WHAT IS AN ALP?
7 Peaks: One Answer
By CAFÉ DU CYCLISTE & LE KNICKS
What is the definition of an alp? Or a set of ‘alps’ for that matter? What does it mean to be Alpine?
A proper mountain, high enough to be barren of trees, rugged and rocky with a picturesquely snowy peak? Or is it just a singular piece of Toblerone chocolate? Joking aside, surely an alp is part of ‘the Alps’ – the great mountain range that traverses France, Germany, Switzerland, Romania and Slovenia.
Wrong. You can find alps in lots of places. Including way down south, in Australia.
Newsflash: Europe does not have the monopoly on alps.
Allow us to introduce to you the Australian Alps. Our antipodean friends have their own collection, and they are big. Very big. For reference, the plateau on top of the Australian Alps is merely the southern part of the Great Dividing Range and is larger than Switzerland (that’s all of Switzerland, the entire country).
And like any other reasonable group of two wheeled masochists, the resident cyclists of Victoria in the south western corner of Australia gaze upon the peaks above and understand that they have to be scaled by pedal power.
As naturally as these mountains were formed, so came the 7 Peaks Challenge, an open relaxed brevet style event inviting local and visiting cyclists to climb the seven major Victorian Alpine roads totalling 8,000m of elevation gain. That’s nearly an Everest.
What alpine roads are these?
Mount Baw Baw, Lake Mountain, Mount Buller, Mount Buffalo, Falls Creek, Dinner Plain (!?) and Mount Hotham. Not Alpine names for sure. At least not as we know them.
Enter stage left a Dutchman. Who mostly rides on the flat and in bad weather. Martijn is more famous on Instagram as @imagehunters and inventor of #werideallweather. Whilst he favours (or is maybe forced to favour) the colder weather, that hashtag obligates him to seek out the heat too. And mountains that are alps but not the alps, if you follow the logic.
We connected him with the great people at Le Knicks, our Melbourne retail partners who’ve been serving Australia’s cycling mecca for longer than they care to remember and the game was afoot.
The European Alps were an act of violence. The Australian Alps, by comparison were borne from a slow divorce, or continental parting of ways.
They sit on top of a flat and smooth plateau that was lifted up by a river of magma below. The alps Down Under were pushed up from….down under. They’re vast, more gradual than their cousins and ultimately, lower (topping out not much over 2,200m).
Being the son of former professional (dad Peter was a classics rider and is current coach of the Dutch Olympic cycling team), Martijn has of course completed the obligatory pilgrimage to the European Alps. Alpe d’Heuz – bien sûr. Col de la Croix de Fer - bah ouais. So these Australian Alps are going to be meet and drink to a seasoned continental adventurer, yes?
Cut to the final 6.4kms of Mount Baw Baw and the first of the seven ascents. Average gradient - 13%. That is a very strong entrée to this feast of Australian alpinism.
Hemingway seems apposite and worth repeating. Especially when you’ve travelled one thousand miles for the privilege.
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”
There’s more of the sweat at the start of the second climb, Lake Mountain. Nine to ten percent gradients in the first five kilometres. There is no joyful Hemingway coasting, but eventually things do begin to become smoother, if far from flat.
Higher up still, these foreign (to us) alps begin to take on their own unique character. Alpine Ash trees creating a unique Australian alpine backdrop even in the abnormally damp conditions. Served up, perhaps, as a welcome from one alp to another.
But as Mount Buller and Buffalo are scaled before a 1am finish, the two riders who started the day as strangers both know that’s unlikely to last.
Some Alps are hotter than others.
And some are hot enough to melt the heel supports on your shoes. The second day brings forth three more peaks, Falls Creek, Dinner Plain and Mount Hotham, and 38 degree heat.
This is Australian alpine style. Hot roads, hard climbs, eagles and wolves replaced by wombats and koalas. And over 100 kilometres of uphill riding. Every Alp, no matter where you find them, has the capacity to kick like a mule.
Like those that go in search of them, all alps are different.
Each is unique in some detail or other of their character and yet beneath this the core concepts remain. The ups and downs, peaks, valleys, switchbacks and high altitude vistas.
The geology and geography may change but the challenges they set remain the same. As do the the riders who roll them.
Ride The Kit
Martijn and Anthony took a mixture of mesh and merino to scale the Australian Alps.
Micheline Lightweight Jersey
Louise Silk & Merino Jersey
Francine Breton Striped Midweight Jersey
Francoise Merino Long Sleeve Jersey
Josephine Bib Shorts
Blandine Lightweight Bib Shorts
Photography : Darren Eger
Australian Alps, Victoria, Australia
© 2017 Café du Cycliste/Le Knicks
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