CYCLING fever returned to Ballarat– albeit for a brief moment, yesterday afternoon.
Nathan Haas claimed the opening stage of the Herald Sun Tour, a 116-kilometre hilly trek from Geelong yesterday morning.
The 24-year-old beat Matt Goss (Orica-Green EDGE) and Jonathan Cantwell (Drapac) to the stage one win in a sprint finish.
Haas, who took out the 2011 Herald Sun Tour title, said the stage win was a surprise.
“Today is a bigger day for me than just taking yellow – it’s my first win as a professional with team Garmin,” Mr Haas said.
“To actually take the win on the line was a surprise to me to be honest.”
Cyclists raced into Sturt Street a good 15 minutes after their scheduled arrival of 1.15pm, with event organisers pinning the delay on high winds.
It seemed Ballarat spectators also had the same idea about showing up late.
At 12.30pm only a handful of people could be spotted
along the Sturt Street median strip.
It wasn’t until 1pm when crowds started to take shape, with about 100 families, CBD workers and those lucky enough to score a day off, making an appearance.
The Cunningham family spent the morning shopping in town before venturing down to Sturt Street to watch the race.
“We came here for the kids,” grandmother Jullie Cunningham said.
“It’s exciting for those watching, and is great for the younger generation. It keeps them out of mischief.”
Ms Cunningham said it would be better if the event was run across the weekend.
“A lot more people would come along,” she said.
Ballarat locals and keen cycling fans Tom Cook and Chris Arnold spent their day off watching the race with their dog Boss.
“We’re huge cycling fans, events like this are great for Ballarat,” Mr Arnold said.
Mr Arnold said there was not a lot of promotion for the event.
“At the criterium the cafes were booming and there were a lot more people walking about,” he said.
Ballarat Regional Tourism chief executive George Sossi said the event was fantastic for tourism in the region, especially with cyclists staying overnight ahead of the next stage of the tour tomorrow.
“The event has given us national media exposure,” Mr Sossi said.
“Ballarat has solidified itself as the home of road cycling.”