GRAND NATIONALS 2018: THE BATTLE FOR GREEN & GOLD

 

The last time the Soup graced the King Valley for race day we achieved the teams first ever cyclocross podium. 2 years later we were back, this time the stakes much higher, and the chances much, much lower. A fresh new course among the familiar surrounds of Sam Miranda winery greeted us, fortunate were we to have such a picturesque setting as we sucked our lungs up through our throats in the name of bragging rights. Race photos coming thick and fast from Connor, Scotty, Ben, Adrian, Alice and Nick.

 

I: THE BASIL CRISIS

 

Venturing to three different supermarkets wasn’t enough for team convoy front runners Adrian and Brando. Not even a visit to Milleara Mall, a Mediterranean hub of the western suburbs delivered. Melbourne was fresh out of basil. Upon the third visit to a real life fruttivendolo it was confirmed, things were at the tipping point of becoming a crisis. The humble herb you normally trip over upon every visit to the supermarket had gone into complete and emphatic hiding. The responsibility and chance to save the day now resting on Alice and Nick’s hands as they were still in Melbourne.

 
 
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II: FARMHOUSE HQ

 

We were shacked up in Edi Upper for the weekend courtesy of a last minute Airbnb booking. Photos left much to be desired but upon arrival we were shocked and surprised at the (sometimes questionable) charm of the place. It was a farmhouse that uniquely blended farm life with pirate life, rams heads occupying the ends of the dining chairs while enormous pirate ships had been frosted onto the front door.

 
 
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Inside there was a few kinds of pasta, several kinds of tea and a fireplace to enjoy them by. Carbed up and souls warmed we were ready to take on whatever tomorrows precarious weather conditions could throw at us.

 
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The next morning there were farm animals of every variety. Dogs, cows, horses, sheep, goats. The “hounds” (read: little red Kelpies) scared the shit out of Brando in the early hours of the morning, camomile tea calming his nerves before it was time to head up the road to Sam Miranda. Nick attempted to commandeer the farmhouse helicopter, but weather and a lack of mechanical soundness foiling the plan for an airborne transfer. There would be no LZ.

 
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III: GLORY AWAITS

 

The state series raced and came to a close a fortnight before in super dry conditions and to much positive feedback. With a difficulty rating of “12 Deans” the course, designed by Wes – owner/operator of the local bike store in nearby Wangaratta – put the twisting lap together, further proof that the seasons best courses are designed by mountain bikers. For the first time this season it wasn’t just cold, but pouring rain as we lined up to Mr Pink’s order. Cyclocross finally announced itself as a winter sport here in Victoria, amazing that it has taken this long.

 
 
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While the area Sam Miranda winery occupies is relatively flat, the lap had almost everything you could ask a cyclocross course to have. A swift opening few corners funnelled riders onto a long, twisting single track-y kind of section that swigged you for a few minutes as if you were a glass of Nebbiolo up for judging. Following the contours of the creeks and dredged holes, most of the swig was gravity fed, but the amount of corners, and the pace they would arrive was enough to keep you on your toes. You’d have to climb up and out via the sandy and aptly named “Death Curse Hill” – but you wouldn’t end up in a spittoon. Instead you’d hit a smooth peanut butter berm across a swamp of dead grapes, taking the crunchier steps and off camber bits towards freedom: the cattle yards.

 
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After that the dirt crit that remains a constant in the back half of the lap kicked itself into gear. Through the fermentation vats, around the back of machinery and deep into the vines, A or B lines offering themselves up as you entered the vinous maze.

 
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Make it past the final few bends, past the slippery paved brick and beyond a screaming Hot Brad and you’d finish the lap. It was so fun that our teams riders were hoping for a bonus lap or two. The commissaires delivered – 45 minute races extending themselves beyond an hour, races finishing with skids, and warm down laps for fun. No silverware, no green and gold bands to write home to, but an hour of mega fun.

 
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POST RACE PRESS CONFERENCE

"Every culture has their own unique coming of age tradition. Some cultures get a car, personally, my debut in Expert Men was my rite of passage into the cult of Cross. By the end of the race I felt like a Yung boy, who used to thirst on the sacred ‘Sweet n’ Fruity’ 4 litre White blend from the grand region of Coolabah, vacuum packed in a crisp, utilitarian foil bag that would make Walter Gropius shed a tear, to a connoisseur who now chooses to drink on the liquid of complex, full-bodied Cab Sav’s. While I didn’t finish in the top half of the race, it gave me a new, mythology defining, life affirming outlook on cyclocross racing."

– Brando

 
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"You know that church wine they make you drink at your first communion? The kind of shit that makes you spin around, look at your parents and wonder why the hell they are making you go through this shit? Oh you don’t? We’ll you won’t have a clue how bang average I feel right now. Each lap was a joyous occasion, even the part where both my feet came out of the pedals on the third corner and I waved goodbye to the front of the race. Chasing down Treadly Jake was mega fun, and finishing just behind some B Grade Yung Guns affirms the fact that I’m only slightly better than the 60th’s I’ve been getting all season."

– Adrian

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IV: GLORY ACHIEVED

 

A course well bedded in and a schedule read incorrectly, Alice was lining up for the Masters Women’s race. Only an hour before bed time did we all realise Elite Women were racing on Friday and Sunday, her extracurricular engagements on Sunday dashing her chances of participation. Instead a like for like swap took place as she jumped into her age group of Masters Womens 1.

 
 
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Permanently etched on her face was the polar opposite of blue steel, spread all across opposite corners of her body was the Nutella of a track soaked with an entire mornings worth of rain. A mud filled eye if anything aided Alice, the forced extra concentration on hitting and clipping apex’s helping her further her advantage, not that we had a clue. 

 
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If Bruce McAvaney was in the booth he’d be calling Alice the smiling assassin, so calm, friendly and joyous she looked during her race that we had no idea how well she was actually doing, until it was the final lap. Nick from DDCX took a quick breather from roasting Adrian over the PA to quickly address the elephant in the room – Alice’s future contract negotiations. In an era where prices are skyrocketing, are we looking at the first 6 figure rider in Australian cyclocross?

 
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V: NOT YOUR AVERAGE PUB FEED

 

Warm down process came in the form of beating the storm as we took refuge in a local supermarket. We stocked up on the right balance of snacks; think rice crackers, different kinds of chocolate, bread, milo cereal, party mix, ice cream. When we emerged from the safety of Wangaratta Woolworths and began to make our way into the King Valley once more we were greeted with an awe inspiring sunset and the last few fragments of the hail storm that had completely inundated the area just minutes before. We ventured deeper into the King Valley to the tune of Young Thug, in search of the regions finest gastro-pub.

 
 
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Not that it took much searching, the same road that took us out of Wangaratta had us parking up outside the Mountain View Hotel some 30 kilometres away. Initially the vibe we were after was classic pub fare, real Australiana, even if it killed us. Shame on us for underestimating the regions culinary capabilities. Instead we were treated to pub classics that were Mediterranean inspired and truly levelled up – Prosecco battered fish & chips, hella Chicken Parma and gnocchi hitting the last available table that night. Our table. There were local wines and beers to wash it all down, and local Kelpie Ruby, fresh from giving birth to a litter of 8 provided us with a fond farewell we wouldn’t forget any time soon.

 
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VII: GLORY MISSED

 
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While there were no “hounds” to awaken and scare the shit out of Brando on Sunday morning, we were greeted by a ram raiding Ewok Terrier who had somehow infiltrated the farmhouse. He joined us for breakfast, not demanding food but demanding pats, before scampering away as we completed our checkout duties. We’d arrived trackside with plenty of time to spare, going through the pre-race ritual of final bike cleans and checks, adjustments of shoes and correct hydration and nutrition. We went to cruise over to the start line to get a feel for the course and the new changes implemented overnight. That’s when it hit us.

 
 
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Our race had started 5 minutes ago. Nick was back in Melbourne, as was Alice. Ben was out on track taking on another round of Masters Men 2. Adrian and Brando? Stranded and watching from the sidelines in the sun. A schedule misread and their time taken in the carpark leading them to a pair of DNS’s. During Ben’s post race press conference he said we were the lucky ones, as the best features of yesterdays course had been replaced for flat out sections then baked in the morning sun, taking the fun factor down a little bit as well as improving the difficulty rating to just “10 Deans”.

 
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We ate away our feelings at the cellar door post race, Kransky’s, chips and Bridge Road beers taking the edge off a rollercoaster of a morning. The ability to add your very own condiments a real crowd pleaser as you were able to pile on the sauerkraut if you so chose to, while there were plenty of sauces to go around. Here is a photo of our more modestly topped one as we don’t want to give ourselves up to the authorities on the lookout for those exploiting the system.

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VIII: CRUEL & HOLLOW GLORY

 

Flashback Friday to last years National Champs in Adelaide. The Elite Women’s race, performed in cloudy and climatically threatening conditions quickly developed into a 2 person race. Nat Redmond and Peta Mullens were battling it out at the front, both of them well out of reach from the rest of the field. At the time we were positioned at the bottom of the swing tree which all day had been at the epicentre of the days action, except on this occasion. With only a little while left in the race, Peta somehow turned a 20 second deficit to Nat into a 30 second lead, one that would grow in the remaining laps and deliver her another national title. After the race IRL and URL, Nat expressed her disappointment at missing out on the win in front of a home crowd, but like a movie hero swore she would return better than ever in 2018.

And that she did. Across the 2018 National Series she’s been a dominant force, accompanied at times by Cowabunga Ape who herself was transferring some incredible state level form to the national circuit. Nat celebrated victory in the Elite Women’s race on Friday afternoon with a choccy milk, the Kiewa Country Milk’s back on hand in anticipation of similar scenes come Sunday afternoon.

 
 
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A Rolled Tub:

Formerly a favoured special move of Hot Brad, it has recently been adopted by Nick Rhodes of the Victorian A-Grade Men’s field. It often appears in clusters, riders losing complete tyres on the same corner of the same lap give or take a few cm’s from the apex. Garry Millburn so famously rolled his front tub at Fields of Joy, only to smash straight into Ogaram Crouching Tiger Hidden Guinness on the other side of the tape. If a Belgian was to ask you what a rolled tub was, you could possibly even pass it off as a sausage roll such is their exotic and mystical form.

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Anyway, that’s what happened to Nat. $10,000 worth of camera gear wasn’t fast enough to capture how quick she was through the first few turns, and as the crowds quickly flocked around Death Curse Hill we saw Nat emerging on two feet amidst the winding single track swig. It was a long run back to the pits, and by the time the pit bike was activated the race seemed all but over.

 
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As far as the victor was concerned, it would take a similar bout of misfortune to take the National Championship away from April McDonough, but further down the field things were heating up a little more. Stacey Riedel was racing out of her skin and eyeing off a podium place, while the battle for the last of the wide-angle podium places went down to the wire. In the back half of the field Fi from MAAP Cannondale worked her way back into the top half of the field after the toughest of all first lap encounters, and Lana worked her way through the field as it all boiled down to a field wide race of attrition.

But Nat? From DFL she resumed the pheasant chase that caught out eye so spectacularly when we hit up Adelaide at the start of the season. She worked her way through the field picking off riders one by one to only just miss out on a wide-angle podium place. If any consolation she would storm home to take the fastest lap of the race, a small but probably hollow victory. Racing can be a cruel thing.

 
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Up front April took her first National title for the Flanders crew, a calm and considered race that was near faultless unpacked during finish line interviews with MTBA. Parc Ferme a mix of joy and devastation.

 
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IX: GLORY REPEATED

 

The final event of the weekend on the re-re-configured course was Elite Men. Last year was the year of the J–Blood, only Garry Millburn able to crack the code to victory, but only on the last lap of the last race of the season. This season things were a little different, Chris Aitken being added into the winners circle for 2018, forcing spectators to think a little longer and harder about their predictions for victory. Beyond the battle for the win the field was stacked. The Focus Attaquer crew was already shifting into a Flying V formation before the race had even begun, while NKOTB Jayden Ward lined up on the front row like he was about to jump on stage to cameo an A$AP Rocky show. Alby and Redenbach were there as they always are, and down the back was Pantone GT sporting a back injury from too many hard nights at Revs, Handsome Max and the most improved rider of the season: Kieran Alby Jnr.

 
 
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For all the promise Death Curse Hill held during the previous races, and all the pre-race warming up, on lap one it teetered out in pure, concentrated anti-climax. A lot could be said for the more capable bike riders of the Elite Men’s field, as pile ups are less likely to occur. Early on those 3 favourites pushed on ahead, dark horses like Adrian Jackson lurking not far behind, but seemingly a little too far away to be within a real big shot of taking the victory.

 
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The race wasn’t even at half race distance, but sometimes enough is enough. J-Blood decided it was time to say “seeeeeeeee ya!” That’s all you need to know.

 
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X: BRANDO'S REGIONAL EXPERIENCE

 

On our way back to the big smoke, it was only right that Brando was introduced to a fine regional delicacy. Being right in the middle of wine country, you’d think it would be easy to predict the choice. Participating in an ancient ritual spanning decades, nearly pre-dating the state of Victoria itself, it was time to sample a bottle of Mr D’s.

 
 
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"Initial thoughts were that it looked and tasted like cough syrup, but with every sip I savoured, the sophisticated chemistry of this drank became more pronounced. Hints of the wildest berries from the finest biodynamic regions of the Victorian food bowl transported me to new and exotic places I’ve never even dreamt of."

He wouldn’t be able to fall asleep that night.