I could not help but feel a degree of pride as I looked around at the group gathered at Warburton. Never before had I witnessed such an impressive group of elite cyclists. They had obviously spent an inordinate amount of time preparing for the big event. With their spectacular display of elaborate combovers, whitened teeth, polished calves, fake tan and seriously stretched yellow lycra, I could not help but have a flashback to bygone evenings spent watching “Dad’s Army” on TV.
Even old Crasher Lewis had somehow managed to secure an afternoon leave pass from his nursing home for the big occasion. He looked as excited as his did when he won his last National Title in 1932. Daryl kept reminding me that he had “taken the afternoon off work” and would lose 4 hours pay. I told him that the enjoyment of a ride was worth much more than the missing $12.00
Was it really only three short years ago when the Ghost Riders phenomenon was born? In that time I had taken a group of aging wannabees and molded them into a formidable unit, admired and respected throughout the sporting world. It seemed only fair and reasonable that I personally should take most of the credit for this remarkable transformation.
And what was the reason for this especially impressive turnout on a weekday? We had been told to expect a visit from a reporter from Bicycle Victoria. “I want to do a feature article on the Ghost Riders”, he explained to me over the phone last week. “All of Australia is clambering for information about the Warbies, and I would like to get the scoop”.
The only problem was that, after I had informed everyone about this VIP rider, he rang me again to postpone his ride till NEXT WEEK. It was too late for me to pass the word around, but it did have the fringe benefit of ensuring a good turnout of riders on a wonderful late Autumn day.
The ride had started on an exciting note with John Green (aka “Benedict”, aka “Eggs”) becoming the 21st rider entitled to wear the yellow jersey. He could not help smiling all the way to Warburton. It was also good to see Bob, back in the peloton again after his long “break”. With Hooters away in PNG we were able to make good time to Woori Yallock. At this point we found that Spanner Billson had already headed off, obviously aiming to open up a big lead on the rest of the group.
With the new sprint rules in place it was good to see that the peloton held together until (almost) the official start. Then with a roar of testosterone and flashing pedals it was on for old and older. Mal looked promising until he almost brought the whole peloton down with a spectacular accidental decleat with about 50 metres to go. This left the way for Lex to burst to the lead, Bob battled bravely with his joints creaking and crackling and I just managed to pass him on the line to gain 2nd place. Well done Lex. Another exciting bunch sprint.
As we enjoyed our coffee and ruminated over what might have been, the conversation turned to this coming Saturday’s ride to Reefton. With yet another fine day forecast, it was obvious that everyone is keen to get in another memorable ride. This Autumn certainly has blessed us with a succession of perfect days, but we all know that it cannot continue forever. Sooner or later the cold and rain must come, but in the meantime it would be a sin not to be on the bike.
The return sprint was another close affair, but this time Mal’s cleats held tight and he reached the line first. About 2 metres behind I again crossed in 2nd place. I guess that means I take out the prize for consistency at least.
By the time we got back to Woori Yallock it was obvious that Crasher Lewis was in real trouble. Apparently his hand had wobbled loose and was in some danger of falling off again. He begged for someone to drive him home and put him out of his misery. The rest of us could not help but think it would be better if someone just shot him instead and put his wife out of her misery.
A number of other riders also left us at Woori Yallock to ride back to Emerald, leaving a reduced peloton to make the final climb back to Mt Evelyn. As we passed through Wandin a friendly voice called out “Who are the Ghost Riders?” We stopped to chat to a likely looking fellow who had obviously been impressed by our legs (well Cheryl’s at least). We spent a few minutes recounting some of our adventures, as he listened open mouthed. I went on to tell him that, while many are called to be Ghost Riders, only a select few are ever chosen. The poor fellow looked disappointed, but we do need to maintain the mystique.
After the final section to Mt Evelyn, there was nothing else to do but discuss the afternoon’s ride, while we shivered in the rapidly dropping temperature. I only hope that we can look so impressive next week, when the reporter makes his appearance.