While the road season is finished in the Northern Hemisphere, the action is heating up down under with Australia’s oldest stage race, now in its 57th year, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour which started today. For the next seven days, 14 professional cycling teams including ProTour teams and riders familiar to the North American Racing scene will compete in the 389-mile (627.5 km) stage race held predominantly in Gippsland and eastern Victoria.
Last year, Hodgkin’s disease survivor Matt Wilson then riding for Unibet.com won the “greatest prize of his career” in front of an adoring home crowd. The 30-year-old Victorian, who now rides for Team Type 1, is back to defend his title. He will be joined by his teammate and fellow countryman Fabio Calabria who is believed to be the first rider with Type 1 diabetes to compete.
While Wilson will wear bib number 1 as the defending champion, Chadwick might ultimately wind up as Team Type 1′s leader.
“I don’t know how long I’ll be able to go,” said the 31-year-old Wilson who has been slowed by a knee injury that has limited his training.
The squad directed by Ed Beamin will start with one less rider than the other 13 teams after Chris Jones was unable to make the trip. Jones has been sick since helping Glen Chadwick win the Vuelta Mexico last month.
West Australian Henk Vogels returns to the Sun Tour with his Toyota-United team that includes a Canadian, Dominique Rollin, a Kiwi, Heath Blackgrove and a number of fellow Australians such as brothers Jonnie and Hilton Clarke who both hail from Victoria. Ben Day who also won the Sun Tour’s 2006 time-trial, is in excellent form having finished sixth overall in last week’s Tour of Missouri.
Hilton Clarke, a multiple Tour stage winner and 2006 points champion, said he was looking forward to getting back after missing last year’s race due to injury. “It is such an advantage to know a lot of the roads in country Victoria — that local knowledge should be a big help.” he added.
The Jelly Belly team will be led by Victorian Nic Sanderson and includes fellow Australian Matty Rice and Brad Huff. Other familiar names include Victorian Richard England riding for the Virgin Blue Australian national team, who will be hunting for stage wins.
Canada is also represented by a composite team, the Bicycle Superstore Canada squad, led by eight-time Canadian Champ Eric Wohlberg. The team includes fellow Symmetrics’ Andrew Randell and Will Routley, U23 riders Eric Boily and Bruno Langlois.
For many riders on the hunt for contracts, this race could be the last chance to show off to North American teams.
The race opened up with a preface (not a traditional prologue) but a circuit race in Traralgon on Sunday 12 October. Stage one to Inverloch and two to Warragul may also see the sprinters do battle for victory but the winds can be strong in this area of Gippsland so anyone expecting an easy ride is in for a surprise.
The race heads to the mountains for stage three with the finish in picturesque Marysville. The climbing on this stage is not tough enough to decide the Tour but, for those prepared to take some risks on the final tricky descent, provide an opportunity to take time on the other favourites.
Stage four is the moment of truth and the queen stage of the race. The 115.4 kilometres from Alexandra to Mt Buller will be the day that the real contenders for victory try and take the yellow jersey.
If the mountain has its way, just two or three riders will be left in contention for the overall victory going into the individual time trial at TarrWarra Estate Winery on stage five. The vineyards and rolling hills of the celebrated wine region form the perfect backdrop to the test of truth.
Traditionally the final stage is an opportunity for the leader of a Tour to bask in the glory of wearing the yellow jersey. Not so at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. The last two years have seen the race decided by just a handful of seconds making stage six anything but a relaxing ride around Lygon Street, Melbourne, for those chasing the final yellow jersey.
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Matt Wilson photo courtesy of Team Type 1