Australia’s new cycling calendar works well for fans

Tim Renowden Columnist

By Tim Renowden, Tim Renowden is a Roar Expert

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    Australia's GreenEdge Cycling Teams' Luke Durbridge, Stuart O'Grady and Robbie McEwen (AAP Image/Benjamin Macmahon)

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    This week’s Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic and Sun Tour were a sharp boot in the backside for those cycling fans still dozing through a haze of post-Christmas lethargy, heat-induced beach torpor and the gentle AM radio drone of the cricket.

    True, these two national series events may have lacked some big name stars and top international teams, as my colleague Sean Lee has lamented, but the best of Australia’s young riders definitely stood up to the challenge presented by more familiar names like Stuart O’Grady, Simon Gerrans, Matt Goss, Simon Clarke, and Nathan Haas.

    As an entrée to the road nationals and the Tour Down Under, January’s opening week of racing was a big success.

    Being a Melburnian, I attended the third leg of the Mitchelton crits and the final stage of the race-formerly-known-as-the-Sun Tour, to get a feel for the re-organised opening week of top level cycling in Australia.

    As a spectator, I had a great time and really enjoyed getting a glimpse of the next generation of Aussie talent from the national series, which doesn’t get a lot of press time.

    At Williamstown I was pleased to see SASI young gun Harry Carpenter acquitting himself nicely in a breakaway with Orica-GreenEDGE’s (OGE) Mitch Docker.

    Meanwhile, quietly-spoken ‘next big thing’ Caleb Ewan was winning the overall series with a mature and controlled ride to finish near the head of the bunch. Phil Liggett has already taken to comparing Ewan to Mark Cavendish, in his typically understated style (please activate your sarcasm modes).

    I’m not sure that sort of wrap is helpful for a kid who is just out of high school, but there’s no doubt he’s got plenty of speed and is one to watch, as he develops.

    OGE riders pretty much dominated the women’s race (raising murmurs of collusion), culminating in Melissa Hoskins’ stage three and overall victory. Hoskins was very impressive, controlling the race and winning the sprint easily.

    It’s a tough gig for the big name team: they have the budget (and opportunities) to attract the best riders, and they’re a little bit ‘damned if they win, damned if they lose’.

    The Jayco Herald-Sun Tour may have slipped down a few international status notches, but I still really enjoyed the racing, and starting it immediately after the crits was a great innovation, as it concentrated the spectators and put greater mainstream media attention on cycling for the afternoon.

    The debate on the merits of this re-jigged race will rumble on, but it still provided a great opportunity for young amateurs to test themselves against famous pro’s, and didn’t the likes of Calvin Watson (Jayco-VIS-Apollo), Aaron Donnelly (Huon-Salmon Genesys), and Josh Atkins (Grays Online-New Zealand) grab it with both hands?

    Their stage one breakaway, on a searingly hot and windy day in Victoria, riding into a hairdryer-hot northerly wind, and taking a couple of minutes out of the peloton, very quickly stamped out the overall hopes of some very good riders.

    I really felt for Donnelly, who fought gallantly all the way but lost his leader’s jersey on the last climb of the race. Still, chapeau to him and to the winner, Watson. Both riders to keep an eye on.

    The atmosphere on Sunday’s final climb to Arthur’s Seat was excellent, even if it requires a fair bit more dedication for most Melbourne-based spectators than a criterium on Lygon Street. There really is nothing like watching cycling on the side of a steep hill, so I’m glad I made the trip down to Arthur’s Seat for a couple of hours of sunshine, breathtaking views, and aggressive racing.

    You can’t read too much into the professionals’ form this early in the season; most of them will be in heavy training blocks and targeting top form in the spring classics or Grand Tours. Matt Goss was one top rider who clearly looked flat.

    Nathan Haas, who seemed to spend half of last season in disbelief that he’s living the dream in the World Tour, was active in winning the King of the Mountains jersey, but his flamboyant one-handed wheelie as he rode to the summit on Sunday was probably not indicative of a flat-out effort.

    Gerrans worked hard but will clearly be keeping his powder dry for his national title defence and the Tour Down Under, and Simon Clarke was also active without revealing too much form.

    Now that cycling is back, we’ve got plenty to look forward to in a season that won’t be disrupted by the Olympics.

    Two tasty little appetisers down, the cycling degustation is ready for its next course, in Ballarat.

    Tim Renowden
    Tim Renowden

    Tim Renowden has been following professional cycling closely since Indurain won his first Tour. An ex-runner, now a club grade bike racer, Tim tweets about sport at @megabicicleta.

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    The Crowd Says (7)

    • January 8th 2013 @ 9:19am
      cliffclavin said | January 8th 2013 @ 9:19am | ! Report

      the heat kept my wife and me from the action this syummer so far, but i followed on the highlights packages and enjoyed seeing and hearing about some of the younger riders coming through. Whilst cycling is for me a TV sport – i really enjoy the montonous commentary – i think i will get to arthurs seat next year if it is held there again to see it in the flesh.

      Looking forward to the nationals

    • January 8th 2013 @ 1:07pm
      Bobo said | January 8th 2013 @ 1:07pm | ! Report

      I’m glad the Sun Tour has finally made it onto the summer menu. Unfortunately (and to mix a metaphor), it has also been castrated. At least they have kept Arthur’s Seat – this should be a permanent fixture on the parcours. Another hilly stage (Buffalo? Hotham?) would be fantastic – if the race is not the warm up for the World Tour that the TdU represents, it should be the worthy pinnacle of domestic racing in Australia, and at least five stages including a TT and a MTF.

      • Columnist

        January 8th 2013 @ 1:17pm
        Tim Renowden said | January 8th 2013 @ 1:17pm | ! Report

        I agree – it was a stage short (and a prologue is no substitute for a proper ITT) and there are definitely a few tweaks that can and should be made, but I think this is the right spot in the calendar for the race. It should provide a really good tune-up before nationals, for both the overseas pro’s and the national series riders.

    • January 8th 2013 @ 4:32pm
      sittingbison said | January 8th 2013 @ 4:32pm | ! Report

      nice write up Tim, thanks. Yup its building the excitement heading towards to TdU and Spring Classics on horizon heralding the start of the season. Bring it on, this could be a great transitional year of cycling. Hopefully some of the younguns like Rolland, Bobridge, Meyer, Tejay et al can step up.

    • January 8th 2013 @ 7:13pm
      gusey said | January 8th 2013 @ 7:13pm | ! Report

      Yeah, always room for improvement but I reckon the suntour course designer should get massive congratulations, good climbs on the main stages and a track finish for one.. Great!

      So difficult to pick a winner for the nationals, I always like Cam Meyer but he’s been very quiet.. he’ll get one eventually though. Bling seems pretty pumped to be in an oge kit. Sim Clarke has to be a chance.

    • Roar Rookie

      January 9th 2013 @ 10:31am
      Justin Curran said | January 9th 2013 @ 10:31am | ! Report

      Looking forward to Nationals, looks like you had a nice spot there on Arthur’s seat Tim.

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