Track stars return for Merv Dean Memorial Tour of Bendigo

BEST IN BUSINESS: Sam Welsford and Kell O'Brien after their victory in the Bendigo International Madison in March. Picture: DARREN HOWE
BEST IN BUSINESS: Sam Welsford and Kell O'Brien after their victory in the Bendigo International Madison in March. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Sam Welsford and Kell O'Brien dominated the Tom Flood Sports centre track in March and now they're back to conquer Bendigo's roads.

The Bendigo International Madison and Commonwealth Games champions headline this weekend's Merv Dean Memorial Tour of Bendigo.

The track stars are fresh off a break and coach Tim Decker said the Tour of Bendigo was a perfect race to get some miles back into their legs in a competitive environment.

“Sam and Kell had a break after the Commonwealth Games,’’ Decker said on Friday.

“They haven’t had too much racing since then, so this race is a good opportunity for us to get three days of good racing into them.

“They’re rebuilding for their endurance part of their season and they have some road races they’ll be doing later in the year.

“For them, this is the start of their season. I always look to the Bendigo tour because it’s a good, competitive race and it will give us a guide to see where they’re at.”

Action from last year's third stage of the Tour of Bendigo.

Action from last year's third stage of the Tour of Bendigo.

The tour starts on Saturday afternoon with a testing 87km stage around Harcourt, Mt Alexander and Faraday.

Stage two on Sunday morning is a 12km individual time-trial that starts and finishes from the Bridgewater Football Ground.

Stage three on Sunday afternoon is an 87km loop around Bridgewater.

The tour concludes on Monday morning with a criterium at the Huntly Livestock Exchange.

While most eyes will be on Welsford and O’Brien, the star duo won’t get everything their own way.

Josh Harrison won this race in 2013 and has the class to go with Welsford and O’Brien and Luke Wight is in the Australia team for the world junior championships in Switzerland in August.

Bendigo’s Alexander Evans is a rising star of the road racing scene and he’s coming off a dominant win in last weekend’s Victoria Country Championships.

Defending champion Trent Stevenson returns in a bid to become the first back-to-back winner of the tour since Chris White doubled up in 1997-98.

Popular Bendigo rider Brendan Schultz returns for another crack at his home tour. Schultz won the race in 2011 and regularly finishes inside the top 10.

“It’s important they (Welsford and O’Brien) push for stage wins and maybe the overall (win),’’ Decker said.

“They need to challenge for wins. They should be around the mark in the time-trial, so if that puts them around the mark on the overall leaderboard that will be good because they’ll have to think about how they’re going to attack the road stage and the criterium.”

Decker won the Bendigo tour in 2009 and will be back on the bike himself this weekend.

“I’ll just be trying to hang on for dear life,’’ Decker said with a chuckle. “Those days are well and truly past me.”

The Tour of Bendigo was first held in 1960.

The man the race is now named in honour of – Merv Dean – won it in 1963.

Frank McCaig and Tony McCaig won the title four times each, while the great Tony Hughes also won it four times between 1983 and 1988. A young Baden Cooke won the race in 1996 before going on to win the green jersey at the Tour de France in 2003.