THE 2017 ALPINE CX DOUBLE HEADER

 

With wounds still being licked from Ballarat, and thicc South Australian mud being drained from ears, the VeloClub Soup Bæs CX hit the highways and train lines en route to the two best valleys in the nation, one of them our spiritual homeland. Much like last year, the cyclocross alpine double header drew big crowds, amplified in 2017 thanks to Bright’s inclusion in the national series, and as the host of the Victorian state championships. It would be something of an extra special congregation of team members, as Sam and Fi made their way from Adelaide – a 13 hour drive, Ron and Ben traveled with their better halves respectively, and Adrian and Kip journeyed north east aboard a VLine train. With Adrian leading the inter-team leaderboard, and the opportunity to gain some national recognition motivation levels were high heading to the crisp air of the alps.

 

I: VLINE TIME WARP

 

If you’ve ever caught a VLine train in your life, know that we exist, spiritually, together, on a certain level. For Adrian this journey was a regular, for Kip, his maiden voyage. A Friday night train north east to Wodonga, then an hour or so drive to Adrian’s family farm. The process sounds simple, but then you step onto the 6:05 train to Albury and enter this time warp where you’re not sure what is real, and what is fake. A train so clearly overbooked, or riddled with fare evaders (which on a 4 hour train journey could almost be considered an Olympic or at least Commonwealth sport) meant that the journey we were supposed to be taking in relative comfort, was like a proper packed can of Sardines, piccanti.

If the hordes of children wearing Defqon hoodies and blasting EDM (are we starting to get old?) in the buffet cart (these things exist) wasn’t enough to weird our two bæs out enough, the conversation happening adjacent would. It was like this time warp had taken Adrian and Kipto America’s mid-west, or southern states. Neither had been to America before, so no first hand experiences could be called upon but whichever one was the most fucked up region of the two, well the minds occupying these passengers adjacent had to have originated from there. There was talk of recent terror tragedies globally. Flat earth theory. How its unfair you can’t lock your doors any more, because the good old days were way better than 2017, what with no world wars and shit. Discussion continued in a similar vein touching on topics like aged care, old people dying alone, never dying and sending kids to war. All the while Adrian and Kip sat there, surrounded by conversations of death, an ominous fog enveloping them like fur of a giant black dog. And then everything was explained. A work of at. Mad ink. A tattoo heart on a forearm, half steampunk. Thank fuck we were getting off at the next station.

Departing the train it would only get better from there, like a deeply moving orchestral piece about to deliver the ultimate crescendo. A short ride of a few kilometres would finish in the driveway of Adrian’s Nonna’s house, a familiar sight for traveling Soup Boys and Bæs. Two kinds of spaghetti, breads, wine and San Pellegrino were on offer to warm the hearts and souls of the two bæs. An hour long car journey would await. Their final destination would be the Grasshopper Farmhouse, a mud brick house perched upon a hill offering perfect viewing of the clear night sky. But it would be too cold to venture outside this evening, as entering a lucid state Kip and Adrian sat by the fire drinking tea, discussing the universe, and how they would collectively win tomorrow.

 

MORNING HAS BROKEN (MEMOIR)

 

First Day First light. Shallow white sun rays lined silver gum adorned hills flanking traditional Ley-Zanardo land. Bovine hooves beat down upon the fertile soil outside, as I stirred from a steady uninterrupted rest. In the farmhouse, it’s halls the birth right of my companion Adrian, footsteps could be heard. Deliberately, Adrian’s organised hands made fast work of the ingredients for the day – bikes packed, cleaning gear stowed, bananas sitting on the dashboard of our steed. The day to come would bare naught but punishment, with tender veins of joy marbled into its musculature. As animals in the natural world outside, we stepped into our roles. Toast buttered and fried free-range eggs (courtesy of Ley-Zanardo chooks outside) sat and eaten, nourishing us for the ordeal ahead, we ignited warmth into the cold engine of the car and made our way past the farm gate, over the brooks and streams leading us to a road sealed with bitumen and fate. The road bore us through valley mists, passages between mountains shared with the whinnying of colts and low rumble of cows. Fjording the Kiewa River to the field of our destiny’s, we came to the fearsome course nestled upon the foothills of Mt. Beauty itself, laced in trees of ancient yellow leaves and others, naked to the elements, having shed their spring plumage. Branches as dead hands reaching upward to a Godless sky, forlorn and abandoned. And in the face of such death, what would we find but familiar faces, the smiles of companions long unseen. A column of Adelaidean friends would dismount and beam hellos, hugs and warm welcomes among their field tent construction.  Moves on moves on moves, we planned ahead. Our soldiers forming around us, Fiona and Sam joining rank, stamping veritable spears on the ground in a call of attendance, Ben and Ron rattling metaphorical sword against iron and leather bound shields.

 

II: SPONSORS MESSAGE

 

Their logo rests on the chests of our team riders, and we were super stoked to be able to call upon the services of plastic partner, local firm Greenbox Race Engineering to help provide us with the kind of help that would collectively win us the most important prize of the weekend, the best pit lane set up. Benno, Chief Engineer with Greenbox Race Engineering had arrived ahead of us, establishing his workshop he lead us in the direction best suited for viewing and thus we arranged our tent, looking to begin the day’s competition by edging out very real enemies such as the MAAP Speedvagen and Attaquer Focus teams. Having won (very easily) this battle, we turned our focus to the war proper. Years of expertise in race and adventure tuning, mechanical assistance and soil knowledge meant that in the lead up to the first lot of racing we were already in possession of an unfair advantage. Along a course designed by Panozzo & Co. – Benno would guide us along as we swept the field. We learnt its contours, ruts, its turns. We readied ourselves in earnest silence for battle. Taking handfuls of its soil, we sought to know its heart. We would not be routed, we would give no ground to the barbarian horde attempting to fjord this Rubicon. Like Excalibur, Ben took his car key and planted it within the soil of the course. With an encyclopaedic knowledge of how the Big Hill Mountain Bike Park would play out on a clear alpine day, and a telepathic ability to speak with the course, he was able to advise on any final adjustments to tyre pressure and line changes. Butts found themselves firmly placed on bikes once more, moments slipped past and our breathing from frenetic warm up laps slowed. Feet found themselves rested upon the start line.

 

III: THE BUMPS AND GRINDS

 

Race Commissares calling to us... 2 minutes! 30 seconds! 15 seconds! Sharply the whistle tore through cold thin air. Our muscles grew taught, fastening to match the will of our minds. Blood drummed the beat of war behind our ears. With Ben Chief Engineering the berm sitting at two thirds lap distance playing the role of roving marshall, team mechanic and photodocumenter (a role he engineered himself), and a thinned out field (50% of Ballarat’s in fact) C grade and Open would work the course in for the more important races, the elite women and the elite men. Adrian would line up tentatively having busted his front tyre on a sole warm up lap, but overall VeloClub Soup Bæs CX riders were brimming with stoke at being able to get back to racing again.

 
 

With the new addition of the wall (we’ll get to that later) added on this season, the field would be slightly thinner as the riders hit the far end of the course on lap one, a place of particular bottlenecking last time out. Like a charging cavalry unit things we’re going well for the team riders, sitting mid-pack after getting stuck in the initial “you first, no you first” situation of the Lap 1 Wall, fear rearing our legs from trot to gallop in seconds feeling as hours. It wouldn’t be until the little chicane through the centre of the lap where things would start to fall into place. It was at this stage that Ben held the top spot for the bæs, Adrian a handful behind, Kip a few more behind him. Then moving through the chicane, Adrian went down, hard. On his face. Moments in battle became blurred for a moment or two, or perhaps the result of a minor concussion. A saddle turned to 45ºc and a stick in the spokes meant that after freewheeling down the cambered hill he quickly dismounted to make on the fly adjustments to his bike. In the process Kip moved ahead in pursuit of Ben, Adrian left floundering somewhere in no mans land.

 
 

Like any good race, things would evolve, but it would be Hal Hunter racing Open’s aboard his fixed gear thrasher who would catch most of the attention, picking off geared and brake fitted riders one by one. Half an hour in, Adrian would reluctantly call it a day, citing a sore back and lack of sleep leaving his body rather shell-like. A bike having suffered a handful of dropped chains and a few more jammed rear derailleurs was taken as an omen, napping in a camper chair within the expansive tent of the makeshift SBCX HQ seen as far more appealing. Ben would join him soon after, having suffered a flat beyond reach of the pits, opting to walk back to the tent and pull up stumps. Kip would finish, coming out of the barrel dry, but with a whole lot of life sucked out of his eyes. He stumbled over towards his compatriots Ben and Adrian, now laying motionless in the sun by the side of the course. The scent of fear, the indifference of the mountain had claimed us all. Kip told stories of the wide eyed fear of man laying atop mud, body at odd angles under a mix of carbon and steel and blood and other shit. He had made it out alive. Big Hill had thrown at him all that it could, and Kip had prevailed, moving into equal first with Adrian in the head-to-head Soup Bæs Leaderboard.

 
 

We lay on our semi-deathbeds, with Kiewa milk and a BBQ whipped up by the now Chef Engineer Benno (yep, the set up was REALLY that lit) providing us with the desperately needed nutrition. The B Grade men would ply their trade in a slightly smoother fashion, Sam and Ron lining up for the team…the latter only just. Rewriting every single book on warming up, he made the start 3 minutes before the whistle, pulling up (token skrrrrt) in front of the commissares and rushing frantically to get pinned and ready (not a euphemism). From the get go, both our team riders would engage in a head to head battle for the ages. Especially important as they represented every other athletic aspiration for our male raceurs, that is to move beyond a life of getting stuck in C Grade lap traffic.

 
 

At half race distance Sam would gain the upper hand, pulling away with great strength and leaving Ron to wheeze his way past that one photographer that would quietly squeal “yewww!” every time one would ride past. In close proximity was Cam and Ry trading blows throughout the race, Cam suffering from the same symptoms that were rife throughout the grades – hell sore lungs and joints. A proper 50 minute roasting would leave both riders well spent and in desperate need of an ice bath, or similar level of recovery process. For Ron it would be a family trip to the bakery, for Sam, alongside Fi he would venture up towards Falls Creek in search of snow, ending up at Fainter Falls for a short hike.

 
 

A single beer deep, muscles a little more relaxed from the battle of Beauté du Mont – Kip was providing his finest heckles from the Soup Bæs tent palace. Positioned at the bottom of the wall, specifically at the exit of the complex, a right hand bend covered in leaves and roots. The womens grades were putting on a show, as is always the case. Much of the focus was around the wall section, a new feature for 2017 – like the previous years circuit layout was too easy. Up, and then immediately down it proved itself as a deciding section of course in a lot of close mid-race battles.

 
 

Showing that B and C grade riders weren’t exaggerating, one by one riders from the women grades came by our tent palace with looks in their eyes, and sounds accidentally falling out of their mouths, telling tales of the unforgiving course. Caz from Treadly Bombtrack CX was slowly warming to racing with gears, Lana from the same team would take a second long rest sitting atop the wall complex. Had anyone come out of their respective race standing atop Big Hill? Would anyone?

 

IV: STAMPEDING WILDEBEEST

 

Not too dissimilar to that infamous scene in the Lion King, like Simba, JBlood & Gary Millburn lead the field up and down the now famous wall complex of Big Hill. Behind them, like a stalled car on a Formula 1 grid, a single rider caused the avalanche of riders, akin to those particular wildebeest of that tear jerking scene to topple upon one of another, if it possible to topple up hill. This game of semi professional cyclocross stacks on meant that the battles for the front of the race were almost well and truly decided by half a lap in.

 
 

With a few handfuls worth of grade races having worn it in, after the first lap the wall complex lost all its extreme sports charm. From vantage points like up trees, and buried deep within the piles of leaves along the middle of the lap, the snaking off camber sector – Soup Bæs hung from branches, and got prone all in the name of getting the “all important shot” – digital camera and a few sexy rolls of 35mm film in our kit bags. We would heckle Andy Rogers only to immediately feel guilty for being harsh to such a nice boy. Our words of encouragement giving nothing to riders which were being held hostage by the brutality of Big Hill, taking victims one by one through rolled tubs, broken rear derailleurs, heaving heart palpatations and crashes.

 
 

*Editors note* if you thought that we had totally neglected bikes & dogs for 2017, think again. Cyclocross is a sport for the spectator, both human and canine. This small introduction would be the entree for the following day, which would kick off the lengthy degustation that will be numerous courses of bikes & dogs throughout season 2017. For those that solely tune in to Soup Boys for this cult classic chapter, fear not as pups will be back in droves for the rest of the year. Woof.

 
 

It took until half race distance before it was realised among the bæs that home town hero and all round mad legend Paul VDP was back in town and racing hard, taking a short break from keeping his shoulder specialists pockets lined with cold hard cash. With a signature tuft of hair poking through his helmet, he cut an ominous figure, shredding up the course in hot pursuit of some of the front runners.

 
 

With the sun slowly setting over the edges of the Kiewa Valley, the field began to whittle. Chris, the racing half of Panozzo & Co. Course Builders was still busy ripping skids and popping jumps on his new shit hot Santa Cruz, despite the fact he "cooked it half a lap in". The Over Yonder boys and Ben on Team VeloClub.cc forced their way into the top half of the field, Paul VDP established his place and JBlood and Millburn edged further and further out of reach of everyone else. Heading up that stair set that of course Paul could manage to ride up, the two would round the final bend, one on his bike, one definitely not. We're yet to get the measuring tape out, but to the naked eye, Millburn has the bigger quads AND calves, so you could normally back him in a dash to the line (on foot or on bike) but with a final corner like this, there would be no money placed on who would take the chequered flag.

 

THE BIRTH AND DEATH OF THE DAY (MEMOIR)

 

A familiar view to those in the know. Reinvigorated by air crisper than any experienced for quite some time. We had risen in unison with the sun, but before the fog decided it would, and witnessing the death of the day, the sun setting beneath the Gap of Tawonga. A day that offered a supreme test of character, of our resolve, of our love for the sport. Anticipating that with the rising sun of a new day tomorrow, we would return triumphant. One last look to the snow capped peak of Mount Bogong, the snow season having officially begun simultaneously with this Alpine double header. That night we would feast alongside Adelaiden friends, retiring to the brewery soon after for a round or two. Stretching would complete the evening, a night well spent.

 

V: SUNDAY TRANSFER

 

In a surprise covert mission, from the bustling metropolis of Melbourne, Don, Dean, Okky and Martian would depart town, routing towards the Alpine Valley and the township of Bright. Upgrading from a bonafide #proven rally spec Hyundai Excel to a beautiful, teched up Peugeot, Don flogged it up the famous Hume Highway through the fog, the boredom coming on from dealing with napping passengers, and the endless love and licks from Martian. They would arrive just in time for all the action, half way through the expert men’s race – something of a test session for the Official C Grade National Champs in a few months time. With Martian causing all the mischief possible, and attracting the attention of every single man, woman and child, all marveling in the majestic pup.

 

VI: EXPERT MEN

 

In early August, the Official C (& B) Grade National Championships would be taking place. Bright, and the first round of the National CX Series for the Expert Men would offer itself up as the first and final tune up for the Soup Bæs CX before the official battle within the Adelaide Parklands. It was also a chance to establish important rivalries. A much smaller field than we were used to (80 in Ballarat, 45 in Mt Beauty, 20 in Bright) meant that we were able to casually converse with all of our competitors, some friends, some Swiss, most foes. A survey was held as to whether anyone actually wanted to win and win hard, with a few shady characters choosing to prefer to keep their cards close to their chest. All the fun and niceties were soon forgotten once the race hit the bleachers on the first lap.

 
 

Elbows were out and mechanicals were already tearing race strategies to shreds. Sam flew off ahead in an effortless glide, leaving Adrian and Kip behind after they both got off to slowish starts, eventually pacing each other back towards the rest of the field. Running their race at the same time as a number of Masters grades, at times it was hard to keep pace with what position you held, if you were about to enter a 1v1 battle for position, or if it was time to start screaming for blue flags to make your way through lap traffic. Just like the fable of the tortoise and the hare, a slow start and unified team work by Adrian and Kip paid dividends, working their way through the yunger, more actual-sponnoed cute teens racing in their grade. Soon enough the lack of any food and a minor hangover would hit Kip like a fucktonne of bricks, and he would drop off behind Adrian who had Jakes rump well in his sights.

 
 

Well carbed up from an evening of eating pasta by the open fire, Adrian would exchange elbows with Jake, team captain of Treadly Bombtrack CX. Fast establishing themselves as heated rivals, they traded overtaking moves through the snaking, creek crossing free section of the food village sector of course, before one last lot of elbows would end up settling the battle once and for all. Entering a babby gully with a small piece of single track the only way through, Jake would shut the door. From there he would be able to hold off a fast finishing Adrian, spurned on by encouragement from Lana and Max.

“Go Adrian Go! Jakes making a heap of mistakes you’re catching him!”

“Hey!! You’re supposed to be on my team!”

 
 

Jake was not impressed. Holding a lead of just a few bike lengths, he was able to pull away as Adrian ran mad wide through a final section of mud. He would finish two places behind Sam, a place behind Jake and comfortably within the top 10. Sam had entered the teammate head-to-head fold with a knockout blow, taking double points at a national round. A little further back, Kip was going through a grandiose race of ebbs and flows. He had quite possibly stripped Jack of his Bonking Ministerial Portfolio, and spent a good forty minutes staring directly into the face of god, hearing nothing but a bellowing Sven Nys shouting not-so-constructive feedback in Flemish. The barrel he had come out of dry yesterday had re-manifested itself in the form of an endless tunnel, one that would prove harder than a k-hole to escape out of. He would finish in one piece, but it would take a post race trip to the bakery to bring him back to life.

 

Shouts to Al, Lana, Andy and Jonensy for the supreme guest race photo-graphy.


VII: OLDER EXPERT MEN

 

Ron got chewed up and spat out from the day before, while Ben was feeling fresh and optimistic to hit up a circuit that was a little more suited to his riding style. Cam and Ry were nursing mid sized hangovers, while Alistair was napping in the back of his Landcruiser. It was 10 minutes before the older Expert Men, those that were still cute teens in spirit, but at least a day older than 30 were going to be hitting the track in waves of “rad-dad” cyclocross racing. Dads Army Season 2.

 
 

Debuting a Pedla x Melbourne Cycling League skin suit in the now signature team fit of the winter (short mesh sleeves and panels) Ben relived his former racing pathway of dirt and road motorbikes, shredding up the the berms formed by mud and leaves, and getting right amongst it on the pump track. Some minor technical sections of the course would make things a little harder, but he would finish with his head held high, happy to finish a race after the mechanical disruption suffered the day before. Behind him, Cam, Ry and Alistair would sweat out the Saturday night beers, each hops based sports drink having had very different effects. For Al, stonefaced and pedalling smoothly – a top finish to make up for the previous disappointment of joining the DNF’ing Big Hill club. Much like Adrian and Kip before them, the only thoughts were for those of baked goods. A car was packed, and a supply run made, returning in time for the womens racing.

 

VIII: THE SHOULD-BE SHOWPIECE

 

While you definitely shouldn’t skip this section, diving into this chapteur of race reportage you’ll find out shortly why the womens racing was, and should most of the time be considered the showpiece. There is glory to be chased within C grade, a little more or less (depending on which way you view athleticism) in B Grade, and sure glory to be chased in the A grade fields. Hell, at the HQ we are mad admirers of the mad legends of Paul VDP, Alby, the Over Yonder Boys and our interstate friends that venture across the border to steal our state series points. But consider this very tenuous reference, particularly tenuous if you’re not as versed in Formula 1 as we are at SBC HQ. But in short, would you rather the following:

a) Any of the seasons in which Lewis Hamilton has been handed a world championships, leading him to be regarded as one of the greats of the sport, one of the biggest crimes since Imola being taken from the race calendar. Or…

b) A season where Pastor Maldonado takes a win, seven other drivers take wins in the first eight races. A season where Nakajima collects his entire pit crew, where half the field wipe themselves out in the pouring rain at Nurburgring, where Alonso takes an inspiring victory in Valencia. The kind of season that makes you interested in watching cars drive around in a goddamn circle.

While those references in option B didn’t actually happen in a single season, anything semi tenuous deserves to trump a boring processional season of Team LH victories. It might sound like we are pushing some kind of anti-Mercedes agenda, but one of our own drives one, and we are avid admirers of the concept of flogging AMG Mercs through Keilor Village. What were trying to say is, we need more surprise results. We need Elite Mens grades to be more like the Elite Womens. We were crying out for a first corner shuffling of the pack, a race where you didn't already know the winner after a lap and a half. With the stone bleachers a few corners into the lap acting as the main point of action, we perched ourselves upon the hill to watch the excitement unfold.

 
 

Yesterday the womens racing had Lisa Jacobs getting tamed by the wall complex, Lana taking a brief moment to relax and admire the view from the top, and a number of surprise mechanicals that left racing for even bottom half positions neck and neck going into the final lap. Sunday racing would be the same. Afraid to have a beer in his hand following the evening he had just experienced at the brewery, Kip, now half way back to his regular self (praise be to Edelweiss Bakery) snapped some wondrous film photographs of our favs (no bias but heaps of bias) race faces. Witnessing a pit lane bike change for Nat Redmond that was so fast, we had to pick our jaws up off the berm of the pump track. We were in awe, we were hopeful a similar kind of spectacle would emerge in the final race of the day.

 

IX: JBLOOD MASTERCLASS

 

We don’t have JBlood on Facebook, he is yet to accept any of our friend requests. But we had it on good authority that he posted something along the lines of his win in Mt Beauty being something of a warm up for bigger and better things. Turns out he would be right. Following what seemed like Facebook wide protests that lead to the demise of the Russian roulette/playing field leveller creek crossing, JBlood stormed off from the others, with just Mr Millburn and a few of the Focus Attaquer guys managing to keep pace. An apparent crash to Chris Aitken, one of the Soup Boys favs meant he dropped off the back, leaving it a two man, then single man race as Millburn dropped well off due to what was announced as a mechanical.

 
 

Reluctant to leave the confines of the race village, complete with crepe stand and fire pits, we watched the race unfold through the twisty, leaf covered section of the course that begged for some overtaking action. In the end it would be a particular apex on the final corner of the “complex” that would provide a rather troublesome speed bump to some riders. First Max, photographed just before he officially hit the deck, followed by the next nine riders, all caught out by the small slippery rocks at the base of the tree which formed the corner. Making it through the corner successfully meant that you were able to gain ground on tiring opponents, and resulted in a few battles heating up coming into the final few laps.

 
 

Paul VDP entrenched himself well inside the top 10, a solid return for a man who’s 2017 resolution of “setting my shoulder free to do its own thing” had been achieved on multiple occasions. Alby was well placed, as were the Focus Attaquer team, regulars in the top half of the national rounds…that is if you discount their team mate who opted for a double tub roll and a run back to the pits (all the judges awarded him straight 10’s). And for all the wonderful work JBlood did in kissing the ground once, an occasion that nobody seems to have properly seen, he didn’t seem troubled all afternoon. Can a race where the winner won so dominantly still be regarded as processional if he binned it in the process?

 

X: FUCK THIS

 

Yep this. Chasing sunsets, excellent views and clean, crisp air we head up through the Mystic MTB Park to take in the views from the hangliding launch spot at the top. A poignant way to finish a mixed bag of a race weekend, Bright and the upper reaches of the Alpine Valley offered themselves as the best possible backdrop to reflect on events of the last 48 hours. The Alpine double header would signal a Bundesliga-type mid season break of a few weeks, but bikes would be back on the agenda soon. For others not of the racing ilk, a brief visit to the Victorian Alps left tongues wagging towards a return during the summer. Until then.