Starting the season with a team camp is a non-negotiable for us. While in part, it’s an operational necessity to give riders their bikes, team kit, helmets, and all the other goodies ahead of the season; most importantly it’s a dedicated weekend for us to spend time together.
After almost 18 months between our last race and this team camp, we wanted more than ever to reconnect. We have always been a small team, with never more than four riders, so we feel it’s imperative we have a strong bond.
We are more than just teammates, we are friends and we are family.
And sometimes the team camp can feel like a bit of a family reunion, with the riders, their partners and some of the MAAP crew...that first hour is usually manic, it feels like there are people everywhere and you have so much to catch up on. But as the hours tick by, everything seems to settle and we meld into the flow we have come to know over the years.
As Garry and I loaded up the MAAP van and got ready to hit the road, there was a mix of nervous anticipation, excitement and perhaps even a little bit of tension.
It was a mere hour drive for us to Beechworth in Victoria's High Country, but our team mates had been travelling since the previous day. We were scheduled to meet at 12 noon and everyone, perhaps acutely aware of Garry’s need for punctuality, arrived early.
It was when we all arrived that it really hit me how long it had been since I had seen everyone, but at the same time it also felt like there had been no time or space between us at all.
When we finished the season in 2019, we had been a team of three. We were slated to start the 2020 season as a team of four. Although the official announcement might have been delayed until now, we have still been, in our minds, a team of four for the last year.
Chris is a constant figure at the front of races on the Australian Cyclocross circuit and more often than not battling with the MAAP CX Australia team captain, Garry Millburn.
It might seem strange to welcome one of your biggest rivals to the team, however Garry and Chris have a 10 year history of not only fighting for podium positions at cyclocross and mountain bikes races, but also being mates along the way.
It would actually be an understatement to say they bring out the best in each other. Racing week in week out, they never relented, and two of Australia’s best cyclocross riders developed, side by side.
Chris’ first official race on the team was a MTB stage race, The Pioneer, where he and Garry raced as a pair. Perhaps a fitting start to what is going to be a formidable combination.Garry, What do you think having Chris on the team will bring?
“With Chris coming to the team, you may think of us as Lewis and Valtteri (Mercedes AMG F1 title protagonists), we will be both teammates and fierce competitors. Having raced against Chris for years, we have a great deal of respect for each other and I feel the added competition from within our own team will simply push us even harder to hit the top.”
Chris, tell us a little about what it means to join the MAAP CX Australia team and one of your rivals?
“It’s really exciting to join the MAAP CX Australia team, having a small crew of riders with a distinct goal that you can see they all work hard for, is special. After just one race together and one team camp, it already feels like home - and that’s a nice feeling. As for Garry, yeah, he is one of my biggest competitors. But we have always had a lot of respect for each other and I think it will be great for both of us”
It was a quick turn around between arriving, kitting up and jumping on our bikes. All these years down the track and I still find there is something pretty special about pulling on a team kit, a sense of belonging, of being valued and part of something bigger than just me.
As we rolled out on our freshly built Cannondales and hit the first bit of dirt, the usual banter started. Before long we were sprinting up hills and to fake finish lines, skidding around corners and bunnyhopping logs...some things are just a part of being on this team, it’s ingrained into our culture. We already knew it, but Chris was going to fit in just fine around here.
A fun Friday afternoon hit out to warm the legs in anticipation for tomorrow’s gravel event.
As the sun dips below the horizon the temperature also drops and we are quickly reminded that winter is just around the corner. We head back to the accommodation in search of hot showers and a roaring fire.
It’s not long before the whole team can be found in the kitchen, simultaneously snacking away and preparing dinner. We have always made a habit of cooking together, everyone pitching in to help, it’s all part of that bonding experience.
Gathered around the table we share a family style meal, bowls of pasta, fresh bread and big salads. Plates are passed around, drinks are poured and for a brief moment there is silence.
But it’s not long before the conversation comes back, we share stories of the past year, the different experiences 2020 had in store for us. We talked about the race season that never was, the adventures we did have, a postponed wedding, a new business, a renovation. Somewhere between the stories, we migrated to the lounge, a few cheeky blocks of chocolate appeared and we were set for a night of catching up.
I woke early, put the Moccamaster on and waited for the smell of coffee to bring the team downstairs. It wasn’t long before the house was all hustle, drinking coffee, eating breakfast, discussing kit options for the ride, checking tire pressure and filling pockets with Skratch bars and chews.
The Beechworth Granite Classic gravel event was a good excuse for the team to ride together and have a bit of fun. The gravel roads around Beechworth and Yackandandah are pretty spectacular and the 80km loop was set to have some good climbing and some wild descending - so we were all pumped to be heading out to explore.
We headed to the start line, fresh kit and bikes x 4 were getting plenty of looks and quite a few comments, while not a race - it’s bringing all those feels of the good times ahead.
We rolled out with a couple of hundred other people, it’s not long before we hit dirt and the first climb which quickly has people strewn in all directions.
The ride has everything you could want, undulating white gravel roads, loose and slightly sketchy long descents, mid-ride donut stops, and plenty of climbing to keep us honest.
But today is less about the ride and more about the vibe.
And it’s nice to be spinning the legs in the sunshine chatting away. Stacey and I end up side by side, catching up on life—we talk about everything from a summer of big kilometers on the bike, through to her recent wedding and everything in between.
It perhaps wasn’t always like this between us before we were on the same team. We really only ever saw each other between the tape, and were often locked in head to head battles. There was definitely some rivalry between us, but when it came time to add another female to the squad, I was all in for having Stacey on the team. Looking back it was a perfect choice, and looking forward to our newest recruit, Chris, I can see some similarities.
The team feels like it has this perfect balance. As an individual athlete, racing an individual sport, situated in a team environment that’s probably not the easiest thing to achieve.
Stacey, what goes on inside the team, right in the heart of it all?
What stands out is definitely the special bond between us - we have spent quite a few years sharing in the highs and lows of racing bikes, of life, of work and it brings you closer. There is that feeling of knowing that everyone on the team has your back and is there to support you 100% at races. We have all pushed past our own disappointment to cheer for another, or our own success to console another.
Everyone also brings their own unique story to the team, whether it’s where we are from, what we do for work or just who we are as people. We learn so much from each other and share some great experiences together - and it’s not all serious, there is plenty of banter, jokes and camaraderie. In 2021 I am looking forward to the new dynamic that Chris will bring to the team.
The day starts with a morning brew at a local coffee shop, it’s early, so the streets are quiet and the air is crisp. We shuffle further into the only small sliver of sun available, as we cup our coffee with both hands to stay warm.
With just enough time for one last ride before hitting the road, we quickly finish our coffee, jump on the bikes and go in search of some trails.
No team camp is complete without at least a little (Garry) Millburn ‘stitch up’, we climb and climb and climb to what must be the highest point in Beechworth, the cold air stinging my lungs and my legs a little more fatigued than I had thought. It’s worth the effort as we turn onto a dirt track, suddenly we are boosting down the trail and I’m going full gas to keep up with Gazz and Chris.
As we weave through single track and once again hit the bitumen it’s evident the MAAP CX Australia team camp is drawing to a close - it never feels long enough, which is probably a good thing. It has us all chomping at the bit for when we come together again at the first races of the season, National Series Round 1 and 2 in Adelaide.
As the first time in over 18 months we will get to go head to head with the competition, it will be a good indicator of if our training has been paying off...and whether we are rewarded with that top step on the podium.