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

Port Phillip Bay, a tranquil horsehoe of water almost completely enclosed at its south by twin peninsulas, is best known as being the home of Melbourne. But on the western arm of that horseshoe, nestled in Corio Bay, lies another city – Geelong – that’s had a role almost as significant in Victoria’s economic and cycling history.

Geelong and its neighbouring regions have long been regarded as great riding terrain, but this reputation has only grown in the last decade. The watershed moment was arguably the 2010 UCI World Road Championships, which was hosted by Geelong and put the city on the map for cycling fans. One of the region’s most famous residents, Cadel Evans, has also played a part. Australia’s only Tour de France Winner (2010) and World Champion (2009), Evans has a residence in Barwon Heads and deep ties to cycling here.

When Evans retired in 2015 after an illustrious career, his farewell race was the newly-established Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, which has grown in status to be a UCI WorldTour classified race, and a standout of the Summer of Cycling.

Over a gruelling 167km, the race route takes the peloton along the Surf Coast and stretches of the Great Ocean Road, before turning back to Geelong for four laps of a technical city circuit featuring the hilly suburbs of Newtown and Highton and the steep, decisive Challambra Crescent climb. It’s a popular event for spectators – especially the climb of Challambra, which gives fans a close look at the suffering etched across the faces of their heroes as they grind their way up gradients exceeding 20%.

Geelong is the state’s second largest city, and has a long and fascinating past. The city was an important port in the early days of European settlement, developed into a titan of Australian manufacturing in the 1860s and holding that distinction for almost the entire period since. Geelong’s blue collar roots were reinforced by the presence of major manufacturers like Ford and Alcoa, bringing both jobs and prosperity to the region. That prosperity in turn spurred the city’s growth.

When some of the city’s largest mass-manufacturing operations shut down, the city of Geelong found itself in a period of transition. Fittingly, one of the city’s shining beacons for the future has been cycling-related. Greg Lemond, the US three-time Tour de France champion, in 2017 inked a significant deal with Deakin University which aims to turn Geelong into a global powerhouse of carbon fibre manufacturing.

Baum Cycles operates on a smaller scale, producing high-end titanium and steel frames for their discerning clientele. Over the two decades or so of the brand’s existence, Baum – under the leadership of Darren Baum – has developed into one of the world’s most revered frame manufacturers. For more from our visit to Baum, see here

Geelong today is a mix of heritage-rich buildings, paired with newer development. Close enough to Melbourne that it’s within commuting distance, the population steadily grows. University campuses bring the youthful vitality of a student population, while the city’s position as a gateway to the Great Ocean Road brings a steady flow of tourist trade. There’s plenty for visitors and residents alike to enjoy – a calm bay, open water baths at Eastern Beach, stunning coastal promenades, palm trees and botanical gardens.

The 2018 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race will be held over the Australia Day weekend, with associated events running from 24-27 January.

Towards Zero Race Melbourne (24 Jan) is a thrilling criterium style race around Albert Park Lake, the Australian F1 Circuit located in Melbourne. Expect a masterclass in speed and strategy as the men’s and women’s fields show off their early season sprints. Entry is free.

Held in the early evening of 25 Jan, the Vegemite Family Ride is a fun activity for the whole clan. The Swisse People’s Ride (26 Jan), meanwhile, offers participants the opportunity to ride with Cadel Evans and test themselves over 35km, 65km or 115km ride distances.

The UCI 1.1 classified elite women’s race, held on the afternoon of 26 Jan, will see the cream of the women’s peloton tackle a tough 113km course. Australian sprinter Chloe Hosking took out the honours with a popular win last year – can she defend her title?

Concluding the weekend on Sunday 27 Jan, the UCI WorldTour elite men’s road race has quickly become a prestigious fixture in the calendar, bringing the best in world cycling to Geelong. Over a gruelling 167km, the peloton will navigate the Surf Coast and stretches of the Great Ocean Road, before turning back to Geelong for four laps of a technical city circuit featuring the steep, decisive Challambra Crescent climb.

Whether it’s a resort, a B&B, budget accommodation or a luxury getaway you’re after, there’s a wide range of accommodation available along the Great Ocean Road and in Geelong.

Multiple AirBnBs are dotted throughout the region, offering a glimpse into how it is to live as a local – although note that in peak times, especially during summer, demand can be high.

If you want a more pampered experience, locations like the RACV Resort in Torquay provide a taste of family-friendly luxury. After a more curated experience? Stay at one of the region’s eco-lodges, or a bush retreat, or a secluded cottage.

For an overview of the accommodation offering in Geelong and the Bellarine, see here.

For accommodation providers along the Great Ocean Road, see here.

Geelong has close enough proximity to Melbourne that it’s picked up enough of the capital’s tricks when it comes to quality food and drink, and enough local nous and skill to further those ideals. With a sizeable cycling community to cater for, you’re never short of a good coffee. On our visit to the city, we were particularly taken with Coffee Cartel.

Outside of Geelong, on the Bellarine Peninsula, it’s hard to go past Annie’s Provedore in Barwon Heads, which serves excellent food for all three meals of the day along with great coffee and pastries. The Great Ocean Road is also not short of quality options in any of the major towns along its length.

For the best of Geelong and the Bellarine, see here.

For highlights and recommendations in the Great Ocean Road area, see here.

Geelong and surrounds have plenty to offer visitors, both on the bike and off. Although the region is probably best known as a summertime drawcard, when the sun and the surf conspire to create picture-perfect days one after the next, it’s also lovely year-round.

Explore the rolling vineyards of the region, visit the art galleries of Geelong and take in the cultural events that are scattered throughout the year.

For more to do in the Geelong and Bellarine region, see here.

For more on riding in the Great Ocean Road area, see here.

If Geelong’s rightfully loved for what it is, it’s arguably loved even more for what it’s near.

On the other side of the Bellarine Peninsula, the towns of Queenscliff, Point Lonsdale, Portarlington and Barwon Heads are popular coastal getaways, and feature some lovely, mostly flat riding – notably along 13th Beach and the Bellarine Rail Trail from Drysdale to Queenscliff.  

And just down from that? The Great Ocean Road, which appropriately enough, is a road that is both oceanic and pretty great.

Running from Torquay to the fringes of Warrnambool 244km later, the Great Ocean Road was constructed by soldiers returning from World War I and dedicated to the memory of their fallen comrades. It’s an internationally recognised tourist attraction – not just as a stunning stretch of road in its own right, but also as a link to attractions like the 12 Apostles, which are a popular day-trip (albeit a long one) away from Melbourne.

At the right time of the day, though, the Great Ocean Road is an unforgettable cycling location as well. The road weaves beneath steep cliffs, down to secluded beaches and alongside striking sandstone formations sculpted by the crash of millenia of waves.

The Great Ocean Road may be the main attraction, but for cyclists it’s also the conduit to some  truly stunning adventure riding through the Otway Ranges. 

Between Anglesea and Apollo Bay, there’s more than 1,000km of gravel roads. Of particular note are the lush hills looming up behind Airey’s Inlet, Lorne and beyond, where a vast network of paved and gravel roads waits to be uncovered – complete with gorgeous rainforest, waterfalls and a near-total absence of tourist traffic. 

Between the Great Ocean Road and the Otways, the Surf Coast, Bellarine Peninsula and Geelong itself, it’s little wonder that this is a part of the world that’s a beloved destination for Australian riders – and indeed, you can soon see why retired legends of Australian cycling like Cadel Evans and Phil Anderson have chosen to make the area home.

It’s the kind of unforgettable riding landscape that you would be more than happy to lose yourself in for a long while.