TOUR DE BEECHWORTH: THE GRAVEL LOOP
Last year Bridge Road Brewers invited us up to Victoria’s High Country to check out the Tour de Beechworth, held on a particularly chilly all the while sunny late July morning. On that particular weekend we took on the century-long road loop, dotted with the occasional gravel section throughout the morning.
Hand on heart we put it down as one of the most underrated events on the calendar, so when we found out we’d be back to take on the gravel loop a year later, we were mega stoked. We gathered a crew for the ages, checked our pressures and made a proper weekend out of it, trading the century on the road for seventy, beautiful while challenging kilometres of the cycling industry’s favourite word atm: groad.
Even riding through an area we were somewhat familiar with, at an event we’d experienced beforehand, we were left pleasantly surprised, and stoked to introduce a number of new faces to a relatively unknown pocket of Victoria’s High Country.
I: THE ROLL OUT
First things first, what makes Tour de Beechworth so special is they choose to mess with the traditional early start. Bless up to all the event organisers in regional areas, but lord knows we’re miserable now, where now is the moment we awake to a 6am alarm the morning of.
Whether it’s traditional or not, it’s all too common practice to put on a pre-9am roll out, which is nothing short of rude, especially when the sun isn’t showing its face until 7.30am at the very least.
Instead the Tour de Beechworth sets off at the godly time of 10am, meaning there’s enough time to chill in the middle of town, have a proper breakfast and a few caffé latte’s at the provender. Following a quick briefing in the carpark of Bridge Road Brewery, you’re invited to head off, the road ride heading left out of the carpark and up towards Stanley, while the gravel ride heads right and out of Beechworth.
The morning started off with a pretty casual handful of kilometres straight out of town. Roads relatively quiet, moods lifting and excited for what the morning held. It wouldn’t be long before we’d hit the dirty stuff, Mason Hender watching over us as we shot down his namesake road, whipping it over 2 farm gates and into bushland proper as cries of Gumo could be heard in between occasional baa’s and moo’s from the locals.
The gradual (we’re talking the falsest of flats) climb through local paddocks finished with a rather cruel ramp through a patch of pine trees. We weren’t even 15km in and the landscape was changing up constantly, a true feast for at least one of the senses. Soon we were rewarded with a brilliant descent made up of corners truly sculpted by the Ford Fiesta designers – soft, open, grippy, a little bit sensual and perfectly cambered.
The sun was peeking through the clouds then filtering through the overhanging trees as the descent brought us down to the super photogenic crossing at Reedy Creek, a chance for people to spritz the mud off their shoes and do one for the gram. We took the opportunity to suss head units, study gradients and take a snack or two before the climb that loomed ahead.
What we would uncover would be a maze of single tracks criss crossing one of the more main gravel roads through the bush. The profile at time was tough, but with each turn and crest we were rewarded with lengthy straight descents primed for ripping skids, and enough lip on the edges of tracks to get a little airborne when we deemed fit.
Guiding us around the region was a set of strategically placed, bright yellow spray painted arrows, for the most part placed on the ground. We eventually came to a small junction in the middle of the bush, a yellow arrow directing us to take the right hand turn. It’s not that we didn’t see it, we just chose to ignore it, excited by the prospect of testing out our team issue gravel tyres on the climb up to the true summit of Mount Pilot.
Turns out no tyre let alone brake system can match all that a 28% mossy and still wet granite boulder can throw at you. The way up was slow, the way down even slower, but we were treated to a brilliant view from the fringe of Victoria’s High Country looking out towards the flat plains below.
After the little 3 man detour up the local Geodude, we returned to the main road to be joined by the rest of the gang, placed a few minutes down the road due to a few more photo, snack and stretch breaks. Fortunately a proper feed zone was only a few corners away, cinnamon donuts from Beechworth Bakery, plenty of fruit and party mix on offer, washed down with the freshest kegs of water from the IGA.
What would supply us with the biggest boost of energy and morale would be the smiles of the locals that greeted us at the feed zone, and those of other riders who parked up the same time as we did.
V: LADY NEWTON
From the feed zone we would descend out of the national park and back into farmland, before joining the road loop for a little while along a route more familiar to us. The climb up and away from Woolshed Falls was a breeze, and the climb up Malakoff Rd back into Beechworth seemed much easier than last time. Maybe it was the fact we were only 50 instead of 80 kilometres into our ride, maybe it was the power of fresh cinnamon donuts coursing through our veins, or maybe it was crossing paths and chatting with route curators The Gravel Mob as we took on the final push back into town before the Queen segment of the day.
A choose your own adventure option soon delivered us to the shores of a small inland lake in the lead up to the hectic final climb up Lady Newtown Drive. The sun had disappeared for now, and low cloud cover loomed as the handful of sharp ramps arrived, riders ticking each one off finding them a giant leap closer towards the lunch stop at the summit lookout.
Reaching the top out came the sun once more. Alongside being greeted with its beaming warmth we were able to take a place by the fire and admire the view back down into the valley. Bridge Road Brewers had the Bling’s on ice, and there was a whole host of home made snacks. Pies, quiches, slices, biscuits, muffins a sausage sizzle, cake…SOUP.
We’d replenish ourselves with enough food to make it back down to Beechworth in high spirits, only a random gravel detour arranged by Kip slowing us down fractionally. Fortunately the bakery was open well into the afternoon for second lunches.
VI: BRIDGE ROAD
That night we smuggled freshly fried potato cakes into the gardens of Bridge Road Brewers. We downed a couple of stouts, a few pretzels and tried our very best to work through a dozen or so mega thicc potato cakes from the local, leaving the last of it to Dean who really needed the food to soak up the litres of beer he’d taken on.
The night kicked off proper with correct use of the door list, entering the inner sanctum of the brewery rave cave for a multi-course slightly French slightly Australian very Beechworth type dinner. Local produce, multiple courses, vegan options and a Mike Tomalaris Skype call. It was magical enough that we dedicated an entire post to it. Check it out via the button below, and thanks again to the Bridge Road Brewers team for having us.