Is anyone here going?
Thanks to cyclingnews.com
Thanks to cyclingnews.com
By Karen Forman in Melbourne
You would expect the event popularly known as "Australia's biggest track race, mate" to be held on a super-fast, steeply-banked and probably indoor velodrome, in one of the land Down Under's major, heavily populated cities.
But it isn't.
In fact, the biggest track event in the country is held in a smallish regional city in country Victoria - 150km and 90 minutes' drive from State capital Melbourne, on a 400-metre, oval-shaped, bitumen surfaced - and very flat - old fashioned track slap-bang in the middle of the central business district. At a modest little venue called the "Tom Flood Sports Oval".
Bendigo is a city better known for its gold fields (it boasted the world's richest in its heyday) than for anything else, although the winegrowers in surrounding areas are said to regularly produce with some red and white nectar that is extremely pleasant to the palate and has the propensity to knock other growers for six when awards-time rolls around.
It is a town popular with tourists, who enjoy its historic buildings and pretty, tree-lined streets, its trendy sidewalk cafes and, of course, the annual winemakers festival. And, because it isn't Melbourne (or Adelaide, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth or Hobart) the locals consider it a great place to live in relatively safety and peace, to work and raise a family.
So then, what makes it the home of the biggest track race in the country? Why, when you cross the borders from South Australia or New South Wales into Victoria, do cycling people start raving about the "Bendigo Madison" and telling you that you'll be missing out on "something great" if you don't go?
"It's the international field we always get," suggests Brent McCaig, one of sons of Frank, who helps organise the two-night Bendigo Gold and Opal Madison Carnival with the Bendigo Aplex-Lions Committee and Caribou Publications.
"And the fact we get up to 12,000 people coming to watch."
And there's more. In an economic climate where sports promoters (and, as we have seen lately with Paris-Nice et al - not only in Australia) find it extremely difficult to raise the money to hold events, the Bendigo Madison offers a total of $35,000 prizemoney - including $20,000 for the feature event, the 80km madison.
Not bad for what is, by all accounts, simply a big country town.
So what brings 'em in? Why are riders travelling from as far as the United States, New Zealand, Germany, Japan - and, wait for it - Chile, to contest the 2002 event, to be held from 3pm this Saturday, March 9 and from 6pm on Sunday, March 10? And what attracts the crowds?
Maybe it's the atmosphere. WIth 12,000 enthusiastic country people cheering you on, you're bound to enjoy the experience. Or perhaps the prizemoney. While the madison offers $20,000, the Golden Mile Handicap has $8000 up for grabs plus a $1000 gold nugget. There's a $2000 keirin series and a whole heap of handicaps.
Whatever the winning formula is, it works. As it as done for near on 47 years.
Aussie Olympians Brett Aitken and Scott McGrory, who won the Madison last year in a countback from German Eric Weisspfennig and Bathurst rider Mark Renshaw, will be back "with bells on" to have another go this year. Who knows, this time 2000 world madison champion Weistfenning and Renshaw might just tip the scales their way.
But nobody is going to have it easy. This year's field of 17 riders is international-class and hungry for a win.
United States rider Jame Carney is travelling to Australia specially for the event. He has been teamed with last week's Austral Wheel Race winner Darren Young from Tasmania and the pair are in top form. Other riders are expected from Japan, Chile and New Zealand. An official team list is due out Wednesday.
Among the locals, previous winner TIm Decker, David Pell and Andrew Mason have been riding well at events including the SKilled Geelong Bay Classic and the Victorian track carnivals, are in good form and have the advantage of local track knowledge.
"It has always been a very good race," Rick McCaig, who organises the actual madison race, said last night.
"As long as the weather holds out, this year's event should be as big as it has been in previous years."