Twas the eager folk of Inverloch who caught the cycling craze last Saturday.
And thousands of them turned out to witness a thrilling sprint finish in the middle of town at 2.15pm, while others had lined the route of the Herald-Sun Tour, from Mirboo North to Wonthaggi, for a chance to catch a glimpse of the reigning Tour de France champion, Chris Froome, and a classy peloton spotted with grand tour riders.
And they weren’t disappointed.
With only two small Category Three climbs to be negotiated on the 146.2km course, up over the Mirboo North hills, it was always going to be a sprinters day and that’s how it turned out.
“When will they get here? Have they caught the breakaway yet? Who’s leading?”
There was plenty of speculation along the way.
A breakaway group of five, which included sprint jersey aspirant Ben Hill (Attaque Team Gusto), Dan Bonello (St George Merida), Morgan Smith (Kenyan Riders Downunder), Russell Downing (JLT Condor) and Thomas Hubbard (Data#3 Cisco Racing Team) quickly gained time on the peloton immediately after the start, riding out to a maximum gap of 4:26.
They were still away when the riders flashed through Leongatha but they were quickly gobbled up before they hit Inverloch for the first time with Orica GreenEDGE and Froome’s Sky team driving the bunch hard as they rolled right through the Inverloch roundabout, to loud cheers, bound for Wonthaggi.
There was little if any time for the leaders to enjoy the magnificent views across the Bunurong cliffs as they ramped up their speed between Cape Paterson and Inverloch.
Flying like a flock of gulls in formation, they soared round into Toorak Road and the excitement was at fever pitch as they roared down the Venus Street hill for the tricky, potentially catastrophic turn into Ramsay Boulevard for a gut-busting race to the finish that would have done Le Tour itself proud.
Not even SBS Tour de France commentator David McKenzie could spilt the American sprinter John Murphy (UnitedHealthcare) and Italy’s Niccolo Bonifazio (Trek–Segafredo) as they muscled their way to the line, eventually separated by 2mm, with Australian Steele Von Hoff (ONE Pro Cycling) on the podium and Caleb Ewan (ORICA-GreenEDGE), the rising star of Australian road racing finishing sixth man across the line. Wow!
The crowd at the finish, estimated in the order of 5000 was stunned and it was a beaming host, Bass Coast Shire Mayor, Cr Jordan Crugnale, who stepped up to make the presentation to the winner and also to award several of the leaders jerseys.
Meanwhile Froome was being mobbed by a bevy of well-wishers, signing autographs briefly before escaping, back up the street with his Sky team mates, for a wind down ride back to their impressive digs at the RACV Inverloch Resort.
Cr Crugnale was ecstatic about the success of the day.
“Such a fantastic visual and exciting iconic event to have come through our shire and region and the numbers of cheering people, families with their children dotted along the course itself was a brilliant marker of a successful event,” the mayor said afterwards.
“The National press coverage has also been amazing.
“We live in a cyclist paradise and the road and path network caters for any rider at any level and throws in a spectacular seascape and landscape to make it all the more interesting and challenging.
“As an immediate spin-off benefit, with National Ride to school day fast approaching on the March 4, one hopes there will be extras joining in to smash all of our school participation records and make that change from car to bike more long term.
“If my facts are correct, Inverloch primary school, as one example, has on average almost one quarter of its kids riding and walking to school every day.
“Cycling is massive here in the shire It was great to have the cycling and triathlon clubs from both Bass Coast and South Gippsland, local radio 3MFM, the Inverloch Lions and cycling shops all set up camp at the finish line and be active over the day.”
It was simply a wonderful event, she said.
The shire’s major events coordinator, Frank Angarane was equally effusive.
“It was a very, very successful day, far exceeding our expectations after the other times we’ve hosted it,” Mr Angarane said.
“The spirit and enthusiasm we saw from not only the cycling people, who attended the day in their lycra after their own rides, but also from the general public, was fantastic.
“The weather was great, the racing fantastic and the images and scenery we saw of Bass Coast in the TV coverage and in the press showed the area in a great light.”
Mr Angarane said there were several vignettes about the town, shown in the coverage, which overall would complement the other events and promotion of the shire.
“It was a huge success; the racing was top class, the weather, the crowd and the coverage was fantastic. I’m we’ll get a lot of spin-offs out of it,” he said.
He listed several other cycling and triathlon events locally supported by the shire saying that Gippsland in general and in particular Bass Coast and South Gippsland were noted cycling destinations that would only be enhanced by the success of the event.
It cost the shire $10,000 to win a stage finish of the Herald-Sun Tour.
Sitting an ominous second, 13 seconds behind his team mate Peter Kennaugh at Inverloch, Chris Froome went on to claim victory in the tour on the final day over Arthurs Seat, by 29 seconds when he rode away from the chasers to win in convincing style by 17 seconds.
It was world-class sport and it was right here in Bass Coast and South Gippsland.