lists, but is more special, personal and unique, please get in touch, as we are heading to some of these very passes in June and July this year. Or, perhaps you would just like some advice or assistance in planning your own trip, well I can help with that too, firstname.lastname@example.org
Brian "Bubba" Cooke
This is my take on what makes climbing the great mountain passes of Europe so captivating and for many, downright addictive.
When I was 17, I drove to the snowy mountains in Australia for the first time. Apart from the shiny white snow visible in the distance, the thing that struck me was the sheer size and scale of the environment I was seeing for the first time. I will remember the power and almost palpable energy forever. When you stand at 2700m and gaze up in wonder at enormous glaciers, more than 1000m above, one somehow feels both humble and heroic. Humility at your scalar insignificance and heroism for the fact that you were 100% responsible for being there.
As one sits on the plane, bound for the high mountains of Europe and pondering the journey ahead, most will admit to fear as a dominant emotion. After all it is a long way to travel, so what if I cannot do it? What if I am not up to it? And here lies the first insight into what makes it all so fantastically incredible. You find that you are good enough, you are up to it and the brain chemistry that flows from this realisation is a very big part of the "climbing high".
Not only are you good enough, you will become even better. This is because there is a cool mixture of physiology and magic that will produce a fitness / riding level you have never known before. You will return home a different rider, different person. Every time you climb, there will be an inner smile and calmness, no hill can beat you any more because you know inside that it is not trying to beat you, it simply wants to show just how good you are.
For those of us that have grown up watching grand tour contenders create video story-books through the battles and suffering, this is a chance to live those moments, albeit slightly slower and more anonymously. Most will never play tennis on Wimbledon's centre court but for us bike riders, the sky (almost literally) is the limit.
My favourite saying is, "there is no better way to appreciate the beauty in this world than from the saddle of a bicycle". And, there is no better place to prove this than the high mountain passes of Europe.
So take the plunge, commit to that cycling adventure that has tempted you for years. Standing at places like Passo Fauniera in Italy will add a whole new meaning to the term high definition.
See you there
There is so much information, recommendation and imagination out there about cycling tours in Europe. So rather than look at details, ride plans, itineraries (which are all important at some point), I thought it best to drill down into the lived experience and come up with a (my) list of the best things about a cycling tour in the mountains of Europe. I hope you like it.
1. The scenery. This may seem obvious, but the scenery is everything you think it is going to be and then a whole lot more. I think it is mostly because of the sheer scale of the surroundings that it takes a few days to really tune in. There is something a little bit “other-worldly” about standing at a summit, some 2500m+ above sea level and still gazing up at peaks and glaciers that tower above you another 1000m higher. The size and incredible power of the mountains is something that can only be appreciated face to face, even then you may need to pinch yourself s few times.
2. You are better than you thought you were. Many head to Europe with large question marks over their ability to handle the demands of the climbs they face. Firstly, it is an absolute imperative that significant training be completed. Prior to departure. However, the thing that surprises most is just how well they progress whilst cycling day in day out in the mountains. The constant load experienced during long climbs seems to draw new strength out of both mind and body. What seemed improbable from home, soon feels “normal”, doable, even comfortable. One thing is certain, there will be a new level of physical capacity and with it new belief in just how strong a bike rider you are.
3. You can back up like a pro. Without the “other” demands on your time, life becomes (temporarily) about cycling, resting, eating, sleeping, repeat. After a few days, one grows to realise just how much energy “life” takes up and that with a more singular focus, cycling becomes less tiring, lighter, softer, smoother. Just for a moment in time, life can centre around riding and it helps to power your performance day after day allowing you to squeeze the most out of every ride. It can feel like a little self-indulgent fantasy camp, just what a holiday should be like…………….for cyclists.
4. The food. There really is nothing quite like European food culture, meals bursting with flavour and freshness, served without emotional baggage and perfectly aligned with the European attitude of quality before quantity. It is food for taste and guilt-free indulgence, eaten consciously and never in a rush, time to appreciate both the flavours of each mouthful and enjoy the company of friends. Add to it, the perfect compliment of local wine and your dining experiences will be every bit the match for the cycling ones. The best bit? Eat ‘til your hearts are content, tomorrow you ride, no time or need for your body to store calories. A cycling life in perfect balance.
5. Getting to know yourself again. A few days into the cycling adventure most will pause for while and ponder, before it hits, there are now quiet moments in the day where you have choice. Less burdened by technology, no TV (unless it’s the Tour telecast), fewer emails. It can kind of feel like life used to be back in a time you can barely remember. An afternoon sitting on the balcony, savouring local cheese and sipping on a light Chianti, everything quiet. Say hello to yourself, get acquainted again, it has probably been a while. There is something quite unique about the “quality” of relaxation that has been both earned and enhanced by a day spent riding in the mountains, at times it feels like perfection.
So there you have it, sounds pretty good ha? Well it is. Those that have been already, know it and cannot wait to go back. Whilst hopefully those still in contemplation are now one step closer to joining the club,
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The remarkable MadonnaVelo Cycling Group live a cycling dream.
There is something a little magical about cycling in Europe but imagine heading over to ride bespoke courses in regions of your own choosing, with nine of your best friends. Well that is just what happened in May / June this year, when a ladies cycling group from SE Queensland (and parts further afield) Departed Australia bound for Milan and ultimately, Lake Como, Tuscany and the French Riviera.
When Sheridan (founder of the MadonnaVelo riding group and owner of Storm Cycles at Tugun on the Gold Coast) approached us in mid 2016, she had an idea to take her group on a dream European cycling tour. There was at least one "non-negotiable" in the brief, we MUST visit the famous "Madonna del Ghisallo" chapel that sits perched above Bellagio and was the inspiration for the name of the group. Sprinkle in a little bit of Tuscany, the French Riviera, ride routes that were challenging without being too brutal and all the culinary delights of each region and we had a tour.
So the crew of: Sheridan, Lee, Jacki, Lisa, Mary, Kirsten, Sheree, Tina, Claire, Denise, super-guide Eve and a hopelessly out-numbered, yours truly arrived in Lake Como for stage one. The cycling in Como is divine, all of it (of course) showcases the magnificent lake and involves steep climbing in all directions from the lake shore. Now although there were some nerves in the group, I could not have been more impressed with both the tenacity and spirit of the girls, as they took on climbs such as the 13km Colma Sormano and the steep slopes of Val Rezzo. We did of course ride the famous 10km climb from Bellagio to the Chapel of the Madonna del Ghisallo and all were taken by the energy and views at this most significant place.
Day three dawned with the promise of more stunning views and challenging climbs. On the agenda was the mighty Monte Cornizzolo, the most difficult climb in the region and most of the girls had put their hand up for the challenge. Four of these tough and resilient riders made it to the summit of a climb I would rate the equal of Mortirolo, sadly only three made it down by bike. Our friend Lisa crashed on the descent after striking a drainage culvert on a shaded section of road. She required helicopter assistance to get off the hill and was flown home to Australia three days later. I am happy to report that she is now well on the way to making a full recovery. A difficult moment in an otherwise brilliant four days of cycling in the Italian Alps.
Next stop, the unmistakable rolling hills of sun-drenched Tuscany or more specifically, the Chianti region to the north of Siena. Along with world famous character and charm, the Chianti region is awash with steep hills, small country lanes, vineyards and olive groves. Our four days of cycling in Tuscany were always going to be tough but the heat of an early summer blast made things very difficult indeed, possibly our hardest riding of the tour. Just as well we had the most amazing Tuscan Villa in which to "recover" from the days exertions. A divine pool surrounded by 13th century buildings and row upon row of grapevines. Our wonderful host, Guiseppe (of course) made up for his lack of English (not a single word) with an abundance of Italian charm and hospitality. He was like a long lost relative committed 100% to making our stay as remarkable as it could possibly be.
Again the ladies excelled themselves on the bike and I could see they were getting stronger by the day. But more than that, characters were emerging and most were finding some real confidence and freedom with which to express themselves. Tours are amazing like that, a platform for growth quite unlike any other. I just loved watching the story unfold, out-numbered, a little intimidated at times but always entertained. Thank goodness for Eve, not sure I have had much hope of pulling it off without you.
And so to France and the French Riviera "capital" of Nice would do just nicely for our farewell swing of "MadonnaVelo Europe 2017".
Nice is not often thought of as a cycling mecca, but the maritime alps are in fact full of delightful cycling roads. From the wonder of the famous "route de Napleon" to the remarkable climb up to the ancient town of Gourdon, this is a region full of cycling surprises. The girls conquered everything I threw at them, from the iconic col de la Madone to the massive Mont Chauve that towers above Nice, nothing was too difficult for the MadonnaVelos. Our days here were complemented by walks into the amazing old town, fantastic food, for which we were spoiled for choice and swims in the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean.
And like all good stories this one had an end, a remarkable experience now committed to the life story of each member of the group. I would like to thank Sheridan Bosworth for the opportunity and honour of touring with this wonderful group of ladies. I would also like to thank Lee, Jacki, Kirsten, Denise, Mary, Sheree, Tina, Claire and Lisa for your support and friendship on the roads of Italy and France. I truly hope you loved the experience. To the characters we met; Mattia, Guiseppe, "that Italian waiter in Castellina" and so many others, you are appreciated and remembered. New places and memories for life that I am sure will grow fonder with time. Finally to Eve Conyers, whose support was remarkable. You were unflappable and no job was too much to ask, thank you for all that you added to this tour.
Was this the hardest cycling tour ever?
I guess the Brutal Tour had really been about 10 years in the making and like most crazy ideas it had evolved year to year, as I travelled to Europe and climbed more and more passes. It just seemed that there were so many that felt “un-missable” and the more I read, watched on TV and tuned in to the experiences of others, the more climbs were added to the bucket list. Of course, nobody (not even me) can go to Europe and climb 200 cols on one tour, so there had to be a way to whittle down the list. But wait, rather than whittle down, why not ramp up the list? In the modern world of information sharing, blogs etc, most cyclists had heard tales of the “Uber climbs” of Europe; the Angliru in Spain, the Mortirolo and Zoncolan in Italy and Austria’s title contender, the Kitzbuheler Horn. Surely, we could make a list of Europe’s most fearsome challenges, put together a group of intrepid Aussie cyclists, fly 26 hours to the other side of the world and ride them all? Easy, right? And so, the Brutal Tour was conceived.
Next came the list, which climbs should we ride, which makes the cut and which does not? The “formula” included some stats, such as gradient (average and maximum), climb length, altitude at the summit etc, that part was easy. Then we added the “less tangibles” such as iconic status and “mystique”, or more accurately; “climbs that not many have heard of, are really out of the way and just bloody hard”. Once we had our list, the course (and order) needed to be plotted. It soon became obvious (not sure why it took so long) that the most distant pins on our map were as far apart as 2000km! But surely with excellent planning, a reasonably comfortable vehicle, some decent music, it would be doable? Turns out it was.
Meet The Crew
Fast forward to August 2017, the Brutal Tour became a reality. Let’s first introduce our “tourists”;
Mark “I cannot believe my data has run out already” Robertson,
Frank “the Stelvio is over-rated anyway” Nyhuis,
Darren “I never saw any T-junction” Joy and
Ramon “I was just tapping it out, I swear” Maurice. Plus;
Superguide: Gordo “when are we going back to Annecy” Sutherland
Our initial list of six, became just four, with two late withdrawals but what the group lacked in numbers, it certainly made for with character, determination and good old slice of “not taking yourself too seriously” (well, for the most part).
This tour was a three week epic in every sense of the word, so I will deliver the abridged version.
Tours like this are always about the characters, their contributions and the creation of experiences that shape each year’s tour story. As a planner and guide, it is my job to set the route, find the climbs etc, kind of build the canvas. But a tour is nothing without the riders, in this case everyday people who trained hard, then took a large leap into the unknown and emerged as giants, having achieved what very few others have.
We began the tour in Spain, essentially so we could climb one of the most feared roads on the planet, the Angliru. This nasty piece of asphalt is located in the Asturias and a really really long way from anywhere else we needed to be. In all honesty, it would have been a lot easier (and saved around 800km of transfers) if we had simply left it out. But that was not what the tour was all about, we simply had to climb it, and so we did. Picture the day; misty rain, cold winds, small farm roads covered in cow shit (makes getting traction on 23% slopes quite a challenge). then factor in the "warm up", 85km, three climbs and 2000m of elevation. Safe to say, the Angliru did its job, the Brutal Tour had well and truly lived up to its name, and it was only day one!
In a tour lasting three weeks, there were bound to be some tales that could (and should) not be re-told. There are also way too many climbs, points of suffering, highlights and lowlights to which I could not do justice. Here, however, here are my "brief points of note":
The magical "Cirque de Troumouse" (Pyrenees), climbed after a double ascent of the Tourmalet and truly one of the most magnificent "big" climbs in the world. Tough, raw, quiet with a huge dose of that "je ne sais quoi" that makes some roads special.
A triple ascent of the mighty Mt Ventoux where one is enough for most and two is thought of as a little extreme.
The incomparable Colle Della Finestre. 18km @ 10% where the final 9km is on very rough gravel at an average of 10.4%. Unlike the Giro in 2015, nobody graded the road for us.
A ride transfer day of 210km that included the highest paved pass in Europe (the Col de l'Iseran) and finished in darkness as we struggled to find our chalet, tucked away some 6km up a tiny mountain road above St Michel de Maurienne.
A double ascent of the one and only Passo Dello Stelvio - enough said.
The rarely accomplished (for very good reasons) 5000m day. This one was the epic Swiss loop that included the Susten, Grimsel, Nufenen & St Gottard passes. The Nufenen turned out (very unexpectedly) to be one of the toughest climbs of the entire tour and the final 6km "cobbled" section of St Gottard has to be seen (and ridden) to be believed.
Another transfer day, spiced up by a pre-breakfast trundle up the "Austrian Zoncolan", the Kitzbuheler Horn. This "little ripper" is 10.2km long (if you go all the way to the tower) at an ave gradient of 13.2%. Throw in the Grossglockner (in the afternoon), which is relentlessly harder than its "stats" suggest and you will appreciate how happy we were to see our lovely apartments in Flattach at the end of the day.
This brings me to what I rate as the hardest climb of the tour, the little known, Grosse Oscheniksee in the Austrian Alps. 17km from our apartments at 10.4% (including some downhill) with the final 9km @ 13.4%. Consider also that the summit of this beast is at almost 2,400m (other European behemoths such as Zoncolan, Mortirolo, the Horn and Angliru are all closer to 1800m), the road barely as wide as a cart path and a surface full of ruts, holes and loose stones. Brilliant!
Just one more. Statistically, the hardest day we had was the "double Zoncolan"., 136km / 5,200m. Any who have ridden the "monster of the Carnic Alps" will appreciate that the climb from Ovaro is considered one of the toughest in cycling. But just because we were nearly done (and needed an exclamation point for the tour), we added the little known (and quite possibly even harder) ascent back up from Priola, that is a double-Zoncolan (BAM). But we were not quite ready for dinner yet. Just up the valley from Ovaro is the HC climb of Monte Crostis (three times used in the Giro) and it is 14km long at an average of almost 10%. On it's own, it is one tough cookie but after a couple of casual "Zoncolans" it was more (as Frank so eloquently described it) like...."fu#*ing ridiculous". Again, no match for the "brutal tourists from down under". Oh how we had grown since the Asturias.
I am not sure if there is anything quite like this tour for bringing a few blokes together, I certainly do not know of anything. We arrived in Madrid as six individuals, full of nervous expectation. We left a group of mates, full of quiet pride in what we had achieved, forever more confident in our capabilities and connected by a shared experience that may never be repeated.
I would like to say a sincere that you to; Gordo, Robbo, DJ, Frank and Ramon for putting your trust in Bubba's Cycling Tours. But I am mostly thankful for the incredible energy, tenacity and flexibility you brought to the group. It is a three weeks that I will never forget and find very hard to top, both professionally and personally.
On the 26th March 2017, 400 riders took on Ride The Range in Toowoomba, with around 110 people tackling the 100mile (165km) challenge. There was a ride for everyone, the 112km classic, 85km challenge and the 50km nifty. The ride is a great opportunity to get away for a weekend in the country and enjoy some awesome riding. And is there any better way to spend a Sunday than riding around the beautiful QLD countryside with a bunch of beautiful, strong, determined and supportive & somewhat quirky friends?! Ummm no!
So at 6am we departed Picnic Point in Toowoomba and screamed down the range, it was steep, lets just say I could smell the rubber burning! Regrouping at the bottom the BBL crew stayed together, and made this little ride something to remember. We picked up new friends along the way and quickly made formation into rolling turns as we chewed up the km’s in the beautiful countryside and wide open country roads. Everyone was in high spirits, there was plenty of banter amongst the team and a positive vibe that made us all feel a part of it. The rotary rest stops along the way were awesome with their home baked goods, cold water, free smiles and supportive attitudes, they were always there when we needed them. Especially in the last 50km when the sun started to beat down and feelings of fatigue set in, heavy and pumped legs, and depleting energy stores. Just as you start to think things are getting tough you come across a rest stop with cold sugary fizzy drink goodness! So kudos to the volunteers for staying out there and making our day!
We continue on; our little peloton of 16 people slowly dwindling as we neared the range and started to hit some hills at around the 140km mark. It was about 11am with only 25km to go now…. up the Range, no biggy right! A 12km climb, with a couple of decent pinches, the last 5km at a 9% average gradient was a brute! Times did get a little tough, which may have been intensified by the heat that was now beating down upon us as we climbed. The air was still and the road was so hot & sticky, that little tar rocks were getting stuck between my back tire and the break caliper! Many were walking, as cramps set in and for some the end seemed like an eternity away, but in the end the cyclist wins, and we all made it home!
In summary (and in true BBL character) we could call this a post 3 Peaks Falls Creek recovery ride! A nice little 165km roll around the Lockyer Valley, Gatton & surrounds with a steep bit thrown in for fun!
If you are a cyclist put it on your “to do list”, take your road bike and just as importantly take your Mountain Bike! Go ride around the beautiful country roads, up and down the range and visit Jubilee Park for some downhill dirt action, and well why were at it why not stop by Hidden Vale, Grandchester and get your mountain bike on there too!
Thanks to everyone who made the day awesome: Bubba, Shelly, Vicky Liese, Kirsty Hearn, Mel Bairstow, Chris Main, Ross Salter, Tim Wakeman, Belinda Holloway, Shayne Mckavanagh, Kirsty Wright, Les Cadzow, Amanda Scott, Chrissy Conyers, Sheridan Bosworth, Steve Weir, Mary Mollard, Lee Butcher.
Lets do it again next year!
Two things made me nervous as I packed my bike for Taiwan - the first was the fact that we were experiencing seriously hot weather in Brisbane and it was winter in Taiwan - the second was that every course I had designed to ride had no easy way out of 3000m+ of climbing... welcome to the Mountains of Taiwan
And so it began, with Eva airways from Brisbane it's a direct flight of 8.5hrs in the brightly painted Hello Kitty Boeing 777-300er. The airport in Taoyuan was top notch, breezed through the border security and my bike was already unloaded ready to go.
Chinese New Year Celebrations were in full swing, this was very evident from the consistent fireworks displays on the one hour drive to Zhudong Township - My base for the next week.
After a few hours sleep we decided to grab some breakfast, head out into the hills and explore a few roads. Food is in abundance in the Townships. There are daily markets selling everything from fresh produce to handmade clothes and shoes. With so many places to buy cooked food made fresh right in front of you, it was easy to see why so many people eat out. Generally the bigger the line up for the food the better it was, the popular places don't have menus or even pictures of what they sell so I had to rely 100% on Chocy to purchase the food, and never once was I disappointed.
With Chocy riding scooter as my super domestique we set off to explore.
From KM 1 the road started winding up through valleys alongside huge river systems, around every corner a new view had my senses overloading. My first taste of seemingly endless smooth roads and hairpins had me buzzing, not really knowing what I was in for was exciting in itself. Upon reaching the lake area, we stopped to take a few pics and pinch ourselves that this was real.
Not a coffee shop in sight as yet, I must say I was a little worried there would be no caffeine fix on this journey. Continuing on we reached a huge river system crossed by some impressive feats of engineering. We had been steadily climbing up to 600m elevation then boom , up time - 13.4km av 7% gaining 1013m elevation, with a downhill section included, there were many sections of 15%+ making it a very challenging ascent. The road ended at a National Park educational centre, with some beautiful rainforest walks heading higher still into the mountains.
I had spotted a restaurant / BnB that advertised coffee about half way up the climb so we headed there for a delicious lunch of rice, cabbage, soup and a good coffee (phew).
After bombing down another 7km's my mind turned to the upcoming climb. 110km down with only 65km to go, how hard can it be? HARD! it was relentlessly up with little spurts of down, leaving me questioning if I had started the climb... I hadn't. It started with a series of 4 hairpins averaging 12% then I looked up, bad move, long strait section of about 2kms at 15%. Feeling well fuelled from lunch and coffee I managed to stay seated for the first few hundred metres but it was all out of the saddle suffering from there. Another series of about 20 hairpins got me to the top. As I crested for the 35km of downhill to home it hit me, I was in cycling Heaven.
Taiwan is home to a special race, the Taiwan KOM is a 105km ride from sea level up to 3275m elevation with over 3,300 meters of total climbing. From my base to the highest point on the KOM it was a casual 195km away with 6500m of climbing, on a good day I knew I could do it but I had the added pressure of riding home the following day.
Chocy found us some accommodation at http://www.green-leaf.com.tw/ which sits at 2100m elevation and 35km before the KOM point, meaning I would have to ride past and return raising the bar to 230km. I secretly hoped the stars aligned but it wasn't to be.
Perfect conditions greeted us as I jumped on the scooters wheel, motor pacing out of town, the excitement was hard to control smashing over the first climb in record time with temperatures hovering around 8 deg.
The descent was ridiculous, super smooth confidence enhancing roads, cambered hairpins... froth!! My super domestique was waiting at the bottom with some local cuisine freshly cooked and absolutely delicious. Looking towards our desired route I could see a large rolling cloud system sitting on the top, I wasn't too worried as my trusty Sportful jacket was packet safely in the scooter.
Up into the clouds we went, steadily visibility dwindled as did the temperature. Waterfalls were flowing on every corner until we reached a plateau of 1200m. On we blazed, the temperature was now 6 deg and my feet felt like ice. Engulfed by lush forest the road surface was still amazingly good, even in the wet it had a grippy feel.
We passed some beautiful lakes and recreation areas before the final descent of the day. I could suffer no more, the jacket came out half way down, teeth chattering I pulled over and quickly realised I wasn't the only one suffering. I'm sure it would have been an amusing sight to see us fumbling around with hands that wouldn't respond to nerve signals.
Dropping down to 330m elevation at the 100k mark, I was feeling great despite the cold. Over the next 45km we consistently gained altitude. Rolling along the river system I was blown away by the size of the river bed, I can only imagine what it looks like in the wet season. Another couple of towns and river crossings saw us half way up and back into the clouds. The temperature dropped every kilometre until it hit a low of 3 degrees. Soaking wet and cold we reached the summit at 1965m, rolling over the other side suddenly the clouds disappeared! The road was dry, never has the sun felt so good. The road tilted down a little with a strava segment named Roelof's Wuling Wet Dream, it totally lived up to it's name, the views up to Mt Sylvia were stunning. One last 2km climb up to our accommodation and day 1 was complete. Standing at 2100m elevation, still tilting our necks to view the peaks, a calming energy came over us as we relaxed on the balcony, the ultimate reward for embarking on any adventure. The sunset was truly stunning.
The farm we lodged in included a Buffet Dinner and Breakfast, the standard was exceptional with all produce grown on the farm. As luck would have it we ended up in the honeymoon sweet, the best sleep I had on the whole trip. The owner and Chocy got talking and it turned out by coincidence that she is coming to the Gold Coast for 2 months in March to learn English.
After filling our bags with all the extra food given to us as gifts and donning the life saving Sportful jacket (which had dried overnight) off we rolled for the journey home. Having only descended 3000m the day before and with approx. 60km of downhill ahead of me I was in my element.
The weather forecast was for mild conditions with sunshine which meant the climbing in the clouds yesterday was now full visibility. Corner after sweeping corner the temperature slowly rose from a low of 5deg , it was pure joy and no wind to slow me down. We reached the valley in good time and before I knew it I was climbing the pass that had been completely clouded in the day before.
The hairpins I had gingerly descended the day before were an absolute joy to climb, enveloped in thick forest, everything covered in moss and waterfalls flowing, this was my paradise. Unbeknownst to me, Chocy had earlier stopped to grab some food and had pulled up in a park on the road side with some rice balls wrapped in bamboo leaves. So Good!!
Refuelled and ready for another descent, the sun was shining, giving warmth even at 1200m elevation. I caught 3 cars on the way down and all were kind enough to wave me through as soon as they noticed me. I found this to be a common theme throughout Taiwan, cyclists or any athleticism in general was encouraged and respected by all. That left me with just one climb then a joyous 35km descent to home. As challenging as that last climb was, the euphoric feeling of being in the mountains on a bicycle would have powered me for days.
Although it had only been one week, the experiences and consistent sensory overload made it feel much longer. Taiwan is a modern place without the tourist feel. It is wild at heart with 286 mountain summits over 3000m above sea level. I am extremely privileged to have had the opportunity to experience this wonderful place and hope to share the best bits with you in years to come.
Click here to learn more about our Taiwan Adventure Tour in 2018
Cheers Benny & Chocy
The Peaks Challenge Falls creek is aptly named, it is a CHALLENGE!
From the intense training required to the variable weather conditions, finishing within the time cut off is a GREAT achievement.
The Alpine Passes of Falls Creek and Mount Hotham sit up at 1600-1850m above sea level. The weather can literally be four seasons in one day.
Being prepared for this ensures you have the confidence to succeed.
The Peaks event is a very well organised event. You can hand over 3 bags of food/clothing which will be dropped at 3 different locations around the course and there are plenty of water stops to keep you hydrated.
Starting off with the descent from Falls – temperature is likely to be 5 – 10deg Celsius therefore a Wind breaker of some sort (vest or jacket) is essential
Approx. 20-25km of downhill with a short climb thrown in – be very mind full of other riders on the road here, stay within your skill limit and be aware that others may not!
After a few short km’s through the perfectly named Mt Beauty, the climb of Towonga gap starts. This is a 7.5km climb averaging 6% gradient, careful not to get caught up the rush, this is the time to stay at the low end of Zone 3 and trundle up.
A drink station awaits at the top if needed, then a fast descent down to German Town approx. 14km, take caution as some of the right hand turns get tighter as you go through them.
On the false flat to Harrietville, time to refuel the legs and jump on a group for an easy roll, just make sure it’s not rolling too fast to sit in your Zone 2-3!
Harrietville is the first food drop station and a great place to refill the pockets, use the bathroom and check all vital systems to prepare for the climb ahead.
Mount Hotham is the highest sealed road pass in Australia and has three distinct sections -
Section 1 – 9.9km @ 6.6% gradient average with The Meg (you'll know when you get there) thrown in to test the legs. Stay in Zone 2-3 here and enjoy the moment.
Section 2 – 9km @ 2% gradient – spin up the cadence and flush the legs out, no need to break any records here the tough part is about to begin
Section 3 – The last 9km average 4.8% gradient but the numbers don’t tell the whole story with 3 sections averaging 8-10% with a couple of short downhill sections between. Take the time to enjoy the views here, as they are epic!
Roll on to Dinner Plain (the second food drop) for a well earned lunch break and change any clothes if needed. The next 42kms can be tough in a headwind, so best to wait for a group if possible. Not what I would call a descent, more of a gradual elevation loss with some considerable climbs before a fast drop down into Omeo.
Refill and stock up on supplies, between here and Anglers rest is a significant climb called Bingo’s Gap approx. 4kms @ 4% gradient. From the top to Anglers rest you are in for a real treat - a gentle loss of elevation through winding roads with exceptional views. Anglers rest is another Food Drop and if you have time you can slip in for a caffeine hit in the Blue Duck Inn.
The next 10kms is a chance to enjoy glimpses of the Omeo River, on a hot day it's tempting to park up the bike for a quick dip in the clear running waters.
Then the real challenge begins... the back of Falls Creek. you arrive here at the 200km mark and if you have dug too deep on any earlier climbs then this is where you will regret it. The first 9kms of this Hors Categorie Climb Average 8% with sections hitting 14%+. Something to keep in mind when training as if you haven't prepared your body for this it will not be an enjoyable experience.
Trapyard gap is a welcome sight and a quick water stop is recommended if you are running low with 23.5km to go. Keep on climbing and climbing for what may feel like eternity until you get a glimpse of the lake. a new wave of energy surges through as the finish line is within reach. Take the time to appreciate what you have just accomplished and congratulate yourself on the disciplined journey you took to get here.
Best of luck and may the weather gods be with you!
Whether you want to capture that perfect sunrise or snap a sensational selfie, modern mobile phones are fast becoming the ultimate portable camera. But with so many pics being posted how do you stand out from the crowd?
Here are a few tips to create the Wow shot to get you more likes and more kudos.
Step 1 - Crop and Position, open your photo and click the edit button. head strait to the crop feature first which will allow you to straighten, position and remove unwanted elements of the photo. as shown above I have cropped out the other cyclist and positioned myself somewhere close to the rule of thirds.
Step 2 - Light, there are a lot of options here but the quickest and best one is the brilliance setting, click on this and adjust to correct the exposure and enhance the lighting
Step 3 - Colour, this could also be a topic in itself but to keep it simple just choose the saturation setting and give it a boost. watch as the colours come to life, but be careful not to overdo it.
Join our Christmas giveaway by using the hashtags #bubbasbikelab and #bubbascyclingtours when posting on FB and Instagram.
We have a BBL Christmas Hamper to give away to the best shot taken while out on a ride (please do not take pictures while riding).
Good luck, take as many shots as you can and get posting!
Enjoy ~ Benny Ball
The little-known Grosse Oscheniksee in Austria may be tougher than Zoncolan
Calling any climb "the hardest" will always invoke some degree of protest and argument. That said, I am going ahead with this post anyway, bring it on I say.
There are many difficult climbs in Europe, some are famous and others quite obscure, climbed by very few. There are of course the iconics, that carry a notoriety enhanced by both their frequent appearances on the grand stages of professional cycling AND the fact that many "punters" have ridden them (and are only too keen to tell you just how hard they are). Then there are the more closely guarded secrets that lay in wait, climbs of legend, known mostly by the locals that are convinced theirs is the hardest of them all, the mighty Grosse Oscheniksee, in the Austrian Alps is one such beast.
Gauging the difficulty of any hill often comes down to how the rider feels on the day that he / she rides it, good legs / bad legs. So in order to get a feel for just how tough the "Osch" is, we will look at the stats comparison with the brutally hard Montee Zoncolan in the Carnic Alps (Italy), which is considered by most as the hardest climb in professional cycling (and is known to many).
The Zoncolan is 10.2km long (the more difficult ascent from Ovaro) at an average gradient of 11.9%. The altitude at the top is 1730m. Now take the "Osch" which is 16.9km long at an average of 9.1%, BUT the final 12km are at an average gradient of 12.2% AND the altitude at the summit is 2334m!! The maximum gradient on the Zoncolan is 24%, whilst the steepest bends on the Osch are 28%. Both are tough (very tough), but it would be hard to argue that the Osch didn't have the edge.
And by the way, there IS in fact a harder road to the Zoncolan summit than the famous ascent from Ovaro. It is the original road up and was only sealed in 2006. It starts in the town of Priola, climbs for 9km at a leg-breaking (possibly literally) average of 13%!! A new contender emerges perhaps?
Enjoy the ride.
Brian Bubba Cooke
Lifelong (almost) cyclist, exercise physiologist and above-all-else just love riding my bike. Been lucky enough to ride some of the world's most epic roads and now live on the beautiful Gold Coast, hidden gem of Australian cycling.