Brakes placed on tour

Brakes placed on tour

Each year the Australian cycling fraternity would be focused on the Limestone Coast when the Tour of the Great South Coast came to town, but sadly those fond memories are becoming increasingly distant.

For the third straight year, the classic six-day bike race has been cancelled as the lingering effects of COVID-19 continue to trouble event organisers Caribou Publications even with the borders open.

Since pedals were first pushed in 2012, the Tour of the Great South Coast had become a highlight on the AusCycling National Road Series calendar.

It was an even bigger part of the Limestone Coast’s tourism card with riders from all over the country and the world riding past landmarks such as the Blue Lake, Port MacDonnell and Naracoorte Caves before moving through Victoria’s Glenelg Shire.

Sprint finishes flashing past places such as Vansittart Park, Reidy Park Primary School and the Port MacDonnell foreshore always attracted big crowds with up to 750 visitors arriving in the region for the race.

It was so important the City of Mount Gambier Council had endorsed $22,000 of funding towards the event in March last year, but unfortunately the benefits of it will not be seen for at least another 12 months.

The race had been scheduled to make a return next Tuesday, but Tour of the Great South Coast founder and director John Craven confirmed the cancellation when speaking with The SE Voice last week.

He said a number of things simply made it too difficult to get the big event off the ground.

“It will not be held this year because there are just too many factors against us,” Craven said.

“This is the third time now it has been cancelled and they are mainly all COVID related really.”

The previous Tour of the Great South Coast in 2019 boasted one of the strongest fields ever and was dominated by Australian Tokyo 2020 representative Sam Welsford, while the speed of teammate Kelland O’Brien also wowed onlookers.

Craven said one of the main factors was the challenge of attracting riders with many currently riding in Europe.

“The cycling numbers are down a bit at the upper level and this is an upper level race,” he said.

“A lot of the Olympians that we brought to Mount Gambier have either retired or gone to Europe.

“It will be almost impossible to get overseas riders and we always need to get a number.”

Although the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions has made hosting events around Australia much easier, Craven said he was always pessimistic about the race taking place in 2022 with the fear of the virus striking still very real and a responsibility he did not want to carry.

“It was always an uphill battle because the country has not beaten the virus at all … it is probably worse than ever,” he said.

“In Victoria we are still getting around 15,000 cases a day and 100 deaths a week and you only need one or two to have it in a field between 80 and 100.

“The likelihood of that would be a yes and then it just rips through the field.

“One of my major concerns was that we all roll up to Vansittart Park on a Tuesday morning and 30 people test positive then suddenly you have a mess on your hands and have to call it off.

“It is all regrettable, but out of our hands.”

With the ‘spicy cough’ still a major fear, Craven was non-committal about how likely it would be to host an event in 2023.

“I do not have an answer for that,” he said.

“We (officials) are all getting older and we usually bring 80 to 100 officials to town.

“For it to resume we would need to have a good, hard look at everything.”

Craven vowed the Tour of the Great South Coast would not make a modest comeback and hopes when it returns, it will be just as good, if not better than before.

“We do not want to do anything that is going to be half-baked,” Craven said.

“It must be good or not held at all.

“We do not want to hold a two-bob race that is going to disappoint everybody.”

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