Seize extra chance to peddle Ballarat’s cycling status | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

OPPORTUNITY: Ballarat-Sebastopol Cycling Club's Tim Canny tests out the new Victoria Park track earlier this year. This New Year's Day carnival, for all-age riders, is a major chance to start a big event. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric
OPPORTUNITY: Ballarat-Sebastopol Cycling Club's Tim Canny tests out the new Victoria Park track earlier this year. This New Year's Day carnival, for all-age riders, is a major chance to start a big event. Picture: Luka Kauzlaric

EXPECT to be hit hard, fast and a little like we are unused to feeling on New Year’s Day, right in central Ballarat. This will be an incredible, golden opportunity for the city.

We have professional running up in Maryborough, horse racing in Burrumbeet and even gumboot tossing mixed with bull boar eating and woodchopping up in Glenlyon.

But this New Year’s Day, quality cycling criterium racing will speed up Ballarat’s pace on January 1.

The new Ballarat Cycling Carnival is billed as the lead-in event to an expanded Cycling Australia Road National Championships.

Essentially, this is a chance for teams and riders to test out race form. For some, this is about unleashing to blow away any lingering Christmas cobwebs. For others, it is about holding back and not giving too much away.

A little like pre-season football or a soccer friendly.

The reason this is a particularly important opportunity for Ballarat is that we jumped in to fill a void amid extremely hot competition for cycling host duties.

New Year’s fell in our favour. Nationals start on Wednesday and the extremely popular bay criterium series had to be canned for the year. Scenic coastal setting in Geelong, Portarlington and Williamstown miss out.

Bay Crits draw strong crowds and fierce competition all series long.

We have a one-off chance to make our own impact.

Timing has also proved favourable with resurfacing of a 1.2-kilometre circuit for racing completed earlier this year in Victoria Park. Perfect to invite some of the nation's best over to let fly.

It might not be a seaside location, nor even have a lake view, but Victoria Park is a picturesque place to really reinforce the City of Ballarat as Australia’s cycling capital.

First-time sporting events always serve up a large unknown element.

We are yet to see how many nationals elites will take up the hit-out two days before the green-and-gold criterium jerseys are up for grabs on Sturt Street. 

But we do know many elites are already training about town.

This will also be a different experience for the city’s casual cycling fans, who are used to find a vantage point overseeing most of the course on Sturt Street.

But we do know the circuit will be extremely fan-friendly with a Ballarat flavoured, fully catered trackside village, onsite DJ and a triangular course guaranteed to promote fast, tight racing across all age groups on show.

And we do know Ballarat can do cycling preludes well.

WORLD CLASS: We know we can do prelude well, like the 2010 world championship warm-up when Italian Filippo Pozzato (right) carved up Buninyong. Picture: Lachlan Bence

WORLD CLASS: We know we can do prelude well, like the 2010 world championship warm-up when Italian Filippo Pozzato (right) carved up Buninyong. Picture: Lachlan Bence

World Cycling Classic action in late September 2010, taking in the notorious Buninyong climb, was a thrilling taste of what was set to play out in Geelong.

Headline acts in Belgian Philippe Gilbert, Brit Mark Cavendish and Norwegian Thor Hushovd were missing but the Italian men’s team, led by cycling heart-throb Filippo Pozzato, carved up the climb and set a new standard for the type of racing Buninyong should expect.

New Year’s Day is a pivotal chance for us to set the tone for a huge summer of cycling, including nationals in Ballarat later this week.

Time for us to prove what we do best – put on a great sporting show.