THE SOUP BOYS ULTIMATE GUIDE TO #ROADNATS
Flashback Friday to about a month ago, and in the midst of exams, planning our schoolies trip and contemplating what Short Stop donut we wanted that afternoon an email reared its little head inside the Soup Boys inbox. A golden ticket – fitting considering it queried whether or not we would be up for an adventure in the heart of the Victorian Goldfields. Its sender, Cycling Australia. The overall mission; explore Ballarat, smash the #roadnats courses, and try not to reveal too many secrets as to how we were going to win the green and gold bands come January 8th. Simple in theory sure, but weekends with the Soup Boys are never simple.
I: WEEKEND SQUAD
Such a crackpot mission requires an equally crack...pot...team, or squad. Chosen for their bravery, and availability – six members of the Soup Boys would head to the goldfields for a weekend of mischief and awe. Little did they (we) know that their resilience would be tested to the maximum. Looking into each of their eyes you can almost see that deep down they knew. Despite this, decked out in their limited run, special edition Soup Boys shirts (coming soon), each performed their role with ease and honour.
SQUAD (L-R): Don (Weekend Sprinteur), Riche Didge (Instagram Story Lead), Okky (beats distributor), Harry (Directeur Sportif), Dean (Sartorial Poster Boy), Adrian (Crash Test Dummy).
To get us from A (Soup Boys HQ) to B (Ballarat) – we commandeered two suitable vehicles for the weekend. On the left was a Graeme Obree spec Cycling Australia company car, sans roof racks for ultimate aerodynamics along the Western Freeway. And on the right, the newest addition to the motorised stables of the Soup Boys, Harry's new 1987 Toyota Landcruiser in ultimate Japanese spec. Fulfilling different roles, both would provide us with the much required support over the course of the weekend.
II: PLAYLIST TO INSPIRE A NATIONAL CHAMPION
Mixed by Okky in the darkest corner of a Ballarat Rd 7Eleven all while store clerk Tarek tried to kick us all out despite filling the stores coffers, a playlist to inspire a national champion includes various tracks that may not offer inspiring lyrics, or an uplifting tempo. But what they do provide is the perfect accompaniment to your national champs winning afterparty, which should be enough to motivate you across the line in first place.
III: THE FIRST LAST SUPPER
Driving into Ballarat by the clear skies of a late November evening, we stepped out of Hazza's raw Japanese '87 Landcruiser and the Graeme OBree spec Cycling Australia company car. The home of Australia's #roadnats is so electric that you can always taste something in the air on arrival – in this case a waft of aromatic hot sauce, and the allure of potential carb loading via any European's favourite; fresh baked dough.
Following our noses, we glided into The Forge for what would become a pizzathon of sorts. The establishment's provision of an open-plan kitchen serves you an immediate appetizer. Ordering becomes easy inside as an amplified hunger encourages your suddenly erratic gaze to order more swiftly from the menu. Our quickly triggered senses seemed to expedite the deciding process with the flock of waiters, as a great hunger prefers to bypass the rigour of a more critical selection. Your senses may just propel you to verbalise the first reasonable thing seen listed. Only once satiated did we realise that we had been seated at a table reminiscent of The Last Supper. We had shared a divine body of dough in abundance and so the next step traditionally was to nurture a goblet of red in ceremonially blessing our position there that Shabbos toward the national event ahead.
Having aroused a great thirst in somewhat Messianic light, the Hop Temple can be found down a lane just a few cobbles away – no need to clip-in, no absolute-Roubaix. It's so close that you'll have your carb loading to burn on banter, but ordering at this place is much harder than the dinner spot. Fortunately you'll be in no rush feeling so well fed on the classics like that orange themed Renaissance namesake, it's time to tuck in those elbows and cut for the bar like a sauced up hero in a halfshell. By streamlining a train through the madness, we didn't mind the draught there, but who does when your mate at the front cops the total? While visiting a brewery, some taste in shot glasses. However, to taste as Soup Boys is to taste in Schooners (yes, by the idea of a boat no less!). With a hop outside into the beer garden, we were clearly out of our depth as burly locals asked us if we too had seen the salvageable copper down the street on the way in. With no immediate need to strip-and-smelt salvaged metals that night, we laughed it of – as if we too had actually considered smelting down a shoe box of old tv cables. We had wondered if their urgency to discuss this opportunistic topic perhaps tarnished the value of their opinion to identify a respectable breakfast spot, but like any good miner; they had a hack at it while we hoped for gold. Like anyone we enjoy a challenge, and so with our gas canaries upright we concluded the evening with a Tonight-Show style send off that required the boom of a town crier to be audible among the hustle of a popular brewery on a Friday night. Harry and Riche saluted our subscribers into the weekend of live coverage ahead; admiring the place on the way out while considering the how's and why's of it all. It's well known that the gold rush gilded Victorian regional perspectives in planning the development of country living, but why is everyone upstairs?
IV: BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS UNO
You could call it tentative, but we arrived at Europa Café on the main street of Ballarat late out of bed and hella bleary eyed. The densest carrot cakes with icing to match, a huge round of caffé latte's and OJ's were ordered, and discussion entered into with local classic car enthusiasts and their canine companions. Not only did we admire the café's shop kit adorning many other cyclists sitting out in the sun on this pleasant Saturday morning, but the breakfast was a perfect start to the day. Goes to show that you shouldn't always take the word of a kid vaping in a beer garden as gospel.
V: THE "EASY" DAY
We preface this chapter, this first day of riding with the following advice. Instead of leaving a ride route up to Adrian to plan out, head to any of the following local bicycle stores in Ballarat who no doubt will be more than happy to offer their recommended roads northbound to either Creswick or Daylesford (if you're feeling fit).
Now for the riding part. With a speaker sitting pretty in the second bidon cage of Okky's Cervelo S3, we made our way out of town via a lap around the beautiful surrounds of Lake Wendouree. Only that Adrian decided to bin it a few minutes later. Cue hour long recovery break while he came back to his senses and patched himself up outside a local Chemist Warehouse. Fortunately for him, he managed to avoid getting blood on his new #sockdoping sponno socks, at least through his struggles he manages to keep brands somewhat happy. He also had the courtesy to hit the deck in a rather picturesque locale, allowing us to take in the sights and sounds.
Back on the move! Continuing on around our half-lap of Lake Wendouree we made our way straight up north out of Ballarat, past the city limits indicated by the Western Freeway which borders the town. Finally out on some country roads it was a chance to stretch the legs in either a sprint, or grind up a rather tough false flat, dabs shared at the top as Panda rang around the hills thanks to Okky.
A few more country laneways later and it was time to wave goodbye to our fearless DS Harry, as the road turned into something too tough even for the Graeme Obree spec Subaru Outback. Ironic considering it is named after one of our lands harshest terrains. Having stocked up on water and food(s), we edged into the forest with trepidation – not quite knowing what lay ahead. Again take this opportunity to revise upon the list of bicycle stores at the beginning of this chapter, as shit is about to go hella south.
We would eventually stumble upon a large opening in the middle of what is formally known as the Creswick State Forest, but what we referred to as the Dank Moonscape. Out on the surface the sun beat down as we snaked our way down rocky service roads that were more fit for mountain bikes let alone road bikes, Dean with his 32t big dog and 28c tyres nearly succumbing to the surfaces. A few almost wrong turns later and currently sitting in the middle of said Dank Moonscape, we suffered our first puncture. What followed can only be described as the “bringing of the rains” as Don and Okky went blow for blow to see who could chew through their spares the quickest. Sitting pretty in the shade with his supple 28c tyres was Dean, Riche remained in high spirits and Adrian tentatively looked forward to the rest of the day having experienced 4 punctures in an hour two days earlier, we waited for our DS to participate in a Rally Special Stage and rescue us from our rather troubling predicament.
Country Town Gun Show Intermission One. A Directeur Sportif’s job is only to deliver the spares, not fit them. Therefore as Okky and Don replaced their shredded tubes, Harry obliged the local forest creepers with an ensemble of poses in the beaming sunlight.
With everything sorted it was back on the beaten track. Adrian, Dean and Riche had shot off ahead through nothing but hope of not bonking, but the former had punctured upon arriving back at tarmac. The former two rolled down the Midland Highway into Creswick sitting on close to 6kmph average pace for the day so far.
A town of just over 3000 people, Creswick is just under 20km north of Ballarat, not that we would know because it took us 3 hours by bike. Amongst the quaint old buildings, water park looking thing by the skate park and the closed pharmacy Adrian so longed for as he aimed to change wound dressings sits Le Peche Gourmand – an authentic French Bakery (Boulangerie e Patisserie). We opted for the European setting as a way to unwind from the utter shitstorm we left behind on the Dank Moonscape. In dappled light we sipped the sweet steely Perrier and enjoyed a number of french pastries and sandwiches made with local ingredients.
With our bellies at least somewhat filled, life would be somewhat easier with a tarmac roll back to Ballarat, albeit we would be a few riders lighter. Okky and Don in the team car were soon replaced by horses as they seemed the perfect replacement – no chance of punctures, significantly more stamina.
VI: THE 2016 ARCHIBALD PRIZE
Our late afternoon activities involved a visit to the Art Gallery of Ballarat to check out the 2016 Archibald Prize touring show. The wonderfully air-conditioned comfort of the gallery had us paying deep homage to the space as we had barely enough time to let the sunburn and dust settle on our weary bodies. With a number of us having studied art to some degree at university, there was a deep appreciation for the works on show, however not something reflected in our own portraiture works which we feel might be a few years away from Archibald standard. Shall we aim for 2020?
The last to leave due to lengthy discussion with gallery workers, and debate over our favourite works, we placed our votes at the exit before re-emerging in the cruel harsh sun.
After seeking out the nearest bit of shade, and ascertaining some local info as to a decent burger spot (we were hankering for some disgustingness) the formal recovery process from the days riding officially began. The decent burger spot (Grill’d) was completely abandoned once we realised how far away it was (too close to drive but WAY too far to walk) so instead we gravitated towards a more pressing matter; getting Don and Okky back on the road for tomorrow. Fortunately a local bicycle store (Cyclescape) owner wasn’t too freaked out by us tapping on the glass doors of his store after hours – and following a brief store tour, helped us out with some fresh gels, tubes and other parts. His parting wisdom was an insight into how the front doors of the new Trek Madone’s work #aero. He has been officially bestowed into the Soup Boys Hall of Fame (not that there is one…yet) as without him we would have been “without a paddle” the following day.
Dean Jones master extraordinaire of the burger ideas suggested we hit up another place halfway between where we were (dead centre of Ballarat) and the Botanic Gardens (where we would end up anyway. The Burger Company. Urbanspoon (we’re not calling it Zomato) photos showcased the disgustingness we were after following a fun but rather frustrating day of bicycles. Like some kind of intense German production line, the place managed to pump out a whole stack of burgers, sides and drinks in quick succession, handy as we were starting to stick out among the more formally dressed Ballarat Cup patrons filtering through the doors.
Sitting down on park bench or luscious, pillow-like grass we indulged ourselves with food wrapped in brown paper, housed in garish red and yellow boxes. The right sized burger combined with the perfect amount of dipping sauce with our fries left us drifting in and out of napping on said lawn. When we had the courage to rise, dinner was walked off by following the winding paths (made with freshly imported clay from Roland Garros) of the Ballarat Botanic Gardens. Recovery process complete.
VIII: BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS DUE
Breakfast of Champions on Sunday came in 2 parts – firstly because we were still trying to make up the hella calorie deficit of the previous day, but secondly and more importantly it was Okky’s birthday. Fourth time lucky Riche managed to not blow the candles out before presentation, with everyone taking a slice to provide the energy for the 1km or so trip into the centre of town.
The second, and slightly more nutritious installment of Breakfast of Champions took place at “The Unicorn” – a quirky kind of joint that had been rather accurately described by aforementioned BeerGardenVaper6969 (“it’s a cafe but it just looks like a pub”). Yeah. Chia porridge, waffles (we did say more nutritious) and rounds of caffé latte’s were enjoyed with canine friends, and Okky and Adrian’s unexpected work colleagues. Over breakfast Harry offered a sneak peek of future team car goals, through nothing but the kindness of his own heart, and as a way to motivate us through the rest of the day.
IX: SOUTH BOUND
Considering the previous day was bookmarked as a shoe in for the “easy day” nobody knew what Sunday would involve, other than it required us to head southbound to Buninyong, the historical home of the modern day Australian #roadnats. Once Riche had successfully gathered his thoughts of a European getaway – the remaining Soup Boys, Adrian scratching himself from the days action #tothefallen – attempted to form a moving human pyramid along the main street of town. After several unsuccessful attempts, a hard line was made south via the Wallaby Bike Track for riders, Geelong Rd for those in the team car. Single track and skids ripped, the bike path eventually opened up onto a wonderfully quiet country road, before a brief venture onto the Midland Highway brought us into Buninyong right at the start line of the road race course. A casual 15km had taken us a few hours thanks to a minor distraction at the half way point, but we promise there was a perfectly good reason for that this time.
X: XTREME BREAK
You could hear the music echoing throughout Sebastopol from the bike path below, and soon the Soup Boys emerged onto the Marty Busch Velodrome to join a local track cyclist warming down from a hectic motorpacing session. Skids we're ripped and hair left to flow as warm ups for the evening Corner Like Casey Stoner clinic took place in such an idyllic setting for track cycling (not pictured: the sounds of the rifle club holding a meet(?) event(?) shoot out(?) next door).
The BMX pump track next door was so extreme, Don was pretty pissed no Red Bulls were supplied on entry. What was supplied however, was a good stack about 30 seconds after walking through the gate. Turned out he wasn’t quite the Matt Hoffman he thought he used to be as a fearless 11-year old. Luckily, a jersey pocket full of gels that exploded (fortunate because GU Gels are rather "shit" and "thicc") all over his back & right arm provided a soft landing. Post stack he was just too chicken to try anything crazy, any further activity involving coasting down the ramp, holding down rear breaks and rolling over the first jump. The entire track was this awesome roller coaster, that if you weren’t scared to death by horrendous crashbacks, you’d feel like you were flying most of the time – the track just wanted to send you upwards.
Total time airborne: about 7 seconds of a possible 20-30 minute sesh on the track (still super fun if you don't get air).
The track took 2 more casualties. The pro looking dude who stacked it right on the dent Don's body left on the track and the left pedal of his road bike when a last minute rescue mission took place as he went back to the track to grab remaining, unexploded gels. Cool thing is, he bought the BMX so it's probably going to feature many more times. Keep track of progress on our soon to be released app.
XI: ACTUAL #ROADNATS
Following a lunch at the Buninyong Bakehouse it was time to get to work proper, and immediately Riche set a cracking pace up the Midland Highway to the turn off to Mt Buninyong Road. This incredible turn of speed meant he was able to put into practice a technique we have been devising through months of research into suitable feed zone hand up practices – having settled on Jelly Slice. The tactic is quite simple, as your competitors are reaching for musettes filled to the brim with food (often fidgety) you are left with a clear mind, no other thought than to grab the slice with a complete bear claw, scoff that thing down and let it guide you to the KOM marker. One must repeat this refined technique every lap (so you'll need a bit of a stomach) and only then would you be all powerful, and worthy of finding yourself in the position to take home the national champs.
For those that don’t know the Buninyong Road Race course, it is a loop that runs a shade over 10km, punctuated by a half ascent of Mt Buninyong. Sure looking at it on paper, or while on the bike it may seem like something of a false flat – the men’s race covers around 3000 vertical metres so it is sure to put a solid sting in your legs. Once past the enviable gate game halfway up you reach the crest of the KOM, but not of the mountain. To re-create the absolutely electrifying atmosphere of the day itself, Adrian and Harry screamed at the riders as they came by, alternatively they could have just showed them our coverage of the 2016 running of the event.
Dean took the KOM and lead everyone straight, when we were meant to go left. Fortunately these are the kinds of things that are allowed in recon’s or “previews of how we’re gonna win the thing’s” so we let it slide, and how glad we were. Creeping up past a few more rural properties and you were immediately surrounded by forestry that not only didn’t remind you of the Dank Moonscape, but harked back to the first half of climbing Mt Buffalo, only on a single lane road. Having claimed the KOM we awarded him the prize of a free lookbook shoot, thus we present @deancycle 4 ways. Faux pain face, sleepy babby, views from the 6 thousand likes on his most recent pic, and burning rubber.
Country Town Gun Show Intermission Two. This time atop the tower of Mt Buninyong (which offers jawdroppingly splendid views), so that all the residents of Goldfields country could marvel in the newly discovered jewel that was our Directeur Sportif’s week off bod.
A brief descent was enjoyed before take two of the #roadnats course was executed. This time Dean did lead us left instead of straight, and the joy-inducing rollercoaster ride that is the back end of the course so often missed by live spectators and those watching from home was thoroughly enjoyed. Flowing sections of road were broken up by opportunities to drop the left knee in and hammer out of the exits, each left hand turn at varying intersections easily identified by the green and gold signs.
We parked up in the middle of town once more as each rider practiced a selection of bunchies, and solo bunchies to ensure that they have all bases covered come actual race day. It was Don in the absence of our out and out sprinter Alex who took line honours in a bunch sprint for the chalk line, Okky close behind and Dean rounding out the podium. It was only as riders refreshed themselves in the shade of the local servo did Riche roll up, taking the mechanical count to a whole new level courtesy of a few broken and/or missing spokes from both wheels. In the team car his bike went, and just like that we were down to 3. Who could have imagined such a weekend of attrition?
XII: A COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS OF LOCAL BAKERIES
While we were out on 2 wheels crashing, burning calories, riding bikes and shit, we left it up to our ever fearless Directeur Sportif Harry to run a comparative analysis of local vanilla slice fare. Taking an extended break from not only his strict DS regime (hella big lifts) he indulged in the forbidden fruits of local bakeries – including the 2015 winner of the nations best Vanilla Slice.
As the boys rolled out still high in spirits, fresh in legs, I decided to make my first stop in drive through style at the Golden Nugget Bakery. Famed for having Australia's finest Vanilla Slice, reputation was on the line, and expectations were high. The slice looked traditional af to a tee with good proportions, a deep yellow, solid custard, with icing replacing dusted icing sugar on top. Upon first heaped mouthful, I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the slice. If looks alone were to go by, the Golden Nugget slice could be picked apart from any other bakeries best efforts, but the pastry at both top and bottom were a good thicc-ness, the custard was traditional and tasty, and the icing on top was...the icing on top. It was well constructed, and maintained structural integrity down to the last bite, truly a faultless vanilla slice. The gourmand deep inside was left slightly unsatisfied by the traditional style of the Golden Nuggy, but it has to be remembered that there must be continuity when judging such fine baked goods.
A crash, more than a handful of punctures, and a Rally special stage later I found myself at the Creswick Country Bakery. Supposed winners of Australia's best pie, that should have been my choice because the vanilla slice gave me instant appreciation of the Golden Nuggets efforts. Another largely traditional example, this Vanilla Slice distinctly lacked in the areas of icing and structural integrity. Overall it was certainly a tasty slice, and just what a growing Directeur Sportif needs to refuel halfway through a long day of forestry and flat tyres, but following a national champion was always going to be a little hard.
The third slice of the weekend came from the Buninyong Bakehouse. Sitting pretty in the cabinet next to the feed-zone-hand-up Jelly variety, the Vanilla Slice looked much like the Creswick Bakery slice from the day before. A lid sans icing, thicc layers of pastry sandwiching a rich yellow slab of custard. Overall this was the third best of the three example tried and tested over the weekend. The freshness of the custard in particular let down this slice, albeit we had arrived rather late in the day.
The Golden Nugget Bakery - 8.5/10
Creswick Country Bakery - 7.5/10
Buninyong Bakehouse - 6.5/10
While no qualified pastry chef, as a growing boy I have chosen to provide a few tips to give prospective purveyors of slice goods:
1. Icing is good. You can't go wrong with icing, especially if it means thinner pastry on top of the slice.
2. Custard needs to be fresh and flavoursome (think crunchy beads of fresh vanilla throughout a satin smooth slab of whipped custard creme you know).
3. The job of the pastry on both top and bottom needs to be more critically considered in most cases. The slice, being a hand food, needs to both stay together when being held, but also come apart easily when a bite is taken without squashing the contents out the sides. It is all about the sweet spot. This is an area where icing on top is a skrong choice, and most bakeries fail in the bottom layer of the pastry.
XIII: WINDOWS XP TT COURSE
From the start/finish line in Buninyong, you would turn left at the round about in the centre of town to continue on the journey towards Jelly Slice, victory and the road race course. But for the Time Trial, also known as the race against the clock, or the race of truth, you would head straight on, bunnyhopping curbs optional.
Instead of providing you with a complete play by play of how the course is, or at least seems to be. What we will recommend doing is taking Don’s lead and combining it with another secret, research based winning method we have discovered. Once you have left official town limits, pop the track listed below onto either a speaker dock or Apple AirPods and stomp away.
With each slight bend in the road we were rewarded with incredible Windows XP views, more sheep than Ben Lehner could possibly pat in a single afternoon, and some smooth roads offering the perfect place to analyse the Soup Boys Time Trial Positions. With annotations from Riche, we want to make sure that our riding style gets Phil Liggett’s official tick of approval should we ever even consider racing a national time trial championship.
Reaching the turn around point we were greeted with a green energy, Signs (2002 film) vibing paddock. Riche chose to channel the positive energies emanating from the area before we turned back for home (the finish line) at the Mount Mercer Road, stopping only for celebratory San Pel showers, and to marvel in Goldfingers Kentucky Stud Farm (cue title track).
XIV: GOLD DIGGER
We ended our afternoon with a journey back in time to Sovereign Hill, an authentic view into the OG Ballarat lifestyle. Changes of clothes were made in the carpark (we were discreet don’t worry) as we donned our best nug finding wear. We would come up short finding gold, but naturally Harry struck up some hella riches in the beautiful sluiced waters of the creek.
To cool us of our sunburns and still pulsating quads, we ventured underground on the Red Hill Mine Tour, probably ruining what was going to be the mine tour of the year for a small group of rival young teens. Down below the surface of the earth, where it cooled to rather comfortable temperatures, we began planning out potential future raves in the space, before being rudely interrupted by Tupac and some of his period correct holographic mates. They told the story of Ballarat’s famed Welcome Nug, a rich, dense piece of gold weighing in at a too-good-to-script sixty-nine (69) kilograms. Before too long our 12 minutes of underground raving was done, and we were forced to endure the harsh rays of the setting sun once more, exploring the remainder of The Hill all to ourselves, often referencing recent thorn in our side TV series Westworld.
Across from the carpark was the Ballarat Gold Museum, housed in arguably the building of the weekend, one fitting of a Bond Villain (not to take away from the Kentucky Stud Farm). Inside told a more academic story of the goldfields region, and called itself home to a series of smaller, cuter nugs, and numerous gold apparatus that gave us certain ideas for next level decorating Soup Boys HQ.
XV: GRAND DESIGNS BALLARAT
A town with the rich history of Ballarat means that there are an absolute array of wonderful architectural works, both residential and commercial. While the best remained unphotographed as to keep them secret from both Kevin McCloud and/or Scotty Cam from rapping on the doors of such properties, here is a small selection of properties that caught our eye during our zig zagging back and forth around town.
XVI: A TWILIGHT #CORNERLIKECASEYSTONER CLINIC
Our weekend in Ballarat finished with a divine religious experience at the local all-you-can-eat Pizza Hut (desperately needed) and one last round of entertainment for the local residents, now hardcore fans of the Soup Boys. Six of us traveled out to Ballarat, but only three remained aboard their trusty steeds come Sunday’s end – a burl around the National Criterium Championships course in fancy dress creating a poignant finale to our wonderful adventure. In regard to the course it was rather simple, start and finish at the pub of which Harry entertained with a few more select poses, #cornerlikecaseystoner to the right just past the church, smash it back down the hill and repeat the previous step at the Town Hall. Finish the lap with a solid climb to the finish, but be sure to keep it 53 to 11. We’re not going to be winning the crit champs any time soon, unless Caleb Ewan is reading this right now and has been waiting for us to pop the question (do you wanna?) But thanks to it being dusk on a Sunday, and Ballarat being a regional city, we basically had a full road closure by default, still managing to draw crowds on a sleepy Sunday evening. And so closed our weekend long adventure. Ballarat, we will see you again soon.