Great anticipatory excitement was felt by the members of the Adelaide community this week as they hosted what has been declared “the jewel in the year’s springtime dawn classics”.
For a dedicated group of sunrise chasers and self-confessed pro-tour King Of the Mountain wannabe’s, the first Tuesday in November represents the chance to come together, “saddle up” and challenge themselves against the mountain and each other. The prize threefold:
• “The Col du Lofty Champagne Cup”… not to be confused with that other “Mug” presented at Flemington each year;
• “The Glory”… signified through crossing the line first to claim victory with standard obligatory fist pump; and
• Perhaps most notably, the opportunity to deviate from the more traditional and familiar trash talking banter in favour of actually providing a legitimately witnessed, recorded display of superior cycling prowess!
Despite the competitors claiming to “not care too much about horses”, they did concede to adopt one good idea from that other race held on the same day, nominating to run the Champagne Cup as a handicap event. The intention being to encourage varied participation from riders who may consider themselves to be weight, age, or talent challenged, and irrespective of how their form might otherwise appear in the Form Guide.
Prior to Cup Day, each participant submitted their weight and best summit ascent time to the (non-competing) Chief Commissionaire, who after careful calculations allocated official handicap weight and starting times.
Weight, in the form of backpack ballast, ranged between three and five kilograms and comprised champagne bottles, glassware, pastries, cheeses, crackers, cutlery and linen. A very impressive display of pre-dawn organisation and an ingenious way to transport “the goods” for the exclusive Col du Lofty Champagne Cup High Society Post Race Breakfast!
At 5.50am the race contenders were herded into the mounting yards at The Gum Tree, situated at the base of the South Eastern Freeway… the gateway to the picturesque Adelaide Hills. A hush fell over the field as these grimpeurs now stood waiting 12.6kms and 950metres of vertical climb from their final destination, Mount Lofty Summit, boasting breathtaking panoramic views of Adelaide and its surrounds, whilst only being 20mins from the CBD.
With such an iconic landmark representing the start line, it came as no surprise that the course would continue with a uniquely Australian flavour, the riders ascending past “Eagle on the Hill” and through “Koala Corner”, whilst crowd numbers were boosted by the local wildlife who appeared eager to capture their own glimpse of the winner. An honourable mention must be given to the multiple kangaroos and koala who gathered at the finish line.
With weather cool and still and the mount cloaked in mist, conditions could almost be described as optimal. However, despite it being November, the Summit was still a foggy 4 degrees at dawn, which proved optimal for keeping the champagne chilled, whilst competitors were allegedly “freezing their bits off”!
Back at the Gum Tree, it was with a wave from “Spartacus”, Chief Steward and Time Keeper, that one by one they were off and racing…
Special K was indeed special to be first out of the barrier, soon followed by Dark Horse, whose odds had been hard to decipher. Next was the Smiling Assassin, with an initial expression depicting concentration. Snappy Don commenced with dreams of a victorious photo finish. Easy Tiger had an eye of apprehension, and was heard muttering words of poor form due to “7 weeks off the bike, a fortnight of Spanish meat and a long haul flight back from London” two days prior. Off of scratch was AVO, who would soon be getting violent with his illusionary wooden spoon and whipping himself through the field!
This year’s line honours went to Dark Horse, who emerged triumphant through thick fog only seconds ahead of a strong finish by AVO (the fastest climber overall). There was a tight sprint for third with Snappy Don arriving millimetres ahead of Special K. The Assassin’s smile returned as he arrived ahead of Easy Tiger, whose journey proved difficult, plagued with leg cramps and thoughts of breakfast being consumed before his arrival!
With all riders having finished, correct weight was declared and the Cup presented.
One can only declare that as an entree to the increasingly popular Tour Down Under, and with plenty of time left to “scrub up” before possibly attending any Melbourne Cup related festivities throughout the day, the Col du Lofty Champagne Cup clearly possesses all the hallmarks of a truly prestigious Australian sporting event. Where will you be next November? My advice? Start training for “the race that wakes a nation”.