With a new calendar slot, a new race director, a new chairman and CEO of Cycling Australia, a (relatively) new president of Oceania, and a new boss in Aigle, the Herald Sun Tour is back on track to discovering its former glory, writes Anthony Tan from Melbourne’s Federation Square.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:38 PM

"If we're going to go off each others' backs, we could jeopardise the whole reason why we're getting government support, because we would be actually shitting in each others' nests."

Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur said as much in November 2009 to AAP, outlining his reason why the TDU and the Herald Sun Tour should not piggyback off each other, as was the latter's want at the time.

The race director of Herald Sun Tour during this kerfuffle, Michael Hands, who happened to be from a tourism background, responded thus to Crikey: "As things stand for ourselves and the Tour Down Under, we are only just scratching the surface of potential tourism. So I think we can think bigger than just defending our own little patches – we can grow the overall patch."

A few months later, in February 2010, at Cycling Australia's February board meeting, Hands, and consequently the Sun Tour, got the news they were after: their date change request had been approved – or so they thought. "In arriving at this decision, the Board addressed three key objectives: Firstly, to protect the achievements of the Santos Tour Down Under; secondly, to protect the integrity of Australian track cycling, namely the Australian track championships; and thirdly, to retain the Jayco Herald Sun Tour on the UCI calendar and restore the event to its previous stature and profile," rationalised Graham Fredericks, the Cycling Australia CEO at the time, in a press release, who, last November, was replaced by former senior AFL administrator, Adrian Anderson.

The move, said Fredericks, was part of a wider redevelopment of road cycling within the Oceania region – the key priority now being mid-February to April, leading into Australia's burgeoning National Road Series. "With this in mind, Cycling Australia plans to work with the organisers of the Jayco Herald Sun Tour and other events in Australia and New Zealand to develop an exciting series of racing that will attract teams from Australia and New Zealand but will also showcase talent from Europe, Asian and North America," he said.

But it was far from a done deal.

The UCI's Oceania committee had to rubber-stamp the decision before it was ultimately passed on for approval at UCI HQ in Aigle, Switzerland, and Turtur, apart from being race director of the TDU, was president of said committee.

Although required to stand aside as a primary stakeholder, Turtur was an ally of UCI head honcho Pat McQuaid, who, on a brief visit to Australia during the latter stages of the 2010 Tour Down Under, voiced his lack of enthusiasm for the CA board-approved move. The Irishman believed the Sun Tour was placed exactly where it should be, in its October slot. "There's no reason they (the TDU and Herald Sun Tour) can't continue in those dates except if they (the Sun Tour) have the ambition to become a ProTour race or something like that, in which case they have (to invite) all the ProTour teams – but that's not on the cards for the moment," he said.

"To put the Tour Down Under and Herald Sun Tour back-to-back, what would happen there I think is they will end up fighting each other; one will try to outdo the other. I don't want two races fighting for position.

"It doesn't make sense that we should end up in a situation where two races are fighting each other, because they'd both lose in the end," said McQuaid, echoing Turtur's less eloquent analogy.

After years of struggling to attract some of the world's top teams, courting just one WorldTour squad in their 2008 and 2009 editions (the fight for overall honours became somewhat of a foregone conclusion; it simply became a question of which member of that ProTour team would win), and up against the world road championships in Geelong in 2010, the result of which saw no Sun Tour at all, after another hiatus in 2012, the race came back last year, albeit a shadow of its former self.

Times are a-changing in cycling, however.

McQuaid has been deposed and replaced by Brian Cookson. Turtur is no longer president of the Oceania Cycling Confederation (the post filled by Tracey Gaudry since December 2012), or the UCI Track Commission, for that matter. We also have a new chairman and CEO of Cycling Australia, in Gerry Ryan and Anderson. Michael Hands is no longer race director of the Herald Sun Tour, the event now run by three-time winner and one of Australian cycling's most colourful, and for the most part, beloved, identities, John Trevorrow.

And perhaps most importantly for the Sun Tour, and Australian cycling in general, though history will be the judge of that, it finally got its February timeslot.

So long as it courted at least two or three WorldTour teams, I initially thought October was an opportune time to run a race like the Sun Tour, to give riders on domestic-based teams a chance to score a last-minute place in cycling's major leagues, as Nathan Haas did in 2011. When I spoke to Budget Forklifts' team manager Cameron Watt last September, however, shortly after it was announced the HST would be moving to early February this year, he thought otherwise.

"I think overall, it's way better for us to be (racing the Sun Tour) in February," said Watt.

"Because we don't go to Europe, our boys train flat-out for (road) nationals, but the Australian calendar doesn't kick off till April. So there's that many guys in form in January, and they get to use it maybe one or two days and then there's nothing.

"So, by putting Sun Tour after nationals, I think for all the Aussie teams, it's really, really good. And it fits in well with that New Zealand UCI tour, so they can go Bay Crits, nationals, New Zealand, Sun Tour… and all of sudden, we're looking at Oceania's – then the NRS kicks off. For us, it fits better.

"By the time you get to October, a lot of our boys are starting to get tired. Ninety-five per cent of our team, they work full-time; these tours take a lot out of them… especially when they're going back to work Monday morning after a tour, so it starts adding up. I remember a few years ago, we did Tour of Tas (Tasmania) and then a week later the Sun Tour started… it was the worst thing for our team, ever. The boys were dead on their feet at the Sun Tour. The last time the Sun Tour was UCI – the one that Haas one – Budget didn't do Tasmania, just because they didn't think they'd be able to do Tasmania then back straight up for the Sun Tour again. So for us, February is way better."

We've just witnessed arguably the best edition of the Tour Down Under yet, and, judging by the line-up for this year's Sun Tour, we could well see the same this week in Victoria. Me, I'm just happy the Sunny is back on track to its former glory, boasting a line-up and a parcours that befits its storied sixty years' history, its former winners, and its status within the Australian cycling fraternity.

No nest shitting as far as I can tell, more like nest building, if you ask me.