If you're a cycling enthusiast, or just a fan of the sport, this weekend was probably as good as it gets in our neck of the woods.
The local cycling club held its annual track carnival starting Friday night and winding up Sunday night. Now the Townsville Cup on Wheels is a pretty good event on its own- but this year had an extra bit of zip in the program.
Nick Gates, who has been riding with Silence Lotto, decided he was going to start a foundation to assist young talented riders from our region. It can cost a lot of money to get the riders off to take part in races across the state and country- so as a means of helping the parents, Nick has kicked off his program here in Townsville and he got things going with the help of some of his SL team mates and other cyclists/friends from his years on the circuit.
On Friday night at the track, Nick and some of his mates came along to offer support, sign autographs and even act as track side handlers for some of the racers. Some of his mates included Matt Lloyd, Matt White, Henk Vogels and Robbie McEwen. That's Nick and his dad looking to the right and Robbie McEwen watching the track action. Also on hand at the track to take part in the festivities and a few of the races was Athens Olympic gold medallist, Sara Carrigan.
Photos courtesy of Dee
On Saturday, Nick organised a series of criterium races along our beachfront road, The Strand. There was a kids' race, then a sponsors' crit- which I have to confess I found embarrasing due to the dearth of sponsors- and then the main event where elite riders from here in Noth Queensland and other parts of the state got the opportunity to ride with and against some of the big boys of professional cycling.
The race was originally scheduled to be 1 hour plus three laps of a 1.6 km hot-dog circuit; however, with roadside temperatures reaching 40C and humidity probably around 80%, the race was cut back by 15 minutes. Even at that, there was a fairly high attrition rate and from our vantage point, I heard several riders exclaim, "I can't f*^#ing breathe!!".
All I can say is, "Welcome to cycling in the tropics folks!!"
The race had a somewhat predictable fairytale ending as it was Nick's last race before retiring and I guess it was fair that after so many years having ridden as domestique to other riders, it was their turn to do some work for Nick and ensure he was first across the line with his hands in the air.
Our local guys who took part did themselves proud mixing it with the pros and I don't think we lost anyone to the conditions on the day.
Afterward, the pros stayed around to be interviewed by the various media in attendance and then sign autographs and pose for photos. I thought I'd see what we could do so headed off to the scrum around the finish line/podium area. I was pleasantly surprised by the photos we were able to take as you'll see following:
That's Nick and I comparing jerseys after Saturday's road race- he in his Nick Gates' Foundation kit and me resplendent in my Fat Cyclist jersey. It's amazing how many comments my FC jersey got- good on ya Fatty and Twin Six**!!
I had to try for a shot with Robbie McEwen- he is one of the great sprinters and not surprisingly, many others in the crowd were thinking much the same thing. That's Robbie, just above the white ballcap talking to the media and Henk Vogels in the Toyota United jersey. Surely we could do better than this. And I'm not quite certain but that could be Morticia from "The Addams Family" just off to my right.....
Well, yes, we did.
But in between those shots, Dee and I managed to get our picture taken with another bloke who had shown up for the day..........that is indeed Cadel Evans. Now before you say, "Jeez BoaB, you must be pretty short!!", let me say that "Yes I am, but Cadel and Dee are standing up on the kerb (curb in North America) and I am on the road."
** From above- even Cadel's wife liked the Fat Cyclist jersey and said she intended to order one for her Dad
I was struck by how quiet and softly spoken Cadel is. Turns out he couldn't race as he has had some leg injury problems recently but was still willing to come along and give Nick some assistance. He only arrived in Townsville from Melbourne just before the start of the race. Dee was thrilled when he took note of her bike and started asking questions about the geometry of it as he has rarely seen a genuine women's specific bike. Yes he said manufacturers said they produced WSB's but more often than not, they were just rebadged small size bikes. "Those are 650 wheels aren't they?"
"Umm, no they're 700's."
"Gee they've just shrunk everything in proportion, they look smaller." I think he was impressed.
Then last night was the gala dinner where the bubbles flowed and the stories from the various tour campaigns were told. And then came the auction and I dare say that some people walked away from the dinner with some exceptional bargains. The best of all being one of Cadel's Ridleys that he actually rode in this year's Tour de France. The bike would probably be about $10,000 straight off the floor of a shop, but throw in the titanium bearings and its history and it was signed for the purchaser by Cadel at the time of the auction- I think the $15,500 price was an absolute steal.
A Robbie McEwen TdF green sprinter's jersey and a TdF leader's yellow jersey were also amongst the auctioned items. Throughout the night, all of the riders were very approachable and talkative with any and all who wanted a chat.
It was, I suspect, the closest I will ever get to that many world class cyclists in my life and a weekend not to be soon forgotten.
The list: Cadel Evans, Robbie McEwen, Baden Cooke, Matt Lloyd, Scott Davis, Jurgen Roelandts, Henk Vogels, Jason Phillips, Trent Wilson, Johnathon Cantwell, Wim VanSevenant, Matt White, Matt Wilson and Sara Carrigan.
Ride safe- cheers