One of the most amazing Australian races I can think of is the Austral Wheelrace. You’d be challenged to find a more exciting format for a race. I can’t believe it’s not broadcast on television. I love the fact that some punter like me can sign up and have the potential to legitimately win this race. The winning prize is $3750 and your name in Australian cycling history. I’ve tried my best to convince CSV to give me a 250m handicap with no avail. Without that mark I have very little chance…but still a chance.

The 113th edition of the race is being held back at DISC for the first time in eleven years. I think this smaller venue will make for a more intimate atmosphere and exciting racing. Here’s some background on the Austral which is being held next Saturday and a few facts you might not know. Hopefully I’ll see you there!

Melbourne Set to Host the Worlds Oldest Race…

by Kipp Kaufmann

Some of you might be aware of the great cycling prowess that Australia currently has with the likes of Anna Meares, Shane Perkins, Cameron Meyer, Leigh Howard and Jack Bobridge to name a few. However, few people are aware of the great track cycling history that Victoria and Australia truly has.

CyclingTips earlier wrote about the Track World Cup which featured many of the best international riders. Melbourne also plays host to one of the most prestigious, and in fact the oldest continuously run cycling race in the world – the Austral Wheelrace. The race represents all that’s great about track cycling and due to its format gives the average punter a shot a winning.

The event, which is rumoured to be named after the ship SS Austral that sank and was refloated in off neutral bay in Sydney, moves back to it’s traditional end of year calendar taking place at the Darebin International Velodrome on February 26th starting at 7pm.

Before checking out this great event you might want to know a bit more about it…

History

Back in 1887 the first race was that it was held at the MCG and raced on penny-farthings over three miles (4800m) in front of 30,000 fans. This makes it the world’s oldest continuously held cycling race that is still being held.  The honor role has seen many of the worlds greatest cyclists be part of the some of the most interesting stories in cycling.

The Format

A handicap track cycling race is where each rider is provided a mark (or starting point on the track).  This can range from scratch to 250 m and can provide anyone with a chance to win. Qualifying heats are run during the night  program for 16-18 starters per event with the final having up to 24 starters. A mainstay throughout the race’s history has been co-operation among the backmarkers, who agree to help each other catch the frontmarkers before going all out for victory in the final stages. Often, those in the chasing pack agree to share the prize money if one of them wins.

To add a bit of extra flavour to the night it is one of the few cycling races in Australia that also feature a bookmaker.

Past Champions

Some of the past Championships include World champions Gordon Johnson (1973) and Steele Bishop (1982) both had the distinction of winning from scratch. Jack Fitzgerald won from scratch in 1922. The great Sid Patterson (1962 and 1964) and Laurie Venn (1979 and 1981) have both won the event twice from scratch.  Tasmanian Danny Clark has had three wins off the scratch mark, in 1977, 1986 and 1990. However, the record belongs to the consistent Victorian all-rounder, Stephen Pate, with four victories, in 1988 from scratch, in 1991 from -10 metres, in 1993 from -20 metres and in 1999, again from scratch. In 2000, This year’s Austral will feature Clark, Venn and Pate along with Dave Sanders as part of the Legends Race.

These days the event is run over 2000 meters and in recent times the race has been won by the likes of Mark French and Shane Perkins.

Syd Patterson after his amazing win from scratch in the 1962 Austral. Photo Source

Have a listen of the audio file from the call of the race!

Legendary Stories

Malvern Star, a brand in bicycles in Australia, had its origins in the race. In December 1898 a young bicycle mechanic and professional cyclist, Tom Finnigan, won from a handicap of 220 yards (200 m) holding off backmarkers with a foot to spare. The prize of 240 sovereigns let him establish a suburban bicycle shop, Malvern Star Cycles.  The famous brand would be ridden to victory in 1962 and 1964 by Sid Patterson.

In 1947 the final was stopped by officials after 2 and a half laps as they considered that the leader G Bonny was slowing the pace.  Bonny was disqualified from the event and the remaining riders  refused to ride the re-run.

Potential History This Year

Rick Sanders, son of legendary rider Dave Sanders, has a shot at being the third in the family to win the race after winning the Melbourne Cup on Wheels and a number of gold at the National Championships.

Ben Sanders won the 112th Austral Wheelrace. Beside him his father Dave Sanders, winner in 1978

Bendigo native Glen O’Shea will make his comeback to major event racing on the night and may be off a great mark – can he pull off a win?

Can Caleb Ewan take out another wheelrace after winning the Sydney Cup on Wheels and the Launceston Wheelrace earlier this year?

What to expect on the night?

If you have ridden a bit of track you too can get a mark and try to take on some of the best cyclists in the World and you can enter on the CycloSport Victoria website.

If you just want to head down to DISC and watch you can get yourself a ticket ($15-$25) here.

The evening will last about 3 ½ hours with a suit of events including invitational sprints, scratch race Championships and a legends race.  Some of the international stars will include the likes of Shane Perkins and Azizal Awang and Josiah Ng before they leave for the World Championships.

Azizul Awang (Malaysia) has come up short on two occasions, most recently to Jackson Leigh-Rathbone by mere millimetres.  In form and hungry.  Watch for the trademark wheelie finish!  Image courtesy of fyxomatosis. Check out his new post on day 2 of his Great(est) Victorian Bike Ride. Awesome stuff!

Mitch Docker (now Skil Shimano) and Casey Munro (now Rapha-Condor-Sharp) waiting for the starters gun back in the good-ol’ days with Drapac.