Huge week for road cycling in Tasmania

Peanut sorted: The success of events like the Launceston Classic offers some hope for the future of Australian road cycling. Picture: Phillip Biggs
Peanut sorted: The success of events like the Launceston Classic offers some hope for the future of Australian road cycling. Picture: Phillip Biggs

It is an impressive act of contortionism that just as Australia appears to be turning its back on road cycling, Tasmania is welcoming it with open arms.

As the national cycling body minimises its road operation, our state is maxing out on the stuff.

Cycling Australia's track-at-all-costs directive – as dissected so eloquently by columnist Brian Roe on Sunday and so flippantly by yours truly a couple of weeks ago – offers about as much road support as a paper bridge.

But in the space of a week down here on the mainland, we’ve binged out on two of the best road races in the country followed by news of one of the biggest in the continent.

Securing next year’s Oceania Road Cycling Championships is a peacock-sized feather in the helmet of Cycling Tasmania.

Having proved its worth by successfully staging a succession of junior national championships, the state body has been given an elite continental event for three years.

The smile was as difficult to get off the face of CT executive officer Collin Burns as his sunglasses after a sun-drenched week which had showcased the state’s ability to stage exceptional road cycling.

Securing next year’s Oceania Road Cycling Championships is a peacock-sized feather in the helmet of Cycling Tasmania

In various guises, the Tour of Tasmania has been running since its wily race director John Trevorrow was a fresh-faced teenager and in much the same way has matured into a remarkable and engaging example of its species.

Last week’s edition benefitted from experienced guidance, exceptional weather and exhilarating scenery.

Perhaps the only three words that strike more fear into Tasmanian cyclists than “bogan Commodore driver” are “Gunns Plains stage”.

Having already showcased the uphill delights of Brisbane Street, Grindelwald and Poatina, the five-day tour went on a meandering, undulating, magical mystery tour of what Trevorrow calls“the Tasmanian hinterland”.

Sending the field off from Ulverstone, Central Coast councillor Gary Carpenter spoke to the riders in their language.

“You’re in Amy Cure country now,” he told them and for the next 108.9 kilometres flat roads were about as scarce as clouds as riders shared the West Pine world champion’s training ground.

Cruising some of Australia’s most fertile terrain to the bemusement of countless cows, the riders, officials, coaches and clingers-on got to see Mount Roland from more angles than even Mrs Roland has been treated to.

Amid scenery that would see artists get through more green than all other colours combined, wedge-tailed eagles circled high above, presumably with a keen eye on anything flagging off the back of the peloton.

A course profile that resembled an over-active heart monitor combined with the sweltering temperature to take a hefty toll as 16 riders failed to finish and another five did so outside the time limit.

While those 21 casualties might disagree, it was a 2 hour, 48 minute and 39 second showcase of everything Tasmanian cycling has to offer and Australian cycling is opting to neglect.

Dovetailing the tour with the Stan Siejka Launceston Cycling Classic worked wonders.

Most of the tour riders stayed on and seized a welcome rest day before saddling up for Sunday’s criterium which resulted in a record field for the elite men’s race.

The result was another superb afternoon of entertainment.

Since Hilton Clarke won the inaugural race in 2002, the classic has evolved into Tasmania’s best value-for-money sporting event.

Big prize money and sound organisation has ensured a constant flow of the country’s best riders – a trend which continued this year through multiple world champion Alex Edmondson.

Organisers have never been scared to experiment as the format has come to include an elite women’s race, junior and masters contests and even a running element for a couple of years.

This year’s innovation was an uphill duel on Lawrence Street and the novel concept of cyclists pedaling furiously away from a pub was surprisingly successful and seems destined to remain on the annual program.

If there was a disappointment it was the size of the elite women’s field. Most right-thinking spectators would be all for gender equation but when there’s only 22 women chasing the same prize money as 89 men, where’s the equality?

That quibble aside, it was a stunning week of cycling and a perfect platform for the likes of Lionel Mawditt, James Whelan, Ryan Cavanagh, Catelyn Turner and Henley James-Smith to pursue their dreams of becoming the next Richie Porte.

If only the national cycling strategy shared that dream.