Frostbite Gravel XL – Vince’s Story
Words & Photos by Vince Masci
Firstly, the what..
“It’s not a race, it’s a ride.. it’s a big ride!” spruiks Christophe Stephens of Velo Grammont (a kind of bike / coffee shop in Omeo) who’s scoured the backroads of nowhere and everywhere in-between. Omeo is a beautiful region that isn’t quite cool enough to be considered Alpine Shire but finds its place amongst neighbouring towns of Ensay and Swifts Creek in the far north corner of East Gippsland.
He’s not lying either. It is a big ride. Its 180km of gravel goodness. Suffering you ask? Much. Less suffering available? Yes, in two shorter forms.
But there were certain elements of the Frostbite Gravel ride that made it something special. Partially the where, a little bit of the when but most importantly, the who.
Isn’t Omeo a brand of washing detergent?
Possibly, but it’s also this amazing, scenic and under-rated country town that lies at the base of Dinner Plain / Mount Hotham and Falls Creek.
Omeo doesn’t do itself any tourism favours, there’s no train line and it’s a good five-hour drive from Melbourne but we can’t blame Omeo for where it is, especially considering that’s the thing that makes it so appealing. There’s stuff-all people there!
Looking for the road less travelled? Well thankfully you’ve stumbled upon it through this poorly written article. Not to mention, that these less travelled roads happen to be absolutely, bloody, frigging fantastic! Which takes me to the why..
Why would you want to drive 5 hours to ride all day in the freezing cold?
Because we are gravel cyclists and that’s just what we do. Also because Christophe and friends have curated this world class gravel route that weaves and winds through 180kms of varying degrees of spectacular environments and nature.
One moment you are cycling through vast paddocks and farmlands with pink hues echoing off the clouds as the sun rises, a cackle of hundreds of cockies rise over the fields in a ballet of white, the next moment, you are cursing Christophe and the course as you are mid-way through a 16km gravel climb with an average gradient of 6% of fire effected regrowth and you are moving so slow that you can actual see the frost settling on your arm warmers.
You glance up again, a 32km head wind has set-in from the north east, you see the grasses of the farmland ahead ripple before it smacks you in the face.
You get off the bike, a fire had been lit. A handful of your fellow idiots huddle around while trying to tear open a SIS Energy bar or gel for sustenance. Not an easy feat, let alone for someone with really cold hands.
You’re back on the bike, you meet a guy called Wayne. You’re immediately friends. He talks a lot, but so do you. You’re riding on the Great Alpine Rd snaking along parallel to the gorgeous Tambo River. Take a hard right, you’re climbing. An hour later, still climbing. Wayne drops you. Another fire, more climbing, How am I still fucking climbing?
You get the idea, but the transitions from farmland to forest and the variations in-between from spending time at different elevations are what makes this “why” so special.
Autumn in this region is what makes “the when” so special.
There’s a lot of pain over these 180km but the ever changing environment is what makes it all the more bearable. Good snacks at the rest stops too. Good snacks help. Also pizza.
Speaking of special, we need to talk about “The Who”
I mean, I could go on about Christophe. Not for too long because I barely know the guy but I did unbeknownst to him, put on my undercover journalist’s hat and ask him an irritating amount of questions
What I did find out about Christophe is that he’s a man with a mission in mind.
The story goes that he rode through Omeo on a Peaks Challenge ride and a few weeks later he found himself settling on a property. At which point he caught wind of a plan by East Gippsland Shire Council to construct roughly 120km of both cross-country and gravity mountain bike trails suitable for beginners to mountain bike enthusiasts and that even meet the criteria for national events.
I believe that this is when the idea of Velo Grammont in Omeo was born and a desire was formed to promote both the Omeo region and Christophe’s passion for cycling with you and me alike. Hence we are graced with the wondeful Frostbite XL and The Cattleman 100 which is a mountain bike race organised by Velo Grammont for Omeo in November.
It’s plain to see how the community has embraced Velo Grammont and Christophe’s mission to expose the region. You can see that COVID, bushfires and drought have hurt Omeo, I mean it’s so remote, the town would have been stripped of basically all tourism opportunity.
I’ve done many events and it takes a really special and selfless person to volunteer and want to help out these dickheads throwing themselves into the abyss and I don’t want to take anything away from volunteers at other events especially because I’m a massive dickhead but you could feel the buy-in that the locals and volunteers had with Velo Grammont’s mission and the greater plans in play for Omeo and the Mountain Bike Park.
They were so happy to have us out on course, they were so warm, they were so welcoming.. and that’s the theme for Omeo. Welcome to our town.
Kel (my bike wife) may have perhaps, over ambitiously entered the 180km event and had a little bit of trouble keeping up. So hospitable were the volunteers that they drove the rest stop to her before packing it up. When it looked inevitable that she wouldn’t make the cut off, good old Colin (local legend) swooped her up and let her rip later in the route – via the Swifts Creek bakery of course. A subsequent lift with Colin ensued 7km later to the finish.
There’s a lot to take away from Christophe and the passion of the local Omeo community.
A mission for the greater good, that helps people, that builds community is something that leads us to purpose and something that gives us will.
Great things can be accomplished when a community rallies together and sets out to accomplish something big. That’s what Frostbite XL was really about.
Omeo gets a bit of a wrap for being Bright’s ugly cousin. It falls on the wrong side of Mt Hotham and Falls Creek to be recognised by the Ride High Country brand of North East tourism and the marketing, public funds and tourism dollars that go with it.
Even Bicycle Network give Omeo a bit of a cold shoulder with the 3 Peaks Challenge. Closed roads and zero promotion mean that the local businesses actually suffer as oppose to benefit as they could when the event is on.
Ugly cousin or not, the first 50km of Mountain Bike trail is slated to open in late 2023 and provide a huge tourism boost to the region.
Get down there and check out the wheres, the whats and the whys before it was cool.