Elite cyclists prepare for Olympics at regional race

The country’s fastest cyclists will fly past some of the region’s most iconic landmarks in search of victory during the sport’s biggest weekend in the Limestone Coast. 

This Saturday and Sunday will be a celebration of cycling with the Mount Gambier Cycling Club hosting the 84th 100 Mile Classic, plus the South Australian Kermesse Championships. 

First held in 1933, the 160km classic race is one of the longest and oldest handicapped events in the country and the 2021 edition has attracted none other than the Australian Track Worlds men and women teams. 

Both elite squads will use the two huge days as preparation for the rescheduled Tokyo Olympics with the men hot favourites for the 2021 Lush Deserts 100 Mile  Classic. 

With the likes of Leigh Howard, Kelland O’Brien, Lucas Plapp, Alex Porter and Sam Welsford ready to take on the course which crisscrosses the region, Cam Scott’s current record of 3:29:25 could be under significant threat. 

The national ladies are also expected to lead the final dash to victory in the City of Mount Gambier 110km Women’s Classic. 

The female race has only been held twice before and the rapid growth of participation numbers is expected to continue. 

On Sunday riders will enter sprint mode for the Bendigo Bank and MGA Insurance South Australian Kermesse Championships. 

Riders will ride rings around the iconic Blue Lake in the hope of winning the mad dash to a state title. 

Both national teams will enter the respective non handicapped 75 minutes plus two laps men’s and 50 minutes plus two laps women’s races as the riders to beat, while juniors will take on three to five laps of the 3.6km circuit earlier in the morning. 

Although both events were wiped out in 2020 due to COVID-19, cycling club president Dean Zeven said the Limestone Coast’s two-day cycling bonanza remained a significant part of the national calendar. 

“We are all looking forward to it and it will be a relief to see it get off the ground,” he said. 

“There are very few handicap races open to elite level and normal everyday cyclists worldwide, so it is unique and one of the longest, oldest and richest of its kind. 

“We will be giving away nearly $14,000 in prize money over the weekend and all the locals are pretty excited with eight riders from the club taking part.” Despite entries not being finalised before the time of print, participation numbers are expected to be strong with riders from Western Australia, Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania joining the Olympic and local hopefuls. 

Zeven said it was special to know the  Limestone Coast would play a role in the Australian team’s build up towards Tokyo. 

“We are very grateful to Olympic coach Tim Deker to bring down two national teams,” he said. 

“They have been starved of races in Australia, so are using this to get fit. 

“For sure they will be hard to beat and are expected to take off around 60kph from the start.” The national teams are not the first elite riders to tackle the special events with Sydney 2000 Gold medallist Brett Aitken a two-time winner of the 100 Mile Classic, while pro rider for Tour de France team Hagens Berman Axeon Jarrad Drisners set the fastest time in 2019. 

Locals have also tasted success in front of their home fans with Mount Gambier riders  Matthew Opperman and Keiran Bannon victorious in the 21st century, while 12 others have won the 100 Mile Classic since Col Sims claimed the inaugural race in 1933. 

With professional and amateurs racing side by side, some large handicaps may be put in place to create a tight finish. 

The scratch group containing the Australian representatives may not start until just over an hour after the first group pedals away at 10am. 

The classic course begins at White Avenue before entering the heart of Millicent via the Kongorong-Tantanoola road. 

After visiting Millicent, riders will need  to display their climbing skills up Glencoe’s Mile Hill Road before taking on the blustery Port MacDonnell. 

The cyclists will navigate Bay Road twice before flying past the Blue Lake and the grandstand finish alongside the rail lands. 

The women’s race is expected to finish at 2.15pm, while the men’s sprint for the win will follow approximately a quarter of an hour later. 

Junior riders also get a go with Under 11-13 following a 10km course along Tollner and Cafpirco Roads, while the Under 15-17 competitors race a 32km loop around the same area on Saturday. 

The youngsters also have the chance to pedal the Blue Lake circuit from 8am on Sunday, while the elite women and men  start at 11am and 10.30am respectively fol- lowing the B, C and D Grades. 

The two days will not be possible without the club being assisted by sponsors and a huge amount of volunteers. 

SA Police has sent eight motorbikes from Adelaide to navigate traffic on the open roads, while the Cycling SA CEO will also be in attendance. 

Entry is free for anyone keen to catch a  glimpse of the high-level cycling with popular spectator areas situated at Millicent,  the top of range hill, Grant Avenue, near the Bellum Hotel, Blue Lake and the finish line. 

The top of Bay Road will be closed from 1.30pm until the finish on Saturday afternoon.

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