Last Sunday, in Saint Quentin-en-Yvelines, Anna Meares became the greatest female track cyclist of all time.
That line at least led Cycling Australia’s release shortly after her breathless performance in the Women’s Keirin, where at 31, she shrugged off her competition to win her 11th World Title, a mark that’s never previously been surpassed in track cycling. Meares has taken world records, Olympic, Commonwealth and World Championship titles, she’s had a longevity, that’s made her a force over more than a decade, and, she could well do more before she retires. In short, she’s an extraordinary athlete deserving of all the praise she’s afforded.
But I’m always reticent to get swept away with the greatest, the best, particularly when it's further qualified, by the classic, 'of all time'. Comparisons, between sports, between athletes, between eras, are unsatisfying in their determination to simplify something down to a better or worse. They're compromised in their simplicity. More often that not weighted in the present, in what an author has seen and experienced - quickly forgetting history, ignoring context.
The English Premier League is among the world's most watched sporting competitions because every game in the season carries weight. The same can't be said for cycling's WorldTour, writes Al Hinds.
My mum, the good soul that she is always opposed having cable television, for fear my brother and I would be glued to the screen thereafter, lost in the endless hours of programming it offered. But after we moved homes to an area where our aerial simply struggled to even pick up the faintest signals of her favourite ABC, she finally relented. We had the basic package, but back in those days, that also came with sport, and having only sparingly been exposed to wonders of the English Premier League previously, I quickly became a dyed in the wool fan of not just my anointed Arsenal, but also the league as a whole.
It was hard not to be carried away, and I must’ve watched hundreds of hours of the EPL between 2003 and 2005, hardly the best complement to my studies, but with an almost religious devotion, it was a part of my life. The history, the contest, the whole narrative of the 38 games. There were all sorts of battles within battles, derbys, the fight for spots in the UEFA Champions League, the title race, the battle for relegation. Every game offered something. The 2003-2004 season was brilliant as an Arsenal fan, the “invincibles” romped home, an achievement which now seems an age ago (C’mon ya Gooners), but the 2004-2005 season is perhaps more memorable.
Just because you believe something to be true, doesn’t make it so, writes Al Hinds.
Cycling Australia has had a bad 24 months. That much is clear as day. At a time when the sport’s profile is at record levels, and cycling’s elite sporting success is as good as it’s ever been, the contrast to the health of its administration could not be more stark.
It’s overspent its budget, despite an increase in funding from the Australian Sports Commission, has seen a stagnation in its membership base, and has had to overhaul its board completely under strict conditions dictated by the ASC. The longest serving board member is former president, now director, Gerry Ryan, and he’s been involved less than 18 months. But, we’re told, the clouds are clearing, and the organisation is set for a new era of stability and growth.
The Cadel Evans Great Road Race had all the ingredients of the kind of event that’s here to stay - a professionally run, entertaining event that brought together sport and tourism seamlessly. But its biggest tests are still to come, writes Al Hinds.
Even with the rain pelting down on the peloton it was hard not to be gripped by the spectacle on offer Sunday in Geelong. A world class field riding around one of Australia’s most iconic coastlines on a testing course made for a thrilling race. As Moreno Moser slipped clear of a lead group including Cadel Evans, Nathan Haas, and Gianni Meersman in the finale, the bunch shattering behind, and with every rider near broken, totally committed, it was easy to forget that this was Evans’s swansong, or even that this was in Australia.
It had the feeling of the Ardennes, Amstel Gold perhaps, and had you had the blinds closed as you watched the broadcast, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was midnight, and April, rather than early February, on a gentle Sunday afternoon. Indeed for an Australian audience the event was a tantalising advertisement for what the sport is like in Europe in the regular season, and perhaps what it could grow to become here, given the right support.
With the dust still settling on Buninyong, Al Hinds reflects on what was a thrilling exhibition of Australian racing.
Heat of the moment
Could Caleb Ewan have won the national championship, could the race have played out differently? Probably. Ewan rode a race of a rider far beyond his years, keeping a lid on his efforts throughout the first 17 laps of the Mount Buninyong course, and looked in control, and poised to take the victory heading into the final loop. But after parrying the last ditch efforts of first Darren Lapthorne, then Campbell Flakemore to get away, Ewan himself curiously let loose. Maybe he was lured by the grandeur of a solo victory, maybe he was simply feeling particularly good and thought he could go it alone. Whatever his motivation, it was a ballsy display, and stirred the race in a dramatic fashion. But it was also unnecessary, and ultimately costly. Ewan was the fastest of the front group, and while it may have been dull, the most bankable route to victory for the 20 year old would have been simply to wait and watch Heinrich Haussler and Neil van der Ploeg.
Contrast that to Haussler, whose presence in the final selection was a performance of tenacity, and determined suffering. Twice he yoyo’d, and twice he clawed his way back. He did sparing work in the finale, and critically, muscled Neil van der Ploeg off Ewan’s wheel in the final kilometre. He did what he needed to. A professional performance, from a guy that’s been a pro a decade longer than Ewan.