Bikes, bats, lycra: a big weekend in Ballarat and Bunni

Local civic and political leaders rarely miss a chance to proclaim Melbourne the “sporting capital of the world”, or “the world’s most liveable city”, blah blah. Whilst I agree that our beloved state capital is a very nice place to live (for most) and a fine sporting town, would it be too cynical to suggest the main attraction of such hubristic claims is their complete subjectivity. Since you can’t easily disprove what couldn’t really be proven in the first place, our great and good leaders can bask in the reflected glow of their pronouncements with minimal risk.

Well, what’s good for the goose… In the spirit of local parochialism, I hereby proclaim the Ballarat region the sporting capital of our fine state, at least until a certain tennis tournament fires up in a week or so.

The basis of this claim relies on more than just the bowls at Sebastopol. It rests in the twin occurrences of the Australian Open Road Cycling Championships and the Premier League Cricket country round. All week, the area has been a festival of bikes, bats and lycra.

Ah lycra… That’s the first major revelation of the week; it is possible to look good in lycra, although your correspondent isn’t about to risk it anytime soon. The fact that I’m attempting to write about cycling at all is risk enough for me. Despite Phil Ligget’s best educational efforts over years of Tour de France coverage, it is safe to say I’m un-schooled in the finer nuance of road cycling; so I ask for the forgiveness of any aficionados who may stumble over this, thinking some actual knowledge may be encountered.

Apart from some criterium (?) racing in the Ballarat CBD, all the bike action has been taking place on the roads of picturesque Buninyong, about 8 kilometres south of Sovereign Hill as the crow pedals. The township nestles in a valley with mighty Mount Buninyong looming in the background. At 750 metres in height, the Mount isn’t really of French Alps proportions, but by Australian standards it’s a pretty demanding climb.

Part of the course incorporates a downhill segment in Gear Ave, which runs down one side of the Ballarat Uni campus. You only need one look at Gear Ave to figure out how it got its name. When driving down it, I certainly feel the need to ride the brakes most of the way to the bottom, so the thought of plummeting downhill at 60 kph plus amidst the blur and bustle of the peloton makes me feel in need of an underwear change.

Once at the bottom, in the township, it’s the long climb back up the Midland Hwy, hang a left, and do it all again. No flat track bullies need apply here. The road races seemed to work on the principle of circling the 10 k course until you get it right, which in most cases took a long time. Although I was later assured set distances were in fact involved.

Tactically, the choice for riders seems to be stay in the peloton (the main bunch), where I’m informed it can be up to 40% easier pedalling, or to make a death or glory run ahead of the pack and hope they can’t reel you in. Given that conditions ranged from hot and blustery to plain scorching, it would be a (fool)hardy soul, or one without a finishing kick, who decides to break away.

You only need to experience the peloton rush by in close proximity to realise the one potential downside of staying with the pack. Should one person make a mistake, you could quickly find yourself in a hellish tangle of flesh, carbon fibre and bitumen. So not only do you need to look good in lycra, but you need precision and a lot of guts.

Evidence of the injury risk in high level cycling can be seen in the current plight of Robbie McEwen, one of Australia’s most decorated riders. Recovering from serious leg injuries incurred whilst racing in Europe, he was intending to race at these championships. Sadly, he aggravated his dodgy knee whilst doing the laundry, proving that cycling is tough, but housework is worse.

Unlike the Tour de France, Bunni can’t offer any 15th century stone cathedrals as a backdrop, but she was putting her best foot forward nonetheless. As the riders swept around the Crown Hotel corner, past the incense shop, and began the long climb yet again, the local CFA were giving sterling service at the barbie  (irony was acknowledged). It was with some reluctance that we headed off to take in some cricket.

One thing that Ballarat’s Eastern Oval offers, which the MCG long ago forsook, is a shady tree to perch yourself under. And nobody objects if you bring your esky. The prime of metropolitan cricket had scattered amongst the regions to display their wares. In our town’s case, it was St Kilda v Footscray-Edgewater. I believe Edgewater is what the flood plain of the Maribyrnong river is now called by real estate agents.

St Kilda boasted a Warne- Michael, Shane’s cousin- and a Graf, Lachlan, son of Shaun. By afternoon’s end, their opponents had nothing to boast about at all. In a major shock, Warnie’s cousin has blond hair and bowls leggies. I wonder who his role model is? Young Mr Graf doesn’t look much quicker than I remember his dad being, but he was extremely effective in any case.

We arrived to find the Saints had posted a healthy, but not insurmountable score of 180, despite being bowled out shy of their allotted 50 overs. Given that Bushranger Rob Quiney and run machine Graeme Rummans had both missed out, it appeared a solid effort. B. Green had chipped in with 3-6 for the combo.

I was assured by a Saints trainer that the pitch wasn’t doing that much. I’m sure their opponents would have begged to differ, as they soon found themselves 7-33 in reply. Now I’ve played in many a modest suburban side who had days that started badly and just got worse, so I had some sympathy for the plight of the combo. Not so my wife, a sensible woman, who had been blissfully unaware of the foibles of flannelled fools until falling into bad company. “Too much Edge and (going to) Water, not enough Foot (movement)” was her blunt summation.

Certainly any sense of contest was dissipated in the afternoon heat. Mr Green struck some lusty blows to save face, but his 28 out of 68 leaves him the only combo player who will wish to remember the game. Graf L took the figures in a flawless team bowling performance with 4-20. In the tradition of all good leggies, young Warnie claimed the number 11.

Declining to send their opponents back in, the Saints retreated to the shade of the stand to begin a no doubt intensive rehydration process. We followed their example.

About John Butler

John Butler has fled the World’s Most Livable Car Park and now breathes the rarefied air of the Ballarat Plateau. For his sins, he has been a Carlton member for more than 30 years.

Comments

  1. Great stuff, JB. Your comment about those claims such as “sporting capital” etc, reminds me of what Charlie Brown once said: “I’m always sure about things which are a matter of opinion”.

  2. John – nothing wrong with claiming Ballarat as the sporting capital of Victoria (for now anyway). Imagine if they snatched the Stawell Gift? How big would Ballarat be then? Though the advertising campaign would have been confusing.

    “Come and watch the historical Stawell Gift in …err….Ballarat”

  3. John Butler says:

    Dips

    Details, details.

    If we’d pulled it off, perhaps we could have coaxed you out of retirement? :)

  4. Now that would be a very bad idea.

  5. John,

    You’ve inspired me. I’m going to nominate Ballarat as my town on SEN on Thursday night. We’ll cover the town’s cycling heritage (such as it is) and, for a cricket angle, we’ll speak to someone about the World Cup match that was played at the Eastern Oval in 1992. Quite an occasion, apparently.

    I can’t speak for Gear Avenue, although it seems perfectly named, but I can say I love the Eastern Oval. I vastly prefer it to the City Oval, ironically given the above paragraph, because the City Oval has the remnants of a cycling track around it and spectators seem stranded from the action. You’re always close to the action at the Eastern Oval, and I love the tree (from memory, there’s a W.G. Grace link) and the 1904 grandstand.

    I once watched Danny Del-Re kick four goals out of eight to boot Melton to victory over Sebastopol in a Ballarat league grand final at the City Oval. The ground was very soggy.

    I once watched a Ballarat league semi-final between Daylesford and someone else and the most memorable part of the day was trying to predict whether snow would fall. It was mid-September!

    Sounds like the cyclists have had very un-Ballarat conditions this week.

  6. John Butler says:

    Paul

    That’s the old Ballarat you’re thinking of.

    The new post global warming Ballarat is positively balmy.

    If things go really badly, we may even be a chance to be ocean front property.

  7. Daff – I reckon Ballarat is a great town. I’ve noticed the locals call it “Balrat”. It has a long and rich sporting history. I actually ran in the Sebastopol Gift in 1986 and managed to win enough money to get a return airfare to London – so it has fond memories for me.

  8. Dips,

    I love Ballarat as well.

    My running there was confined to doing the occasional lap of Lake Wendouree. Very pleasant, it was, but now there’s no water, and I can no longer run any way.

    Do I gather you won the 1986 Sebastopol Gift? Do we now have to refer to you as “third in the 1984 Stawell Gift and first in the Sebastopol Gift”?

  9. Daff – yep I did win Sebastopol. It’s terrible but I can’t recall whether it was 1986 or 1987 now that I think about it. Maybe 1987?

    You might also be interested to know that I came second in the Northcote Gift. It was my greatest second of all time. After making the final I got a baking in the change rooms from my old man because I wasn’t supposed to even win my heat let alone a semi final as well.

    I remember clearly him saying “You’ll just have to find a way to finish behind SOMEONE in the final.” Thankfully I did. Circa 1984.

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