Twenty years ago three Exeter schoolboys took to frequenting the town’s bike track between their footy commitments.
What places the trio apart from other kids doing the same thing is where that experience would lead them.
On Sunday, brothers Bernie and Wes Sulzberger and their former Flowery Gully neighbour Matt Goss will bring down the curtain on careers that have included national titles, world championships, Olympic Games and the Tour de France.
All three have been racing professionally since their teens, across America, Europe, Asia and Australia, with Wes alone calculating he has competed in 27 countries.
Their achievements span the globe from Bernie winning the 2009 Tour of Tasmania to Goss claiming the famed Milan-San Remo classic two years later while also competing at the trifecta of world championships, Commonwealth and Olympic Games and winning stages of all three Grand Tours.
They will conclude their careers together in their home-town Stan Siejka Launceston Classic, the race which catapulted Goss into the limelight with the first of his three wins and in which both Sulzbergers have graced the podium.
While understandably proud of their collective achievements in world cycling, they are just as content to reflect on their early days on two wheels, whether it was BMX bikes or Pee-Wee 50cc motorcycles.
“We’ve come a bloody long way since then,” Goss said. “I was riding a Malvern Star. It was a ripper, single speed with a clutch.
“We used to ride around Beauty Point, Rowella, Beaconsfield and always down at the Exeter track. It was good fun. I used to be a lot harder then. I would go out in shorts when it was just seven degrees and it wouldn’t worry me.”
All three went to Exeter primary and high schools, Wes Sulzberger and Goss in the same grade, and played footy together in the Exeter mini-league.
“Bernie was first to get into bikes and Gossy and I followed,” said Wes, who was to become a teammate of Goss at world championships and Australia's first ProTour team GreenEdge.
“I remember once Bernie showed me how to hook someone to position yourself when you are racing against them. “I tried it with Gossy the next time we were out riding and I knocked him off so I guess he had the introduction into my first skill session.”
Bernie said the friendships forged on the West Tamar have endured the years and kilometres that followed.
“Matt lived 200 metres down the road before he moved to Rowella,” he said.
“We were always mucking about on motorbikes, Pee-Wee 50s. They were good times growing up together and we still see a lot of each other.
“A lot of happy memories growing up in Flowery Gully mucking around together. A few grazed shins and a few crashes but I think we’ve all come out all right from it.”
With four children between them and another on the way for Wes, the three dads said the race is a perfect way to end their professional cycling careers and begin the next chapter of their lives.
A former track world champion and London Olympian, Goss announced his retirement from his European home in Monaco before turning 30 earlier this month.
“It’s a tough decision to say those words but once it’s done and dusted and out there it’s more a feeling of relief and excitement about the next chapter.
“I’ve spent the last 12 or 13 years on the road, living out of hotels so I’m looking forward to being based in one place.”
As for what is next or where it will be, Goss remains uncertain.
“Still nothing confirmed. I have a few irons in the fire but nothing set in stone.
“Monaco is where we are at the moment, we’re just not certain where we’re going next. It could be Tasmania, it depends on work.”
Father-of-two Bernie, who was the 2008 Australian criterium champion and turns 33 next month, will be working part-time in Tasmania outside of cycling.
“It’s something a bit different,” he said. “I will still be able to ride socially and do club races so I will keep involved in cycling.
“China was my last international race (Tour of Hainan) and did not go too bad. I ended up just three points shy of the king of the mountains jersey so I was happy how I went out.
“We’ve all had children and are at different stages of our lives now. It’s a pretty big change but obviously a nice one for the future.”
Wes, 30, won under-23 road race gold and silver medals at national and world championships respectively back in 2007 and has since contested four Grand Tours during his ProTour career.
He has started up a coaching business (enroutecoach.com) and on his website bio recalls racing across almost every country in Western Europe plus Turkey, Qatar, China, South Korea, Tibet, Taiwan, Philippines, Japan, Malaysia, Indonesia, New Zealand, America and Canada.
“I’ve really enjoyed where I’ve gone and what I’ve done,” he said.
“If you’d said all those things to me when I was racing as a junior I’d have been delighted. Having those ticked off, my bucket list is pretty complete. The only thing I didn’t get to do was the Giro but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve accomplished.
“I’m still only 30 so have a lot of time to invest into the new chapter in my life. It’s a bit scary but also exciting.
“I’ve got nothing concrete lined up, I’m just trying to work out what I want to do. I’ll definitely keep involved in cycling but to what extent I don’t know.”
As veterans of the Launceston Classic, which Goss won in 2004, 2007 and 2010, the trio also have strong views on this year’s race.
“I’ve heard Scott Sunderland is coming down and he’d be one of the favourites to watch,” Bernie said.
“He’s won a lot of crits and is very fast on his day while Neil van der Ploeg is also a great crit rider. A couple of years ago he crashed three times and still won so is a pretty hard character.”
Wes, who finished second behind Goss in 2007 and another Tasmanian winner, Will Clarke, two years later, added: “Anthony Giacoppo won it last year and has been quite strong this season. I raced against him in the Tour of Japan where he won a couple of stages so I think he will be one to watch.”
- WHAT: Stan Siejka Launceston Cycling Classic
- WHEN: Sunday
- WHERE: Criterium around Brisbane, Tamar, Cimitiere and Lawrence streets
- DETAILS: www.launcestoncyclingfestival.org