Before embarking on today’s ride I decided to look back in the extensive Warby archives to see what happened on this ride three years ago. It was fascinating to see that we spent the afternoon in mortal combat with a ferocious head wind, Hooters was being lambasted for his lack of cycling effort and Crasher Lewis skidded in the gravel and fell off his bike.
Since that fateful day, I was sure that we had made considerable progress. Our weekday peloton had grown from three to fifteen or so, Crasher Lewis is now so scared of the trail that he usually stays home surfing the Internet, and Hooters has shortened his rides so that he doesn’t get so tired. Personally I could never understand how riding about 2 km each week could over extend anyone’s capabilities.
As I got out of my car at Mt Evelyn the roar of the wind in the trees gave the first impression that history might be about to repeat itself. I was pleased to see that Gary was already waiting at the car park for the afternoon ride. We had also been promised that a group of flatlanders from Bendigo would be joining us for the day’s ride but a quick look about showed they were nowhere to be seen.
Gary and I rode up to the rotunda in search of the flatlanders, not knowing who we were really looking for, after all we had never seen that species on the trail before. I tried to picture what a true flatlander might look like and somehow the immortal words of Banjo Paterson kept ringing in my ears “Their eyes were dull, their heads were flat, they had no brains at all”. As we pulled up at Mt Evelyn a colourful looking chap with a bushy beard down to his waist came walking towards us. I was convinced we had either seen Mulga Bill or his cousin, but, since he did not have a bicycle we concluded that he probably wasn’t one of our flatland cyclists after all.
After a few minutes wait we were approached by a fellow who introduced himself as “Colin from the Country”. He had also brought along his mate Neil – a tall guy with not enough fat to grease a frypan. “We just have to get changed”, he explained. I wondered if he meant “get changed into real cyclists”, but bit my tongue and smiled. They plodded off and proceeded to execute the slowest change of clothes I had ever winessed. I guess things move slow in Bendigo. By 1.15 pm we were finally on our way back down the trail.
Back at our regular starting point there was quite a gathering of riders waiting for the start. With Legs, Cracker, Ben, Lex and Mal in their yellow jerseys it was quite an impressive sight. It was even more amazing to see old Crasher back on the trail, riding his Bismark. Talks of a Settlement Rd showdown had obviously had the desired effect.
It was also interesting to see a new coffee shop being opened at the car park, obviously just to cater for the needs of the Ghost Riders. I guess time will tell how well it goes.
Finally it was time to put the pedal to the metal and show our flatlanders what real riding is all about. We built up speed in an attempt to initiate our new friends into the rarified atmosphere of elite sportsmen. I was only hoping that Bob would not repeat his crash of three years ago and bring the Warbies into disrepute.
Once we broke through into more open ground Colin pointed across towards Warburton and stammered “W-w-what’s th-th-at ?” I had to explain that it was actually called a “hill” and that there would be much bigger ones where we were heading. He shook his head in disbelief and cycled on, marvelling at Peter’s legs on the bike in front of him. “If you ride up hills you too could grow legs like that”, I explained. “Why would anyone want them?” was his reply. I had to admit that he had a point.
Although the wind was still howling I was pleased to find that it was mostly coming in from the side and therefore was not as big a problem as I originally feared. At Woori Yallock we passed Hooters’ car but there was no sign of the man himself. He had obviously decided to get a 5 km start on his 6 km ride and had ridden ahead with Big Al.
The next major event was the Settlement Rd sprint. With the honour of the Warbies at stake the peloton turned onto the long straight section with a sense of purpose. The pace progressively increased as gears were selected and riders jockeyed for a favourable position in the pack. Ben took up the lead, closely followed by Flatlander Colin. I was trying to see if our flatlander friend was looking tired, but he seemed to have the challenge well in hand. The rest of the riders were closely bunched behind.
With about 400 m to go, Ben moved aside to let Col take the front. The atmosphere was electric as we all waited for someone to break prematurely, but even Mal was riding within the rules. I looked around to see where the others were, just as all hell broke loose. Colin rode off the front, opening an early break, but the sound of rushing wheels from behind indicated that Bob had also put down the foot. It was on for young and old (mostly old) as the yellow sign rapidly approached.
As we flashed over the finish line Bob was ahead by 5 metres, Lex and I were side by side and Colin held for 4th place. With that formality over with we could all relax for the remainder of the trip to Warburton. By the time we reached Milgrove the peloton had been swollen by Hooters, Roy, Big Al and a new rider called Jeremy. This gave us 13 riders for the final leg.
Since today’s ride marked the end of Big Al’s probationary period I had previously arranged with the bakery to have a banquet of sandwiches waiting for us. What a pleasant time we had in the warm sunshine chatting and enjoying the enormous platters of sandwiches. This is a much better alternative than filling ourselves with cream cakes and sausage rolls. The cost of the platter was $40 and we simply divided that cost up between the riders.
On the return ride we showed our flatlanders what El Capitan was all about. One look and their loins went to water, however Col did wobble his way to the top of Le Petit Capitan, so maybe there is hope for him after all. Jeremy also had a go, but obviously needs to get a few more km in his legs.
As is usual, the return ride was undertaken at a more sedate pace with the late afternoon sunshine providing conditions that were close to perfect. What a fantastic way to make friends and improve your health. Maybe Colin and Neil could begin a Bendigo chapter of the Ghost Riders (the “Bendy Ghost Riders”?), then we could meet for combined rides a couple of times each year.
The climb back up to Wandin started to stretch the remaining peloton and the exertion obviously exceeded Mal’s bike handling skills. As he turned back to speak to Colin he managed to lose control completely and execute an undignified and unsightly crash in the gravel. With blood streaming from his knee he brushed himself off and tried (like Mony Python) to convince us that it was “only a flesh wound”. With that formality finally over I could see that history really had repeated itself. Kind of spooky really.
Back at Mt Evelyn we bade farewell to our new flatlander friends and encouraged them to keep riding so that one day they could be almost up to our standards. It really had been fun to have visitors in our midst and I am looking forward to the day when we will actually achieve 20 riders on a mid week ride. All we need is for all our regular riders to turn up on the same day. Now that will be a day to remember.