Just like the ‘pioneer bicycle trip to the Mount’ on September 30, 1883, it is no surprise that, over a century later, this ride has become almost a pilgrimage that thousands of cyclists make each year. And they are rewarded at the top of their climb with welcoming locals, a hot coffee and warm muffin. This cyclist’s paradise makes Kinglake the perfect place to host the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour.
The final stage of the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour 2018 was blessed with a perfect summer’s day, in contrast to the infamous Kinglake drizzle and overcast day that greeted last year’s event. Only those with 152kms of cycling ahead of them would have had any objections to the warmth of the day.
After the huge success of last year’s event, locals and organisers were a little more familiar and prepared in 2018, and by the early hours of Sunday the centre of Kinglake became a virtual hive of activity. Local community groups and race organisers alike busily put together the final elements to host the ultimate stage of this spectacular race, the oldest cycling stage race in Australia.
Cycling groups from across Melbourne suburbs arrived early, including regulars from Cycle House Greensborough – supporting their own previous co-rider turned professional, Lionel Mawdit (KordaMentha) – as well as groups from McKinnon and Coburg and they enjoyed a break at the bakery as part of their 120km morning ride prior to the race start.
Featuring the last stage of the Tour, the Kinglake stage comprised of five laps of an undulating circuit, which took cyclists from Main Street in Kinglake to the Melba Highway then returning via West Bridge Road and Kinglake-Glenburn Road. Perhaps the riders last year still looked a little fresh as they crossed the finish line, because the organisers decided to add an extra lap to the course for 2018.
A genuine Kinglake welcome was on show again and the town was buzzing, with the Foodworks supermarket, the bakery, Cappa Rossi’s café and the Kinglake Pub all welcoming the extra clientele with a smile and some warm local hospitality.
As the build up to the start of the race gathered momentum, the crowds were treated to the spectacle of decorated bikes racing along Main Street of Kinglake. Amongst the competitors, a pirate-themed bike raced alongside a crowd-favourite guitar-adorned bike, together with a unicycle, a scooter and a fast-finishing Penny Farthing.
The Penny Farthing was one of several on show as part of the festivities in the centre of town, adding a touch of nostalgia to the day. The current female National Penny Farthing Champion, Joanne Junor, was on hand to display her talent for riding the high-wheel bicycle, with her sons Bradley and Joshua also showing their skills on the velocipede. With a genuine local connection, the Penny Farthings were built by local Kinglake West resident John Bennett. A National Penny Farthing Champion himself in the veterans’ category in 2016, John has a passion for building custom-made Penny Farthings which are ridden and raced with exceptional success throughout Australia, in particular in Evendale, Tasmania, which hosts the national championships each year.
As the competitors lined up at the starting line, the magnificent voice of local teenager, Cherry Anderson, performed Advance Australia Fair for the excited crowd. With the town bathed in glorious sunshine, Cr.Leigh Dunscombe fired the starter’s gun at 11:45am to get the race under way.
Amidst the festivities, the Rotary Club and Football-Netball club ensured the sausages were sizzling, Kinglake Ranges Radio broadcast from the event, and Emergency Service volunteers rattled their cans. Curious and supportive locals mingled with cycling fans from “off the hill”, all enjoying a variety of foods on offer as they awaited the cyclists return as each lap was completed by the peloton.
Among the field of professional riders competing on the day was the U23 National Australian Road champion, Cyrus Monk. The talented young Australian cyclist was well supported, including one fan in particular who expressed his allegiance with a custom t-shirt that proudly read “I am Cyrus Monk’s Grandfather!”
With the absence of last year’s international drawcard, four-time Tour De France champion Chris Froome, along with UCI Pro Team Sky, crowd numbers throughout the day seemed down on last year’s event. However, as the riders made their way back to the centre of town for the final time, the local residents came out in force lining both sides of Main Street as they rang traditional cow-bells and cheered home the cyclists.
Local cycling enthusiast, Laurie Andrews, prophetically suggested before the race that Mitchelton-Scott team would do enough to hold on for victory – “I think they’ll defend the yellow for Chaves”, predicted Andrews. Not only did the team defend the leader’s jersey, but they secured all three podium places by the end of the day.
The eventual winner of the final stage was Sam Crome (Bennelong Swiss Wellness), who out-sprinted the more fancied Cameron Meyer (Orica-Scott).
Estaban Chaves “the Colombian Kangaroo” - so called because of his enormous mutual appreciation in Australia – finished the stage amongst the sprint group in 11th place to retain the leader’s yellow jersey. In doing so, he became the first Colombian winner of the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour in its 66 year history. Also a first was the fact that all three podium positions were filled by riders from the same team – Mitchelton-Scott, which has evolved from the Australian world tour team originally brought to life as Orica-GreenEDGE.
Dylan Sutherland (Bennelong Swiss Wellness) won the white jersey for best young rider, Steele Von Hoff (Bennelong Swiss Wellness) the green sprinters jersey and, the polka-dot jersey for the King of the Mountain was only decided on the penultimate Kinglake climb with Nathan Earle (Israel Cycling Academy) claiming the honours.
The festive nature of the day was obvious in the many smiles on the faces of locals and visitors alike, even those not necessarily “into cycling”. It has been wonderful for the community to again host Australia’s oldest stage race and present some of the best that Kinglake has to offer to a worldwide audience. As a community, we can look forward to the event hopefully returning to Kinglake in the future, as it offers a great opportunity for our local community groups to fundraise and for the region to showcase itself as a popular destination for cyclists and tourists alike. Once again our local volunteers did an excellent job providing their time and resources towards assisting the event, in particular the local CFA and SES representatives.
As the riders and supporters made their way off the hill at the end of the day, another successful event showcased the natural beauty of the region. For many who watched the global broadcast, it was easy to see the allure of the Kinglake Ranges, which continues to appeal. The challenging hills and beautiful mountain scenery attracts avid cyclists, and this appeal is shared in common with those of us who call Kinglake home. For the weekend cyclist, this paradise can be a 2-3 hours ride away. For us, the local residents, this beauty is conveniently on our doorstep.