June 18, 2014

Kings Of Pain

To be honest, I think the title is a little ambitious. I mean – it’s not like we aren’t all willing participants in our chosen endeavour. I guess that’s the twisted genius of the name.

I’d heard about Rapha Gentleman’s Race’s. I knew they were epic adventures, but I’d only watched from afar. I’d seen the arty videos, Instagram pictures of muddied bikes and gritty riders, and read of tales of determination and persistence. When the chance came up to join Team Baum on the Gold Coast “Kings Of Pain” ride I played it cool but definitely may have air punched and danced around a bit afterwards. Okay, I danced around a lot.

And so the planning began. I had a couple of months and I was determined not to let the team down. The bike of choice was simple, my cherished, worshipped, and adored Corretto – Also known as “Animal”. To illustrate my bond to this bike, I should confess that it lives high on a stand in the bedroom, where it’s the last thing I see at night and first in the morning.

For people that don’t know the format of a Gentleman’s Race – each team consists of six riders, one of whom must be female (the term “Gentleman’s Race” refers to the conduct of the participants rather than their gender). I knew that Ryan and Darren would be on the team, but I had no idea who else. I knew Ryan would be strong with his recent MTB competition experience, but I wasn’t sure how much riding Darren had done recently so decided my goal was to “Rip his legs off”. Can anyone see anything going wrong here? I’m afraid I didn’t.

Much training ensued consisting of long rides and countless miles under the wheels. It was a busy time for my family and my resolve was called into question. The only way I could explain this opportunity was that “It’s like being invited to a celebrity golf course and your team consists of royalty”. This of course often failed, so I settled on “I’ll be racing with the guys who designed and built my bike… how cool is that??”

And so we arrived at the team hotel on the Friday night before. I knew it was the team hotel by the Subaru out front with four Baum’s strapped to the roof after the airport pickup. It was here that I met Darren and Ryan once more as well as meeting fellow participants Jo and Lloyd for the first time. The sixth team member was Maddison – a friend of mine who jumped into the fray after a last minute cancellation who I will henceforth refer to as the “Ring In”. A delightful evening ensued getting to know everyone over dinner. A distinct penchant for liquid carb loading and frozen desserts was also noted amongst the team.

The morning of the race was overcast with occasional showers and wet roads. At least it was warmer than usual for this time of year. We headed to the start point at “Bucks Barn” at Chillingham. We arrived somewhat early but found the car park full of immaculately dressed riders cossetting very shiny bikes. I’d noted that the organisers who apparently knew Team Baum quite well had placed us 26 out of 30 teams in the start order which meant they expected us to be fast. And again I failed to see what was coming.

Our nominated time arrived and with a team photo and a round of applause we departed on our one hundred mile adventure and settled into a comfortable pace. This is good I thought to myself. After only a few minutes the route turned down a dirt road “Surely a mistake!” I thought… but alas. We briskly rode up hill, down dale, and then across a floodway with three or four inches of water. I was holding it cool, but my beloved Animal who had only been wet once before was already sodden and covered in mud, and we’d only just begun! What have I done???

As the dirt and mud flowed under our wheels my preconceptions about how strong people were starting to creak and groan. Darren and Ryan were very strong and seemingly going faster! What’s more, when they hit the dirt or rounded bends they just seemed to disappear off into the distance. I guess I should have expected this from retired road racers and twenty four hour mountain bike race competitors. Fortunately they seemed to have a pact to either share the lead or the tail positions to ensure we were all kept together.

More and more dirt roads ensued which gave me the opportunity to see what my beloved Baum handled the rough stuff like. I would have never dreamt of riding it over corrugations – but there I was. It handled them very well too, and soaked up the bumps while remaining sure footed. Darren, Jo, the Ring In and I were leading our group on a couple of climbs. While catching many other teams Darren asked me how I was going, and I said “Still smiling”. He then explained that keeping smiling is a key Baum trait. They love when you have fun riding your bike.

On the steep windy roads Ryan offered valuable cornering tips to the “Ring In” and I. They were great and we watched in awe as he railed the bike around. These guys know bike handling and love exploiting it. It was such a pleasure to watch and learn and see what our bikes are capable of.

As the shadow of Mount Warning beckoned we entered the tiny town of Uki and had the pleasure partaking in a “café raid”. We rolled into the town bakery and just asked for whatever we liked… brilliant! Ryan meanwhile disappeared into the local market and found an entire Apple cake, which he largely devoured all on his own. Food of champions it would appear!

As the end of the ride approached, it became apparent that I wasn’t ripping anyone’s legs off other than my own. Darren – who described himself as “not in form” was powering along and seemingly getting stronger, as were Jo and Ryan. The rest of us just enjoyed the remaining twisty dirt climbs and descents. Fortunately the fast crew were true to the “gentleman’s” ethos and waited for us so we could all finish together. After one last sprint up wet road shrouded by cloud we rolled up a grass embankment into the arena to a round of applause. That is not something I’ll soon forget.

We again found ourselves immersed in country hospitality at “Bucks Barn” – scoffing beer, hamburgers, and frozen chocolate coated bananas as the remaining teams finished and joined the carnival atmosphere. We stood the Baum’s up together in the adjacent paddock/ arena, and watched the steady stream of riders to roll up to look at these beautiful bikes that had absolutely been thrashed on a very memorable day. Darren was what could only be described as dismayed at my distress at the amount of mud and grime coating my beautiful bike.

If I had a takeaway from the weekend – it’s that the guys who made my bike are fiercely proud of their performance and beauty. They know how to ride and are proud of their bikes handling and they want you to enjoy them no matter what – I’ll definitely be riding my bike more after this experience. I learnt so much and would like to thank Rapha and the Baum team for allowing me to be part of it. All my subsequent rides will be judged against this benchmark.

Stephen Amos (Keeper of “Animal”)