I was staying at the Bright Caravan in dormitory style accommodation with a group of riders who were up at the Victorian Alps for fun, adventure and who planned on taking on some of Australia’s most challenging climbs. This cycling weekend was organised by John Mogavero, who was planning to ride up to the top of Falls Creek with a group of six riders, and then play it by ear from there. There was also a couple of riders attempting to ride the 3 Peaks course. Given the heat, they were incredibly brave to even think of doing such a crazy ride.
It was an early start, but who needs an alarm when one of your roommate’s rips a loud fart at 6:00am! I left the cabin to smell the fresh, crisp air . It was already in the mid 20’s and set for a very, very hot day. I had volunteered to be a support vehicle, and had no regrets about not riding. My quads were screaming in pain from yesterdays climb up Mount Hotham, and was also hoping to climb Mount Buffalo the next day, and needed the rest.
My car was loaded with food & drinks and given the heat that was forecast, I had a feeling that I would be busy. I set-out at 6:45am for Tawonga Gap and had a chance to sit around at the top waiting for the group to catch up. There was such an amazing view from the lookout and a glorious sunrise and I enjoyed every minute of it. It was already warming up, & riders were making use of the car jettisoning unwanted weight in preparation for the climb up Falls Creek. The climb from Mount Beauty to the top of Falls Creek is 31km in length and one of the longest climbs in the Victorian Alps and the climb offers plenty of breaks with quite a few descents and false flats to catch your breath. For me it was an easy climb. Music pumping and the air conditioning blasting. Not so easy for those out riding in that insane heat. I spent the climb leapfrogging the group and getting plenty of photos along the way. It was around 8am at this stage and already approaching 30 degrees.
There was a downhill Mountain Biking event on the day, and there was a bit of traffic with Shuttles running non-stop throughout the morning ferrying riders back up and down the mountain. We would constantly see riders to the side of the road descending at crazy speeds. Give me a climb any day over the week.
I headed up the road to meet Luis Lopez & Mark Spratling up at the top of Falls. They were doing the full 3 Peaks course, and were riding pretty strongly, but given that at this stage it was already in the 30’s they were going to get baked over the open planes. They had already copped some bad luck with two flats & gave them a couple of spares which was lucky as there were more punctures to come. I loaded them with drink and gave them some food and bid them farewell, wondering if they would make it. Given how strong they were riding was no surprise that they did.
Even with the air conditioning going full blast, I was sweating uncontrollably. Have I mentioned that it was bloody hot! A part of me was yearning to get out there on the bike, but I was glad that I wasn’t riding in these hot conditions. It was an oven and the upper slopes of Falls Creek offer little in the way of shade and I could see everyone working overtime getting up the climb. Henry (pictured below) is an asthma sufferer, & the thin air played havoc with his lungs and he said that he was really struggling to breath and the climb up Falls Creek took a heavy toll on him. He provided one of the most impressive rides of the day, knocking out an impressive 203km & 3,700 vertical. #ridelikeaboss
Everyone rested at the top and it was decided that everyone turn around & head back to base. I managed to talk a small group into heading out to the dam which is only a short ride out from the Falls Creek resort for some pics and was treated to some truly amazing scenes. If I had the time, the bike would have certainly be taken out for a short ride around the lake.
The descent down Falls Creek was fast and furious and I needed to use all of my driving skills to keep the bikes in site. There were some very talented descenders amongst the group, and you could see they were having fun. We regrouped in Mount Beauty for some brunch, where a waitress tried to charge me double for my food, and took a bit of work to get her to charge me the right amount. Made me wonder whether they taught math up in Mount Beauty?
The heat was intense & Gerald Aglipa decided to pull the plug. He was really feeling the heat and had already ridden one of the biggest rides of his life. He told me that it was the hardest ride he’s ever done and had no regrets. We loaded his bike in the car & I was great to have someone to chat with the rest of the way home. It was lucky we were still in Mount Beauty as we received a call from Stuart Turner who had blown a tyre just before the turn-off to Tawonga Gap. We drove there & lent him my rear wheel, which gave him a chance to ride home. He said later that I was “the modern day Jesus”.
From here, the group split and some chose to return via Rosewhite Gap, others headed straight back up Tawonga Gap. I made sure everyone had enough water & headed back home via Tawonga Gap and back to Bright. The view up the top was just as brilliant as it was first thing in the morning.
One of the traditions of these rides is to jump into the river afterwards. I’ll have to come back next year to complete the epic so I can.
Even though I didn’t ride, it was an incredible day, and happy to be of some use as a support vehicle. I got a chance to meet a heap of new mates and see some truly stunning scenery.
Tomorrow I will be climbing Mount Buffalo. Who knows with fresh legs I could blow everyone away.
To be continued……..
“Follow your dreams and never be defeated by anyone or anything…..” – LKJ
Leeana has been offered the chance of a lifetime to race for the “WhyBeNormal?” fixed gear cycling team based out of Milan. They also produce and manufacture some pretty cool cycling kit. Leeana is a fashion designer by trade & when not racing bikes. Will be helping the team to design a range of cycling apparel, both casual and kit.
“Why be normal? Challenge yourself and follow your dreams. Just do some epic sh#t!” – LKJ
In a short space of time Leeana has been able to achieve some truly amazing goals. She was the 9th woman in the world to complete a Hells 500 Everesting challenge. And in 2015 she blitzed the Melbourne track scene with some amazing victories.
Her move to Milan simply began with an interest in the Red Hook Criterium series. After being introduced to the fixed gear scene at the Cycle Messenger World championships in Melbourne in early 2015. Leeana wanted to know more about the fixed gear and track bike scenes worldwide. The Red hook Crit just seemed to stand out to her…..Red Hook Criterium Series is an annual bike race series held at night on track bikes in Brooklyn, Milan, London and Barcelona.
Leeana was hooked;
“I was interested & intrigued by it. I was like.. that’s pretty badass. That’s the most hardcore racing ever! I want in! I started to follow it on social media and friend some of the girls that were involved in Red hook Crit, one of those girls was Corinne Price, she is also on my new team “WhyBeNormal?”. We were liking and commenting on each others FB posts.. After a while I noticed two Italian guys that were mutual friends with Corinne, liking and commenting on my track successes and my edgy style… I was wondering ‘who are these guys?’ I realised that they were involved with the “WhyBeNormal?” team, and discovered that two guys were actually the team owner and one of the major sponsors (Roberto Ribaud and Marcello Marino). I though ‘this is pretty cool’. They’ve seen what I’m doing and they like my style…. thats a bit Rad…”
In mid January this year, as we were exchanging friendly banter on FB, I decided to put myself out there, lay it all out on the table and approach Roberto about potentially riding for the WhyBeNormal? team…. The response that I got was pretty epic. As they had been following me for a while, they were fully aware of all my racing results, my love for track bikes, rad kits and my background in Fashion. It was decided within a week of discussing with the team and crew, that I would be The ‘Aussie Chick’ on the WhyBeNormal? Red Hook Crit team.. “
Things happened pretty quickly;
“Before I had sent the message to Roberto, my plan was to go and race the first race of the Red Hook series in New York, self-funded….I was hoping to perform well enough to be noticed and hopefully get signed to a team.” LKJ
Leeana wasn’t always a Track racer. She used to be in love with the road & a normal week could involve up to 500 km of riding. In october 2014, Leeana was riding with a couple of mates. One of which had raced track (ironically they were all riding out to Two Bays Road for some Everesting training). They were hammering it along Beach Road, the track friend asked “have you girls ever done track? You girls are fast! Like crazy fast!”.
Leeana likes to tell it as it is:
“Track, that sounds like sh#t. My god that sounds so boring… going around in circles” – LKJ
So lo and behold Leeana was coerced into going to the Coburg Velodrome.
“First of all I couldn’t let go of the fence. There’s a hilarious video of me on Facebook talking to myself, trying to let go of the fence. Knowing I was clipped in, fixed gear and brakeless, there was something just not right about it.. I was totally freaking out….. But once I’d pepped talked myself into letting go of the fence, i rode down into the sprinters lane and before i knew it, I was riding fast and turning left, and thinking.. Yeah.. ok… I dig this! The next week I bought a track bike”. – LKJ
Leeana fell in love with the track scene & almost completely gave up road riding.
She trains 6 days a week. Although doesn’t log huge hours or 100’s of k’s anymore she focuses her training on shorter harder efforts, and more recently crit racing. Its gone from one extreme to another. Having trained excessive hours in the saddle to ride 387 km, including 8878m of elevation in November 2014 to complete her Everest on TwoBays Road. She now trains for track events. Some of which are over in under a minute and crits which are over in under and hour.
Her efforts were rewarded at the Masters State Omnium in 2015 where she hungered for victory. She simply trained hard. Focused all her energy on the event as a whole and won all 7 of the races, taking out the Gold. Which was an amazing result considering her relatively recent introduction to the sport.
Leeana Kate James
But cycling isn’t all of her life. Fashion is the other half to her love.
“Riding is all about fashion on the bike, especially in Melbourne… Every sub culture I’ve been involved with over the years has always involved fashion for me, Ive always been interested in this certain characteristic of a scene, it’s an identifying feature that we use, to express and represent the subculture we belong to.. and In Melbourne in particular, the cycling style game is strong…. I’m all about the #cyclestyle, Matching kit to socks to gloves to helmet to shoes to cap, the list just goes on!!! Its a pretty fun game now that instagram has such an influence on cycling apparel, with people sharing their #newkitday and #kitgrid selections, its become an art as much as it is a sport…- LKJ
Leeana knows what she wants and has worked hard on her succcess
“I gave up my job a University Lecturer in Fashion design earlier this year… as I just wanted to be a full-time bike girl for a while- working at Cycles Galleria and focusing on my training for the year of racing ahead … However now that this opportunity has come about, I will be able to combine my skills and knowledge from both sides of the coin to contribute to the success of the WhyBeNormal? Team and Brand….
This is just another chapter of my story that is ‘meant to be’. It’s quite ironic that the team that I’m on is called WhyBeNormal? I pretty much try to embody that statement. I’ve always strived for above and beyond the ‘norm’ in my own creative style, my career and my personal pursuits on and off the bike.. I always put, what some would say, unrealistic expectations on myself… But in the end… that’s what it takes to push to the limit!
Moving to Milan will involve much sacrifice. Leeana has to leave her friends and family and doesn’t speak Italian.
“I’m going to learn Italian. It doesn’t seem that hard… All that primary school Italian is coming back to me… oh and… Google Translate (she laughs).. I feel very much at home when i go to Europe, I’m hoping to immerse myself in the Italian culture as much as the fixed gear crit scene… I love everything about my life in Melbourne but I’m very excited about the new challenges awaiting… .”
You look back and know that you’ve put yourself through so much pain, but you’re glad you did it… I really hope that this happening to me, can inspire others to just put themselves out there, push above and beyond to achieve their goals…. Stay true to yourself, Focus, stick at it and keep riding with people faster than you! and before too long you will be the fast one….. #ridelikeaboss. – LKJ
Keep an eye on Leeana’s progress on social media follow her on: