Cyclists are awesome

IMG_0940There’s other events to get you through a Melbourne winter but Melburn Roobaix sets the high mark. Every year it banishes a thin winter sun, uniting all the cycling tribes into a day of bikes, discovery and laughs ’til your cheeks hurt.

It’s probably hard to explain to non-locals. Even copying the mix probably wouldn’t produce Melburn Roobaix’s lovely vibe – a credit to fyxamatosis founder Andy White and his crew.

Sure, it’s a meandering treasure hunt across the burbs, linking cobbled laneways that tip a lufted cap to the famous pave sectors of namesake race Paris Roubaix. Australia’s first Paris Roubaix winner Stuart O’Grady was guest of honour one year, and 2016 winner Mat Hayman wasn’t forgotten.

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Fast women hit the streets

Loren Rowney and Kimberley Wells chasing Giorgia Bronzini's rainbows at 2015 bay crits

Loren Rowney and Kimberley Wells chasing rainbows at 2015 bay crits

The elite women kicked off 2015 with some hot racing in Victoria’s bay crits and national road titles ahead of the Santos Women’s Tour in Adelaide and the UCI season.

We’ve seen strong solo wins to Gracie Elvin and Peta Mullens at bay crits, a fourth time trial crown to Shara Gillow and the national crit title recaptured by Kimberley Wells. And that was before mountain biker Mullens outsprinted worlds silver medallist Rachel Neylan for the road race stripes. Talk about depth.

It’s a fitting start to the year after a breakthrough 2014, the highlight of which was La Course. We’d been told a women’s race at the Tour de France couldn’t be done but event owner ASO proved that the biggest obstacle was making the decision. While the abridged broadcast of the race on the Champs-Élysées trailed expectations, riders and fans loved it and both Marianne Vos and the new team at UCI chalked up a win.

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Do we vote for stupid?

Cars rule Albury

Cars rule: kerbs bar crossing roads by bike, pram and walking frame, even in the retail area. #Albury

Do we really get the governments we deserve? If true, we’re not looking too bright, based on the latest ideas from politicians about bikes and roads.

Leading from a font of ignorance of late, they’ve promised to get bikes off roads, suggested dangerous riding and confirmed a look at registration, while finding billions of dollars (during a ‘budget emergency’) for roads that will simply fill with cars. We’ve known for a long time that building roads to fix congestion doesn’t address the cause. Even Ford acknowledges this.

So the answer to more cars is simply not to have more roads. When America began moving west, we didn’t add more wagon trains, we built railroads. – Bill Ford, 2011 

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Dear bike lane designer …

#Albury bike lanesOne of the funniest websites around is Warrington Cycle Campaign’s Cycle Facility of the Month, an hilarious look at bike infrastructure that should never have left the drawing board.

Inspired by the laughs, I captured some of Melbourne’s efforts in 2008-2009 and while they’re not a match for Warrington’s, I’ve dropped in a few below.

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Cruising Melbourne street art

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Melbourne has been called the world’s most liveable city for the past four years, based on an annual ranking of services, stability, culture and infrastructure in 140 cities.

Topping the list matters to ‘brand Melbourne’ and local politicians facing State polls next month, but no-one else really cares.

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Summer of the sock

Spotlessly clean (but blindingly bright) kit headed for Lake Mountain last November

This guy was spotlessly clean (but blindingly white), headed for Lake Mountain last summer

September’s busy. Winter hibernation and grand tour sleep deprivation ends with the Vuelta, the northern cx season bursts into life and everyone’s training.

The more committed masters are peaking for Amy’s Gran Fondo in the hope of qualifying for the UCI Amateur Road World Championships. Even with 5000 starters it sells out fast and qualifying times are plummeting.

Huge numbers also spend September training for Around the Bay in a Day (ATB). Slated just after Ride2Work day in October, ATB put 14,000 bums on bikes last year and similar numbers are expected in 2014.

All this training and warm spring weather means legs are shedding warmers like snake skin. And after months lurking in the dank and gritty gloom of booties, socks are finally peeking out like daffodils to brighten the cycling day. Will it be a great summer for socks?

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Champs lead NCXS after Melbourne rounds

NCXS DDCX round 2 2014

Reigning national cyclocross champs Lisa Jacobs and Allan Iacuone lead the 2014 series after Melbourne’s opening rounds on 21-22 June.

Round one featured the Victorian championships at Cranwell Park, but the weekend wrapped up with the usual noise and laughs at Darebin Parklands on Sunday, hosted by Dirty Deeds CX.

Sunday’s course had little mud but plenty of slippery grass, climbing and big fields with over 320 riders.

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The tackinators

Melbourne is a great place to ride a bike – mild climate, agreeable topography (yes easties, we hear you), two international velodromes, a long and picturesque bayside training route, and mountains, rail trails and excellent mountain biking an hour in every direction.

IMAG1237-002There’s also imperfect shared paths but they’re welcome refuge from local drivers.

It’s the cycling tribes that really make it though – the mountain bikers, crossers, roadies, commuters, tourers, trackies, hipsters, shoppers, bmxers, path-dwellers, advocates and the kids getting to school. Many tick several boxes, ‘enthusiast’ above all.

I know people from all those tribes and I never cease to be amazed at their diversity and willingness to help others. They are professionals, creatives, IT (lots of IT), retail, tradies, bus drivers, media, mums, granddads, whatever. They do stuff. These are the people who build trails, fix your bike, run events, share knowledge, write about cool stuff (from their races to their sewing projects), help newbies buy a bike and answer questions at parties. They’re also the designated office ‘bike dude/dudette’, explaining the road rules and copping the complaints. Maybe your state has the same, but ours are awesome.

I was reminded of this as the tribes gathered last weekend at Brunswick velodrome – the local home of cyclocross – for another riotous display of skillz and laughter. And by a local forum thread on the ‘tacking’ of a popular and safe training route on the city fringe – Yarra Boulevard in Kew, aka ‘the bouli’. Here we have a 12 km undulating loop with parks, city views and no through-traffic. It’s generally hassle-free commuting and training.Cycling Melbourne

But since mid February, riders on the bouli have suffered hundreds of punctures, plus crashes, due to repeated drops of tacks and other objects. Beyond cyclists, it’s affected runners and dogs. It’s culpably stupid. There’s been some dodgy reporting and some good reporting.

Road authorities have swept the area a few times but the tacks return. Police have stepped up patrols but sporting body Cycling Victoria has taken the unusual step of hiring investigators. Whether that’s to pressure local police for more action, a vote of no confidence or simply a necessary outsourcing of resources to make it stop, I’m not sure.

But I am sure that the riding community’s response makes me really proud to share the roads with Melbourne cyclists. Three riders have built magnet arrays to trawl the bouli to remove tacks. The IT crowd is smashing old hard drives to source magnets for mega arrays. Riders are reporting tackings to VicRoads and Boroondara council to help target new hot spots. And many continue to ride the bouli in defiance of the tackers (but I understand others going elsewhere for the duration too).

It’s so heart-warming it might see me through another Melbourne winter. Thank you all.

Good Friday, #bestfriday

 

ddcx 2014 prologue, #bestfriday

Girls just wanna have fun …

Dirty Deeds Cyclocross turned Good Friday into #bestfriday with its annual twilight prologue to open the Melbourne cx season at Brunswick velodrome.

Early showers cleared for dry racing in the infield under lights, as hot laps gave way to kids and 10-lappers for the women and men, before the finale of three-lap giggles shootout handicapped by height. Love it.

There was food, laughs, great commentary, noise and coffee as the sun went down, but good racing too.

Amity McSwan dominated the women, seemingly faster every lap to finish clear of Phillipa Birch. Third was new Jayco VIS recruit Tessa Fabry, who had barely warmed down from topping the A grade podium at Hawthorn Cycling Club’s Good Friday crits (and recent top results in the National Road Series).

Men’s A was on from the gun, with crowd-sourced holeshot cash snatched by reigning UCI Cross Country Eliminator world champ Paul van der Ploeg – a #vanderholeshot! Vandy and national cyclocross champ Allan Iacuone diced for the lead for several laps until split by young Liam Jeffries.

Keep an ear out for victor van der Ploeg at the UCI World Cup in Cairns next week.

Pro results live on the night and now at metarace.

Hawthorn’s crits at the teardrop circuit in Kew was another first for Good Friday. All entry fees, and from what we hear most of the prize money, was donated to the Royal Children’s Hospital Good Friday Appeal. The crits scored a live cross in Channel 7’s annual appeal’s fundraising telethon. Nice work Hawthorn!

Good Friday has definitely turned into #bestfriday.

More pix here, by baudman.

Bronzini kick starts 2014

Bay crits 2014 women series podium

The GC champagne, with UCI vice president Tracey Gaudry (hiding right).

The excitement about women’s cycling was palpable at the finale of the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic – the bay crits – in Williamstown on Sunday.

It crystallised on the podium. First up, doing the honours was Commonwealth Games gold medallist and UCI vice president Tracey Gaudry.

Bay crits 2014 series podium

Bay crits 2014 series podium

She was handing the silverware to dual road world champion Giorgia Bronzini of Wiggle Honda Pro Cycling, while South Australians Nettie Edmondson (Orica-AIS) and Tiffany Cromwell (Specialized Securitor) rounded out the series podium. Bronzini’s teammate and national mountain bike champ Peta Mullens was sprint queen, and the women’s field was a record.

For both Bronzini and Wiggle Honda owner Rochelle Gilmore, there was added symmetry. Gilmore won the bay crits as rider in 2010 and 2011 so you could expect some pressure for a team win to kick-start 2014. She exceeded expectations.

And for Bronzini, her first appearance at the bay crits marked a happy return to Geelong where she sprinted to perfection in 2010 to take her first road world race title ahead of Marianne Vos. She did the same in 2011.

The bay crits have seen world class riders before – Robbie McEwen, Mark Renshaw, Kathy Watt, Kate Bates and Gilmore – but never a dual road race world champion like Bronzini with 70 road wins and another rainbow in the points race.

So she was the focus of surprisingly little media coverage in the first couple of days, perhaps reflecting awareness and coverage of a minority sport and women’s sport in general, plus the filtering of Euro-centric cycling through an English-speaking media. It’s hard to follow such riders if you don’t know they exist.

Happily, by the time Bronzini cracked the champagne in Williamstown the crowd seemed to appreciate her quality as a rider.

bay crits 2014 women

Bronzini in action in Geelong

Tracey Gaudry noted this year’s women’s field was the most international, as well as the biggest. “It just shows how strong women’s cycling is, it shows how important Australia is as a destination for women’s cycling and it shows the calibre of racing and competition that we’ve got.

“The Mitchelton bay series is the kick-start to the summer season for racing here in Australia and the good thing about it is it provides a stepping stone for up and coming riders and it keeps the experienced elite riders honest. It shows us in the early part of the year who’s actually taking the year seriously and it sets up our riders for competition for when they go overseas.

“And Giorgia is just a great example of an elite female athlete – a great personality, a wonderful level of commitment and a team that’s going from strength to strength,” Gaudry said.

Gilmore knows such early form in Geelong may cost Bronzini later in the season, but the Italian has been perfecting athletic performance for a long time.

She said, “My father brought me to a race for young girls and kids and he asked me if I want to try – for play, with the other kids – and I said yeah. I was a gymnast which was really disciplined. So I would like to change and go back to be a kid, no (laugh) – to try it for play. So I tried a bike and I was good from the start.”

She certainly was, taking junior national titles on road, track and mountain bike. “I won every single discipline in the bike, because (smiles) I like bikes.

“After (that) I must choose a max of two of them because the season is long and it is impossible to do everything as a professional. So I chose to stay on the track and the road, because I was competitive with my power and they are compatible. I need to do track for some sprints on the road and I need to do road for some efforts for sprint on the track.”

bay crits 2014 women

A massage for bay crits winner Giorgia Bronzini

With such broad skills and strength, you’d think cyclocross a possibility. So are we likely to see Bronzini in the mud?

“No, because I don’t like so much to run (laugh), so when I come off the bike it is really a problem for me. But maybe when I stop riding [as a pro] I might like to try triathlon cos I like being in sport, I like swimming, I like riding a bike. So maybe the run will be a problem, but just for fun maybe I’ll try it.”

Having juggled road and track she favours neither and values the variety, as well as the chance to tune her speed on the track during the road season.

Bronzini’s sprint has helped her own the points race – she topped the UCI world ranking three years running – but she notes changes in the past year.

“Before, girls were taking points in the sprint. Right now there’s more girls trying to take a lap, because more of the girls that do team pursuit and individual pursuit have come to the points race. So the race can be faster than before and you have no time for recovery, and the sprints are not really sprints, but just heightened speed. The average speeds are really high. For us at the worlds and world cup it’s around 48 km/h.”

Bronzini is optimistic about women’s pro cycling following the changes at UCI in 2013, noting the women’s peloton working together on important issues, and the increased professionalism of teams.

And it’s professionalism that was at the heart of her advice to aspiring pros. “To the younger girls I would say have a passion, but there’s no rush to become champ. My best results were aged 28. So try to be professional and follow the right course towards that.”

Tomorrow, a chat with Wiggle Honda’s Rochelle Gilmore.