THE MELBOURNE GRAND PRIX OF CYCLOCROSS
The first time international cyclocross would come to Australia in the form of a UCI C2 race. The wrapping up of the national series, and the final round of racing for the Melbourne and Sydney members of our team. The Mount Panorama of the Australian cyclocross scene – Fields of Joy CX in Essendon, a stones throw away from the Soup Boys neighbourhood would assume the role of backdrop. Formula 1 was returning from their summer break, racing in Belgium of all places. It was only fitting that on the other side of the world, an equally as important, but probably faster Grand Prix was taking place.
While the first ever international cyclocross race hosted in this vast land of ours, the sport doesn’t yet have the kind of pre-game entertainment as the AFL does. In a way that works in our favour, because instead of forking out the big bucks for someone like Meatloaf to hash the fuck out of a performance, we can spend $0, and a little bit of time providing you with a playlist so hyphy you don’t even need actual pyrotechnics. The music will get things lit enough. To help riders brew their saturday morning caffé lattes to the tune of a wavy beat, or to provide subtle background music to a Friday night sit down dinner, we called upon the aurally curatorial (say that five times real fast) expertise of Soup Boys Beatsmaster Okky. After the overwhelmingly positive public response to the music emanating from the Caribbean Hurricane Bunker, we knew that a brief asking for something “hella trappy” would deliver the goods. This time, no different.
II: BUMP IN
Despite referring to Fields of Joy as “the big one” this is only what we have been told. Again, and again, and again; minds like cups of tea steeped by a million tea bags. Tea bags such as the propagandised insistence that Fields of Joy is the hardest race of the year, possibly second to Mount Beauty. You see we had never raced there, only knowing of its existence through spectating, or the safer route of via social media. We did not know of the extent of the gradients, of the sand pit, of the cambers.
It was this hyperbole paired with some having watched friends struggle gloriously the previous year that meant Kip opted to skip Round 1 of the Victorian series, to return once bearings had been collected. Now it was time for him to suck it up buttercup and give it a red hot burl. True Blue.
Like all CX weekends, it comes and passes in an absolute flurry. These weekends are no holiday at all, even for dear friends Max and Lana who were lodging at Chateau du Kip, having gallantly trekked from Adelaide for the sole purpose of experiencing CX-related suffering. Despite a late arrival bodies were dragged out of bed first thing in the morning, kit under jeans and jackets, beanies like cherries on top. It might be a day at the races, but its a different kind of fashions on the field.
III: SBCX PIT BOX
No sounds of rattle guns, engines or electronics being calibrated, instead music, tyre pressures being adjusted and chains being re-lubed. The SBC Pit Box, strategically placed at the front of its strip as to allow easy exit for free practice laps. Despite it being a purpose built venue, and it technically being winter – mud out on the course was scant, a dry, fast line pretty visible throughout. Our intermediates could be left in their tyre warmers for another day, harder compound rubber chosen to help clear anything a softening course might throw at us, guide us effortlessly through the sandpit, but keep the rolling resistance to a minimum.
IV: A1 GP
With a bike dialled in thanks to a few practice laps (rare in our world) Ben was feeling good about hitting the course for the Mens Support race. Gear ratios were spot on, tyre choice specifically curated, and strategic plans for a 0 stop race strategy formulated. Thanks to Pinky, Ben got himself a good grid position, something that the entire team argues has hindered our race results all season long.
↑ "Dynamism of Casey Stoner on The Rails" – A Masterclass In Weight Shifting.
✓ Lift Knee
✓ Drop in the bike
✓ Shoulder on the clipping point
✓ Eyes through the corner
We can't all be National Champ of Corner Like Casey Stoner
After a lap Ben would latch onto the back of B Grade, sussing out Sexy Wes, the swooning and whatnot pushing our tatted Soup Bæ to take corners faster and harder. Like Jorge & Valentino orchestrating the most beautiful of sonatas, he tipped it into the berm side by side in the battle for position. It was a true thing of beauty, but like many classical works it was laced with tragedy. Coming over the whoops you were greeted with a choice of a high or low line to punch it up and across the hill to the next sector. Next thing he new Ben was hard on the deck, scrambling to pick his glasses up like Velma from Scooby Doo.
✔ WELCOME TO THE NIKE RUN CLUB ✔
With a sore left hand and a busted right knee, he considered pulling the pin at the end of the lap, but adrenalin kicked in proper, he began feeling better and pushed on to finish the race. Not to buck tradition he got himself yet another mid pack C grade finish, 13th of 27. Not bad at all considering he offered himself up as a mid race blood sacrifice.
V: CARRERA CUP IN 35mm
Fuelled by a potent, high octane mix of bagels and coffee, Kip stripped back layers of clothing and adjusted tyre warmers for a quick practice lap. Somehow he had managed to sign himself up for 2 separate races on the Saturday, and flirted with the idea of actually doing it: ‘Imagine what I could tell people, how crazy! Two races on the same day of a tough course? It’d be pure glory.’
But no, Social media glory for busting ass is a stupid idea and this vein of thought was set in stone after a single practice lap, one that seemed to go on forever. Ben reassured us that the lap was long while we warmed up, but our cries for the finish line were met with “we’re only half way through boys!” by Lehner. The course, unanimously voted upon, was much harder than Mt Beauty – where there was at least the common denominator of mandated slowness and cookedness for all. Instead this course was equal parts not-bad descents, sprinting on bumpy grass and enormous uphill efforts. Throw in a stupidly cruel sprinkle of stairs and tight downhill turns and you’ve got yourself a Field of Joy.
The majority of the race could have been nicely composed into a motion film directed by Christopher Nolan – high intensity single tone warbling instrumental OST over shots of cold white faces drained of blood, very hellish. A consistent winter of carb-o-nation, and a plentiful breakfast bagel were no match for the lack of composure come race time, Kip taking a safety cone head on, managing to stay on the bike to the confusion of many.
A few laps in, Expert men began to split apart. Our fearless DS Harry yelled at us from the sidelines like cyclocross' most overbearing father, capturing some incredible race footage on 35mm film all the while. Moustache Jules took the initiative to forge a lead in the clean air, while many others sought to battle it out, some taking time to adjust to the brutal course – the longest of the year, more than others. In a close group with Kip, Jake and another unnamed Expert Man, Adrian pushed on ahead towards Valhalla. Having practiced his pacing in Adelaide he was ready for a hefty final 15 minutes, the cyclocross equivalent of bringing Neymar on as a supersub at your local club game.
Kip found the wheel of a C-Grade Dad #bless. The winds temporary absence giving his poor face a rest. Able to motivate his aggressive, competitive side, a little NOS styled injection of adrenaline a la the drug-up montage from ‘Requiem for a Dream’ helped any pain and exhaustion subside, providing him with the burn to take him through to the finish.
As for Adrian? What of his race long journey after marching down the halls of his ancestors? He caught the back of 3rd, then mechanical difficulty by the way of his right shoe had him settle for another 4th. Hard to believe that a young boy who has been required to tape his shoes to his feet since the start of the season could have problems with his shoes during the penultimate race of the year. With a lap left it was all about conserving fuel and his engine for the following day, he would sit down and reflect upon his efforts with the Chief Engineer and Sporting Director but with rain the following day, the final race of the season was certainly looking like a more probable tilt at a result.
VI: GRAND PRIX
Time for the big shots. Lisa Jacobs and other roving commentators were perched atop bread crate looking things at the top of the hill, watching over the mayhem that had unfolded throughout the day. With the running of the elite classes, we would truly learn how to master certain sections of the course, albeit too late. Everything would be in reverse the following day. A bounty of sun and a crowd several deep in a lot of sections of the course gave an atmosphere so electric we were lucky it wasn’t total fire ban season.
RACE STANDINGS: TOP 3
1. Peta Mullens (Focus Attaquer)
2. Emily Kachorek (Squid Factory Racing)
3. Samantha Runnels (Squid Factory Racing)
1. Peta Mullens knocked it out of the park yet again. The Squid women pushed her to the absolute limit, but like she did in Adelaide, when it comes to the crunch she always shows her class. A ride up the hill on the final lap the feather in her cap.
2. The skinnies on the Squid women were #goals. We are ones for super busy kits, cyclocross wasn’t meant for minimalist, highly considered numbers. Leave that shit for the collective genius' of the Antwerp 5. Loud and proud they put on one hell of a race. Plus they had travelled from the states. To race bicycles. Intense. We applaud them wholeheartedly.
3. It wouldn’t be a shoutout wall without one to our team spearhead Alice. She was the only one that brought home some silverware all season, by way of formal education she currently has us all beat, she also persisted in riding up the hill during her race, something the rest of us didn’t even consider. Incredible work.
A 20 deep Elite Womens field was a sight to behold, not just for the numbers but for the wealth of talent there. With their team, Squid Factory Racing had 2 pro riders from the states, unmissable in their brightly donned skinnies. There was the Australian national champ Peta Mullens, former national champs, the New Zealand national champ. Fully fledged professionals mixed with a field of some friends who raced for local teams, or simply just “liked bikes”.
Cheers from the crowd came for the leading battle, Peta Mullens fighting off both Squid riders and Kim Hurst, NZ national champ through the early stages. It was interesting being able to spectate and admire the different styles the international riders brought to the race, approaching certain sections of the course in really different ways. Peta adopted the tried and trusted method of dismount, head down and run run run that was so wildly loved throughout the morning support races, while the Americans were absolute in their adherence to ride up the hill. Others were happy to trial different ways of making their way to the top, each differing style cheered on equally by the adoring crowd.
At half race distance the hierarchy was formed, three-beer-deep-Kip offering some expert race analysis, Lisa Jacobs reluctant to hand him the mic. Lana had unfortunately called it early, proving that the course was something that wouldn’t go easy even on the more capable. The state level regulars battled through the midfield, Mel Anset grinding her way up the steep pitches, Team WillyLocke hovering dangerously off the podium places, ready to snatch extra UCI points in the event of final lap capitulations.
Towards the back Alice, with the coveted race number #69 brought up the field. If there was an extra podium place for biggest, most permanent smile, she would have won it. Lap times that had us fill with envy she pushed it around a super hard course, taking the hill, and more technical sections with supreme skill. During a brief lull in the middle of the race, spectating Soup Bæs convened for a flash-meeting. Our secret-non-secret Italian coach Mason had defected rather publicly to MAAP-Speedvagen, thus we were left high and dry on knowing what details matter, which bars to choose, and how to get the maximum “everything” out of our aero packages. We were heartbroken, we felt betrayed. On a Grand Prix weekend, our Adrian Newey had fucked off. While livid, we acknowledge Alice’s supreme talents compared to our own, and while some input was largely made up of drunken slurs (Kip now five beers deep) we tried to piece together an attractive salary package to offer Alice. Could she be our Monisha Kaltenborn?
Back up the front, in a display of pure grit, Peta ground out a stellar final few laps. Just like she had laid down the true heat on Nat Redmond a few weeks earlier in Adelaide to take the bands, the extra effort she put down towards the end of the lap (the harder sections) paid off. She finished things off with a maiden ridden ascent of the mountain, showing the Americans that she could do it too. Greeted with the chequered flag, she had a 100% win record so far this season, a campaign largely spent smashing out crit victories in middle America obviously a proven method.
The country football coach looking UCI commissaire took to the start line to deliver a Tom Hafey-esque race briefing, and wrassle those who endured such a spray into their grid positions. We offered rather shallow words of wisdom, Zeke happy to dish out some burns, all of us wondering what the next hour would hold.
RACE STANDINGS: TOP 3
1. Chris Jongewaard (Flanders JBlood)
2. Adrian Jackson (Non-Euskatel Orbea)
3. Garry Millburn (MAAP-Speedvagen)
1. JBlood for the hectic move around the outside of the berm. Sure previously Garry tried a little something something earlier on, undercutting a few riders and moving up, but shooting around the outside then straight up shutting the door was daaaaamn impressive.
2. Tom Chapman wiped out on lap one with a series of mechanicals along the back of the course that had him stop starting his way around to the pits like a spluttering mid 2000’s Williams. He jumped back on and finished in the top 10, stellar.
3. Final shoutout goes to Max. While he wasn’t the only one who did so, to drive interstate along the boring-as-fuck highway between Melbourne and Adelaide, to then back it up and put on a solid performance after shouting himself coarse throughout the earlier races, we certainly tip his hat, and direct a number of “Chapeaus!” his way.
Being unlike most other courses on the season calendar, Fields of Joy had us holding our breath on the possibility of JBlood being dethroned. We got the occasional break at state series races where he didn’t race, but at national level the man was unstoppable. Having seen the Squid women push Peta Mullens right to the very end we hoped that fellow human Squid Anthony Clark would throw up a rare demotion for Jongewaard.
Early moments in the race proved just that. Like his female teammates, Clark took to animating the race like he was the Thomas de Gendt of cyclocross. A front group of a handful of riders, the usual podium merchants of Australian CX joined him and they traded turns and shot off ahead. The berm was a particular place of interest as every single time, a range of differing lines would mean it would be 3 abreast on a metre or so of track. All without paying rego. A few close shaves sure, but this saw an exchange of leadership on a number of occasions before the inevitable kicked in.
We say that but at the same time we were left pleasantly surprised. Normally a picture of complete composure and sheer calmness, AJ was the one that instigated what would become a race defining move. Across the state he became known for his late, surging attacks, his super strong finishes powered by a surplus in KERS, and the masterful use of DRS that led him to becoming something of a sure bet. We knew that an attack was going to come, but while he wasn’t our number one pick to drop the hammer, we definitely didn’t expect it to come so early in the piece. In the end the only person that could maintain pace would be JBlood. And so we had a race on our hands.
The two familiar figures shot off the front without regard for the others. It would soon become a battle for the last podium places. But things were heating up a little further down the field. Unfortunately Ivan had called it quits at the bottom of the stairs, a section of the course which was catching out many. The unrelenting nature of such a lengthy lap took its toll on a number of riders, some boxing on their own accord, some being black or blue flagged, while some chose to keep a minimum pace and keep the legs turning over for the following day. Whichever option they took, the crowds were wowed all the while, as battles for places deep in the twenties and thirties hotted up.
Up front with just a few laps left, Jongewaard made his move, popping around to the more populous part of the course with a few bike lengths up his sleeve to AJ. And that was that. Just like we had seen all season long, and the one before that. Once he was out front that was it. Only this time he was down to give all his opponents a wave goodbye as he shot off into the sunset, and yet another emphatic win.
The finish line for the ACCSBCKPW – our weekly hump morning ride; Dolce Latte is a little slice of Italiaaaaa within our local neighbourhood. Our relationship is one built on mad strong coffee, a menu full of killer home-styled cooking, and occasional pre-dawn razzing from man at the helm Paul, all came about when we discovered our formerly beloved Rev (r.i.p) had changed hands. Rebranded to a clipart inspired ‘Espresso 155’ we immediately rose from the pews inside and departed, never to return. The following week would be our first visit to the recently opened Dolce Latte, and we’ve been coming back ever since.
To help celebrate the curtain call on a glorious 2017 National CX Series, we invited a collection of our closest friends, most of whom, despite their “Rival Status” are like family to our team. Venturing west of Melbourne’s Royal Parade can be a scary moment, especially if you’re well accustomed to the batch brews and/or magics of the inner east, but blessed by our hood’s proximity to Fields of Joy we were able to tempt a few friendly faces to come along for an hour of good times before heading off to the track for one final day of racing.
VIII: DAY TWO PIT CREW PLAYLIST
While the tunes of the previous day existed almost solely to build hype and get you as geed up as JPM’s v10 roaring around (the old) Hockenheim – the Sunday playlist was full of chilling hymns that were strategically paired to the impending weather. Rain and hail was forecast, so taking up refuge within the Soup Bæs tent to zen out was seen as the chosen method of pre-race preparation versus practice laps and recon in the questionable conditions. To help declutter the mind, Beatsmaster Okky put together an extended relaxation playlist based on the foundations of our Wednesday morning tunes. Transport yourself to another state, physically and spiritually.
IX: MID RACE TESTING
Ben was a late withdrawal after clutch (hand) issues from his stack the previous day, Brando making an appearance as his replacement in the support category. The pit crew worked tirelessly through the early morning to get him prepped, but it still took the divine intervention of Mr Pink himself to get Brandon to the start line, gifting us an extra minute or so to get race numbers and ankle transponders on. He hadn’t had time for a practice lap or proper recon, but since when do the Soup Bæs worry about stuff like that?
It didn’t seem to phase him through the early part of the first lap, with the grace and poise of a front runner who had been relegated due to a gearbox change he took a handful of places into the first corner, before under his breath, Adrian accidentally double jinxed him – cue a series of slips and slides on the way down to the bottom part of the course.
The hill, affectionately dubbed the ‘Deurne Bier Haus Dipper’ (by us & our Belgian plastic sponsor) was still relatively grassy as the support category hit it for the first time. Warm up laps had laid a little bit of rubber down, forging the fastest line for at least the first lap, for come round 2, the weather that had threatened all morning finally arrived from the south. Cue hail, shortly followed by running for cover.
Possibly the hardest course you would face outside of Mount Beauty was hit head on by Brandon, with the exception of the Dipper that sent eyes glazed over upon his first descent. Engaged in a fierce battle with The Sherbo and Howie kept the back end of the race truly entertaining, like a HRT/Caterham/Marussia late season battle for constructor supremacy. Up front old mate Cam was tapping out laps quick enough to hover around the podium, missing it thanks to a face full of hail impeding his ability to truly drop the watts when it came to the sprint. As for Ming, a highly relished final battle with Sexy Wes didn’t eventuate as he, or more so his canti’s succumbed to the muddy and grassy conditions.
Much like real life Grand Prix racing, many of the drivers start off developing their skills on the karts. Cyclocross isn’t that far from the same. Some kids supported by their mum, their dad or both, some going standalone in the quest for childhood glory. As the young cute teens of the bicycling world we were keeping an eye on the future generation; from young Aaron Ramsey in his Arsenal jersey to the future world star rocking the Giro air attack WITH VISOR. We’ve got years to prepare ourselves for their arrival in the senior ranks, but god will we be ready and capable? Probably not.
XI: FORMULA FORD
Over night, chief mechanics discovered that the cause of Adrian’s shortcomings was due to a “barely” screwed in right cleat – a close shave with the cyclocross equivalent of a Cool Runnings accident. Extra motivated after his extra strong caffé latte and 4th the previous day, he was aiming for the same, a podium spot as an added bonus. While the extra muddy conditions suited the typical racing style of a yung-country former mountain biker/crasher, they certainly didn’t suit his bike, both wheels coming to a standstill as he climbed out of the berm on his sole practice lap. A bit of a hose down with the Karcher had the bike ready to go for hopefully the full 45.
Unlike the previous day, there was no first corner pile up as the Masters & Expert categories busted out of the gates. A downpour early in the race watered down the mud, Adrian as the only rider with canti’s breathing a sigh of relief as any clearance related concerns could be put on the back burner for the time being. After a lap or so he was able to settle in 4th place, sitting comfortably behind 2nd and 3rd – Moustache Jules from Over Yonder way off the front with the win already in the bag.
Things got a little shakeup at half race distance when gale force winds rolled through the vast plain of Essendon Airport. As riders emerged from the hilly sector of the course, they were hit head on with such winds, Adrian being tipped back as if his bike was a spooked horse. Attempts to remount were futile as the wind kept blowing his bike away from him as he went to jump in the air. He would eventually jump aboard his steed once more, the fight for a spot on the podium back on.
“Tu sei il Predatorrrrrr!” Shouted Howie from the sidelines of the Deurne Bier Haus Dipper. It could have been this, or the long awaited, rather overdue shoutout from Lisa Jacobs on the mic that spurned Adrian to get back onto the back of 2nd and 3rd. The Dipper had transformed itself from a grassy slope to a sloped Hors Category cattle yard. Thick, balled up mud, the kind Ron would have loved was combined with plenty of lap traffic that dictated your line down the slippery slope. The preferred method by most would be a left leg unclipped, letting loose on the way down the sound of Act A Fool playing in your head, but most of the time, the result wouldn't be as skkrrrrrrrt as you’d hope as you rapped Ludacris’ bars on the way down. Kids beware.
Chanelling the spirit of a predator, Adrian moved himself up into a comfortable second despite the stop, drop & roll. With a lap and a half to go, wheels seized up as he went to remount, having to grind his way to forward propulsion – grass sticking to mud clogging both his wheels. Tarmac sections of the course were used for repetitive bunnyhops hoping to clear the bike of mud, one descent of the Dipper was all that stood in the way of our teams second piece of silverware for the season.
Stood in the way it did. This time Adrian’s wheels and crank were so caked with mud as he exited the Dipper that he had to dismount and spend a few minutes clearing tyres, brakes, cranks, everything. He was back in fourth by the time his bike way back moving, and thats where he would finish, nursing the bike back to the Soup Bæs tent for a much needed postmortem.
XII: RACE FUEL
With all the panning, the proning and the adjustment of apertures, it should come as no surprise that race photography is some serious hunger inducing business. And then you take into account the calorie deficit left by watching your friends smash it around the course for no less than 40 minutes, left with the responsibility of hurling abuse or constructive criticism whenever they come by. Fortunately the crew at Fields of Joy recognised this, and instead of connecting with BP or Shell, or trying to drop Agip a line via fax or snail mail, they got a highly considered and performance enhancing race fuel sponno. Even in small doses, the HSP (High Speed Phuel) distributed in polystyrene containers of warmth and supreme nutrition ensured spectators and photographers alike were well prepped once the whistle blew for race start.
XIII: LE MANS
A disappointing end to his race laid Adrian out for the next hour. The freezing cold fought off by the way of Race Phuel and warm crepes, a two-ing and fro-ing with hard weather conditions rolling in. By the time the sun re-appeared a visit to first aid had been undertaken, a return trackside was greeted with Stacey Lee Riedel pedalling down the Dipper in the drops. If we had our cameras so quickly at the ready we would have been able to supply photographic proof, for it was truly a sight to behold. Instead all we had was Peta & Renn taking care of their press conference responsibilities.
As for the men? Crowds gathered around Alby’s hairpins, the Dipper and the berm, the 3 complex’s that were proving to provide the most entertainment. Thanks to heavy use of intermediate tyres, a super fast dry line was blatant. The big dogs tipped it down with the grace and poise of a ballerina, slightly more comfortable than the rodeo-clown like attempts that went down during the early morning races.
It wasn’t too long into the race that JBlood and Garry Milburn shot off the front, leaving a handful of the usual suspects a few corners behind. The former wasn’t any signs of confusion, and while he had been pushed deeper into the race than we had seen for most of the season it certainly looked like a “much of the same” kind of deal. Whispers were heard of an attack 3 laps to go, that perhaps his choice of tyre compound would mean he had the upper hand hitting the bell lap. That turned to predicting an attack on the third lap, like problem gamblers or owners at the horse races, everyone propped binoculars to their faces to watch the leading pair battle it out along the lower slopes of the course, not wanting to miss the moment Blood would engage DRS and go on to take the win. 1 Lap to go. We were so sure of the result come the chequered flag that our attention turned to Ivan who was racing an absolute blinder, looking hella strong. The bell rang as both riders redlined it up the tarmac drag towards the dipper. DRS engaged they went to make the corner. In an absolute Romain Grosjean moment, Blood dropped it in the gutter. And that was that. We stood in mild shock and confusion. Milburn went on to take the win from the national champ, ending a Ferrari x Schumacher type reign of dominance over the last 2 years. But we didn’t get a photo of it, so did it really happen?