OKKY TAKES ON RED HOOK BALLARAT
With the recent news that Red Hook wouldn’t be doing its thing across 2019, all those of the brakeless persuasion were thanking the higher powers for a new fixed gear addition to the calendar. Who knows what strings were pulled, but Cycling Australia had broken the seal on a maiden Fixed Gear National Championship, held on almost molten tarmac through the streets of Ballarat. Our resident Beatsmaster Okky jumped on an hour-long Vline to go race his bike on a morning where temperatures pushed the 40’s. All the words below are his, while our good friend Ben was trackside putting his camera through its absolute paces, his straight fire featured throughout.
“Ever since I was in High School I’ve always wanted to one day race a Red Hook Crit. Buying my very first fixed gear bike – a Kuppas, and watching all those alleycat races disperse into frantic lane splitting through chaotic streets was where it all started.
For a second there I thought mountain biking might steal my heart, but in next to no time I’d jumped back into the brakeless scene aboard my Avanti Pista.”
I: SETTING THE SCENE
The first time I’d ever seen Ballarat was the weekend we’d spent there for Cycling Australia, inadvertently celebrating my birthday on a whirlwind mission to preview the road nats. That weekend we were fortunate enough to take in the town, the area, and challenge ourselves around the respective circuits the pro’s would battle it out on in a matter of weeks.
Our trip wrapped up on a sleepy Sunday evening with the light of a beautiful sunset kissing central Ballarat. Dean, Don and myself, all dressed our most cooked threw down an unforgettable handful of laps through the middle of town.
Waking up on the 4th January, that moment was all I could think about…
The heat of what would be a typical early January day hadn’t quite kicked into gear just yet, and I’d be fortunate enough to escape it as I jumped aboard the train headed for Ballarat. My bike strapped up at the rear of the carriage, I let myself sink into gold class level comfort and zoned out to some tunes for a bit over an hour.
Disembarking the train would be followed by a quick pedal to the circuit in the centre of town. Only an hour had passed, but while my hour had been spent in air-conditioned comfort, outside things had been turned to fan forced. The heat was stifling and did my nerves absolutely no favours. I knew it wasn’t as big as some would think, but being part of something completely new in Australia was such an amazing feeling I was kicking myself.
I arrived in the middle of town as the Under 19 women were racing, spending time trying to escape direct sunlight, keep cool, and sussing out what the young, barnstorming Elizabeth Nuspan is throwing down on the road (answer: real heat and several championship medals).
T-Minus 60 minutes before race time:
I had a suss of the track, essentially shaped like a perfect chocolate bar. Heading up the home straight was a gentle if not draggy climb, a rapid descent on the way back down. When looking at the track I felt running a 52x18 might be a bit too spinny, so I made the change to a 16.
I was hanging with a friend who was a volunteer paramedic for the day. She gave me the wisest piece of advice she could have: “don’t crash” – but reassured me that even if I did, she would take good care of me.
At this point the temperature in the sun was a few degrees beyond 40, add probably ten once I was out on road. While the course isn’t necessarily a long one, with the heat and what was about to unfold, a casual 5 laps was all we could fit in before it was time to line up and go racing. Final checks and a last minute signing on the dotted line done, let it all begin.
IV: LET’S GO RACING
Harry, who started right in front of me, missed his clip in off the line. A few spins later he was set to go, but the pace of the first and second lap were so quick it immediately strung things out. Having done most of my racing at St Kilda and on the track, I was proper used to left hand turns at race pace, but adrenaline kicking in at the starting gun was enough to bring everything into focus.
3 Laps in and the race was falling apart. All morning the heat had claimed a number of riders, and our race, the first of its kind in the country was no exception. At the end of the 3rd lap I was sat in behind Nick and ready to put in work. We toiled hard for a lap or two, but then I noticed my heart rate hit 200bpm. Then it kind of stayed there for a while. It would drop back down for a second only to return an extra beat or two higher. It was time to pull the pin, I wasn’t in the mood to die out on the course.
I pulled up to the side of the course as the race counted down with 10 laps left to go. Hats off to those boys and girls able to make it to the very end – a true testament to the human body in all its strength, skill and stupidity.
Not wanting to have a violent wave of heatstroke like Adrian did during our last roadnats adventure, I stocked up on formulated fluids and took a slow cool down lap in the shade before parking up to watch the last lap from the fences.
Derek had led through for most of the race, his training obviously doing the boy wonders as he stuck it out with the main bunch right to the finish. Harry recovered from his moment at the start to take silver and Ray taking bronze – the hard work and training I’d seen the guys put in really paying off. It made me think that even with a DNF there’s always room for me to improve, and that I know I can get better.
Which brings me to the man on the top step – Hal. Our new, and first Red Hook National Champion.
Ever since meeting Hal I’ve always been a little intimidated by him, and he’s someone whom I have the utmost respect for. To me he is a local idol, someone I can look up to when it comes to my own cycling goals and dreams. I’m not one to know much about the history of cycling, but I’ve seen the Hunter Bros cycling journey, if I could hone the skills they’ve learnt along the way, and share them in the same way they’ve done to me, things would prosper. Oh boy would they prosper.
V: THE COME DOWN
As I got aboard my train home to Melbourne it was a chance to reflect on being part of my first National Championship race. It wasn’t a win and I didn’t finish, but sometimes it all starts with giving it a red hot go and having fun.
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I’m so grateful for the Soup Boys fam who have been a great support through the rough times, helping me discover the best version of myself. Same goes for my family back in Perth, and my new friends here in Melbourne.
Cycling Australia and Victoria have really championed the movement for Fixed Gear Criteriums here in Australia, and on a brand front, nobody is doing more than the Hunter Bros in giving this exhilarating kind of racing the spotlight it deserves here. I’m sure, and I hope that this won’t be the last.
My last shoutout goes to someone I really appreciate calling a friend, someone who will always help with no hesitation, and someone who will always make you smile and laugh, even if he’s never seen \m/ smiling or laughing \m/: Ben Lehner. He’s been a great influence of the track bike for me, and will always have the best intentions for you. On top of that he really inspires me to get behind the camera with all the incredible fire shot through the lens, just like the ones in this story. Cannot thank you enough friend.
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For now, the rest of 2019 will be a huge year for me, training and focusing on both Track and Crits. Win, lose, DNF, I know that giving it a go and having a bit of fun will make me a way better rider. If there was anything I could share with people it’s that if you love doing something, go out and own it. Don’t lose that passion and fun that you have with it. Take it, make it grow, and who knows where it could take you.