Crash course in ride’s courageous demands | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

DETERMINED: Australia's Richie Porte hot on the wheels of Tour favourite Chris Froome in the peloton during stage nine before crashing out in France earlier this week. Picture: Getty Images

DETERMINED: Australia's Richie Porte hot on the wheels of Tour favourite Chris Froome in the peloton during stage nine before crashing out in France earlier this week. Picture: Getty Images

BRUTAL, horrific cycling crashes have unfolded on our screens this week, direct from Le Tour de France.

As shocking as these might be, it was a sharp reminder just how committed and courageous elite cyclists can ride.

And we get a taste of this in our backyard.

Tasmanian Richie Porte is a two-time Australian road race bronze medallist in Buninyong and the 2015 Australian time trial champion.

Porte was shaping up as the key challenger to Tour favourite Chris Froome until his race was shattered early this week in what is touted one of the worst crashes in Tour history. He shattered a collarbone and pelvis after tearing downhill, topping speeds of 70km/h.

Buninyong is a starkly different ride to Le Tour but, in its past 11 consecutive years in town, the Cycling Australia Road National Championships have increasingly served up high-calibre racing – our nation’s absolute best – and stakes are high.

Each year the national jersey becomes more coveted to take to the world stage.

ATTACK: Richie Porte is a proven top contender and hard rider on our roads, like here outside Buninyong, for the 2016 road national time trial. Picture: Lachlan Bence

ATTACK: Richie Porte is a proven top contender and hard rider on our roads, like here outside Buninyong, for the 2016 road national time trial. Picture: Lachlan Bence

Often riders look so seamlessly smooth – especially if you saw some of the world’s glide up Mount Buninyong in the 2010 UCI world championship pre-tour race.

But we do not tend to appreciate just how much elites are pushing the line until something goes wrong.

The faster the rider and the greater risks taken, the smaller the margin for error.

Porte’s crash was the extreme example.

This stage was notoriously treacherous, conditions were slippery and the devastating string of crashes raised questions as to whether such descents should even be part of the Tour. But riders were well-versed in what lay ahead and how much they could try to push it.

Porte himself was reported speaking of the stage dangers and has since said he remembers the corner, did not think they were travelling that fast, but felt his back wheel lock up before losing control.

Veteran Ballarat cyclist Pat Shaw, now an Australian cycling commentator, tweeted it reminded him of his own horrific crash on the 2005 Sun Tour: a mistimed corner, riding at 80km/h.

Shaw sustained extensive injuries to his jaw, leg, face, including breaking his nose in six places.

One slip can have a massive impact.

Cycling Australia declared in April the national will stay in Ballarat for three more years and Australia’s home of cycling will continue to grow bigger and better.

The sport continues to boom. Nationals are flanked by a sharp, thrilling criterium series and UCI world tour events in South Australia and on the Great Ocean Road.

The standard of racing keeps lifting as more, top-end elites continue to push the benchmark on our roads. 

These events are inspiring a whole new cycling movement with greater inspiration and opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to get riding.

More attention is on Buninyong action. More is at stake.

We must appreciate the level of technical expertise, tactical prowess and sheer athleticism that plays out on our stage rather than wait for a crashing reminder.