Bay City Rollers Whip Up Anti-clockwise Frenzy At Caboolture (Bemused Birds Defend Territory Against Inexplicable Circling Of Hairless, Two-wheeled Demons)

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Moreton Bay ‘Cup on Wheels’, Caboolture Velodrome, 18/01/2014

“…with all the shaved legs, garish lycra-borne fashion and penchant for espresso coffee, cyclists have developed a certain reputation…”

Report by Scott Gittoes

Approaching Caboolture from the south, on the main arterial into town, you’ll enter a barren, seemingly endless sprawl of retail chain outlets; a vast consumptive trail familiar to the urban-fringes.  But jag a left immediately after the river and you’ll be transported, as if through some sort of portal, into a grassroots sporting sanctuary, a place where the best things simply don’t have a price (other than cans of soft-drink for an economically baffling one dollar and match day burgers for a clean five).  It’s not so much a question of which sports are available here amid the lush, botanic expanse of Centenary Lakes Park, but which aren’t. Tucked into the southwest corner of the park – between an athletics track, a village of netball courts, a couple of bowling greens, a BMX track and the river – is the Caboolture Velodrome.  This three-hundred-and-fifty-odd metre banked concrete loop, home to the Moreton Bay Cycling Club (the MBCC), is one of only three remaining velodromes in South-East Queensland; the hundred or so competitors in today’s annual Moreton Bay Cup on Wheels track carnival will feel every bump in a tarmac pushing forty years of age.  There’s all manner of disciplines on the program for juniors through to masters, and a couple of grand in the prize pool.  Grassroots track specialists have descended from far and wide to contest the blue riband elite events – the keirin and the carnival’s showpiece, the handicap wheelrace.

We arrive around lunchtime.  The sun is intense but a light breeze is keeping things palatable.  The MBCC’s brains trust is gathered around the club’s shiny new enclosed trailer (which doubles as a BBQ/kitchen), flipping the occasional patty but mostly just clowning around.  They look like an average, albeit notably fit, bunch of late-thirty, early-forty-something family men. That is, until I notice their legs; swollen and sculptural, out of all proportion to their torsos and arms, and clean-shaven.  (All manner of loosely pragmatic reasons have and will continue to be offered by cyclists for shaving their legs but as far as I can tell it’s done for show.  In a sport where the legs do almost all the work – hard, exhausting, repetitive work at that – shaving them appears a way of both exhibiting the tangible results of all that toil and revering the most important part of the cyclist’s anatomy.)  What with all the shaved legs, garish lycra-borne fashion and penchant for espresso coffee, cyclists have developed a certain reputation, but peer beyond the superficial and it’s patent that competitive cycling, in all its iterations, is a hazardous and physically demanding test.  This is perhaps most acutely so on the track, where bikes have no brakes, speeds commonly exceed sixty-clicks an hour and wheels, separated by not much at all, furiously compete for space.  The president of the MBCC regales us with tales of nasty, bayonet-like splinters from falls on wooden velodromes, broken bones, loss of ‘bark’ and, generally, a whole lot of pain.  This is not a sport for the risk averse.

Around the track, mostly along the home straight, cyclists are scattered under tents and trees, catching shade where they can, warming up with their bikes balanced on portable metal rollers (a seemingly necessary fixture for any track cyclist) or else sipping from water bottles.  If not in use, bikes hang from racks by their seats; rows of expensive, lightweight hardware constructed purely for the utmost forward velocity.  Some are curvaceous and flowing, others fine-boned and elegant. Track bikes are single-speed, that is, they have only one gear.  It’s entirely up to the cyclist to determine what ratio to use for that single gear.  A lower gear requires less force but more cadence (more revolutions) to turn the same distance than a higher gear, and visa versa.

It’s minutes to the opening heats of the keirin.  A brainchild of Japan’s post-war gambling industry, the keirin is a peculiar event.  Six riders jostle into single file behind a motorbike, known as a derny, as it progressively increases speed.  After four and a half laps the derny veers off and the cyclists are left to their own devices for the final lap and a half.  Tactical prowess and superior power are the differentiators.  Were the Japanese bookmakers here today, at the conclusion of this afternoon’s keirin heats they’d have three riders in at short odds for the final.  There’s the stocky kiwi concrete manager from central Queensland, adorned in his company colours but representing the Mackay Cycling Club; undefeated going into the final.  There’s the wiry, quietly spoken forty-year-old in the green and gold of the Bundaberg Cycling Club, who rides with a noticeably higher cadence, preferring a lower gear ratio.  And there’s the local club hero, a fifty-plus masters world champ, in the jet-black strip of the MBCC, bearing cycling’s universal rainbow world champion stripe; a big man with a sharp tactical brain earned from years on the track. He grinds away on a massive gear.

Seated on the grass above the velodrome’s first bend, we find ourselves in conversation with the derny driver; an elderly man with a leathered complexion common to those who’ve spent a great deal of time outdoors.  Underneath his white cycling cap – the type with a miniscule novelty peak that is all form and no function – swirls an abyss of knowledge accumulated from close to half a century of cycling competition and coaching.  I barely scratch the surface with a few questions on this and that.  He’s a local grassroots veteran, for sure, and I’m glad we chose this patch of grass for a seat.  Before he leaves to fire up the derny for the keirin decider, he tips the kiwi concrete manager for the win.

In the final, the favourites take up their single file positions into the first bend behind the moto.  The kiwi is at the rear, on the world champ’s wheel, where a fraction more energy must be expended to maintain pace with the ever-quickening train.  This doesn’t seem to bother him in the slightest as he spends the first couple of laps more or less alongside the world champ rather than behind him.  It seems an intimidating show of strength.  The lad from Bundy is closer to the front, sitting in nicely.  The old veteran lets them loose at around fifty-five kilometres an hour and, in a move part tactical brilliance but mostly just sheer power, the kiwi slingshots off the bend, opening a yawning gap on the field with one lap to go.  He’s never headed and wins comfortably.

It’s not surprising that the very same protagonists find themselves seeded as favourites for the handicap wheelrace, the Moreton Bay Cup on Wheels.  They more or less all start from scratch in the six-lap event, giving up almost half a lap to some of the competitors.  The starter is too busy checking the handicaps to either notice or care about the angry plovers that have nested, as plovers have want to do, among the grassy infield of the velodrome.  Far from startling the birds, the shock of the starting pistol seems only to infuriate them.  Nevertheless, the racing is underway and in what is clearly a pre-race agreement, the world champ, powering his big gear ratio, pulls the other two toward the front, picking off lesser competitors with ease.  After this two-lap surge he rolls to the top of the track, his work done.  No doubt this debt will be repaid sometime in the future; part of cycling’s unwritten etiquette.  With a couple of laps still remaining and the backmarkers already at the front, the pack bunches and slows to a roll.  There’s shaking heads and perhaps a few heated exchanges amid the tension of too many wheels too close together.  It dissolves into a final lap sprint and the kiwi turns on the same show of strength he displayed in the keirin.  A clean sweep for him makes the long drive down from central Queensland well worthwhile.  The old derny driver knows a good thing when he sees it.

Match Day Burger Score: 6.5

MDB Service Atmosphere: 8.5

MDB Cost: $5


Keirin A Final: 1st Hamish Wright (Mackay Cycling Club); 2nd Benjamin Boylan (Bundaberg Cycling Club); 3rd Peter Lane (Gold Coast Cycling Club)

Moreton Bay Cup on Wheels Handicap Wheelrace: 1st Hamish Wright (Mackay Cycling Club); 2nd Benjamin Boylan (Bundaberg Cycling Club); 3rd Peter Lane (Gold Coast Cycling Club)

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