When it was announced that the MAAP-Basso Team would be enjoying a weekend away hosted by Soigneur, I was pretty excited. Soigneur are known for their bespoke cycling trips that feature lesser known roads, great quality food and wine, and a clean bike to start each ride. They take care of all the details, meaning all you have to do is jump on the bike and pedal. Then I got the bad news. This was no holiday weekend, this was the official team launch and training camp to kick off the 2016-2017 season. With a pre-camp build-up that included a lot of travel but none of it on a bike, I was worried about how the legs would fare over the coming days with the team.
I arrived in Tatong, around 3 hours from Melbourne and in the heart of the King Valley, with Ollie Cousins (one of MAAP’s co-founders) and photographer Jeff Curtes on the morning of the camp. We weren’t due at the house until that evening, so we took the opportunity to ride around the area after a quick coffee at the Tatong Pub.
What followed was 80km of windy, undulating roads, getting dropped by Ollie (who was excited for his first ride in a week), and a welcome coffee in the rural centre of Benalla. When we arrived back at the Tatong Pub for a beer, I was preoccupied thinking that my legs were going to be sluggish for the first ride of training camp the next day. (Spoiler alert: I was right).
The rest of the team arrived to our accommodation in the early evening, and the Soigneur guys wasted no time in making us feel at home. A glass of wine before dinner was the perfect way to get everyone relaxed, and we were lucky to have Toby Shingleton, Brand Manager at Shimano, on hand to talk us through some of the technologies in the new Dura-Ace.
Over dinner we learned about the proposed route for the following day; 120kms with 1,800m of climbing, including around 25km of gravel and an individual 1km time trial after 110km! (The loser of the ITT had to jump in the pond - something not appealing when the average air temp was around 7 degrees!)
It was around this point that I put down my glass of wine and thought about skipping the apple pie and ice cream for dessert (I didn't, it was delicious).
The next couple of hours were spent relaxing by the fireplace, fighting over who got control of the stereo, and realising how bad we all were at billiards. A fairly typical training camp I’m sure.
When we awoke on Friday morning, the temperature was hovering around 1 degree. The sun was out and the forecast was promising, so after eating as much breakfast as we could possibly stomach, it was time to jump on the bike. This was the first time we had all ridden together in the new kit and on the new bikes. Rolling out of the driveway and onto pristine country roads, there was something reassuring about seeing the Soigneur car up ahead, complete with our spare wheels, nutrition and water.
The first 15km were a steady warm up, everyone trying to deal with the crisp winter temperatures. From here, a 10km gravel climb got the heart rate up and was the perfect chance to test out the legs.
I definitely missed the memo, but as we hit the top of the climb, the pace was dialled up. Another 6-7km of undulating, hard-packed dirt saw us strung out and had me hoping for a food stop! (another spoiler alert - the theme for the weekend was apparently gassing it every time we hit gravel)
That stop came at the 60km mark, as we got to enjoy the Soigneur hospitality yet again. We took a 4km dirt detour to Powers Lookout in Whitlands, where we tucked into freshly brewed coffee, fruit, sandwiches, and bars.
After a brief stop and some minor bike adjustments, it was time to punch out the last 60km. Again, there was a lot of variety in the road surface and the type of riding, but the highlights were the rutted gravel descents (remember to go full gas) and the echelon work.
The lowlight (for me) was definitely the ITT! It seemed cruel to put in a 1km ITT after 110km of riding (plus my 80km from the day before - oh and Lake Mountain the day before that! Oh and….I’m making excuses now) but the boys were very keen to earn some bragging rights for the dinner table conversation. All the money was on Dave McLean, who set himself off last to build the suspense and dutifully stormed home to win by 3 seconds. All I won was a date with the pond.
Back at the house, the Soigneur guys swung into overdrive, with beers waiting on the doorstep before we even entered the house. Fergus took our bikes and gave them the pro treatment, while Jason organised a much needed buffet style lunch for us.
The rest of the day was very much about recovery. Clean eating, an afternoon nap by the fire, and for me - a quick dip (in the pool, not the pond).
Over dinner we were given a choice for the next day; repeat the same loop but in reverse, or head out on a faster, flatter 75km loop. We chose the 75km option, and with the hard ride behind us we could let our hair down a bit. Some embraced this more than others.
The roll out the next day was a little more crsip; the temperature was still around 1-2 degrees, but we were without our leg warmers (this day was to double as a photo shoot for the new kit). Again we had a warm up of 10km to get our legs firing, and then it was basically a race to get prime position behind the car, the logic being ‘the quicker we go, the quicker we get this 75km finished’.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Soigneur had some more rutted gravel organised for us on Day 2. I hadn't remembered the lessons of Day 1, and was again surprised that everyone gassed it on the gravel.
At this point it's worth mentioning how good the two loops were that Soigneur planned for us. In 200km of riding over 2 days I would estimate we were passed by only a handful of cars, certainly less than 10. The routes were varied, challenging, and for the most part stunning.
Anyway, the only obstacle that nearly derailed the ride was an over-friendly Border Collie that ran in front of the wheel as we came down a back road. Thankfully for everyone we all made it through the sector unharmed, and again the chase was on for the best draft.
We rolled back to the house to be greeted by an even better lunch spread than the day before; fresh fruit, hot food, great coffee, and more.
Sitting at the dining table, I was locked in a half-gaze at the plate of food that sat in front of me. Completely spent from 2 days of chasing the boys around the King Valley, I was relieved that I could now rest, but sad that the weekend was over. In the constant buzz and hustle of life you don’t often get a whole weekend to spend dedicated to riding with mates.
From here it was time to wipe the embro off the legs, shower, and for me sleep in the passenger seat of the car on the way back to Melbourne.
All images courtesy of Jeff Curtes