THE FedUni Road National Cycling Championships rolled into Ballarat for the 13th consecutive year last weekend, drawing supportive, cheering crowds, the sounds of cowbells and vuvuzelas to town.
The packed program running Friday through Tuesday had the community on their feet in the centre of Ballarat, but mostly in Buninyong, which has become a real cycling hub.
The Criterium events ran on Friday – a vibrant start to the RoadNats.
The Crits brought 7000 people to the footpaths and grassy median strips, the cafes, restaurants and temporary bars of Sturt Street – elite sport for free in their our backyard.
The Under 19 Women and Men, Under 23 Men, Club Teams and Fixed Gear riders braved the 40-degree day, competing on the Sturt Street course between Lyons and Lydiard Streets.
Ashlee Jones and Jesse Norton claimed the Under 19 Women’s and Men’s events, respectively.
The ‘Fixie’ Champion was Hal Hunter, and Jarrad Drizners took out the Under 23 Men’s Criterium.
But once the evening arrived, so did a cool change, just in time for the Under 23 and Elite Women, and the Elite Men to have their turn. The competition, however, remained hot.
Racing for 33kms, Rebecca Wiasak won the Elite Women’s Criterium Championship for the second year in a row, and Brenton Jones took the title for the men in the 44km ride.
Saturday’s action moved to the RoadNats’s village hub of Buninyong, and riders took to the – much tougher and longer – mountain course, travelling 11.6kms each lap.
The Gran Fondo event, featuring both serious and recreational riders of all ages and abilities, got festivities started early in the ‘yong, raising funds to fight MS.
Both riding five laps, Shane Nankervis and Deborah Hennessey crossed the line quickest.
In the morning’s next events, 18 categories of para-cyclists were kings and queens of the mountain, riding between one or seven laps – 71.4kms.
The Under 19 Men and Women then looped the challenging course through the middle of the day for nine and six laps, respectively. The Under 23 men travelled 127.6km – 11 laps – in the late afternoon.
The Under 19 champs were Patrick Eddy and Francesca Sewell, while Nicholas White claimed the Under 23 title.
The races clicked up a gear on Sunday as the Elite and Under 23 Women set off together in the morning, followed by the Elite Men in the afternoon.
Heaving crowds lined Warrenheip Street and Mount Buninyong Road’s hill climb to get a glimpse of the action and make some noise.
Supporters up the hill barely fit at the King of the Mountain stage, spilling onto the road, close enough to smell the athletes – clapping, screaming and ringing bells under the shady gum trees.
Groups found their own perfect spot to set their camping chairs and recreational cyclists rode up and down the mountain, filling in time before the racers passed them by once more.
Eighteen-year-old Sarah Gigante became both the Under 23 and Elite Women’s Champion, stunning the cycling community and spectators.
But, just after 5pm, came the biggest surprise upset yet when Michael Freiberg stole the title of Elite Men’s National Champion, overtaking the unsuspecting cat-and-mouse leaders, Chris Harper and Cameron Meyer.
Ballarat comes alive with excitement witnessing this level of entertainment, brought straight to them by Australia’s elite cyclists. The quality of competition has the community wanting more.
Local couple, Alan and Sandra Ballard love what cycling puts into the town.
“We sometimes travel down to Geelong to watch the cycling, so it’s good that we can watch it here, Mr Ballard said, “It brings a lot of visitors.”
Mrs Ballard is impressed that the RoadNats have put Buninyong and now Fed Uni “on the map.”
Down near Lydiard Street’s quieter turn of the Criterium circuit, Il Piccolo Gelato’s Anthony Ransome said their trade is always busy but the RoadNats gives them a boost.
“It’s our third year of the cycling, so we know how to do it,” he said.
“It’s good for Ballarat. We enjoy the challenge.”
But up on Mount Buninyong, Melbourne’s Nick Bowers had travelled a little further to catch a glimpse of the elite.
“We’ve been coming up to stay with our cousins at the top of Mount Buninyong for five years,” he said.
“We can get close to the top cyclists and see them so many times – it’s not like the Tour de France where they go past once.
We’re all keen cyclists and keen watchers.
We quite often ride the course.”