• The King's Men cycling group chat over coffee . (SBS)Source: SBS
Australian cycling fans are bracing themselves for three weeks of sleepless nights, as the biggest bike race in the world nears.
By
Abby Dinham/SBS News

3 Jul 2015 - 12:09 PM 

For the past decade a group of cyclists in Melbourne known at the King's Men, have hit the road twice a week.

The finish line is a local coffee shop - the prize, bragging rights.

The group's founder, Stuart "The King" Verrier, said they are "very serious cyclists who don't take cycling too seriously".

The King's Men was formed around ten years ago with six cyclists, but as the popularity of the sport has grown in Melbourne so has the group, with membership now capped at 60.

Mr Verrier said the group competes in good humour, except during the Tour De France.

"When the tour does come on undoubtedly the little boys come out inside of us, I know when I'm riding along I hear Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen on my shoulder commentating, telling me to go that little bit harder," he said.

The King's Men post-ride coffee will become even more important over the next three weeks, as the nights become longer. Group member Woody said being a Tour De France fan is a commitment, but it's also a community.

"Staying up until 2:30AM every night becomes a bit of a shared passion I guess, everyone's up till that time and when we come out riding at 5:30AM everyone's tired but everyone's talking about the tour," he said.

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Cadel Evans, Australia's only winner of the Tour, is a major factor in the event's popularity in Australia. Although he has retired, his success continues to fuel new generations of racing fans.

"I guess Australian spectators are looking for a new hero to latch on to," SBS Sports Presenter Mike Tomalaris. "Simon Gerrans is not likely to win a three week race like the Tour De France but he could be wearing the yellow jersey in the first week."

Success by Australians in the Tour could be a positive for cycling businesses in Australia - Gerran's victory in stage three of the Tour last year marked an increase of traffic in Australian bike shops.

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Rob Crawford, manager of the Melbourne Bicycle Centre in Clifton Hill, said when Australians are doing well in cycling overseas it can increase interest in the store.

"You do get middle aged men wanting to get into the lycra and onto a road bike and that's good," he said.

"That's a good thing to do some exercise and sometimes their interest has been spiked by the something like the Tour."

The Tour de France has a special connection to Australia this year. To commemorate the 100th anniversary of ANZAC day, organisers of the race create a route through the small village of Villers-Bretonneux.

"[Villers-Bretonneux] is a place where the Australian army force came over to help the French army during the First World War, so it's a way to commemorate ANZAC also in France," said Vérène Issautier at the French Chamber of Commerce.

"One thousand Australian soldiers lost their lives there for France."