TOUR DE BEECHWORTH 2018

 

An event that seems to be growing with each edition, the Tour de Beechworth is a celebration of local roads, food and beer. A number of events have rolled through the town – the first Beechworth Gran Fondo held on 4/20 a few years ago was going to be our Huf sock wearing, speaker in jersey pocket rocking debut, only for us to all come down with a case of the flu or the cbf’s. The Gran Fondo teetered out after a few goes, and reborn from its ashes was the Tour de Beechworth – a total of “about 9” attendees gracing its first running. Since then its gone strength to strength, and for this years running – Episode 1 of the 2018 Dirty Trilogy – Ben Kraus from Bridge Road Brewers invited us up for the weekend, bathed in the kind of sunlight you could normally only dream of experiencing in late July.

 

I: CRISP

 

If it wasn’t for a round of warm caffé lattes and some porridge from Peddlar we might have been joining Ron in a cryostatic state. A clear and crisp morning greeted us on the roll out from Beechworth, a brief dip into the forest on the climb up into Stanley making it a little hard to warm up the legs properly. It was only a short climb up to Stanley, and it was where the Soup Boys Press Clüb would reconvene outside Ben’s house for a brief moment. Did we mention Adrian had forgotten his helmet? Because of course he did.

 
 
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Bless up to Scott and CyclingTips for providing us with helmets that 15 months later would allow Adrian to continue on the rest of the ride. From his home in central Stanley, Ben would lead the charge out the other side of town on his fresh new Bombtrack, glistening in the morning sun. It wouldn’t take long before we were out of town proper, nothing but frosty orchards following us out of town – apples, cherries, berries, other stone fruit, nuts – a bit of everything really. The temptation to stop and check the fruit status all too tempting, but the warmth of the sun was far too inviting as we hit the first descent for the day down towards Myrtleford.

 
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Strong Scrumpy Cider (Apple)

330ml – 7.3%ABV

Some of those local orchards we soon waved goodbye to help provide the fruit that is freshly pressed and used to make the Bridge Road Scrumpy Cider. About as complex as the descent down from Stanley – a road graced by rock face on one side, and a ravine on the other – it’s fermented to its natural potential using a English Farmhouse yeast, keeping things dry, crisp and rubber side up, packing a punch with a high alcohol content.

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II: CLOUDY

 

We dropped down onto the Myrtleford-Yackandandah Rd with fingers still needing defrosting. The sun was still out proper, but sporadic clouds were floating up ahead. A small group of us formed at the bottom of the descent, but the false flat that presented itself split things apart once more, Ben and Adrian joining forces temporarily with Jesse Featonby’s dad who was ready to lay down some power on his Ferrari S-Works.

 
 
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Any chance of a group reforming would be dashed just a few corners into Back Creek Rd – no real wind, but proper positive gradients thinning things out again. Climbing back up towards Yackandandah along Back Creek Rd was a real treat. With the exception of panting cyclists, and the sounds of nearby farm animals this little pocket was dead silent. The clouds were creeping lower and lower, but at the same time they were thinning out as we came into Yackandandah.

 
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Now 40km into the 100km loop, we half expected the announced feed zone to be in the brilliant little town of Yackandandah. We were wrong, and lived to regret pushing a little harder than we ought to up the final few pinches of Back Creek Rd. We cruised up the Main Street of the town feeling both frosty and cloudy, tossing up between a quick, self-supported ram raid of the local bakery, or a weather and demeanour matched beer – in this case a hella German (if the name doesn’t give it away) Hefe Weizen – from the top pub. In the end we just opted for some fresh water into bidons and a handful of Starburst party mix. Resume climbing out of town.

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Hefe Weizen (Bavarian Wheat Beer)

330ml – 5%ABV

 
 
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III: PALE

 
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Normally the climb out of Yackandandah is nothing but a pain in the ass – this time was no exception. While we opted to reconnect with Jesse Featonby’s dad, plenty of others shot past us in the hunt for KOM glory, the second of four marked and timed climbs on the loop taking you up to the new roundabout at the Beechworth-Wodonga Rd. For all our suffering up to the roundabout we were quickly rewarded with a solid tailwind, and a road that ran ever so slightly downhill. Soon we turned off the main road only to start climbing once more.

 
 
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Not before long, the tarmac would turn into smooth, buttery goodness, passing rural paddock basher graveyards, haphazard home job dirt jumps and farmhouses on our way into the Mt Pilot National Park. We continued climbing on the smooth, pale gravel, the rainfall midweek making things a little tougher whenever the road fell under shade. Every few kilometres we would lull into a false sense of security by thinking we had reached the top, taking a rollercoaster section that would stretch out into another climb. It wouldn’t be until we reached the turn off to the Mt Pilot lookout that we knew we were almost at max height, and only a few corner into the descent, Ben was finally given a chance to christen his bike with a 20 metre long skid. Dedications go out to skid.cc.

 
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Cinnamon Donuts from the Beechworth Bakery, served up by the tray. Water. Lollies. Mums and their words of encouragement. While we weren’t riding tempo, the lightly melted butter of the last 15km had really sapped our energy, and after the disappointment of Yackandandah the feed zone was a sight for sore eyes. Sugar levels replenished we continued on the gravel for only a hundred metres, switching to tarmac that would take us around to Woolshed Falls.

 
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And when the surfaced resumed its pale, gravelly broadcast on Malakoff Rd we linked up with Washo and his crew. They’d been out on the gravel only loop, and alternate ride hosted by the Curve gang. Recommendations of bigger tyres, and early warnings of hike-a-bike sections must have run true, for as we climbed from the falls up to Beechworth, Washo’s face began to fade, becoming more pale that the washed out colours of the road.

 

Beechworth Pale Ale (American Style)

330ml – 4%ABV

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The spiciness of the final climb up into Beechworth would be a cause for concern for our 1xWarriors, hell it even knocked us with our 34’s flat. Back into town the gravel ride had finished up, time for a Beechworth Pale Ale, while for those on the tarmac century loop there was still a little bit to go.

 
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IV: DARK STOUT

 

You know that song Empty Can’s by The Streets? Where Mike Skinner announces that "it’s all starting to get a bit out of hand?" Imagine two Soup Boys, spent after a morning in the saddle, malnourished and expecting the final stretch of the ride to be a joyous, funfilled twenty minutes. A pleasant roll south out of Beechworth took us under and beyond the boundaries of the rail trail, and onto the second and last sections of gravel road for the loop. First it was the bumpier Fighting Gully Rd which by the time you reached the end, had you feeling like you had gone 5 or 6 rounds in the ring with it. But that wasn’t all.

 
 
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A quick road crossing took us to the final KOM and final gravel sector of the ride – Lady Newton. The surface, much smoother, but after a few corners it would be the gradient that would start taking us to a dark place.

The warm up was a few short pinches at 10%. Things flatten out a little, maybe theres a bit of a descent thrown in just for fun, then you come around a corner and you’re greeted with another one. The voice of DJ Khaled is echoing in your head, you can’t escape him. You try to visualise a tropical scene, something idyllic, something that will allow you to escape the pain and suffering of grinding up a 29% gravel road. But all you can think of now is DJ Khaled on a jetski.

Another one.

Another one.

 
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If you weren’t in a dark enough place, the final push to the finish and to the lunch spot would send you there. The sun is out, there’s no wind. The road is butter, but this time in a good way, your tyres don’t sink with every pedal stroke, and you can kind of stand up out of the saddle. But then you come flying around the corner, everyone else is walking. You took the previous corner and slight descent too fast, now you’re on the final climb that everyone is walking, only you are riding it. You can’t get off now otherwise you’re bound to eat shit. DJ Khaled tries to pop into you head once more but you’re in far too dark of a place to even think of whack ringtone DJ’s anymore. The only thing on your mind is the finish, it’s lunch, its a Bridge Road Brewers Robust Porter with it’s big chocolate and mocha notes with a little hint of liquorice that is so big and bold that it pulls no punches yet at the same time you’re thinking hmmm maybe this smooth roasty texture could go really well with dainty but rich chocolate deserts or oysters or some shit and since when did I become a dark-drinker and then you reach the top – AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH.

 

Robust Porter (Stout-like)

330ml – 5.2%ABV

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V: SWEET

 

We made it, we survived. Our reward was lunch at the Murmungee Lookout. Greeting us at the top as if it was Saint Peter at the pearly gates was the Bridge Road Brewers van, a heavenly spread awaited us.

 
 
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Even though we’d made it through to lunch time, and the sun was still out, our ascension to heaven 850 metres above sea level was a cold one. Fortunately there were a few small fires set up to warm our legs up as we took in the views towards the King Valley and Mount Buffalo, freshly homemade soups (on brand) keeping our cores warm, while an enormous spread of tarts, lollies, and family recipe Austrian Rum slice revitalised our bodies and restored energy.

 
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Matching our lunch spread was an ice bucket filled with plenty of Little Bling’s. Easy drinking and not likely to lead us down the beaten track on the way back to Beechworth, it paired perfectly with the various soups and sweets on offer – the only problem was having to muster up the motivation to leave the immediate surrounds of the fire to reload.

 

Little Bling IPA (Mid-strength)

330ml – 3.4%ABV

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From the lunch spot you were given two different options: descend straight down Lady Newton back into Beechworth, or head home the long, much more foresty way via Stanley. Alongside the Curve crew we would take the latter, climbing a little more up into the pine plantations, before casually dropping back down into Stanley along some gravel roads that literally cut themselves through the local orchards. Once back at the Soup Boys High Country HQ three lots of warmth: fireplace, shower and cat aided our recovery after a very mixed terrain century.

 
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VI: BRIDGE ROAD BREWERS

 

Founded by Ben Kraus in 2004 in his dads back shed, Bridge Road Brewers has grown to become one of the most recognised craft breweries in the country. Hidden down an alleyway right in the middle of Beechworth, the Brewers occupies an expansive old coach house with beer garden, tasting bar, dining house dishing out wild pizzas and of course the brewery. It would be down the very back, sitting among the manufacturing equipment of the brewery that our Tour de Beechworth dinner would be taking place. A French inspired 5 course exploration into local produce would be going down, matched perfectly with Bridge Road beers and local wines it was much a showcase of local gastronomic splendour as it was a celebration of riders efforts earlier in the day, and of the Tour de France.

 
 
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3 long tables occupied the space, a fourth partitioned off as staff put the dinner together right in front of our eyes. Over the classically cliched chequered tablecloth the first few course came out, the crew not batting an eyelid at Adrian being a hassle with the last minute dietary requirements. As the slow cooked main went through its finishing touches, local wines were awarded to the folks who battled it out for KOM honours, while prizes were also awarded to the slowest, and the most mediocre climbers of the day.

 
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"Father?!"

Coming in hot and like an accidental FaceTime call from your parents was Mike Tomalaris, hidden deep within the Tour de France parc ferme – the race slowly beginning its final crescendo in the pyrenees. Looking down on us like some kind of overlord he offered and inside view to the production effort that goes into the SBS broadcast, got yelled at by security for standing on the top step of the podium, and delivered a series of takes ranging from piping hot to predictably lukewarm as he took questions from the dinner tables.

 
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Mike had to disappear to prepare for the days broadcast, but any sad feelings were quickly forgotten as Gabriel Gate graced our screens as dessert began making its way to the tables. Considered our MVP of Tour de France’s gone by, for one of the final times this tour he was exploring local sweet delicacies to keep things on trend, as we weren’t ready for the meal to end, we didn’t want to be seeing his final Au Revoir for 2018. Soon he would be replaced by Dave McKenzie and Mike, this time back on a proper camera, looking a little less like an all seeing overlord. Racing was on in the pyrenees for another day, and all of us in Beechworth got a personalised shoutout live on air as we picked apart cheese platters and took in the stage. Not that we can remember who won.

 
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And so comes an end to Episode 1 of the 2018 Dirty Trilogy. Big thanks to Ben Kraus from Bridge Road Brewers for bringing us out for another stellar weekend in Victoria’s High Country. The riding, while in familiar territory unlocked completely new and fantastic roads, and the hospitality of the crew was top notch, leading us to think this just might be one of the most underrated bike events on the calendar. Change our mind.

If you’re in the area go pay them a visit, just make sure you bring a bike.

 
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