What makes a great sequel? Is it a simple case of bigger is better - or is it something less tangible? Is it a deepening of the story, of the characters, or something new or unexpected? Or is it the twist?
Whatever the case, sophomoric efforts will always be judged in a harsher light than their freshmen counterparts - for good reason. ‘Yeah, sure it was good the first time, now what have you got to show us?’
Rapha Super Cross Sydney 2014 - the sequel - wasn’t just bigger, it was better. Sure, there were over 500 people there, sure there were more elite riders from around the country. But what really made it it great was the theatre.
THAT course. After grumblings that Australian cyclo-cross courses were too easy (by US/EU standards), this course sent a reply that won’t soon be forgotten. With a series of brutal pinch climbs and off-camber corners, it spat and snarled mercilessly at the riders who tried to tame it. The post-race clean up found shattered derailleurs, broken chains and pieces of cassette sprockets - proof of the day; of a mighty battle that was waged on Sydney Park hill.
THAT weather. When we think of extreme conditions in cyclo-cross, it’s bitter cold and permafrost. What we got was an oven; nudging 40°C, with nowhere to hide. In addition, we were treated to 45kph wind gusts, before fronting up for dessert - a wild thunderstorm and almost tropical deluge. We baked, we chased our race numbers through the village, we were soaked to the bone.
THAT atmosphere. There is nothing quite like the feel of Super Cross. The cowbells ringing out, the H-Van cranking the caffeine, the Belgian waffles searing hot from the press. The beer flowing, the cameras snapping. Competitors and spectators alike swarming around the course - egging their mates to have a go, comparing outrageous costumes and swapping tall tales.
Perhaps this is what makes Super Cross so special; it is as much about the carnival - the theatre - as it is about the racing.
And so, the scene was set. Gasping for air, the Elite men wore the worst of the heat. The lead swapped multiple times before Chris Aitken, from the Focus CX team, finally wrestled victory from Allan Iacuone, with Michael Crosbie rounding out the podium in third. Lisa Jacobs showed why she wears the national colours as she overcame a course malfunction to take out the women’s elite category ahead of Oenone Wood and Gemma Kernich.
The open men’s field was enormous, with 75 starters wreaking havoc on the timing team. The foam cannon sputtered to life, while self-styled cheer squads wound into full voice. As the wind and heat started to stretch the riders out, Alex Malone charged to victory in Over Yonder Racing colours, with Rod Commerford and Alan Miller following to podium glory. The crowd cheered home every finisher - first-timers and seasoned pros alike - baptising their scorched heads in beer, water and whatever else was handy as riders headed to the foam pit to cool down.
The timing of Super Cross over the Halloween/Día de los Muertos weekend wasn’t lost on savvy Costume Cross riders - with ghouls, ghosts and calaveras lining up alongside rubber ducks, Rubik’s cubes, zombie sailors, aging rock stars, fairies, iPods, even a wheelie-popping shark. Timing went out the window, the Tequila shortcut came into play and celebrations were in full swing.
And then the rain came.
The final twist to this tale sent us huddling under tents and trees as the wind and rain lashed the park. There would be no presentations, no post-race partying, no fond farewells.
As for theatre - and sequels - it was the perfect cliffhanger. Hundreds scattered by a merciless storm, without the fitting finish we all thought we deserved. Which begs the question - will there be a third instalment to complete the trilogy? Like Empire Strikes Back left a dark, sour taste in moviegoing mouths, Super Cross 2014 has left us wanting to see how this all ends. Like all good sequels it was bigger, more ambitious, more filled with drama. But now that we know Darth is our daddy, it’s time to lock our sights on a fitting finale in 2015.
All photos by Beardy McBeard