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 Photography: Tim Bardsley-Smith | Video: Phil Golston | Text: Iain Treloar

Ballarat is a place where history is made.

It was this way in the 1850s, when the city was the focal point of the Victorian gold rush; it’s this way now, as the long-time host of the Australian Road National Championships. For 15 of the last 18 years, Australian cyclists have been drawn to the region to witness daring breakaways and cheer for their heroes on the now iconic circuit. The KOM on Mount Buninyong is a firmly-established pilgrimage for Australian cycling fans, and a centrepiece of the Summer of Cycling.

The commercial capital of Victoria’s central highlands, roughly 110km west-north-west of Melbourne, Ballarat enjoys a cooler climate and a more tranquil pace of life than the state capital, without forgoing any of the amenities of a major city.

It’s close enough to feel accessible, but far enough away to feel like an escape, and its thriving tourism industry and arts and culture scene is testament to the city’s entrepreneurial spirit and sense of community. And happily, for visiting cyclists, that also means that there’s an abundance of great coffee, food and local produce to enjoy.

Ballarat’s history is a long and colourful one, with stately streetscapes bearing testament to its rich heritage, and its almost inconceivable prosperity during the boom times. As gold fever hit Ballarat and the surrounding region, tens of thousands of miners from around the world descended to seek their fortune.

It is in this environment that Australian democracy and the union movement was born, and the bloody Eureka Rebellion and living time capsule of Sovereign Hill continue to bring a steady stream of history buffs to the region.

Laid out on an orderly grid, Ballarat is distinguished by its wide boulevards and its beautifully preserved Victorian architecture. Stretching into the city, the leafy Avenue of Honour pays tribute to those lost in the Great War; elsewhere, the city is dotted with lush reserves and recreational spaces such as Lake Wendouree and the Botanic Gardens.

L: Sturt Street, Ballarat. R: Ballarat Post Office Gallery. Photos: Leigh Schilling.

Out of the city, the extinct volcanoes of Mount Buninyong (719m) and Mount Warrenheip (714m) rise above the plains, their leafy flanks belying their fiery birth. They’re popular training grounds for Ballarat’s many cyclists, who head to the Nationals course to test their legs on the Buninyong KOM or to the shorter, steeper climb of Mount Warranheip. Little wonder that the city is home to current or recent pros including Miranda Griffiths and Pat Shaw, not to mention reigning national champ Shannon Malseed.  

It’s not all hill-climbs and sweat, though. Ballarat has a growing network of cycling infrastructure criss-crossing the city, linking tourist attractions and local hotspots. The 6km circuit of Lake Wendouree is a popular spot for a pedal, while more adventurous spirits can tackle a segment of the Goldfields Track, which stitches together segments of singletrack and rolling bitumen through the region.

It may be in gold that Ballarat found its feet, but for Australian cyclists, it’s the green and gold jersey which is now synonymous with the city.

However, whilst the Summer of Cycling is Ballarat’s moment in the spotlight, there’s plenty to entice riders to the region year-round. With a welcoming environment and all the creature comforts cyclists love, set amongst rolling hills and country landscapes, is it any wonder that Ballarat holds a special place in any Aussie cyclist’s heart?

The 2019 FedUni RoadNats will be held this year from the 4-8 Jan, with a packed schedule of events across youth, para and elite categories. Newly added this year is the Fixed Gear Nationals, held on Friday 4 Jan. The elite mens and womens road races are to be held on Sunday January 6.

For the full RoadNats schedule, see here.

You can ride the circuit year-round – it’s even helpfully signposted! – but arguably the best way to tackle it is as a participant in the MS National Road Championships Gran Fondo, held on Saturday January 5. 

There’s a wide variety of accommodation options to suit any budget in Ballarat and the surrounding region. Special mention, however, must go to RACV Goldfields resort, ten minute drives north of Ballarat towards Creswick (if only for the reason that they’ve built an MTB track on premises!)

For a full rundown of accommodation options, check Visit Ballarat.

Ballarat has a wealth of excellent hospitality venues that belies its size. Some cyclist-friendly recommendations include:

Buninyong has a number of bakeries and cafes along the main street, and Creswick’s Le Peche Gourmand boulangerie/patisserie is a popular stop and turning point for riders heading north of Ballarat.

Ballarat has plenty to offer visitors, on the bike and off, making it an appealing destination for riders, families and holiday-makers alike.

Take a walk back in time and pan for gold at the renowned Sovereign Hill.

On the eastern outskirts of the city, the replica medieval castle Kryal Castle is a popular attraction.

Ballarat Wildlife Park is home to a variety of Australian native animals (plus some meerkats!).

If you want to explore the region on two wheels, the Buninyong national circuit is a must-do. Should your tastes lean more towards dirt, the Goldfields Track is a fantastic and challenging mountain bike trail that can be undertaken in segments or as a multi-day adventure.

For more on riding in the area, see our guide to cycling in Ballarat.