I’m more of a GC rider but I thought I’d try my hand at one of the legendary Spring Classics this autumn -The Melburn-Roobaix, Hell of the Northcote. As usual these days, I lugged around my 30kg helmet cam clearly endangering everyone around me looking like a complete idiot. However, it’s all in the name of the journalism and I don’t think it’s any coincidence that I’m still last to finish most races I enter – with or without the helmetcam.
Seeing as I’ve fast tracked myself to being a legitimate part of the news media, I now have the credentials to interview the champions of these big races. I sat down with the 2009 winner Leigh De Luca after he was rushed back to his swanky hotel on Brunswick Beach.
CT: Tell us in a few sentences how the Melburn-Roobaix works.
LD: I’ve described M-R as a bicycle scavengers hunt around melb CBD, with a cleverly planned out route to incorporate some great pavé lanes and climbs th at most of us would have never know of around Melbourne.
CT: How many times have you won the race?
LD: Twice now, 2007, 2009. But I think the whole “race” versus “ride” is just as fun. I’ve ridden all four M-R and everyone of them has been a blast. The diverse range of cycling backgrounds coming together makes M-R a super day out riding your bike.
CT: What do you attribute to your multiple successes in the Spring Classics such as the Melburn-Roobaix? Does it come down to experience? Tactics? Form? Sense of direction? GPS? What’s the secret?
LD: This year was the first time I’d ridden solo, every other year we’d had a strong team, with key members. A work horse that drove the pass, a map reader who sat second wheel giving directions, a clue reader keeping an eye out, and the clue getter who did the paperwork. Being without my team caused a changed of tactics. I rode hard to the first check point and was lucky meet up with the 2008 winner Matt and his crew. I knew I was in good company in the lead group, I offered to do the work on the front as my direction knowlegde wasn’t strong on that side of town. I tried to lift the pace in the closing km’s coming to the Col d’ugly just to keep the group of 4 togther.
CT: I saw at the start line you had quite the pimped out looking rig. What types of modifications did your team mechanics do to endure the cobbles, dirt sections, and broken beer bottles in back alleys of Hell?
LD: This year I rode a custom steel rig, but I have ridden a different bike in each addition of M-R. My bike is a custom frame I designed, all of the angles and tube lengths. But the super tight rear end with 405mm long chainstay helped over the pavé. New bar tape. Tyres where run at 130psi to prevent pinchflats, and hard is fast when it comes to tyre pressures.
CT: Traditionally this started out as a single speed event. Do you feel a bit like you cheated having the choice of 20 gears? Or are we using the honor system to trust you only rode your 53-11?
LD: Well back in 2007 when I won, I rode a singlespeed clutched ride with 89in gear. But now I’m old a slow, so I need the extra gears.
CT: What’s your technique to riding the treacherous pavé sections such as Col d’Ugly?
LD: I like to hit them hard and fast, carrying your momentum seems to be the key. You tend to bunch along the tops of them and not get caught in the gaps. And I’m not afraid to change direction and pick another line. Col d’Ugly is tough as you almost go from a standing start at the bottom, pick a smaller gear and stay on top of it.
CT: I caught a whiff of some pretty skanky weed being smoked down some of those cobbled back alleys by the fans and bums alike. Do you think the second hand fumes took the edge off and made you a bit more relaxed?
LD: I’ve never been a wacky tabaccy dude, I’ve always like the uppers not the downers. But a relaxed state over the cobbles could help reduce the fatigue in the closing stages
CT: Did you tear your knicks or get the family jewels caught while jumping the velodrome fence coming into the finish? Or were all your bits intact? I believe that’s fair game.
LD: I wore a pair of knicks under a skinsuit, double padding on the pave sectors! But the fence jumping was where the race was won and lost. Being taller that Matt helped me to scale the fence faster and get the jump on him, so I could snatch the vitory.
CT: How do you feel about your chances of passing the drug test? I saw you giving a urine sample in TC’s beer while he wasn’t looking.
LD: Drug test? what drug test? what are these drugs you speak of? I was just trying to cool off my nutz after a hard day on the bike, and TC’s beer was icey cold!
CTB: Can you give a few helpful TIPS to the next generation of hipsters aspiring to win?
LD: Reading the map is like cutting a piece of wood, measure twice cut once. So check your map, check your clues, cause time lost having to double back could be the different between winning and loosing. Every year I ridden M-R I’ve lernt something new, something that will help me the coming year.
We also caught up with Matt Bowen, the defending Champion of 2008 to get his take on the race. We found Matt laying near a dumpster on Col d’Ugly after punishing himself with hill repeats in early preparation for 2010.
CT: Tell us about your preparation coming into the race Matt.
MB: Preparation had been fairly low key in the weeks leading up to the event. It mainly consisted of countering the trash talking from some of the favourites. I’d also spend some quality time scoping out their hill repeats of Col ‘d Ugly while drinking coffee at the bottom. Carbohydrate loading is crucial on the morning of the event and I would recommend two pints of Pale Ale minimum before the 12pm kick off as essential preparation.
CT: How did things play out differently this year that kept you from defending your title? Was the pressure and high expectations a factor?
MB: You know when you’re a proven Suburban Spring Classic cobble expert like myself that there will always be pressure and high expectation for the win. Just look at Tom Boonen and what he faces when he races in his local neighbourhood, it’s just the same. In 2008 I made a solo break right from the gun. That year the race passed right through my neighbourhood, and everybody knows that we love our cobble lanes in Richmond so I feel that I had a bit of a home ground advantage. 2009, the race went west . . Some of the favourites had a good 5 minute lead off in group one and it was going to be a tough day to pull that in. By the time I’d reached Pave sector 2 I realised that I’d bridged into a select lead break including the 2007 winner Leigh De Luca and rising tattooed track star Brunswick’s Brendan Baily. This is where things began to play out differently to last year and I knew tactics would come in to play heading towards Col ‘d Ugly. I pulled up the entire climb and by the top I could feel the lactic acid streaming through my legs so I used the old ‘can I borrow your pen? trick’ at the top to pull the others up. In hindsight this was probably an error because I then ended up with Leigh right on my wheel for the entire last 3km lead into the velodrome. All I could hear from behind me was “I don’t know where I’m going, I’m from the outer southern suburbs!”, I realise now that this was just part of the race plan he’d probably been given by his DS because everybody knows he can get there.
CT: Your choice in equipment and clothing was vastly different between this year and last. Do you blame your defeat on the retro kit? Will we see you back in Liquigas lime green next year?
MB: I do believe that there was distinct aero disadvantage in the retro kit and baggy shorts. This can be blatantly seen in the replay of the lap of the velodrome, Leigh just takes off in his skin suit with only a minor adjustment to the left after the leap over the fence. It’ll be back in lycra next year for sure, weather I’ll get another gig with Liquigas remains to be seen.
CT: What will you do differently next year?
MB: Win it of course. Solo break seems to be a winning formula for me so maybe that will be on the cards. It does get harder year by year though cause I know people like Leigh and myself are well marked by the up and coming hipsters and their fluro 5 spoke wheels.
CT: How many beers did it take to drown your sorrows after the event?
MB: Plenty, it did get a little bit hazy by the end so who knows.
CT: Any tips for the kids aspiring to be a Spring Classics rider like yourself?