Riders line-up for shot at Rob Vernon Memorial crown

Last year's Rob Vernon Memorial winner Noel Hughes, with Julian Thomson and two-time race winner Peta Mullens. Picture: DARREN HOWE
Last year's Rob Vernon Memorial winner Noel Hughes, with Julian Thomson and two-time race winner Peta Mullens. Picture: DARREN HOWE

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A TOUGH scratch bunch is tipped to pose plenty of worries for the rest of the field in this Sunday’s Rob Vernon Memorial road race.

Bendigo and District Cycling Club president Syd Anstee said about 100 riders would face the starter at the Strathfieldsaye Sports Club from 11am in what is one of only a few major open handicap races in Victoria.

He labelled the open handicaps as cycling’s equivalent to horseracing’s Group Ones.

“We only have five open handicap races in Victoria and this is one of them,” he said.

“We have riders entered from some of the professional teams, including IsoWhey Sports, which is the best and biggest cycling team in Australia at the moment.

“They have riders like Jason Lee, Sam Chrome and Robbie Hucker and probably have six riders entered.”

It’s that trio Anstee believes will loom as strong contenders should the finish eventuate into a sprint.

One Bendigo rider looking to make his mark is Julian Thomson.

The 21-year-old has only recently returned from a road racing stint in Belgium and is looking to translate the experience gained overseas into a top performance in Sunday’s 97-kilometre event.

We only have five open handicap races in Victoria and this is one of them.

Syd Anstee

“There’s always a bit of a break this time of year in Australian cycling, so I thought it was the perfect time to head overseas and get some racing in,” said Thomson, who will tackle the race for only the second time.

“I was top 20 in most races, 16th was my best finish, but it was my first time racing overseas.

“I probably did 23 races in six weeks, which was quite hard, but I loved it.

“I’ll probably head back to Belgium around May or June next year.”

Thomson, who has only been riding “seriously” for three years, echoed the thoughts of Anstee and predicted the scratch bunch would be hard to hold out.

“I guess, as locals, we have an advantage with the race being on our training grounds,” he said.

“But there are some great riders coming here for the race – I’ll be trying my best.”

The field has been boosted by the appearance of two-time Rob Vernon winner Peta Mullens, who is preparing to trade her road bike for a mountain bike, after being selected in the Australian team for next month’s world championships.

Absent from this year’s race will be last year’s winner Noel Hughes, who became the oldest rider to win the feature event at 52.

Noel Hughes, Julian Thomson and Peta Mullens. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Noel Hughes, Julian Thomson and Peta Mullens. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Hughes is recovering after having stents put in his heart, but has set his sights on returning for the 2018 version of the race,

The race holds special significance for the veteran cyclist, who raced for the Bendigo club with Vernon in the early 1980s.

“I’m probably the only person to win the race, who personally knew him,” he said.

“He was two or three years older than me and we as kids always aspired to be like Rob – tragically he died of cancer when he was 19 years-old.

“Last year was very emotional for me.”

The Rob Vernon Memorial wll finish at the Emu Creek Tennis Club about 1.30pm.

Peta Mullens. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Peta Mullens. Picture: DARREN HOWE