Monday, 4 April 2016

Buninyong


The view east from Mt Buninyong


For a decade I’ve been making the annual January pilgrimage to Buninyong for the Australian Road National Championships. It’s something I’ve always done with my kids, starting when they were in the pram. Beyond toddlerhood they’ve had the choice to come with me or stay at home. They haven’t elected to stay at home yet, so I think I’ve done something right in raising the cycling fans of the future. It’s mostly been a fun experience having the kids there (the occasional ‘is it over yet’ aside). The one downside is that I’ve never taken my bike with me or participated in any of the ‘ride the course’ events before the race. So while I know the hilly part of the course with an intimacy built up over many years of pushing prams and piggybacking tired kids, I’ve never felt what it’s like to suffer up it on a bike.

That changed on the weekend. Some friends are looking after a house (and goats and chooks and ducks) in Mount Edgerton for a few months, and invited us to stay for the weekend. In trying to work out where Mount Edgerton was, I worked out how close it was to Buninyong (only 20km away), and decided to pack the lycra and put the bike on top of the car.

Mount Edgerton is a pretty little place. There are some buildings on the main street that look like they may once have been shops, and there is a complex network of unmade roads and rough bush tracks beyond. These tracks constantly blur the line between public road and private driveway. Our friends were living on one such track. So, in addition to saying good morning to the goats, each ride also started (and ended) with some steep up and down hill off-roading on skinny tyres. It certainly got the heart racing, both from effort and from fear of hitting a patch of loose gravel the wrong way and ending up upside down in a ditch. 
Good morning, sleepy goat.

Mount Edgerton is located on top of a range of wooded, rolling hills. The name mountain is perhaps a bit of a stretch. Leaving town and heading west, it’s not long before Mount Buninyong pops into view, along with its smaller cousin, Mount Warrenheip. These two are more deserving of the name. They’re volcanic cones, jutting abruptly from the surrounding plain and giving me a good look at my destination as I cycle toward them.

Approaching from the east provides a view of Mount Buninyong I’m not used to seeing. The town of Buninyong sits on the western side of Mount Buninyong, and the race circuit up the side of the mountain from the town is gradual and stepped. There is no road to the summit from the east, and if there was it would need a lot of switchbacks. Instead, you get to the town of Yendon where there is a fork in the road. Yendon Number One Road skirts around the northern edge of the mountain, Yendon Number Two Road hugs the southern side like a too-tight collar. Together, roads number one and two pretty much circumnavigate the mountain.

The approach to Mt Buninyong on Yendon Number Two Road

I take the smaller, quieter Number Two Road and approach the mountain as the sun rises and illuminates it, and return on the Number One Road, by which time the weather has closed in and the mountain is mostly obscured in a swirling mist.

The Australian Road Race Championship circuit is made up of two main parts. A fairly constant climb out of Buninyong, up the Midland Highway and onto Mount Buninyong Road. The second part is a gradual downhill back section of the course leading back into the finishing straight in the town, where the uphill commences again. It’s just over 10km per loop. The men do 18 laps  and the women ten to win the national champions jersey. The roads are quiet on a weekend morning. Apart from the special road signs that point out the circuit location and the painted-over graffiti on the road near the summit, it feels like many of the other roads in the vicinity.

The one way loop near the summit
The Mount Buninyong Road continues on past where the circuit turns off. It continues gradually uphill for a kilometre or two before it enters the wooded summit reserve, where the road becomes a narrow one-way loop. As it loops around the mountain you get views in all directions. Back toward the hill masquerading as a mountain to the east, and north to the goldrush spires of Ballarat.

Having climbed a mountain, ridden the circuit and stopped for a coffee in Buninyong, I start to head home in the increasing cloudy gloom. Just past Yendon where roads number one and two merge, corner marshalls were out waving through a peloton of  about 20 riders. What better way to finish a ride than see some bike racing action. It turns out I’d just seen the second last group come through, with the four scratch riders about to come past. In a nicely symmetrical plot twist, the scratch group included Ballarat local Pat Shaw, who finished 9th in the 2016 Australian Road Championships held on the Buninyong course. I followed them (by a rapidly increasing distance) back toward Mount Edgerton as the rain began.



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