WHITE MUD CLASSICS: THE MT BEAUTY DOUBLE HEADER

 

It’s normally the biggest weekend outside of the National Champs, but in 2018 that shit came under serious threat. Amidst the haze of a shisha café the Bright round normally held on the Sunday of this famous Queens Birthday long weekend was controversially and suddenly canned, Team Mount Beauty coming together through their power of community to put on a showpiece double header. Fully decked out in our fresh team kits for the first time we were chomping at the bit to get out among the action. Race photography comes from Slade, Connor, Ben, Kip, Ron and Adrian.

 

I: VLINE TIME WARP EPISODE 2

 

For the second year running, Kip and Adrian would board the time machine of the Vline train to Wodonga. The ultimate throwback to bygone era’s and perspectives, the train journey of just over 3 hours from Southern Cross Station is a relic of yesteryear, microwaved hotdogs and all. While the chatter among passengers was a little less cooked that the previous occasion, the intensity of 4 carriages packed to the luggage racks was enough to mentally prepare the two Soup Bæs for what awaited them on tomorrows start line alongside 70 or so others.

 
 
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II: POSTCARDS FROM THE KIEWA VALLEY

 

Even at its dreariest the Kiewa Valley manages to strut its stuff for travelling cyclists. Low lying cloud, misty rain and frost greeted the sleepy eyes, bodies and minds as cyclists wound their way either over Tawonga Gap from Bright, down the Kiewa Valley Highway from the upper realms of the valley, or through the streets of Mount Beauty as the ~pilgrimage~ was made to the Big Hill Mountain Bike park for a spot of “not mountain biking”.

 
 
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From the warmth of the passenger seat, and entertained by early morning talkback radio courtesy of ABC Goulburn Murray, Kip snapped the latest additions to the ongoing series that is Postcards of the Kiewa Valley.

 
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III: A LIAM PANOZZO SPECIAL

 

It could depend on who you ask, but most people will jump straight into answering the question of “hardest CX course on the Australian calendar?” With an unequivocal “MOUNT. BEAUTY.” Departing from the typical topography of local suburban parkland and/or football ground, swapping it for a mountain bike park makes things seem such an answer is a given. All that aside, it wouldn’t be that hard to keep things fast and furious on the lower slopes of the fabled Big Hill Mountain Bike Park. Instead, this town of 1,200 people puts their finest Masterchef, Liam Panozzo to work on crafting something completely extraordinary, something that verges on being more washing machine than cyclocross course, putting you through the most brutal hour long spin cycle you could imagine. If it was to be a pizza it would be way too hot to be allowed on the menu, only your dad who has a “penchant for spice – read: mild nandos sauce” able to coax the kitchen into cautiously bringing one out.

 
 
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With the Victorian DH Series coming to Mount Beauty in mid-October, Chef Panozzo was already putting in work, letting the cyclocrossers of mid winter sculpt early lines through the passata of the lower slopes of the MTB Park. Multiple line options were set up to be used by anyone and everyone, especially during the earlier more crowded laps, but only a select few were able to unlock the potential of some corners, rewarded with fresh balls of buffalo mozzarella. Not that it needed it already, for added spice, close quarters racing was implemented throughout the mid sections of the course, tight corners bordered by thick trees meaning the you were better off starting punch ons with opponents rather than attempting passing moves.

 
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III: HAMMER

 

The light drizzle that blanketed the warm up lap, and threatened throughout the earlier part of the days racing soon calmed down, Kip and Brandon taking to the start line for the team – freshly adorned in their brand new skinsuits courtesy of mad legends Pedla.

 
 
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The wavy 69 would dazzle its way through the chaos of the first pinch just a few hundred metres in, its second appearance in as many years leading us to believe such a wildebeest-scene-from-the-lion-king type shitshow will now be a regular occurrence.

 
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Kip and Matt Lew from GPG would battle it out in the middle of the enormous field, while Brando pushed his way into personal best territory, despite it being (by far) the toughest test of his cyclocross mettle. He would succumb to a final lap puncture which would spell an end to his race, while Kip came out the other side of the battle dry and thirsty for the blood of his team mates to be spilled in the next race.

 
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IV: NAIL

 

A perfect pipeline set reared yet another enormous field – Cycling Victoria either deciding by way of fucking with the squad, or to create a beautiful photographic opportunity to place Soup Bæs, friends and family at the back of the field. There would be a tight left hander followed by the famed pinch to navigate before you could properly determine if you were going to have a good, bad, or any kind of race on your hands.

 
 
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“Come on you DOG!! Go Benny!!”

From the wildly off camber and leafy central sector of the course, Kip had the fangs out ready to bite. Not only was there Bæs and GPG jostling for position among the teams, but Ben and Harry were neck and neck as they powered on ahead. Further back Adrian recalled muscle memory from a year 5 state cross country participation to run his way from the very back of the field to somewhere almost in the middle, Nick and Ron closely behind. The drizzle seen during the warm up and early morning had subsided, but the course had turned into a couple of kilometres worth of Woolworths chocolate mud cake, filling up every possible gap in riders bikes.

 
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Ben would take team line honours by a long shot. The intense battle with Harry at the start of the race sending the latter back towards Adrian who was in his own tense game of cat & mouse with GPG’s Cam, losing out on the final lap, his strategy of run everything ride nothing not paying off to its full potential.

 
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While elbows and fists weren’t thrown, Ron was able to settle the rivalry newly formed in Ballarat with Ogaram. Our team’s only dad national champ was able to easily fend off the Irish national champ a lot easier than a fortnight prior, edging closer to Harry who through fuel saving mode drifted back through the field, maintaining energy levels for the following day.

 
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V: A TALE OF THE PINCH

 

So slippery you wouldn’t possibly believe it wasn’t butter, it would take just a few hundred metres of racing before the next hour or so was defined for you. The C and B grade men’s races were utter mayhem, as to be expected when a few rugby scrums worth of dads try to push their way through the smallest and steepest of windows of opportunity. The women’s grades would be released in waves, each separated by a lap such was the length of 1. Pre race favourites for podiums were having to quickly reassess their situations after spending the best part of 5 minutes slipping, sliding and grappling their way to the top before continuing on their way. Last to come through for the A Grade women was Emma, left to laugh as B grade started, made the first corner, and joined her in the reverse Gloucester Hill cheese roll.

 
 
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Last to come through for the A Grade women was Emma, left to laugh and curse the gods at play as B grade started, rounded the first corner, and joined her in the struggle of making it to the top.

 
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Not content with just having the course and conditions to contend with, Alice threw another ingredient into the mix through an inexplicable wardrobe malfunction. Adding some bonus excitement to the narrative of her race, she came flying around a sweeping bend from the top of the course with her left shoe in her hand. Performing a near perfect dismount she performed the required run up the hill, trying her best to keep the sock on her left foot dry by placing her foot carefully on the large oak leaves that covered the floor.

 
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Our team quickly sprung into action, Kip – the same shoe size as Alice, ripped his shoe off without a moments hesitation, gripping it and ripping it like a Yung Tom Brady as he threw it close to 90 yards down the hill to Ben, positioned perfectly at the pit entry. A shoe un-velcroed and boa’d was at the ready, only when Alice came by the next time her footwear, while odd was taken care of. Now, somewhere out on course there would be another rider missing a left shoe, but a rider who had contributed to the greater good of Alice’s race.

 
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In Women’s C Grade Ariella was battling it out in what looked like a record sized field. Any trepidation that still remained after a few practice laps earlier in the morning must have dispersed quickly as she navigated the course with significantly more poise than Ron (see: Exhibit A). In her pre-race press conference she wasn’t sure how she would go on what was her toughest cyclocross challenge to date, but by race end she was so glad she stuck it out til the finish where she sat comfortably in the top half of the field.

 
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VI: THE HAND OF GOD

 

Throughout history there have been artistic feats that have transcended the era of their making. The Romanticist works of Delacroix, Turner and Goya, the pains of fighting the crowds to catch a glimpse of Van Gogh’s works at the NGV, and of course your trendy little brothers fav woke artist: Banksy. The same can be said for the dark arts seen on the sporting field; Germany and Austria playing out a feeble match to eliminate Algeria from the World Cup, Maradona’s hand of god, Thierry’s contemporary take, Lance having the cycling world on strings, a particular incident on the final corner of a national championships race a few years ago. Incidents like these while referenced occasionally in discussion about Australian cyclocross’ “yesteryear” are retold in a way that make you sleep safely in the comfort it would never happen again, that they have little bearing on the current lay of the land.

 
 
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But like most historic works of art, they always need a modern retelling. And so we present to you, The Creation of Adam: Redux. Reaching out it tells the story of struggle, of desperation, and of Liam Panozzo’s unbridled joy in seeing controversy delivered upon his course. Fit for any chapel ceiling, it was immortalised through the lends by Ben Lehner before being adapted by who we can only assume is the “Adam” of the title in the true Al Dente, Al Fresco style that was expertly worked by Michelangelo back in the day. Cherubs and all, it is iconic in its own right, ushering in a new dawn, and potentially a new rivalry for cyclocross here in Victoria.

 
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!!REVERSE CAMERA ACTION!!

 
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Busy rewriting the story of creation, Ben and Garry left the rest of the field to be created on the 8th or 9th day. Despite their constant falling over one another in the earlier laps, they were still able to comfortably sit ahead of the likes of the newly reborn Adam Blazevic (who raced a blinder of a weekend) and the ever consistent St AJ. Like renaissance cherubs, local children climbed up into the canopies of trees above the course, trumpeting their heckles non-stop for the entire race – they’re definitely going to hell.

 
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VII: SECRET TRAINING GROUND

 

As the sun set on another taxing day of cyclocross racing, Kip and Adrian ventured deeper into the hinterland of the Kiewa Valley in search of new and undiscovered cyclocross terrain. For the most part there would only be single lines on offer, rocks, blackberry bushes and creeks sculpting the path, the only escape coming in the form of a 30% hill covered in untamed grasses.

 
 
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Once at the top a moody and reflective view was the reward, before a descent to the farmhouse transitioned into dinner and a recovery session by the fire.

 
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VIII: BREAK-ERY

 

The following morning most of the team gathered in the Mount Beauty Bakery for a morning coffee, non-race catch up and cake. Discussions were less about the racing at hand and more about the lego (and porridge preferences) of Ron’s children. Donuts and coffee would be an unrivalled way to start the day before we head back up to the course at the top of town, sugar slowly creeping into the bloodstream as it should.

 
 
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IX: RINSE & REPEAT

 

A course like Mount Beauty offers little by way of configuration, that is if the desire is to keep matters somewhat civil. To avoid riders spending 90% of the lap climbing off camber sections, a few key segments had been removed and flipped on their head to make Sunday’s racing different enough, but still enjoyable. All in all Team Mount Beauty did a stellar job of rescuing the double header weekend at the last and should be commended until the cows come home. We still wonder if we will ever get any explanation beyond the “sorry but nah” other race organisers communicated.

 
 
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SCARVES!! BEANIES!!

Made for keeping you warm and stylish. Inspired by the Soup Bæs CX team issue colours and the football scarves seen in the stands of some of the worlds fiercest matches. The beanies are taken care of within the Soup neighbourhood postcode 3032, while the scarves are a culmination of diplomatic ties between the squad, the nation of England (home of the football scarf) and Belgium (home of cyclocross). Both are in limited numbers and we’re doing free race day pickup. Check ‘em!

 
 
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Out on track things were a little different. The sun had come out throughout the morning, the combination of warmer weather and fresh terrain making things a little easier to navigate than yesterdays mud cake scat-fest. The pinch still remained, as did the slog that riders had to contend with at the eastern most tip of the course. This time however the middle section of the course was a lot faster, and as a rider you were rewarded for staying on your bike, and ripping around corners mid dismount. In the pre-race warm up Jonesy would gift us with an Ultimate Guide on how not to do it, helping us tick another new feature off the list during practice.

 
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Unable to arrange a fix for his puncture from the day before, Brando was sitting Sunday’s race out, opting to sink beers and cheer the rest of the team on. It also meant our bearded warrior Kip, like a steadfast Mile Jedinak of the Soup Bæs CX team would step up to the start line first, a steely look of resolve on his face. 

 
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A drier course meant the pinch was a lot easier to navigate, developing a level of tact not seen the previous day. Kip took this to his advantage, making numerous overtaking moves every time he came face to face with the earthen wall. For the second day running he resumed his bitter rivalry with a 10 year old kid racing Young Guns, a rivalry that may not be settled until the very end of the season. His dazzling display of looking hot, racing hard, and tumbling gracefully earned him a romantic earthy post race nap and embrace with Will Jetnikoff come the final whistle. Chapeau Kip!

 
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The B Grade men would start with a little more grace than the previous day. Stellar starts by all team riders meant the top half of the field was blanketed in pink and navy, before a series of whack, mistimed events thinned our squads presence out a little. First Nick dropped off, then Adrian and Ron battled it out for the same corner apex’s. Then Adrian hit a rut and flew off course, luckily managing to stay on his bike. Hucking it into the rough he was able to battle back through the field slowly, but the fleeting dreams of challenging Ming of GPG were cast aside by the end of the second lap.

 
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Up ahead Ben and Harry worked their way through, before like a sudden hot flush, everyone outside the top 15 seemed to hit a wall. Energy reserves drained from eh day before, mistakes were being made and riders began to sit up and relax. Ben and Harry, both of whom had pulled away significant breakaway gaps on team mates were being reeled in by Adrian, who in turn was being hunted down by Ron. Another lap or two and they would have all finished together, if it wasn’t for Ron making the smart decision to pull up early and sink tins alongside Cam who had to come off injured: Dad Wisdom pays off.

 
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X: BIKES & DOGS

 

It wouldn’t be proper cyclocross coverage without a special feature dedicated to the four legged spectators that line the course. We didn’t set it up, but theres a dedicated Instagram to Australia’s Dogs of CX that you could certainly nominate, or self nominate the finest canines of the scene. Let this capsule collection of furry friends inspire you to get down to the next local race and pat the shit out of these good boys and girls.

 
 
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XI: MARSHALL MATHERS

 

Having arrived just before Men’s B grade rolled out, Benno was making his much hyped sponno appearance as Chief Engineering Officer of Green Box Race Engineering. Through telepathy he delivered us his course report and updates on the industries best line practice while we slogged it out rather unsuccessfully. Once the racing was over, he switched roles from CEO to Marshall – Liam sending him to the upper reaches of the course where we would join him after some post race chips.

 
 
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With a UAV above #dronesuptop keeping an eye on proceedings we perched ourselves behind the outside of a berm at the top of the course, basking in the sunlight like the laziest of cats. Ariella had come down with a nasty bout of the cold, so Alice would be our sole racer in Sunday’s Women’s racing. No wardrobe malfunction made things a lot easier, and encouraged by heckles every single lap she gripped it and ripped it around the berm through the latter stages, joining the likes of Linden and Claire in delivering the good times for the people.

 
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The final secret ingredient to Chef Liam’s mastery would be revealed during the last race of the weekend – the A Grade Men. Already having pulled out early the day before, Liam’s brother Chris was out for redemption from the back of the field, hoping to avoid the same close quarters racing that sent him DNF-ing. Starting from the back of the field was going to make the road to redemption a little harder, but his off road experience shone through. From our Marshall’s barricade from the top of the course we watched him effortlessly weave his way through the field, matching even the top riders in A Grade for the first lap.

 
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But that final secret ingredient eventually kicked in, Chris’ perennial bad luck coming back to bite his ass by way of a t-bone from another rider and a dirt nap. Instead we were left to watch Ben and Garry ride off the front again, Adam Blazevic back up his previous days efforts, and finish the day with donuts in the sun, and Kiewa milk at the bakery.

 
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