The road races at this year’s Cycling Australia Road National Championships couldn’t have been scripted better, with thrilling wins in every category.
After a dramatic disqualification, Francesca Sewell took home the gold in the women’s under-19 race despite crashing on the final straight and running her bike to the finish line, and in the under-19 men, Bendigo brothers Patrick and Sam Eddy made it a one-two finish.
The under-23 men featured a Ballarat winner, Nick White.
On Sunday, 18-year-old Sarah Gigante cemented herself as Australia’s most exciting cyclist right now by smashing the pros in the elite women’s race, while Michael Freiburg crept up to the leaders to launch an attack with less than a kilometre to go, sealing the elite men’s crown.
Organisers lauded Buninyong for turning out to watch an incredible weekend of racing.
Cycling Australia chairman Duncan Murray said there was a great atmosphere, in the town and at the top of the mountain.
“Cycling’s a grassroots sport, traditionally, and it’s fabulous to see it so healthy in a regional town,” he said.
“There’s kids, families, and elite bike riders ... in a regional town on a Sunday in perfect weather, this is as good as sport gets - it’s better than Boxing Day at the MCG.”
He added Gigante’s win “personifies what’s beautiful about parts of this sport.”
Kipp Kaufman, Cycling Australia’s sports manager, agreed.
“Sarah Gigante’s ability to step up and beat professional women, some of the best in the world, shows the sport is really strong,” he adding the inclusion of the para-cycling was also a highlight.
“One of the para-cyclists said they’d never seen (such big crowds) in Australia before,” he said.
“Each part is working well together now, it’s not just about the elite race - we’ve had two fabulous elite races, not to take away from them - but now they’re not the only thing, and there’s so much to it.”
There’s plenty of scope for the event to grow, with Mr Murray pointing to Innsbruck’s festival of cycling at the World Championships in Austria.
“They used the event as a hub for a series of activities - the Austrians are very good at this, they had arts, theatre, a whole raft of other events they hung around the cycling festival,” he said.
“If you’d said five years ago that CA would be sanctioning an eCrit, where people are winning national championship jerseys from Phillip Island and Sydney, or the fixed gear criteriums … as we create more events and put more content into it, to stretch it out to five or six days, it becomes more of a festival.”
Mr Kaufmann said there were already plans in the works for next year.
“We want to look at how we can improve the number of people visiting here and make it a greater weekend - we’ll do it quickly and let people know early so they can plan to be in Ballarat for January next year,” he said.
“We still have two days, with multiple world champions racing in the time trials.”
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