A tell-tale sign that summer is approaching is that the Aussie pros are back from Europe and there’s an intangible buzz on the road with everyone talking about who they saw while out riding or at the cafe. For me, another sign of the start of summer is that the weekend riding getaways begin picking up. It seems that every week I’m off exploring the spectacular rural areas of Australia, riding my bike. Yes, I’m very lucky.

This past weekend saw the culmination of our #JaguarCycling photo competition where six winners got to spend a luxury weekend away while spending some challenging but enjoyable days on the road with Team Sky’s Nathan Earle in the beautiful Yarra Ranges.

The winning photos throughout our competition tagged with #JaguarCycling for the various categories.

The winning photos throughout our competition tagged with #JaguarCycling for the various categories.

This was more than a quick and impersonal chat with a rider on one of the best professional teams in the WorldTour. It was a weekend where everyone felt like we got to know him and be privy to the stories he told and what it’s like to live in his world. What made it more tangible was that Earle’s feet were still firmly on the ground — he’s not yet fully accustomed to the life in the pro peloton.

Things that were interesting to the group were just as fascinating to him, and he told stories accordingly. Stories like how Bradley Wiggins is one of the funniest guys on the team and can do perfect impersonations of almost anyone. Or how they call CJ Sutton “CJ the DJ” because he’s the man in control of the music on the bus. Or how the Sky bus driver always cracks it when the riders download videos and apps on the team bus WiFi and using their quota within a day of a tour in a foreign country. Classic stuff.

But Nathan Earle also knows his place in his new world. Even though being the only Sky rider to finish Liège-Bastogne-Liège this season and had other small but significant successes in his role, he’s also entering his second and final year of his current contract and knows how precarious the business pro cycling can be. He expressed how daunting it can be living 15,000 kilometres away from home (not to mention his new wife who still lives in Tassie) and that stepping up to the WorldTour means he’s now at the bottom of a deep ocean amongst a lot of big fish.

While it was great chumming around with Nathan Earle who lives in a world that all of us are intrigued by, the other more regular people like you and I on the trip also had remarkable stories to tell. Such as Ben Culton who woke up one day weighing 150kg and said “this is enough”.

After being overweight and unhealthy for most of his life (and with a family history along the same lines), he changed his whole lifestyle and dropped literally half his body weight. He is now down to 73kg after five years of cycling and healthy eating, and let me tell you: he was riding like a star. And his job? Quality control at an ice cream factory. He gets to taste ice cream every half hour!

And then there was Dean who had been as sick as a dog since Friday and never told anyone because he was so much looking forward to the weekend that he didn’t want to spoil it. He was dragging up the tail end of the bunch without a single complaint and was barely able to eat a banana during the ride. Nobody even knew he was sick. We just thought he was slow. What a champ.

Then there’s Mark Eedle, the brand manager from Jaguar who put this whole competition and weekend together. He’s very aware that he has the best job in the world and his enthusiasm and energy shows it. After more than 25 years working in the car industry he finally gets to combine his love for cars and cycling and is one of the most passionate men I’ve had the business of doing pleasure with. Instead of putting a sticker on everything they’re involved with in cycling, Mark makes sure that Jaguar actually gets involved and adds to the experience. If you’re not Jaguar’s target market, you can still benefit from their contribution to all-things-on-wheels by their invention of disc brakes.

I could go on with a remarkable story from each of the guests that I had the pleasure of spending the weekend with and that’s the wonderful thing about these weekends away with new friends. Everyone comes from a vastly different background and would never be brought together without the passion that binds us all – the simple joy of riding our bikes.