Bendigo’s battle to be recognised as Australia’s regional cycling capital begins this Friday with the Victorian Open Road Championships and inaugural Bendigo Grand Prix.
The three-day event is part of Bendigo’s attempt to wrestle the mantle as premier regional cycling centre from Ballarat, which hosts the national road championships.
Bendigo has never held the Hume & Iser Hardware-sponsored Victorian titles, which includes men’s and women’s time trials, road races and criteriums.
While pleased with the 98-rider men’s field, race director John Craven said the female fields could be improved upon.
“I think the quality of the men’s events are tremendous, there’s room for a bit more depth in the women’s sections,” Craven said.
“The important thing was to get it off the ground. Bendigo was once arguably the rural cycling capital of Australia, I believe that mantle has been dented a bit by Ballarat.
“Bendigo wants to return to its former glory, which is easily achievable because this city has a rich cycling heritage.
“So to get it off the ground was important and we build on it from here.”
The Championships were held in Geelong for the past three years and in Ballarat the previous three years.
Craven said no decision had been made about the location of the next event, but spectator support could play a role in the Championships returning to Bendigo.
Craven does not expect a big crowd at the time trial course in Emu Creek on Friday, but hopes for good turnouts at Spring Gully’s road race circuit and the criterium around the CBD.
“Saturday’s road races are on a spectator-friendly course on the hills and Sunday is a great opportunity for families to come and watch the races in the CBD, bring their picnics and settle in,” Craven said.
“The criterium course is very, very fast. One of the fastest criteriums you’d see anywhere.
“The road race course should produce a tremendously exciting event, particularly with the quality of the field.”
The likes of former national road champions Darren Lapthorne and William Walker, under-23 champion Ben Dyball and Commonwealth Games gold medallist Sean Finning will be gunning for glory at the championships.
But 2009 British road champion Kristian House looms as a big threat in the Power AV-sponsored 142.2km road race and the 34.4km criterium, sponsored by Andy’s Earthmovers.
House will not ride the Rising Sun Hotel men’s 30km time trial, which means he can’t win the Bendigo Grand Prix.
Cyclists must enter all three events to be eligible for the overall men’s and women’s titles, with points awarded to the top-10 in each race.
House is the most experienced of eight Rapha Condor JLT riders who are preparing for the European season in Bendigo.
While his role is partly to mentor younger team-mates, he won’t hold back if he has a chance to win.
“If I get the opportunity to do something, or if I’m feeling good, I’ll take that chance.”
Bendigo cyclist Kate Finegan is a leading hope in the women’s 79km Innes Motors road race.
“I’ve just come off Bay Crits and nationals and I’ve got a bit of form still happening, so I’m hoping for a minimum of a podium,” the 27-year-old said.
“It’s obviously a benefit for us because we can ride the courses beforehand.”
Although the Building Champions Squad member never planned to ride the North Central Management Catchment Authority 24.6km women’s time trial, she’s disappointed she won’t be able to ride the criterium.
The 25.5km City of Greater Bendigo-sponsored event clashes with the start of the Santos Women’s Cup, part of the Tour Down Under, in South Australia on Sunday.