2016 NATIONAL ROAD RACE CHAMPS
A bright, sunny Sunday spent heading out to Ballarat. Well technically just outside of Ballarat, halfway up a dormant volcano. Adrian was disappointed to find that the main climb of the day was not actually Sovereign Hill, nor was the gold medal presented to eventual winners made of gold sourced from Sovereign Hill. This set a precedent for the day.
I: DRIVING WEST
As much as we truly love Melbourne, and the state of Victoria we do not hold the same fondness for most things to the west. We regrettably drove from Melbourne to Adelaide for last years Tour Down Under, with 8 hours along the Western Freeway (then Highway past Ballarat) considered 8 hours too long. Not since the 2006 film Munich staring Eric Bana have we had to experience something so long and so boring. Fortunately a good playlist and better company and conversation helped the hour or so worth of freeway driving feel like slightly less than an hour or so worth of freeway driving. Highlights along the way included the following:
- The wonderland that is Geelong Rd
- Knowing we had Nhu Lan Bakery Banh Mi ready to eat once we arrived
- Burnt out cars alongside the road, or sitting in the median strip between Deer Park and Melton
- Not having to drive into Melton
- Bacchus Marsh, specifically the orchards surrounding the freeway on the way past town
- "the Werribee Gorge isn't as good as the American ones like the Grand Canyon though hey..."
- A playlist that had just the right amount of songs by the XX
- The lake you drive past in about a second. It only seems like a slightly picturesque lake as far as lakes go, it's probably more the fact that it breaks up kilometre after monotonous kilometre
- Kryal Castle, at least from a distance
Buninyong the town is 10km south of Ballarat, the regional city it is considered a suburb of. The town of 3,000 or so people has played host to the Nationals since we've been attending them (our first visit was last year). The 10.2km course begins at the start/finish line in the middle of town, with the important local bakery close by. Running anti clockwise, riders take in the lower slopes of dormant volcano Mt Buninyong before descending back down into the town via a few more left hand turns at intersections. This process is repeated a certain amount of times depending on what category you're racing. For those in the Gran Fondo Championships, it was 7 times. For the Elite Men, 18 times. At the end of it? Riders are awarded medals, bouquets of flowers but most importantly giant novelty Mars bars, courtesy of the naming sponsor and local based company. We arrived in town after having to take various detours to avoid walking any more kilometres than we already had to, especially with the temperature sitting in the mid 30's, add a few more degrees right by the roadside. It was the final day of racing, and we had missed the elite women's race in the morning, and even the first lap of the elite men's, but we were going to make sure to get in the thick of the action for the remainder of the afternoon.
III: GOOD, BAD & UGLY
- Banh Mi from Nhu Lan bakery (Footscray). Good enough to pick up on the way out of town, and eaten immediately upon stepping out of the car at Buningyong.
- Country town bakeries. The sausage rolls were good, Caramel slice even better. We just wont mention the Cherry Ripe slice.
- People getting dressed up at the bicycle races. Storm Troopers, Teletubbies, Luchadores all spotted despite the heat.
- Solo victories from damn near 90km out. Which will dominate most of the copy of this seminal race report. Lets face it, you have to be completely mad to try such a feat, but to do it with such verve made witnessing it all the more special.
- Back of ute & Campervan life goals. Taking the local spectatorship game to new heights.
- We wont name which riders, and which team. But as the main bunch passed us on the second (or possibly third) lap, two team mates parked up at the bakery. You'd think this belongs somewhere in the bad or ugly category, but they obviously caught wind of how good the caramel slice was and thought they would check it out. If they weren't racing for an NRS team we would offer them a spot on the Soup Boys roster, because we are about that style.
- Simon Atkinson, because why not? The locks, the photos...what a guy. Check his photos from the last few bicycling events, and aforementioned Ute life goals here.
- Aero helmet dads. There were plenty, but the standout was the Specialized Evade x Briko x Baby bike trailer collab. He was everywhere, you would have spotted him for sure.
- The beats coming from the Rapha tent on the climb. We can guarantee we will be cutting shapes at future appearances.
- Kasual Klub errywhere. We anticipate there will be a whole lot more to document in Adelaide during TDU.
- Normally we keep shout outs for the actual racing, so this one can sit in the "Good" section. It goes out to Ellen who came along for her first taste of what you could call "real bicycle racing". The kind where you have to walk a whole bunch to get to the best spots, endure heat and limited food/drink/seating options, and hang out with some bike mad folks all day. We would have awarded her a giant novelty Mars bar if we could have swiped one from the podium, she certainly deserved one.
- Buninyong Foodworks for the post race Bubble O'Bills & mineral water.
- Trying to get close enough into town. Our own fault for arriving when we did (missing the start).
- Walking. The poor man's riding. Significantly harder and more time consuming that two wheels. Like we've only just figured that out.
- Dust. There seems to be a lot of it out near Ballarat. By the end of the day it was everywhere. Inside bags, covering drink bottles, inside shoes, under eyelids and fingernails.
- Not to take away from the feats of Jack Bobridge, but the lack of finishers. Over the last few laps, only having a dozen riders out on the road took away from the overall spectacle of the race. Sure you can't always have a peloton chasing everything down, but surely for some in the crowd you were thinking "can't we just call it a day a few laps early and go wash all this dust out of our ears?"
- Orica GreenEDGE. There was a moment there where as a team, with the 2 BMC riders (Dennis & Porte) you thought maybe they were going to slowly eat into the lead (of over 9 minutes) that Bobridge had created but it never came about. Every time they hit the climb, riders from the World Tour team were either otb ("out the back" for you that haven't read this super relatable article) or chilling at the bakery back in Buninyong.
- All day the Race Director could be seen through the sunroof of his race car, searching for someone to play table tennis with, to no avail. If only he had let us know in advance we would have brought a table out with us. Maybe next time. We wish him the best of luck in future searches.
- No C Grade National Road Race Championships. It's all well and good having the elite category races, but what about us mere mortals? How are we supposed to get a rider in the green and gold bands?
- The lack of a @bikesanddogs chapter for this race reportage. Trust us when we say there were more dogs than we could count #fact but unfortunately due to disappointing levels of motivation (which was sitting at somewhere close to none) photos were not taken, instead morale was boosted with pats of numerous dogs. To our fans that come to this website for this reason alone, we can't be sorry enough.
- Not seeing Dan Wilkins. He saw us, he waved and we missed it. He was even kind enough to take a whole lot of good photos of the entire Championships for you to look at, what a nice guy! One million crying emojis were sent his way when he made us aware of this fact.
- All you can eat Pizza Hut. We think there's only a handful of them left in Australia. It was a trip down memory lane. Why is it in the ugly category? Well there's two reasons. First is that "Good" is way too stacked as it is. The second is that there was so much ugliness it was beautiful. The interior was as you would expect, the state of the buffet was as you would expect, the families in attendance at 6pm on a Sunday evening in regional Victoria were as you would expect. The only thing that outnumbered servings of garlic bread were dads wishing they were at the Summernats this weekend. Either way it was a wonderful trip down memory lane for the three of us as we spoke of childhood memories of our local Pizza Hut's and Smorgy's, and ate well over our $17 worth of pizza.
- The drive out of western Melbourne. Believe us when we say we love our little neighbourhood here in the inner north west of town, but lord have mercy on us all if we had to travel beyond Caroline Springs more than once a year. When the highlight of a 1 hour drive along a freeway is Bacchus Marsh, you know you're in for a treat. Fortunately company and good playlists made the whole thing slightly more bearable.
- Arguing over bidons. Not as in pro cyclists. Or a pro cyclists bidons thrown by the wayside. But two (adult) civilians and a lone, stray bidon belonging to a certain Melbourne based brand. An interesting coming together.
- The course. It was mentioned as the last few laps ticked by that maybe the course at Buningyong isn't "the best" and is in fact "almost the worst". With all due respect, the town offers a great spot for the start finish, the climb seems quite nice if not quite a real climb (not HC) and the length of each lap means that you can catch the riders coming by every fifteen minutes or so, but as respectfully mentioned in the media the morning after the race maybe it was time to either change up the route, or at least move the Championships around the country every year. We here at Soup Boys HQ rather selfishly think that it should stay in the area, but with a changed course every year. Driving to a small country town an hour out of Melbourne is okay, flying to a second rate state (any outside of Victoria) is certainly pushing it.
- This entire post. Deep down we apologise. We are still feeling the effects of race day in a very big way. Hour long baths and sleep ins weren't a suitable recovery it seems. We will resume regular race reportage in the coming weeks.
IV: AN AFTERNOON WITH JACK BOBRIDGE
Even though we missed the official, immediate start of the race, as we settled into our seats outside the local bakery, we could see the race immediately getting blown apart by a pretty sizable break. We're not talking just a couple of particularly strong riders out for their moment in the sun, no. It was the kind of break which made you think that the race was already going to be decided within the first couple of laps. This was made more evident when riders who were supposed to be out on course pulled up outside said bakery, stepping inside to no doubt grab a caramel slice or ten to devour (they were really that good).
Now we are no mathematicians, nor did we have an abacus. Fortunately accountant-by-day-instagram-sensation-by-night Dean Jones was there to help count the number of riders in the break (21) with the unmistakable colours of Orica GreenEDGE, Drapac Professional and State of Matter MAAP leading the charge, and a few riders from other teams here and there. By the time we left the bakery and began the walk to the main climb on the course, the break was already sitting pretty at around 7 minutes ahead of the main bunch, with a couple of riders sitting in no mans land in between. Despite the gap growing and growing, and most of the riders in the break hanging on, many people in the crowd were still optimistic that everything would come back together towards the end of the race.
Turns out that didn't really happen. The group of 21 eventually split up with some unable to handle the pace as they got spat out the back with each passing lap (they do 18 of them). Eventually the two that emerged at the front of the race were hour record attemptee (if thats a word) and 2011 national road race champion Jack Bobridge and the holder of the #BayCrits Williamstown edition of the #cornerlikecaseystoner competition. We of course mean Bernie Sulzberger of Drapac. A lap or two later and it turned into "The Jack Bobridge Show" as he shot off the front with just under 90km to go. Turns out things would stay that way as he began paying homage to his Track Pursuit credentials, lapping faster than the rest of the field as he broke out to a 9 and a half minute lead. To put things into perspective, laps were hovering just under 15 minutes for the most part. "An Afternoon with Jack Bobridge" continued on as he ticked down the laps, and riders behind him began retiring either at the top of the climb totally wrecked, or throwing in the towel and pulling over in the middle of town and heading trackside for beers and food, how completely Australia.
In between riders coming up the hill time was filled in with ginger beers, good beats provided by the resident DJ of the Rapha tent, a dance showcase provided by xHot Bradx, and photos being bombed by Yung Nibali and Aero Helmet Dad #1 who just seem to be absolutely everywhere at every single bicycle race. Weird.
What was now "An Afternoon with Jack Bobridge", his new daytime TV show to rival the one hosted by Tom Williams came to a head as the race entered the last few laps. The look on Bobridge, and all the other riders faces led us to believe that they ignored our suggestions of fitting 32t casettes to their bikes to help them over the last few climbs. Amateurs. Once he cleared the final ascent of Mount Buninyong, with the dozen or so remaining riders trickling up the hill behind him, the attention turned to the small road side, generator powered TV sets like it was the 1960s or something (none of us were alive at the time so can't really comment). Everyone crouched around and watched as Bobridge hit the line just under 3 minutes ahead of Cam Meyer, with Victorian Pat Lane coming in third having dropped the hammer on Rohan Dennis who was obviously content with his Time Trial gold medal and unable to suppress his caramel slice cravings for another lap. In the end only just over a dozen riders of the 130 odd starters finished, which is exactly what the commentators predicted at the very start of the race. Well weren't we stupid to scoff at their claims.
Throughout the day it got us thinking what if we went mid twenties junior neo-pro? It's not like there is going to be a C Grade national championship race any time soon, despite the tweets we've sent out and Facebook comments we have left. Maybe we just need to qualify for the elite men's race, hold on for a lap or two so our Directeur Sportif Harry can smash around Mount Buninyong in his Barina, our team car before we would retire to either the bakery or the pub depending on the mood and watch the rest of the field battle it out. Maybe a goal for 2017.
FINAL STANDINGS: TOP 3
1. Jack Bobridge (Trek Segafredo)
2. Cameron Meyer (Dimension Data)
3. Pat Lane (Avanti IsoWhey)
1. The man of the hour, naturally. It's damn near impossible to not yell support to someone on a team where Segafredo is a title sponsor. There's been plenty of stuff thrown around the media in the 24 hours following the finish of the race saying that Jack Bobridge's win is one for the unofficial history books as the best win in a national champs for decades. We would agree, but we've only been to the last 2 so are we really the best to comment on such matters? (yes).
2. Pat Lane. As much as we might love Rohan Dennis, seeing him get dropped by Pat in the last few laps was an amazing sight. A stellar ride by the guy to solo to the finish and take home the bronze medal.
3. Just before retiring to the bakery a few laps later, big shout out to all the guys that were out the back popping wheelies on the climb. Surely they should be awarded extra bonus KOM points for doing it on one wheel.
V: AFTER PARTY
Not necessarily an after party, but an adventure to the Ballarat Pizza Hut (the all you can eat version). Both Adrian and Dean didn't could bear the sight of their cameras, so they remained in the car as plate upon plate of mediocre pizza, and nondescript flavour blue jelly were eaten. To add to the nostalgia of it all, a 90s playlist including Afroman, Hanson, Eiffel 65 and Brittney Spears was played in the car on the drive home. Good thing we wont have to hit the Western Freeway until next year.