Casey and I are running late, but calling it running is perhaps overstating it, indicating a sense of urgency that simply isn't present. We are walking late, ambling late, stopping and talking to people on the way late. As such, we miss most of the preliminary races of the Sid Patterson Grand Prix, and apparently also a majority of the crashes. I'm disappointed by neither.
We are in time to catch the first of three main events for the evening, the Sid Patterson itself. It's kind of an anomaly amongst the handicaps, in that the fields are decided in the preceding graded scratch races, and that each grade has a group mark. In the final there are four groups: the scratch group, containing New Zealand's legendary mullet man Shane Archbold and couple of visiting six-day racers in Marcel Barth and Franco Marvulli. The fifty metre group has a more local flavour, with a handful of VIS kids and friend of The New Timer, Tyler Spurrell. The 105m group, however, is again full of international riders - apparently the Japanese team is here to gain some experience ahead of the track world champs, and they dominate the group. And the 165m group is full of the usual old blokes, young blokes, and journeymen hoping to stay away.
As the race begins they look like they might just do that. They're working together in a way that the groups behind them simply aren't. With two to go everyone has bunched up behind them, but the bunch still has 50m to cover. James Rendell from the front group rolls the dice here and smacks it off the front, gaining about four bike lengths on the field, a lead he holds until 150m to go, when Archbold takes a run off the banks into the lead. No one even comes close to Archbold's infamous hairstyle in the final 50m, and both he and his mullet hold on for the win.
Some Under 17s are up next, and they're pedaling like crazy. Those restricted gears certainly still make a difference. Jack Hickey looks impressive, and takes the win with ease. A victory for rangas everywhere.
The big boys are back again for the next race, the Lance De Luca memorial scratch race. In honour of his old man, Leigh De Luca has been given a spot in this race, and acquits himself admirably. When the break goes away he's not in it, but does his bit in the effort to pull him back. All his work is in vain, however, as the break contains a number of the other six-day racers here tonight, former Tour de France stage winner Leon Von Bon among them. They stay away, NSW's Jackson Law takes it out and De Luca rolls through an admirable 11th.
There's a fifteen minute break before the Melbourne Madison starts, and in that time I organize a little sweep. The deal is simple - whoever picks the winner gets to punch everyone else in the arm. It's a game that is definitely biased in my favour, because a) I've been working out, and my punches will hurt and b) There's a pretty good chance I pay more attention to the results sheets than the other players, one of whom asked what a Madison was when I approached her. Because I'd been paying attention to the results sheets, I knew that Barth, mentioned earlier, had tried to take a lap on the gigantic Packer Park velodrome during the 50k points classic on Wednesday night, in a field that also contained a number of roadies. He was partnered with Marvulli, also mentioned earlier, who I think may have won the race on a previous occasion, and who has been in Australia since November, racing the Tasmanian Christmas Carnivals and any other race on the calendar. So they were my pick.
It was a definite case of head versus heart, however, as I really wanted Horsham's own Mark O'Brien and Sam Witmitz to win. Even though O'Brien had finished third in the points classic, I didn't think they'd finish with the main group, even if I really, really wanted them to. As roadies, I figured they'd have the endurance, but thought their inexperience would result in them at least losing a lap.
When the race began I was a bit worried about my choice. Jackson and Scott Law were dominating the sprints - something they would continue to do throughout the night. For the first forty or fifty laps Barth and Marvulli were nowhere to be seen. Archbold's partner Myron Simpson, on a weird Zenyth bike, has crashed in the early stages, and is now riding with half his knicks missing. I haven't seen so much vulgar display of arse since the last Gilgamesh show. Von Bon and his junior partner Caleb Ewan, who one of the commentary team keeps calling Ewing, are continually attacking, but the field refused to give them an inch. When Marvulli attacks, however, they have no choice. He quickly has fifty metres on the bunch, who are strung out in pursuit. The fifty becomes a hundred before he hands over to Barth, who continues the job at hand. Before another sprint comes around they are awarded the lap, leaving them ahead of everyone, but slightly vulnerable due to their low points. For the rest of the night they are forced to chase down attacks, mark potential threats and generally race with their wits about them.
Witmitz and O'Brien don't attack, they don't sprint for points and they don't take any laps. But they're riding smart, also pulling their turn when it falls to them to do so, staying at the front of the chasing group. It's a gutsy ride, and I'm impressed by the Budget Forklifts pair. Their slings are on a par with anyone else's, and they don't miss a turn for the entire 200 laps. With 80 laps to go Witmitz looks like he's in the box, and they do drop the wheel occasionally, but they somehow always manage to chase back on. To finish on the same lap as a bunch of six-day riders and state-sponsored full-time athletes is an impressive achievement, and I get the impression those two will make an impression on the criterium-heavy National Road Series when it kicks off in a few months.
Ewan and Von Bon continue to launch attacks well into the race, and the minute they ease up Castlemaine's Sean Finning and his partner George Tansley do likewise, but the bunch - including Barth and Marvulli, and O'Brien and Witmitz - refuse to let them get away. With four to go Ewan launches a last-ditch attack, and quickly gains 100m on the bunch. He hangs out there for two more laps, until one of the Law brothers decides he can't let his NSW teammate get away with it. Folks hold their breath as Law gains on Ewan. The little bloke has ten metres heading into the final turn but it's not enough, and coming into the final straight Law flies past and salutes into the air. He and his brother haven't won, but they've concreted their second place, and seem as happy as if they have taken it out.
Barth and Marvulli get the flowers, however. By the time presentations roll around most of the crowd have left. Casey wants to see them stand on the podium, so we wait. The stands are empty as Leanne Cole asks everyone to stand on the top step with their arms around each other. The riders look spent, but happy, as if this race was a club race that they wanted to win, but weren't taking all that seriously. It's a good, fun vibe, and seeing them all chat together in the pits after the race makes me like those crazy Euros even more.
Having picked the winning team, I inform our small posse that I will withhold my right to punch them all in the arm until some undetermined point in the future. They look worried, and rightly so.
Actual results here.