Tales from the peloton, November 30, 2005
Bradley McGee takes to the track - the race-track, that is...
Upholding a family tradition that's held towards the end of each year, Bradley McGee and his three brothers decided they'd up the stakes in 2005 - by jumping into some seriously beefed-up race cars and going hell for leather around the circuit at Eastern Creek International Raceway. Anthony Tan was there to witness high octane sibling rivalry at its best.
"Ford or Holden" was the call from the supervisor, whose 15 or so trainees had just been given their 10-minute induction to V8 Supercar racing.
"Holden! Holden!" says a youthful, skinny looking bloke in his jump suit, smiling away like Christmas had come early. It happened to be Française des Jeux pro Brad McGee.
And it turns out the four McGee bros - Brad, Rodney, Craig and Andrew - do something wild like this every year. "Last year it was go-karts; this year, we've stepped it up a notch," says Rod.
28 year-old Brad, the best-known of the McGee clan, tells Cyclingnews he's still got his Holden Monaro when he's in Sydney, but confesses it's an auto. "But don't tell anyone!" he adds. Okay, Brad...
"What about your car in Monaco - everyone drives a manual in Europe, right?" I ask.
"It is," says McGee, "but it's one of those Tiptronic things. A Porsche Cayenne," he admits, albeit a little bashfully, also looking a little more nervous as he's told to go find a helmet and stand by the pit area.
Also out at Eastern Creek Raceway this breezy Tuesday morning is New South Wales Institute of Sport (NSWIS) head coach Gary Sutton. 'Sutto' appears a bit shaky himself. "Wouldn't want to crash," he says. Good point, mate. Hope you don't give the same advice to your young 'uns at NSWIS...
"How much?" I ask.
"$300 bucks for 10 laps," Sutto says.
McGee's been told he's up in about five minutes.
"What have you been up to?" I ask.
"I just took six weeks off. I knew it was gonna hurt getting back on the bike, but I needed it. Just been goin' for a few mountain bike rides. I'm doing a charity ride with Baden [Cooke] down in Victoria later in the week - he's doing it for kids who have just recovered from cancer. Then I fly up to Brisbane for a crit on Saturday. That's going to hurt."
Brad gets the call-up.
A camera crew and photographers descend on the Holden before Brad even gets in. Adjusting his helmet, his writhes his wafer-thin body into the caged interior, snake-like, slipping into position. A few more instructions from his co-pilot ("Don't kill us" is probably one of them) before Brad whacks the stick into first, lets go off the clutch pedal, and is off. Like a rocket.
From an observer's viewpoint, McGee's doing nicely. Going wide into the corners, holding a good line before accelerating, opening up the throttle down the straights. The sound's awesome... until you get a migraine.
After five laps, he comes in for a breather.
"Mate, I can tell ya, there's a lot of sweat under this suit!" McGee exclaims.
"How are you doing?"
"Ask the coach!"
"How did he do, coach?"
"Very well, 10 out of 10," says the co-pilot.
"Maybe that's because we haven't gone off-road yet," laughs McGee. The instructor's face tenses.
"Tell us about the bends, the straights..."
"There's so much to think about, y'know; these guys that race for an hour, their concentration must be incredible. These guys (nodding to his co-pilot), their [tolerance to] fear must be incredible, too!"
"How does it compare to riding a push-bike?"
"Oh, it's all different. Here, you're accelerating through corners, whereas on our bikes, you've got nothing to go with in the middle of the bends - it changes everything."
Okay, enough talk, get back out there, son!
McGee lets it rip. (And no, he didn't fart.)
Over the last two laps, it appears McGee's going slower. Tired? This guy rode the Tour de France, for %*&^'s sake! He has been off the bike a long time.
His one and only pit crew member signals him in. McGee's sweating profusely. "Couldn't have done another lap," he gasps, holding onto the chassis to hoist his 72 kilos out of the Supercar.
Perplexed as to why he looks so stuffed, I pop-quiz him: "Was it the concentration?"
"Yeah, everything, even changing the gears. I missed a few gear changes near the end.
"It's like being on the bike," McGee adds. "If you're on a long, 30k descent, by the bottom of it, you're actually looking forward to the flat; your neck, your hands are taking the weight, concentrating in and out of bends you don't know."
"Did it take a while to get used to the clutch and gears?" I ask.
"The gears are actually not that bad, it's just the where you lay it on; it's a bit of a balancing act. I think it's because you're tensed up. You've got to set yourself up; you've got to be aware that if you want to speed out of the corner, you've got to do everything right before it."
"Do you mean choosing the right line?"
"It's setting the balance up. It's like bike riding in that if you're not balanced right into the corner - I guess there's less room for error on a bike entering a corner, because once you slide your tyre on a bike, it's all over; if you're good, you might be able to get away with it a bit, but if your front wheel goes, it's all over - whereas with this thing, you can slide and get out of it, but you lose all your speed."
"Are you really stuffed?" I ask him again, still a little dubious.
"I am." I take a closer look at him. He is.
Poses his brother Rod, "Imagine doing Bathurst."
"Two wheels before four anytime!" says Brad.
Editor's note: Look out for a CYCLING related interview with Brad McGee soon on Cyclingnews.