Every four years, I watch the Olympics, and every four years, I watch sports such as diving, swimming, and gymnastics, and question my life decisions.
It might be pro road cycling’s off-season, but the traditional Aussie summer thwack of leather on willow is now competing with the sounds of spinning freewheels and the insistent clacking of plastic cleats on cafe floors.
Yes, the sun is out, the tan lines are crisping up nicely, and Australia’s cycling community is putting a collective leg over like Errol Flynn in a…. hang on, just updating my cultural references… like Mick Jagger at a… no…. like a recent Tour de France winner on his honeymoon.
It’s Aussie bike-riding season!
Well, technically it’s always bike-riding season, what with the National Road Series (NRS) happening all winter, and all the state-based and club-based road races too. And it’s never a bad time to ride a bike, right?
But this time of year is extra sweet. The weather is warm but not yet boiling, the dive-bombing magpies are calming down a bit, and you can head out for a ride reasonably confident that you won’t get drenched. Every bike-owning human seems to out on the weekends, soaking up the atmosphere and comparing Strava times while they wait for their coffee order.
In Melbourne, where I live, there’s racing more days than there isn’t. You can race in the morning, at night, after work, on the weekend, on the road, on a velodrome, down a mountain, up a fire trail. You name it, and you can attack it with two wheels and a fistful of energy gels.
There are sportive rides, charity rides, mass-participation tours, hill climbs, coffee rides, gravel grinds, mountain bikers dodging snakes (that should be an Olympic sport now that I think about it) and the rest of it. It’s a great time to be riding in Australia.
And the professionals know it. It’s their off-season, which for the Aussies (and some adopted ones) means heading home for some time with family and friends, a bit of time off the bike, and then back into training in warm weather to start the build up to January, when Nationals and the Tour Down Under get the serious season underway.
It’s a great time of year to spot internationally famous riders catching up with old mates on the local roads, and dropping in to club races for a bit of fun.
Chris Froome is even heading to Tasmania to race a crit with Richie Porte on December 7. Froome has just gotten married, and he’s not a renowned crit rider, so don’t hold your breath for a massive performance from the former Tour de France champion, but still. How many times has a Tour winner raced in Australia, let alone in Launceston?
Richie deserves a medal from the Tassie Tourism Board for that little effort.
It all sort of starts this weekend in Melbourne with the Melbourne Kermesse Championships, where the local racers get a chance to have a go against some World Tour pros.
A kermesse (not the green, singing frog) is a Belgian-style of circuit racing, sort of like a bigger criterium. This circuit, around an industrial estate in suburban Scoresby, is not exactly the pinnacle of cycling’s natural beauty, but its sweeping curves should be fun to race on.
Orica-GreenDGE riders Simon Clarke and Mitch Docker are racing in men’s A grade, along with Giant-Shimano’s Koen de Kort, Trek’s Calvin Watson, Garmin-Sharp’s Steele Von Hoff, and leading rider agent (better known as Tour de France green jersey winner) Baden Cooke.
The rest of the men’s A grade field is a good blend of NRS riders and Melbourne’s fastest club racers. They’ll be bang up for it, too.
Women’s A grade is also peppered with internationals: Kimberley Wells, Road/MTB/Track star Peta Mullens, Rebecca Wiasak, Nationaltime trialchampion Felicity Wardlaw, and Bridie O’Donnell will be among the contenders.
There’s also a team time trial and lower grades, for the up-and-comers and weekend warriors (and even some hack bloggers).
If that’s not your cup of espresso, this weekend is also the beginning of the Domestique 7 Peaks series, which is a great series of free, supported rides up some of Victoria’s best mountains.
In a couple of weeks Orica-GreenEDGE has its annual Winery Ride, where fans can meet the team’s riders, another good chance to get motivated (and drink some wine afterwards).
That’s just a tiny taste of the bike-related good times going on around these parts. Good fun is really what this time of year is all about. Get on yer bikes, it’s a great way to see the gun riders up close and personal.
Check your local guides.