THE BÆS OF THE CARIBBEAN: GHOSTS OF CROSSERS PAST

 

Following the publication of our last race report, one that covered Dirty Deeds CX, the SA CX State Championship and Fiona’s mid season break to Timor Leste, the hotlines at Soup HQ were buzzing like a chorus of 100 Chris King free hubs. If you were game enough to have made it to the very bottom, you would have read the parting words of three riders of the VeloClub Soup Bæs CX team. Each with various reasons, they were calling their time on a sport that they loved. A week can be a long time in football, and even longer in local cyclocross which suffers from the lack of dollars and mainstream media coverage thrown behind it – and now it was time for #MCLCX at Caribbean Park. Brandon would make his long awaited debut, the squad turning out in droves to support him on his new endeavour. As for the other riders, had they been put out to pasture? We have no doubt you have come here for answers. We can’t promise to provide them.

 

I: RADIO FAVOLOSO

 

To celebrate our home race, we partnered with the award winning broadcasting network, Melbourne 14th most popular – WBC 106.9fm to construct the most Caribbean race day playlist that as far as we are aware of, exists within the realms of cyclocross. While Belgians may know heaps about riding fast and sinking mad beers, frankly they don’t know shit about reggae and the like, so this playlist here has been put together to even the ledger. A rather rappy, Pacific Island acoustic & super vibey reggae playlist has been sprinkled with an eclectic mix of euro house bangers and random Scandinavian synth pop for good measure, the perfect way to wind down on the commute home. We’re calling it Radio Favoloso, let it take you to a better place.

 

II: FORM GUIDE

 

Brandon was coming in fresh, kind of. He’d been down and out with a cold for weeks stacked upon weeks, entries made and paid for to Ballarat, Mt Beauty and Bright had been surrendered due to the sickness, but he was raring to go in the windy surrounds of Caribbean Park. Having just recently announced their retirements, Ben and Kip were nowhere to be found, cycling journalists from the mainstream media tried to contact us on the day but our Security/Directeur Sportif Harry ushered them away, not wanting riders to lose focus in the precious minutes before the whistle. The Thursday before Caribbean Cross, in the early hours of the morning Sven Nys appeared in one of Adrian’s lucid dream. He ordered the freshly retired Yung Upstart to return to the sport, reminding him of the reason the SBC were placed on planet earth in the first place. Upon #woke-ing he vowed to make a comeback, commencing an arduous journey that involved weeks upon weeks of strenuous sessions in the gym, and consecutive triple century days on the bike. From sunrise til sunset he practiced his dismounting, then all through the darkness of night, he practiced his remounts. Under the watchful eye of Sven, coming in live over FaceTime, stair sets were mastered like Adrian was Nyjah Huston. It was after 80 days and 80 nights of the hardest training regime ever dished out that Sven decided Adrian was not only ready, but worthy to make an official return.

 

III: CAYMAN EMBASSY

 

For the second year running the Consul General to the Tax Free Republic of the Cayman Islands hosted a pop up at MCLCX. Last year on the penultimate corner – Cayman Corner, this year back bigger and better than ever on the home straight. Sure it wasn’t on a corner, but in the lead we promised that it would be the social hub of the day. We wanted to make sure our beloved sponsors of the Caribbean nation were well represented on the other side of the world, and it is in our humble opinion that we ticked that box. A place where we welcomed with open arms friends and foes looking for shelter, to pump themselves up before their respective race, or for kick ons later in the day. In just 2 appearances it has become such a historically significant building that we are waiting by the mailbox day and night for the parchment announcing its UNESCO World Heritage certification.

 

IV: FIRST LEG OF THE FAREWELL TOUR

 

Like the finest of backstage meals, breakfast burgers and hash browns were consumed under the warmth of the Cayman Embassy roof. It would be one of the first times bellies would be full and satisfied come the whistle, and MCL were largely to thank. By C Grade coming on second, not only did it mean that there valuable bonus minutes to stretch, eat, drink and get in the zone, but also time to watch the Open and C Grade women’s categories race it out for the same amount of time it takes for us to get our vision and sense of smell back after a race. With the course warmed up for us, it was time to hit the stage.

 
 

With the sun peeking out just barely, another 70 rider field lined up, Adrian finally securing his first non-last grid place start for the season by barging his way through to about 40th wheel before the starting whistle. With the sounds of RC speed boats echoing through the gardens and business park of the Caribbean, much like the famed wind instruments of WC2010 – riders huddled together mid pack, their best efforts to escape the ever building winds totally fruitless. MCL Dad #1 Wilko made his way through the field like a hotter, way more youthful Bernie Ecclestone, wishing riders well and snapping quick photos from the grid. This time it would be Adrian’s turn to send a postcard of good fortune, this time to Brandon, a few rows back and on the outside edge of the pack. For forty minutes riders would battle rivals, and the wind, each rear wheel belonging to soldiers of the dad’s army to be used as invaluable protection from the wind.

 
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Historically regarded as the Monza of Victorian cyclocross circuits, MCLCX is a flat out circuit that rewards those that can maintain a fast pace. With the help of a bulldozer the tougher sections of the course from previous years were no longer existent, but that didn’t mean that it was okay to leave technical ability at the door. This was evident by the second corner, a sharp, bump, off camber drop down to the fence line that would eventually take you to the other end of the course. Screw up here and you’d end up well and truly stuck in traffic. This was proven almost instantly, a rider (having taken THE most dubious line) throwing themselves into the fence like they were an offering, a sacrificial lamb. Was his dad racing? Had he demanded his son to sacrifice himself or risk going without dessert? Who knows, but a wailing “sorry” could be heard as Adrian rocketed his left leg into the son’s rear wheel, rocketing into the air a la Sagan. Somehow he landed it, Brandon right behind having laid witness to the entire thing, somewhat of a rude introduction to this beloved sport.

 
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A lap time in the high four’s meant that the race would take on 8-10 during its duration, and much like Monza, engine wear and top speed would play a big role early on. Strong winds knocked you flat on your feet for two long, open sections of the circuit, firstly the home straight, and secondly the post-apocalyptic wasteland that replaced the ~slightly more technical~ sections seen in previous years. Single digit speeds were being recorded through the back end of the circuit, with riders one by one beginning to match their surroundings and have the lives sucked out of them. Up front Derek ran off with things, a front row start, strong legs in the wind and a clear course playing into his hands as he would cruise to victory. Further back, nursing a bumped and bruised left shin, Adrian was chasing down DH Dai, looking to take 2 from 2 in the head to head stakes. One by one they picked off other riders, occasionally tangling themselves up in the lap traffic of the combined grades racing. With less than ten minutes left Adrian had finally jumped on DH’s wheel. That’s when it all unravelled.

King of the remixed lyric caption Howard, still clipped in and stuck on the ~hill~ “like a turtle on his back” caused DH to take the pinch a little slower than Adrian anticipated. As is the case with cyclocross races, this caused a major knock-on effect. Adrian unclipped, then slipped, then slipped again on the now slightly muddy hill. DH had stretched his advantage as Adrian finally hit the summit, only to be hit from behind by another racer. Jumping back on his bike, he resumed the chase wildly annoyed, a feeling that would be short-lived.

 
 

Nobody would know how or why, but Adrian would fly past and take the coveted position a few corners later. On a rather innocuous section of the circuit, one that would later live in infamy, Dan had thrown himself into the bushes and out of contention of a top ten finish. The next time around past the VeloClub Soup Bæs CX dedicated media team, there would be questions asked in a shouted form. What had happened? How did Adrian not only pass, but forge such a major gap?

Adrian went on to finish 11th, DH a few places behind. From a field of 70 odd riders, being able to endure the wind, and conserve energy on the tarmac sections paid dividends. Brandon rolled home in 58th, a valiant effort for his first ever race. Coming down on freshly imported Kiewa choccy milks, more breakfast burgers and soulful tunes, the riders offered their thoughts.

 

"Looking back on it, I was happy that Caribbean CX in particular was my first race. Vibes were good all round and it truly felt like home. While the sport can seem pretty simple on paper (cook yourself for 40 minutes or until golden brown) I wasn’t too sure of the intricacies, but learnt about right and wrong lines when I saw that guy kiss the fence on the first lap, happy it wasn’t me. Big thanks to Cam and Derrick for the eleventh hour resurrection of my rear derailleur, it made that hill just a little easier. The whole thing just made me feel so alive, the hash browns kept me going, and every time I would pass the embassy, the beats from Okky’s UE Boom gave me an added level of stamina. Totally a fun experience, and while my heart rate hasn’t hit that kind of level since that Avicii concert I went to in 2013, I can’t wait to race again."

– Brando, 58th

"Yeah full credit to the boys really, and by that I mean David Beckham and the designer of the Adidas Predator. My cries for a shoe sponno have gone unaswered, I haven't copped shit, fortunately Becks came through early this morning and dropped of a pair of primo Predators in the name of nostalgia. I knew the course wouldn't really require it, but the screw in studs just gave me a huge sense of assurance knowing that if I had to lay down any slide tackles, legs would be getting broke. Fortunately it didn’t have to come to that, but I’m super stoked with how I finally managed to get my shit together on a race day. I just wish that Kip and Ben could have been with me in the gruppo as seeing their faces before the whistle lights up my life. Looking forward to a bumper August, hopefully just like last years."

– Adrian, 11th


V: SOUP RIVALS

 

It is with a heavy heart, one laden with sorrow that we must declare our second rival. Joining Treadly Jake after #elbowgate in Bright is DH ‘Titanium’ Dan. Over time we have laughed together, oh how we have laughed. We’ve cried, we’ve come down in the carpark of the Mt Buller Alpine Resort following the race up Mt Buller. He has accepted the coveted gift of Hells Corner Fairy Bread, a gift that only the truest friend of the Soup Famiglia can possibly receive. We have seen the world, and we will always have Paris, but such nostalgia must now be cast aside. For between the starting whistle, and the waving of the finish flag, it is war. With the roundel of the Regia Aeronautica on your back as a target, it is war. Watch your back Daniel.

 

INTERLUDE

 

Presented with or without comment.

 

VI: MEDIA TEAM

 

Not many teams boast the wealth of talent, and the numbers we have on the bike. This is only outdone by the talent we have behind the lens(es). Armed with SLR’s, compacts, #35mm cameras of a variety of persuasions, and further proving our point that non-cycling photographers make the best cycling photographers here is the Caribbean Cross Soup Bæs CX Media Team. Listen to Gang by Max P while you look at the photo below, and be sure to browse their profiles.

 
 

L-R: Dean, Ben, Connor, Okky, Harry, Dayne (not pictured: xPeesx [photographer] & Slayed)

 

VII: MONSOON SEASON

 

Normally conditions would only improve for the more serious racers, but on this particular afternoon seasonal monsoons (or a variant of) would sweep the Caribbean as the A-graders hit the course. Beneath the safety of the Cayman Embassy we witnessed the crit like display of cyclocross riding. A front bunch of almost ten riders immediately shot off the front of the rest of the race, catching the sleepers totally unaware. One by one riders who had either packed the wrong set of legs, or were coming back from injury pulled pins for the drier team tents trackside; but one man who would stick it out would be People's Champ and recently signed Lowes Ambassador Alby. Sporting a polo from their new A/W ’18 collection he took hit after hit through the apocalyptic wasteland of the back end of the course, remaining with the bunch until AJ broke free and solo’ed his way to another impressive victory. After the race he credited his victory to a lot of things, but one stuck out what his ability to turn left at a key part of the course that had caught many racers out on the day.

 

VIII: HURRICANE BUNKER

 

While all of this was happening, the Cayman Embassy, like in times of national and international crisis was offering refuge. Like businessmen and women looking to maximise their earnings, people from all walks of life flocked to the tent still pumping music, drinks and the occasional snack. Jonesy, with his fresh haircut battened down the hatches in the back of the cruiser with a bag of chips and rug, while the team issue jackets, jumpers and beanies kept Soup Bæs nice and warm in spite of the conditions. While monsoon season had hit Caribbean Park, the vibe from the embassy was utterly glowing and truly tropical. For a moment the rain eased up, and while the crowds dispersed for other modes of cover or the starting line of the final race of the day it was with a single message. To shine bright, to provide warmth similar to the tropical waters of the island nations of the Caribbean, to encourage our friends and will them to victory, to spread the word of the Cay. Amen.

 

IX: MONSOON SEASON CONT.

 

If Men’s C Grade is the equivalent to The Mighty Ducks (Film Franchise) in the sense that the smaller, younger characters (us) take on the bigger, richer and more burly Russian characters (the Dad’s of Cyclocross), and A grade is this scene from Star Wars sped up to double speed and played on loop for an hour, then surely B Grade must be one of those movies that comes out once a year that just has an insane ensemble cast. Sure the reviews are never as good as the classics of the big screen, but it is the immense star power involved that brings in the crowds, and has them lapping it up. With each round the ensemble cast and the anticipation surrounding them has grown, and this now the fifth round would take it to another level. With the return of monsoon season imminent, things got under way – Mason, our secret coach knowing that all that stood between him and a few weeks of #italianpassion in Bassano del Grappa was 50 minutes of self inflicted punishment.

 
 

He was off to a flyer, successful in not kissing the fence then leading the field out around the Curva Grande. That would be almost the end of it through. It could have been the wind, the bars, the distraction of KOMing Monte Grappa in a few weeks or a whole range of other things, but he did the opposite to the Mason Header Glow Up of DDCX. Half a lap later he had lost a handful of places, other star of the show Cam (rocking the most Caribbean kit of the day) breathing down his neck. Standing atop the Mont Ventoux like mountain on the edge of the post apocalyptic wasteland we watched over the race like Simba did upon his return home in The Lion King, taking time to sledge, and constructively critique our friends and foes like we hadn’t been totally put in our place by the course just hours before.

 
 

Soon the monsoonal rains would return, the hurricane bunker being put to more use than ever before. Snacks were running out, and the ice bucket filled with drinks had simply filled with rain, and Italian hot chocolates and caffé lattes were the only things on our minds. The palm trees of the Cayman Embassy were beginning to go flat, as were our energy levels, but we maintained support for our friends in the most trying of conditions. By the end of the 50 minute race, the entire ensemble cast would make it through to the waving Cayman Flag – today’s iconic finish flag. They would live to see another awards ceremony, hopefully there would be a sequel.