My interest in Australian cyclocross racing was piqued recently after my brother, who emigrated out there four years ago, posted some pictures of a local race on social media. The photographs in question showed him wearing long sleeves and three-quarter legs. “Surely not,” I queried. “You boast about the sunshine, and here you are looking as if you dressed for a December race in Brecon?” So I started asking questions about the scene in his part of Oz…
Give me a quick summary of your racing history.
I probably started in ’95. Used rigid steel mountain bike for the roughest ‘cross courses ever! These days the ‘cross courses are so manicured by comparison. I suppose the sport was in development and still needed to drag mountain bikers in, but there were lots of punctures, stuffed rear mechs and hangers, and I seem to remember a spate of collarbones.
Best results were 5th or 6th at Pontypool Park (I had a very good day!) and a third overall in that season. I did actually train semi-seriously that year, possibly 2004?
3 Peaks four or five times. Best time 4:01:18 with a very emotional finish when I realized I didn’t get a first class certificate. I had sprinted from the top of Pen-y-Ghent. Managed no punctures on the descent, and then went as hard as I could from the base of the mountain to the end. The time wasn’t helped by having far too much Black Sheep Ale the night before. Not sure if that would count as being doped these days?
How does Australian ‘cross compare to Welsh?
The ‘cross races here are split into Grades, which are essentially rider-chosen. At the last round there were 23 A Grade men, 5 A&B Grade Women, 37 B Grade men, 12 men and women in the ‘Come and Try’ grade, with 45 children.
A grades race for 45 minutes, B for 30, ‘Come and Try’ for 30, all at different times.
I have jumped into A grade this year, not expecting to do too well, but I realized last year that I wouldn’t come last, and would race for a ‘proper’ length of time. I haven’t won or come last, but also haven’t been lapped by the winners. I would like to think this is because of more consistent training, lighter body, etc. The boys that win are A grade road racers and Robbie McEwen is racing, having retired in 2012.
Brisbane and the surrounding areas do seem to have a fairly large recreational and competitive scene, probably comparable to South Wales. Weekend crits have respectable fields around 30 B grade, 20 A Grade. Charity rides, such as Brisbane to the Gold Coast can have a couple of thousand.
Is there any difference in kit or tactics?
No differences for racing. I have decided that I could get away with a semi slick rear for free speed, rather than the small knobbed Conti I have on the rear.
It is ‘cross, so straight to your aerobic limit and keep it pinned there until you cross the line. Some elbows out racing as the courses are very tight and twisty, but ‘cross as usual.
I am currently struggling with the speed of A grade start. They are too fast, so despite trying to improve my place on the start line I am still ending up toward the back and then fighting to get places back.
Finally, what about the weather? It’s not natural to be dusty, surely?
It took me about a year to become used to the variation in temperatures. When we first emigrated I struggled as soon as it hit thirty degrees, but after beasting myself through a couple of summers I can now ride, nearly happily, when it is hotter.
Rain is a problem. When it rains there is an immense amount of water in a very short period of time. For ‘cross races in our ‘usual’ venue of Albert Bishop Park, or the Nundah-drome, there is one creek crossing with about three feet of mud. In the run up to ‘cross races, I have been very excited when it is due to rain or thunder, but because the weather is so warm and dry any wetness in the land disappears very quickly.
It’s very difficult to not prefer to race in the sun, with the temperature in the mid-twenties, but it’s not as testing as some of the races we’ve done. For example, the race you did at Caerphilly mountain with horizontal race and mud for the entire lap. Can’t say I miss races like that too much, but if they happened here a bit more often…
Photographs by Nick Parker.