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Rapha Rides the Victorian Alps
Back in March, before the snow fell on the ski fields of the Victorian Alps, we set out to ride some of the most magnificent roads in Australia. A 235km loop featuring three mountain passes with nearly 5,000 vertical meters of climbing was thankfully accompanied by beautiful weather. The profile and difficulty of this loop rivals any queen stage of a Grand Tour. It’s not dissimilar from the 2010 Etape de Tour (Stage 17) in terms of climbing, but 50km further.
There’s no disputing the stunning beauty of this ride. However, the film makers wanted to do more than show a bunch of pretty pictures. We set out looking for some cycling history in the Victorian Alpine region and were blessed to discover Mr. Malcolm Powell. Malcolm is an Australian cycling historian, still loves to ride, and continues to have a crack at the local crits on weekends. He represented Australia in the 1962 Commonwealth Games and came 7th in the 120 mile road race held in Perth, Australia. He has stories about Australian cycling heritage that you won’t find anywhere on the internet.
A story that Malcolm retold originated from some of the same roads that we traveled on during our ride through the Victorian Alps. It was a truly epic stage of the Centenary 1000 race in 1934.
Remarkable Contest Reviewed
As anticipated, the great Centenary "1000" cycle road race around Victoria, organised by Dunlop Perdriau on behalf of the Victorian Centenary Council, resulted in an outstanding demonstration of determination and endurance. The course and conditions of the contest were selected and framed with the intention of providing a race equal in severity to some of the stages in the world-famous Tour de France.
Unfortunately, the elements took a hand, greatly intensifying the difficulties of the mountain stage, but despite the appalling conditions the contestants had to face in crossing the Alps. Of the 107 wheelmen who faced the starter in Melbourne, 61 riders completed the 1052 miles course in the face of weather and road conditions unprecedented in any long distance road race held in this part of the world. Under normal dry conditions, the mountainous stage of the Centenary "1000" was a "tough" one, embracing as it did long severe climbs over Mt. Buffalo and Mt. Hotham, but unfortunately 'the worst October weather conditions for 64 years had to be faced by the contestants and blinding rain storms, howling gales, and morasses of mud had to be fought through by the riders. Their task was a cruel one, made worse by the fact that owing to the field of riders being weather-bound at Mt. Buffalo for 24 hours, the itinerary had to be re-arranged, necessitating one stage of 216 miles having to be covered in one day, of which over 90 miles was across the Australian Alps. Four inches of rain and snow on Mt. Hoth am intensified the difficulties and smashed the hopes and machines of champions and tyres alike. Yet despite the terrible road conditions and having to ride many miles in the dark at the end of-the 216 miles stage,-64 riders out of the 75 that set out from Mt. Buffalo, duly checked in at the end of what was probably the hardest day's ride ever achieved by cyclists in a long distance road race. The severity of the climb up Mt. Hotham (6006 ft.) may be gauged from the fact that H. Cruise - the winner of the championship section of "Centenary Thousand"- was glad to get down to a 49 inch gear, whilst making the 19 miles ascent up the stony mountain highway.
From the start of the contest, it was apparent that there was a lack of harmony amongst the group of 29 scratch men. There was too much watching each other and not enough concerted team work directed to over taking the men on the outmarks. Early in the race, the riders in "C" and "D" groups-really third and fourth class riders-showed by systematic pacing that if the back markers were to have a say in the destination of the rich handicap riders, they would have to adopt similar unselfish tactics. On one stage, the third, the scratch men really made a determined sustained effort to overhaul the front division, with the result that the scratch group "got up" 20 miles from the end of the stage, and Fernand Mithouard of France "won in a close finish from his co-markers. As a matter of fact, on two stages "out markars" actually registered faster times than the back men.
Before the start of the big event, the general opinion was that the men on outmarks would crack up from the stresses incidental to the sustained efforts necessary to complete such an arduous course, but experts were amazed to see' 'the manner in which the "C" and "D" riders stuck to their task.
As a matter of fact, the "A" and "B" groups thinned out more than the "C" and "'D" men, as will be noted from the following figures. Leaving Melbourne, there were 29 starters in the "A" (scratch) group, of which 12 completed the course; in "B" group, 29 started and 15 finished; in "C" group, of the 27 starters, 18 finished, 'while in "D" group (4th class riders) out of 22 starters, 16 finished.
By their tactics, the scratch group practically made a present of handicap prizes to the 3rd and 4th class men, who, by a grand exhibition of unselfish pacing and plucky riding, thoroughly deserved every pound they won. It is of interest to note that F. Etubenrauch ("D" class) the winner of the handicap division of the race, rode the official course in 57 hours 33 mins. 10 3/5 secs, equal to an average speed of approximately 17.1/4 miles per hour, while H. Cruise, winner of the championship section, took 53 hours, 50 min. 33.1/5 sees., an average of approximately 18.1/4 miles per hour. The scratch group, owing to the tactics adopted, only gained during the whole contest, 3hrs 42 mins on the leading "D" rider, and only 1 hr 33 mins on E. Toseland (S.A.), the best rider in "C" group.
Unfortunately, falls robbed the race of considerable interest, the International, P. Chocque, being early out of the contest through a broken collarbone, while his compatriot, M. Mithouard, retired on the second last stage of the race. Hubert Opperman, O. Nicholson, J.. Buckley, and other leading Australian cracks were also forced to retire as the result of mishaps en route, but the winner of the Australian road championship for 1914, well earned his success in the richest and most notable cycling race ever staged in the British Empire.
All told, 10 contestants participated in the distribution of the prize money (£ 2500) tile principal winners being:
--A. F. Stulbenranch, £585, HII. Cruise, £521, Sidney Myer Gold Cup (£105) and Blue Riband and gold medal, J. Duffy, £219, S. Howden, £134, E. Toseland (S.A.) £128, E. Hallett £71, T. Sharman (N.S.W.) £50, H. C. Williams £.4, Watson (N.Z.) £42, F. Mlithouard (France) £41 and trophies, and N. Bosari (Italy)£36 and "Champion of Alps" blue riband and gold medal. The scratch group won £893 in cash prizes and trophies, the "B" group £187, "C" group £451, and the "D" group £909.
The "Centenary Thousand" from start to finish was full of colorful incidents and will be long remembered for the heroic efforts of the contestants in battling through to the finish, despite unparalleled storms and difficulties. The race was certainly an epic one, remarkable for the staying power and pluck of the contestants and their indomitable will to finish.
- Produced by Wilf Sweetland
- Directed by Joel Harmsworth – everydayokay.com
- Edited by Endless Pedal – endlesspedal.com.au (Graeme Pereira)
- Music by Robert Law