BURSTING with excitement after watching the Tour de France in the past month, some of the Australia’s best cyclists converged on the Bass Coast for the Tour of Gippsland last week. For the second year running, the Lakes Oil Tour of Gippsland began in Bass Coast with a 42km criterium around the streets of Rhyll on Wednesday morning. Local hopes Stuart Smith, Nick Aitken, Ronald Purtle and Brett Franklin were among the 139 eager starters and had plenty of the crowd’s support.
Anthony Giacoppo won the stage by less than a second, the width of a rubber tyre from Jesse Kerrison while Smith was the pick of the locals in 34th. The event then moved onto Stage 2 at Phillip Island Grand-Prix Circuit for a road race consisting of 15 laps of the 4.45km circuit. Smith was awarded the most aggressive rider for the Island stage, which was won by Russell Gill. The tour headed off the Island to Leongatha which saw the beginning of Stage 3 from the town out to Yinnar. Ronald Purtle was the best performing local, coming in 21st in the 91.6km stage. The tour then made its way to Sale for Stage 4’s 36km criterium, Stage 5 included the 98km from Sale to Licola, a Lakes Entrance criterium for Stage 6, Stage 7 was 70km from Lakes Entrance to Metung and a 45km criterium of Traralgon to round out the eight stage event. Queensland’s Jack Anderson was the overall winner of the race – the sixth event in the Subaru National Road Series.
Nick Aitken, riding for Seight Test Team, was the highest ranking local in 54th overall, 23 minutes behind Anderson. Stuart Smith (Search2retain) came in at 78th, 36 minutes and 59 second behind the winner but 24 seconds ahead of Brett Franklin who finished 79th. Purtle was the last of the locals in at 93rd, 50 minutes off the pace. After returning from the gruelling Tour of Qinghai Lake in China just days before the Tour, Stuart Smith eventually ran out of gas after the opening stages. “I’m very tired, the cold from China came back to haunt me in the last couple of days and I started suffering after the Leongatha stage,” Smith said. “I won the most aggressive rider on the first day and that was a nice prize for the week. “In the Leongatha-Yinnar stage, two of our team managed to break away so we rode for them. “My team managed to get two riders in the top 10 and top ten’s in a number of stages, so the team was happy where we ended up. “I’ll try and have a week off the bike now and start rebuilding for the rest of the season.”
Ronald Purtle, who rode along with Nick Aitken in the Seight team, said it was a mixed week of racing in what was his second Tour of Gippsland. “It was a big improvement on my effort last year but there were a couple of days where I got caught out and had to chase,” Purtle said. “I felt pretty strong and got a good result (21st) in the Leongatha-Yinnar stage. But it was disappointing to get caught behind like I did in the later stages, but that’s racing. “I felt strong but got caught out in the wind and cold. “The Sale-Licola stage was a real eye opener for everyone; it was a really tough day to get through, so finishing was an accomplishment.” Purtle was full of praise for his teammate Aitken, who he said was a big influence on an inexperienced team. “The team did a lot better than what we did last year and it was great to have Nick with his experience to show us how it was done, he rode really well and made some very good moves,” Purtle said. “All in all it was an awesome tour and hopefully I can get selected to do it again next year.” Nick Aitken and Brett Franklin could not be contacted in time for print.