As I sit here in the centre of Darebin International Sport Centre I begin to think about what makes track cycling so much fun to be around. Everyone loves a good track carnival. How come you will get a bunch of roadies fronting up to spectate when normally they wouldn’t touch a track bike unless you held a gun to their head? Now all of a sudden you find them happy to sit for 3 hours watching others go around in circles?
Well these big wheel races gives a sense of friendliness, a sense of community and a shared enjoyment that road will never offer. For some this comes as a trade-off against a lack of perceived ‘epicness’. For people, the allure of a Dandenongs Dirty Dozen or racing up Mt Baw Baw gives that spine tingling sense of awe that just makes people want to ride. These people want to be different. They want people to think they are mad. Frankly, they are mad. But for others, the idea of a fast and frantic wheel race final that sends lactic acid coursing into all corners of your body is the very definition of epic.
Saturday evening saw the 115th edition of the Austral Wheelrace run and won by Jason Niblett. Harking back to 1887 the Austral is the oldest track race in the world. Only a brief glance at the honour roll shows names such as Sid Patterson, Russel Mockridge, Gary Neiwand or Danny Clarke. One can’t help but feel the prestige of the event, it’s encapsulating.
Jason Niblett riding from 90 metres took out the Men’s Wheelrace in his final race before retirement ahead of Kyle Thompson (150m) and Oliver Phillips (155m). Special mention goes to Phillips who was out all of the previous evening and only made it to the track on time thanks to his 5pm alarm clock. He is certainly living up to the party ideals of a true six-day track racer — chapeau Ollie.
In other events the highlight was the outstanding performance of Nicholas Yallouris from NSW who won the Invitational Keirin in a performance so exciting it had his sprint coach Ben Kersten leaping in elation from the centre field. Leif Lampater from Germany and Franco Marvulli of Switzerland were two of the stand-out international riders in the Victorian Open Scratch Race Championship. They went one-two respectively and all in spite of stepping off their 20-plus-hour international flights just that morning.