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The Snowy Mountains, in the south-east corner of Australia, are as remote as they are stunningly rugged. The ‘Snowys’, as they are affectionately known, occupy a special place in Aussie folklore, largely for the depiction of one of their native-born sons in one of Australia’s most famous poems.
‘The Man from Snowy River’ is rich with tales of daring mountain horsemanship and a sure-footed steed was once considered the only mode of transport through such steep mountain ranges. From 1895, however, the pneumatic-tyred ‘safety’ bicycle provided an alternative way of viewing the spectacular beauty of the region. The arrival of the bike ignited a burgeoning tourist market in the region and adventure seekers from all over Australia soon came out to play.
The chance of snow on day one was high and, sure enough, the heavens opened not long into our journey. The prospect of squelching powder under rubber so early in the ride meant we knew this was going to be a challenge like no other and the energy and anticipation among the group was palpable. With snow chains secured to our support vehicles, the riders fixed 25mm tyres to their bikes and pedalled up Dead Horse Gap. With only the high beams of the car headlights illuminating their path through the fresh snow, it was an exhilarating ride but finally the emotion, adrenalin and excitement were replaced by a severe chill. Cycling shoes were quickly swapped for Ugg boots and the warmth of the car heater and for the exhausted riders, a pub meal and a few beers proved a welcome way to finish the evening.
The plan on day two had been to descend from the Thredbo ski resort to Jindabyne and then climb up to our playground for the day, Mount Kosciuszko, at 7,310ft the highest point in Australia. If beautiful blue skies and the surrounding mountains provided a picture-postcard setting, however, black ice proved a sleeping menace – within seconds of setting off, one of the riders hit the deck. The overwhelming decision by the bunch to wait until the early-morning ice had melted was a no-brainer. Back to Jindabyne for coffee and cake proved a winning idea and by mid-morning, the snow-lined roads were dry and the winding roads of Mt Kosciuszko were practically traffic-free. Only the occasional snow-clearing truck broke the tranquility of nature at its finest.
We climbed once again on day three, this time westward out of Thredbo on the Great Alpine Road. It had taken a seven-hour drive from Melbourne to reach the Snowys and every minute of riding totally surpassed our expectations. In the spirit of the Rapha Continental, we were exploring roads utterly different to our regular routes but there is no getting away from the fact that this is where many Australian pro cycling teams set up camp during the warmer months. And with very little traffic, some serious climbing and an abundance of idyllic accommodation, I can’t help thinking that the Snowys could be the next location for wannabe pros, too.