A weekend in the King Valley with Soigneur and Shimano
Here at CyclingTips we’ve been lucky enough to join Soigneur on several of their luxury weekend cycling escapes. Just last weekend CT’s Andy van Bergen headed up to the King Valley in Victoria’s north east to join Soigneur and Shimano for two days of riding, eating and good company. Here are Andy’s reflections on the weekend, with photos by Jeff Curtes.
After hearing glowing feedback from the CyclingTips team about previous Soigneur weekend trips — like the ones to Wilson’s Prom and the Yarra Valley — as well as a first-hand report from the recent Gold Coast trip, I was starting to get excited.
Shimano was sponsoring a weekend of racing out at Sam Miranda Winery and in addition to riding the associated gran fondo, we had been invited along to explore the region with Jason and Daniel from Soigneur.
An email came through in the lead-up with all the info for the weekend. Detailed directions? Google Maps will take care of that. Long-range forecast? I’ll just check into Weatherzone before I get there. What to pack? Skip it – I have this covered. Hold up. One final note. “No WiFi or mobile reception”. Damn.
This meant no Instagram, Facebook, emails, phone calls, or messages. On the flipside, it meant no Instagram, Facebook, emails, phone calls, or messages. Despite the planned dirt roads, two biggish days in the saddle, and plenty of vert, it felt like the lack of internet was going to be the big challenge for the weekend. It’s a sad reflection on our lives these days.
The one thing that kept popping up in stories about previous Soigneur adventures was their attention to detail. No sooner had I stepped out of the car than Daniel was greeting me and wheeling my bike off to be prepped and serviced by Sam. A beer was in my hand as I stepped across the threshold and was introduced to the crew I’d be riding with for the weekend. Already noted was the pile of near-useless smartphones sitting idly on a corner of the bench.
The dinner that was soon put in front of us set the tone for what we were to experience all weekend long. ‘Locally sourced’ was the theme, with everything from the grass-fed Angus steak to the locally churned butter for our crusty sourdough bread. As dinner rolled to a close, large maps were produced and we were talked through the route for the Sam Miranda Gran Fondo that we would be riding in the morning.
After a hearty breakfast we collected our natural handmade bars (made by Angela Weigard) as well as a selection of Huma gels and Thunderbirds bars supplied by Good Fuel and piled into our transfer.
Having all cut our teeth in the dark depths of a Melbourne winter, we arrived rugged up to within an inch of not being able to move. As we watched the men’s Tour of the King Valley race leave we started to peel off layers in the unseasonally warm weather. Soon enough we were off and rolling down the road with a few hundred other fondo participants.
The key selling point for the Sam Miranda Gran Fondo is definitely the ‘Strade Nero’ climb. It follows a few small hills, and gently snakes its way on fairly hard-packed dirt upward toward the Mansfield-Whitfield Road (pro tip: check out that town-to-town, out-and-back ride one day). Picking the smooth line was the key to getting through the climb with minimal fuss.
As Daniel from Soigneur puts it “gravel really sharpens the mind, makes you concentrate, and makes you more aware of your surroundings”. And stunning surroundings they were.
The remainder of the ride felt like the cusp of summer – blue skies, plenty of sun, and summer kits everywhere (with pockets stuffed with warmers and jackets!). Arriving back at the winery we moved to the Shimano van rooftop to take in the start of the Women’s Tour of the King Valley stage, and quench our dusty-throated thirst.
Back at our HQ, we swam, chatted, and grazed the afternoon away. The lack of phones and computers added an unexpectedly enjoyable element to the weekend. Clearly the fact it was noticeable is a pretty fair indication we can all rely a little too heavily on these devices to plug those in-between moments. Switching off really added to the weekend, and we all sheepishly resolved (in the heat of the moment!) to the idea of unplugging again in the future. So brave …
Plans were already afoot for the next day’s ride. This time it would just be our crew, and 125km of climbing, dirt, and small country roads. As Soigneur put it “this is the Road Less Ridden”. Fully supported by a Jaguar support car, the ride included a very welcome morning tea stop with French-pressed Maker coffee and fresh sandwiches. This is what we had all come for.
There is something rewarding about just being along for the ride, not knowing the precise layup of the course, or where each road will take you — just trusting in the good judgement of your hosts. Each turn revealed a different type of terrain, with everything from impossibly green pastures heavy with the scent of sodden earth and cattle, to wet-floored temperate rainforest. In short, it was a magnificent mix of road surfaces, locations, and terrain.
All too soon we were back at HQ mopping up the remnants of lunch with artisan bread, and loading our freshly washed and serviced bikes for the drive back to Melbourne.
As the kilometres ticked by, and the email notifications settled into my background soundtrack again I gave a wry smile. Things were back to normal, but I knew the ticket to escape.