23 February, 2014

Ducking down to Shelford

After months of preparation and weeks of promotion, the big day had finally arrived. The 2014 Shelford Duck Race was upon us! And naturally enough we headed off for a look.
Stalls and activities at the 2014 Shelford Duck Race
This was not the first time we had intended to check out the fun of this particular fair, but last year's attempt was derailed by a significantly longer paddle down the Barwon than expected. This year however, I was determined that we would not miss it, so we arrived in good time and browsed the food and produce stalls. The kids availed themselves of some of the rides and we sipped drinks in the shade as we waited for the race to start.
Camel Rides!
As we approached the designated start time of 3:30pm the crowds began to build along the banks of the "Mighty Leigh" as it was referred to on several occasions. I slipped into position near the start line so as to get a good view of the action and sat down to wait and wait...
The calm before the storm, the Leigh River
As the designated start time came and went, officials scurried back and forth (an issue with the range of the microphone it seemed):

A race official
Marshals herded the ducks towards the start line and waited for the signal to begin:

At the start line in the hands of the officials
Finally, as the clock ticked past 3:50pm we had a start.
Off and racing!
Progress was slow, but some nearby opined that it was about twice the speed of last year's race. With commentary beginning to crackle through the speakers, the ducks bobbed slowly along in the current.
The marshals followed behind, poking at stragglers with their sticks and making sure that all 750 participants in the sold out race remained on course and didn't get stuck wallowing in the shallows.
After the excitement of the start of the race, I moved downstream to a position midway along the course and waited for the ducks to round the bend.
Ever so slowly, the ducks made their way towards us. By the time they reached the turn, the field had become quite strung out, however as the finish line drew nearer, the competitors came back together again, ready for a tight finish.
A bunch finish
 Then, after about 30 minutes and around 100 metres, the finish line was in sight. As the first duck crossed the line a cheer went up and it was quickly grabbed by an eager official who announced the winning number...

And the winner is...
It was closely followed by duck number 185 with duck 201 taking out third place. Amidst some excited chatter, the prize-winners came forward, the crowd dispersed to continue the festivities and the ducks were bundled up and taken off to begin training for next year's race.

22 February, 2014

Through the haze

In previous years at about this time I have had cause to address the issue of bushfires and this year is the same. This is a short post to show some contrasting views of the Barwon during recent fire activity.
Earlier this month on 9th February, a grass fire started on the outskirts of the township of Ceres in hot, blustery conditions. On 25th January, another grass fire broke out south of Inverleigh. Neither fire reached the banks of the Barwon and both were brought under control in a relatively short time.
Glimpses of Corio Bay and the Barwon River from Montpellier Park,
Highton, 23rd May, 2013
Whilst neither fire affected the Barwon directly, the large fire which started in the Kilmore district outside Melbourne, had enough of an impact on air quality in the Geelong region on 11th February that it also impacted significantly on visibility.
So, of course I took the opportunity to head to the river to take a few comparison shots for posterity. The above photo was taken on a clear day in May, 2013. The photo below was taken on 11th February, 2014 when the smoke from the Kilmore fire descended on the region.

"View" of the Barwon and Corio Bay, 11th February, 2014
from Montpellier Park, Highton
In addition to the view from Montpellier Park, I headed round to that other popular view point - the Barwon Valley Lookout.
Things were a little clearer there as the view was closer - but not much:

View of the Barwon looking towards Fyansford, 11th February, 2014
On a foggy/smoggy day in September, 2011 the scene looked somewhat similar:
Foggy morning, September, 2011
On a clear day however, the view looks more like this:

A clear afternoon in January, 2010
Now, almost a fortnight after the smoke from Kilmore blanketed the region, things have returned to normal and we once again have our views.

07 February, 2014

Pedal Power

It's summer in Geelong and sporting events abound. Some are local, some are national and some are international. Yesterday, one of the bigger shows around rolled into town: the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. The tour is Victoria's oldest road cycling stage race and is listed on the international cycling calendar. The arrival of the 2011 edition of the tour, finishing up Deviation Road beside the Barwon was the subject of one of my previous posts.
This year however, things were a little different. Instead of October, the event was moved forward to February and (unfortunately) there was no stage finish into Geelong and the Barwon was not on the route - although the Moorabool was, albeit briefly. So, after Wednesday's prologue in Melbourne, the first stage got underway at 10:30am along a sparkling Geelong Waterfront - but I wasn't there to see it.
Instead of fighting with the crowds in town, I opted to catch the peloton on the outskirts just outside the neutral zone and where the racing really began. Co-incidentally, it was also the point at which the riders passed between the Moorabool River as it flows from Batesford and that earliest of squatting runs taken up by John Cowie and David Stead, now the site of Kardinia International College at Bell Post Hill.
The entourage preceding the riders through Bell Post Hill
I arrived early and watched as first a string of officials streamed past - judges, timer, race director, tour guests, chief commissaire, a flotilla of marshalls and media in cars and on motorbikes, all escorted by a sizeable contingent of Geelong's finest law enforcement officers. The riders appeared over the hill en masse, with the first attempt at a breakaway already happening as I watched, with one rider off the front of the bunch by several metres.
The peloton as the race got underway
As fast as they arrived, they were gone again with their support cars and yet more police cars bringing up the rear.
The Peloton a Bell Post Hill with the Moorabool Valley behind
For them, it was out to Anakie and Staughtonvale via some steep-ish hills before heading across to Yendon and into Ballarat for the stage finish.
And then they were gone (note the attempt at an early break at the front)
For me, it was off up the highway in air-conditioned comfort to my next vantage point on the Yendon-Egerton Road where I had lunch and settled in to await the arrival of the peloton, or what remained of it after two and a half hours of solid riding, including a sprint and two hill climbs with temperatures rising to the mid-30s.
So why there you might wonder? Because this was the point at which the route crossed the Moorabool River - or to be specific, the Moorabool River West Branch. I had been there on one other occasion to snap some photos of the historic bluestone bridge which spans the river at this point.
Bluestone bridge over the Moorabool West Branch on the Yendon-Egerton Road
I doubt that this particular piece of history was of great interest to the cyclists, who began to arrive almost on schedule a little after 1pm. As before, there was the usual swarm of lead vehicles before a much-reduced bunch swept down the opposite bank and across the little bridge, passing my position as they made their way up the opposite side.
The lead riders and their support vehicles cross the Moorabool West Branch
In addition to the odd toot from the lead vehicles, I fancy I may there may even have been a quick grin or two from the bunch as they headed past - or was that just a grimace of pain?
The boys from Garmin-Sharp including - I believe - the then race leader Jack Bauer
(yellow left) and Orica GreenEDGE's Simon Gerrans (yellow right)
 Either way, the group of about thirty riders was dominated at that stage as expected by the big guns of Garmin-Sharp and Orica GreenEDGE. Following them, a lone rider from Team Budget Forklifts was trying to cross the gap with three riders - two from Rapha Condor JLT and one from the Synergy Baku Cycling Project team - in pursuit.
The next group to pass were being lead out by the UHC Pro Cycling Team and some of the African Wildlife Safaris Cycling Team with a few of the Avanti boys, a couple of the New Zealand National Team and a Cannondale rider thrown in for good measure.
Follow the leaders! The second group of riders crossing the Moorabool
A third and a fourth group followed and then one final rider who was making hard work of it up even this relatively small slope. I didn't get a photo but suffice to say you know it's been a hard day at the office when you are being lead out by the sagwagon!
A later reading of a race report informed me that it had been the plan of Orica GreenEDGE to use the parts of the stage where wind was likely to be a problem to break the peloton apart - a plan which at that point seemed to be working.
The end result I read however was that the Orica boys couldn't manage to shake Team Garmin-Sharp and it came down to a bunch sprint for the line in Ballarat in which Garmin-Sharp rider Nathan Haas just edged out Orica sprinter Matthew Goss.