Two exciting, tightly-fought sprint wins and a local champion – you couldn’t script a better result for Buninyong’s biggest day of the year and the 2018 Fed Uni Road National Championships.
A crowd of up to 20,000 cycling fans lined the 11.6km course to cheer on the elite men and women as they tackled the championship race.
For the first time the race was extended through the Federation University campus, an extension that race director Scott McGrory said was popular with the cyclists.
Mr McGrory said the descent down Gear Ave to turn in to the university was the steepest and one of the fastest parts of the course, with cyclists reaching 80kmh.
Cycling Australia chairman Steve Bracks said the close finishes in both the men’s and women’s races were stunning.
“No one could have scripted these great athletes having such close finishes,” he said.
“The extra events added as part of the National Road Championships this year, the para cycling and live coverage of the women’s race, have added to the event enormously.”
Cycling broadcasting legend Phil Liggett said local rider Shannon Malseed’s win in the women’s elite event was his highlight of the day.
“It’s taken 17 years but we finally got a local winner and Shannon Malseed is definitely one to watch. She’s just signed for the TIBCO-Silicon Valley Bank team and she has a great future.”
Mr Liggett said Alex Edmonson’s surprise win in the men’s elite event was the result of too many good riders in the field, with riders from the top teams marking each other out of the race.
Before Edmonson was crowned national champion, the crowd in front of the podium again paused to remember Jason Lowndes, who was killed near Bendigo on December 22 while training for this event.
Jason’s parents Graeme and Trudy watched the race and took to the stage to present a $2000 cheque to the Amy Gillett Foundation, to further enhance cyclist’s road safety. The grieving couple had asked people to donate money in lieu of flowers at the funeral, and their local Bendigo cycling club had held a raffle to raise money.
Cycling Australia chief executive Nick Green said the 2018 event marked two major milestones – the inclusion of the para-cyclists and broadcasting of the women’s race.
The only down side of the five-day event was Saturday’s scorcher which led to races being rescheduled and cancellation of the Gran Fondo.
“We wanted to protect the championship race and it ended up the weather allowed us to hold the elite men’s and women’s races early, but what did suffer was the Gran Fondo mass participation event which was disappointing,” Mr Green said.
Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh was excited to see a local woman win the national championship.
“Given this is the first year we’ve had a live broadcast of the female elite event, it’s wonderful. What we saw were the true champions of the event who we will celebrate for the year.”
Making a pilgrimage to Mount Buninyong
For all of the 12 years the Cycling Road Nationals have been centred at Mount Buninyong, John Hine has been there.
The 78-year-old Geelong resident who has been riding since he was four never misses the chance to see the nation’s best in action, even bringing his Malvern Star along to tackle some of the race slopes himself.
The 1980 winner of the Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic road race said “it’s a good race and it should be held here every year”.
Region the winner as fans flock from far and wide
Any concerns about Mount Buninyong again playing host to the Cycling Road Nationals were quickly cast aside on Sunday afternoon when thousands of racing enthusiasts packed the streets once more.
This time 12 months ago speculation was mounting as to whether Ballarat would continue to stage to the nation’s championship race, however that did little to damage the ever-festive mood atop of Mount Buninyong on Sunday afternoon.
The party-like atmosphere stretched right along Mount Buninyong Road while the live site set up towards the top of the hill proved a hit with traders who were pumping all afternoon.
Ballarat City mayor Samantha McIntosh said council had no doubt securing the event for a further three years had been worth the money and resources.
“We know what it means for Ballarat business, we know that our accommodation is booked, hospitality venues are flat out, the coffee shops are absolutely buzzing, there’s no doubt it was the right move,” Cr McIntosh said.
“There is great confidence from the race directors and they seem to be very excited that there’s such support from our community and business.”
While it’s uncertain precisely how many tourists visited for the 2018 incarnation, last year’s race attracted a 20,000-strong crowd.
A commitment made last year ensured the race which has been centered around Mount Buninyong for 12 years will continue to call Ballarat home until at least 2020.
Among those who made the trek from interstate was cycling enthusiast Harry Rourke, who made the trip with his camper van from Emerald Beach in New South Wales.
On his third visit the Road Nationals, the masters cyclist said the challenging track was good for spectators and racing alike. "It's a great circuit and you've got to be a good rider to win it," Mr Rourke said. "The shorter circuit means you get to watch the race develop."