A rude state of health

Star-studded: Watching European pros Richie Porte and Michael Wilson enjoy a chat demonstrated the enduring success of Tasmanian cycling. Picture: Scott Gelston
Star-studded: Watching European pros Richie Porte and Michael Wilson enjoy a chat demonstrated the enduring success of Tasmanian cycling. Picture: Scott Gelston

The Stan Siejka Launceston Classic isn’t just Tasmania’s best value-for-money sporting event, it is an annual reminder of the depth of the state’s cycling talent pool.

It is a pool with a depth requiring a safety fence of Donald Trump wall proportions.

This year’s race not only farewelled three of the state’s finest and showcased those that remain at the sport’s highest level but hinted at the quantity that goes with the quality.

The elite race podiums may have been devoid of Tasmanian representation – a rare occurrence over the race’s 14-year timespan – but home-state riders still played a huge role in the day’s proceedings.

In a star-studded women’s race featuring Tasmanian Olympians and junior world champions, a first-year under-19 was able to land the bonus for first home-state rider. Hobart’s under-19 national road race champion Madeleine Fasnacht is clearly well on the way to following the bike tracks of Amy Cure, Georgia Baker, Macey Stewart and Lauren Perry.

The men’s race – a classic in every sense – appeared destined to be won by a breakaway of five mainlanders but the chasing group seemed to be permanently fronted by Tasmanians as the likes of Tom Robinson, Nathan Earle, Scott Bowden, Richie Porte, Will Clarke, Wes and Bernie Sulzberger took it in turns to lead the pursuit.

When riders of the calibre of Earle – making his second visit to Launceston on consecutive Sundays after competing in the last week’s six-hour mountain bike enduro – find themselves without a team for 2017 it shows how competitive the national cycling picture has become.

And spare a thought for Cam Wurf who, a week earlier, had spent a lazy 8:27:53 completing a full ironman in Arizona, finishing an impressive 14th place but disappointed to lose the Tassie Cup to Joe Gambles, who beat him by 15 minutes and seven places.

Having previously competed as a ProTour cyclist and Olympic rower, there could be few more versatile elite athletes in Tasmanian sport than Wurf, who was only denied a finish in the classic by a broken chain a couple of laps from home.

The Matt Goss invitational may have looked a tad pre-ordained, with the three riders whose careers it acknowledged getting to share the podium, but why not?

Goss and the Sulzbergers have every right to feel proud of their collective achievements and the ambassadors they have been for Tasmania in the process.

As a result it was a fitting tribute to see the trio not only presented with framed montages of their careers but being able to share their podium moment with their parents.

As those three climb out of the saddle, Clarke prepares to return to the WorldTour alongside Porte while Bowden – whose disappointment at narrowly missing the podium was alleviated by landing a $1000 bonus as first Tasmanian – appears destined to shift his focus towards road from mountain biking, having contested both at the Rio Olympics.

And it was a testament to how long the state has been in such a rude state of cycling health to see current Grand Tour contender Porte chewing the fat with predecessor Micheal Wilson, both having made their name in the Giro d’Italia.

While Wurf provides perhaps the clearest endorsement of the versatility of sporting prowess, Wilson surely best demonstrates the long-term fitness benefits, the Moscow Olympian having also contested last week’s mountain bike enduro, completing 13 laps of Kate Reed reserve in 6:05.27 at the age of 56.

The elite masters race showed that old cyclists don’t stop riding, they just find more coffee shops.

Riders from Tasmanian cycling clubs Northern Vets, Launceston City, Southern Tasmanian, City of Burnie, Northern Districts, Mersey Valley and even Launceston Mountain Bike Club locked horns in what has become one of the most sought-after titles on the state masters calendar.

Unfortunately for those guys, its prize pool has also made it somewhat desirable further afield with mainland riders unashamedly targeting the $2000 first prize, or maybe just the beer and salmon that goes with it.

Victorian father-of-two Tom Leaper confessed he had been training flat out for seven weeks with those prizes in mind and admitted his subsequent win was the equal of anything in his career which included three years riding professionally in Europe and the US.

After his fifth place in last year’s Tour de France and leading role in the Rio Olympic road race – both curtailed by misfortune – Porte inevitably represents the figurehead of Tasmanian cycling, particularly following Goss’s retirement.

The 31-year-old BMC team leader appears happy with the responsibility, making assorted youngsters’ days by presenting medals in the junior races, attending government press conferences and posing for countless selfies. 

The talent pool appears to be well tended by a former lifeguard.