An ode to the Australian summer of racing

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When Chris Froome (Sky) crossed the finish line atop Arthurs Seat on the final day of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, he didn’t just bring that race to a close — he also closed out the Australian summer of racing. And after a long, action-packed few months of racing, riders, fans and the Australian cycling media are collectively taking a deep breath and reflecting on the summer that’s been.

Since the very first day of 2016, there’s been a constant stream of exciting and enjoyable racing in Australia’s southern states. The Bay Crits, the Road Nationals, the Tour Down Under, Cadel’s Race and, most recently, the Sun Tour — it’s truly been a whirlwind, with plenty of days on the road for riders and for the press.

And as tiring as it’s been, it’s with great sadness that we bid farewell to the Aussie summer of racing. After all, there is simply no better time to be an Australian road cycling fan than January and February.

Watching the Aussie Road Nationals from Mt. Buninyong is always a highlight of the summer.

While Europeans and other residents of the Northern Hemisphere are suffering through the depths of winter, we Aussies get the opportunity to watch great racing in terrific, warm weather.

For the Aussie pros that live in Europe, coming back to Australia in summer is ideal for getting in some early season racing kilometres in favourable weather and with home support. For domestic riders, it’s a chance to rub shoulders with some of the world’s best, to see how they stack up and to hopefully attract the attention of those watching around the world.

And as great as the racing is, it’s arguably the ability to combine one’s own riding with race-watching that makes the Aussie summer of racing so enjoyable. This is no more evident than at the Santos Tour Down Under.

Masses of cyclists from around the country descend on Adelaide to watch the race, but also to ride their bikes in the nearby hills. The hub-and-spoke nature of the race means it’s easy to ride out from Adelaide and see the race each day, all while getting in some quality kilometres yourself.

And it’s not just the TDU that offers great riding experiences. The Road Nationals in Ballarat, Cadel’s Race in Geelong, and the Sun Tour in regional Victoria all provide a multitude of great riding opportunities.

For many cyclists, the prospect of riding on roads used by the pros is a huge drawcard of these events. Riding laps of the Aussie Road Nationals circuit before the pros puts into perspective just how impressive the sport’s best are. The same can be said of the Arthurs Seat climb at the Sun Tour, and any number of climbs in the Adelaide Hills at the TDU.

But let’s not forget about the racing, because there’s been no shortage of memorable moments. The Bay Crits produced another Caleb Ewan masterclass and also a stellar win from Pat Shaw which served as inspiration for a thoroughly entertaining and informative video from the man himself.

Rohan Dennis got the monkey off his back in the Nationals time trial, Lucas and Chris Hamilton duked it out in a fantastic U23 men’s Nationals road race, and Jack Bobridge put in one of the most ridiculous rides ever seen at the Australian Road Nationals, riding solo for 90km to win his second National road race.

Kat Garfoot started the Olympic year in ominous form, winning the Nationals time trial and the Santos Women’s Tour, while the men’s Santos Tour Down Under, too, provided no shortage of highlights. The emergence of Jay McCarthy and Michael Woods, the domination of Orica-GreenEdge and Richie Porte’s Willunga three-peat were all stand-out performances.

Amanda Spratt wins the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. It’s always great to see the national champion win in the green and gold!

Amanda Spratt’s Nationals road race win and her solo victory in the green and gold at Cadel’s Race were entertaining and well deserved, as too was Peter Kennaugh’s win in Geelong, a day after Spratt’s. Bridie O’Donnell’s hour record more than deserves a mention too.

And then there was The Froome Factor.

Attracting the reigning Tour de France champion to the UCI 2.1 Herald Sun Tour was a massive coup for race director John Trevorrow and his team and a huge boon not only to the race, but to fans as well. The crowds were the biggest Trevorrow can remember, with Arthurs Seat particularly busy on the final day of racing. That Froome won the race overall was fitting.

Image: Con Chronis

So, where to from here?

Keen cycling fans will already be paying attention to the racing happening in the Middle East — Dubai, Qatar, Oman — and the National Road Series will be here before we know it, but for traditionalists, the season really starts with Belgian opening weekend in a fortnight’s time. Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne signal the start of the year proper for many riders, and the start of a long, tough season for die-hard Aussie cycling fans.

Watching races live means staying up into the wee hours and for those who want to watch more than just the handful of the biggest races that make it to TV, it means either shelling out for a pay TV subscription, or braving the sketchy back alleys of the internet for a dubious live stream. (Of course, you could also stay posted to our Daily News Digest and we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know.)

Freezing cold, super-hard, early season European races? We'd much rather ride in Australian in summer.
Freezing cold, super-hard, early season European races? We’d much rather ride in Australia in summer.

Of course, there’s plenty to look forward to in 2016. Fabian Cancellara will be keen to have a strong season to wrap up his career, Tony Martin is taking on the Classics and then there are the Grand Tours. Froome vs Contador vs Quintana vs Nibali is as appetising as ever, whatever combination of those riders we see facing off against one another. And let’s not forget about the much anticipated Rio Olympics.

There’s bound to be plenty of Australian successes to cheer for throughout the season ahead and much to look forward to generally. But as February winds to a close and the weather starts to cool down here in Australia, it’s with some sadness that we farewell the summer of racing that we’ve had. It’s been a thoroughly enjoyable few months.

Thankfully it’s only 323 until the Bay Crits. But who’s counting?

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What were your favourite moments from the Australian summer of racing? Let us know in the comments below.

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