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.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:39 PM

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.

Like the Santos Tour Down Under, the Great Ocean Road Race currently has the kind of hefty government support that good cycling races need to prosper. As a result, everything about Sunday, and indeed the lead-in, evoked professionalism. It was encouraging to see organisers embracing the women with a stand-alone event on the Saturday, involving the community with a mass participation event, and enlisting a professional production company in McGuire Media to oversee its broadcast. Seven too did an excellent job in promoting the event through its Australian Open (tennis) coverage.

From a cycling perspective it was a near faultless execution, praise that should resound with organisers considering this was also the inaugural edition. Evans himself has big plans for the race, nursing a desire for the event to one day be part of cycling's top tier in the WorldTour.

However, despite its prominence the reception from the television audience wasn't overwhelming, and that's a potentially worrying sign for the event's commercial pull in future years. Seven saw a significant fall in ratings for the corresponding period the week before, albeit that did include a full schedule of Tennis, with the audience turning instead to Nine's broadcast of the One Day International final between Australia and England.

While that may not be surprising given cricket and cycling's relative profiles in Australia, it is worth noting that Sunday was Evans's last race in Australia, presumably a major pull factor, and something the event won't have in 2016.

I don't want to draw conclusions about an event after just one edition but I will say I'm disappointed that considering all the things it did right, it couldn't attract a larger audience. It is a sobering reflection, perhaps, that while the sport has come a long way since SBS first broadcast the Tour de France live, we also still have a long, long way to go.

Cadel Evans transformed the sport in this country, giving it a profile it had never previously enjoyed, and inspiring millions. The challenge for the Great Ocean Road Race is capturing that attention in the years ahead, and inspiring the same sort of support of its founder.