Why I Support Record Store Day Australia

Record Store Day Australia (RSDA) takes place on April 16th this year and it is the third consecutive year that I’ve agreed to be an official ambassador. I’m very happy to join fellow RSD ambassador’s Ella Hooper and Adam Brand to support this wonderful day of music and fun. The purpose of RSD is to celebrate the culture and diversity of the independently owned record store. The Australian Music Retailers Association (AMRA) promotes RSDA and it has the unqualified support of record companies and Australian music icons that know the importance of supporting independent music stores. The day brings together fans, artists and thousands of independent record stores across the whole of Australia.

Chris Brown, who was an employee of independent CD, DVD, games and book retailer Bull Moose, originated Record Store Day in the USA. The concept was loosely based around the idea of the already successful Free Comic Book Day. Inspiration came from a brainstorming session held during a record storeowners’ meeting in Baltimore resulting in Record Store Day being officially founded in 2007. It is now celebrated at stores throughout the world, with hundreds of recording and performing artists participating in the day by making special appearances, performances, meeting and greeting their fans, the holding of art exhibits, and the issuing of special vinyl and CD releases along with other promotional products to mark the occasion. Each store holds their own party for the day, to celebrate the unique individuality of each store, and the place it holds within its community. Although Record Store Day, the actual day, only occurs once a year, AMRA (the organisation) provides promotions, marketing, and other opportunities for stores throughout the year, maintaining a website, social media and other means of promulgating its views about the value of independent record stores.

The key word here is ‘independent’. RSDA is about celebrating this word ‘independence’, as in freedom, liberty and self-governance. I am well aware of the advantages of a globalised world economy; indeed I am an English man who now lives in Melbourne, Australia who also lived and worked in the USA. For the whole of my working life I was involved, directly and indirectly, in producing and selling mass appeal contemporary popular music to a global audience. So it may sound contrary when I pontificate about the virtues of independent retailers. But I believe that it is possible for independent retailers to exist in a globalized economy, adding value and variety to our otherwise over standardized lives. I come from a family of independent retailers, my brother Nick and his wife Annie, are proprietors of the UK’s coolest bicycle shop, East Coast Bicycles, my father owned a number of different retail operations and my grandfather ran a shoe repair business all of his life. Our retail spaces are now almost exclusively the preserve of trans national global corporations who view the entire planet as one large connected market place. This can work in the consumer’s favor e.g. economies of scale resulting in lower prices and standardization of products across the globe; I’m not anti-globalization per-say. The globalized retailers take care of the generic, standardized, bulk of products but with little deviation resulting in limited choice. Take globalized furniture retailer Ikea, as an example, each store throughout the world carries exactly the same lines. The world’s biggest music retailer, iTunes, is a truly global phenomenon even though it only exists virtually.

This is where independent retailers come in, no matter what they are selling be it recorded music, groceries, shoes, clothing, wine or bicycles. The independent retailers are the purveyors of choice and are more often-than-not the local arbiters of style and taste. It’s the independents that seek out the bizarre, unusual, quirky, sexy, individual, niche, local and personal items that we desperately need in our lives. Granted these ‘desire’ or ‘life style statement’ items may cost a little more but they are the artifacts that become family heirlooms, the items that we cherish, the ones we love, the items with a narrative attached to them. I for one think that’s worth the cash premium.

Go into any independent retailer of whatever variety and you will invariably find the owner or his family serving you as opposed to some minimum wage earning, polo shirted/fleece wearing, badged, robo-drone who has no interest in the item that you wish to purchase. With an independent you are getting the attention of an expert/enthusiast, someone who has invested countless hours in researching their stock line, they can point out the almost indistinguishable differences on what appears to be similar products. At my favourite record store I spend many hours of my Saturday afternoons flicking through the racks. More often than not the owner, lets call him Buddy, comes over and strikes up a conversation with me and discusses music, records, artists and gigs. He’s not ‘upselling’ rather he is genuinely interested in my musical taste and me. Try this approach in a giant, on-line, globalised music retail environment it’s not the same. Reading the on-line ‘customer reviews’ below a product on a web site is useful but its not like being there. My local store plays loud music on a great sounding system with the cover of the album that they are playing highlighted on a plinth with “Currently Playing” written on it. OK, this is upselling but its upselling of the kind caring type, the type I like. You can buy wine at the supermarket but isn’t it much better to chat with the independent retailer who can describe the characteristics of that particular wine and what dish it is best served with? It’s the same with recorded music.

RSDA is motived around a single day, 16th April this year. This is the day when we celebrate the independent music retailers. Bands, acts and artists release special limited runs of ‘product’ and often perform in store with a real party atmosphere. There is a misconception that RSDA is solely about vinyl sales, its not. RSDA is format agnostic, buy whatever you like on whatever format you like, but make sure that you buy it from an independent retailer. This is a use it or loose it deal. If people don’t support local independent retailers they will disappear. Indeed with the ‘long tail’ online globalised retailers increasingly colonising our leisure space it’s becoming even harder for independents to keep the lights on. At the most basic level, when you buy local more money stays in the community.

The New Economics Foundation (NEF), a UK based independent economic think tank who’s aim is to transform the economy so that it works for people and the planet rather than profits, recently compared what happens when people buy produce at a supermarket vs. a local farmer’s market or community supported agriculture (CSA) program. This research found that twice the money stayed in the community when customers bought locally. “That means those purchases are twice as efficient in terms of keeping the local economy alive,” says author and NEF researcher David Boyle. The local producer/retailer also adds creative elements that make either the product or materials used more appropriate to the location. For example in my adopted home city of Melbourne, RSDA will see local stores offering up some superb one off recordings of local bands. Check the lists of releases on the RSDA web site for what’s available in your city.

Another argument for buying locally and independently is that it enhances the ‘velocity’ of money, or circulation speed, in the area. The idea is that if currency circulates more quickly, the money passes through more hands, a greater number of people benefit from the money and what it has purchased for them. “If you’re buying local and not at a chain or branch store, chances are that store is not making a huge profit,” says David Morris, Vice President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a nonprofit economic research and development organisation based in the USA capital Washington, D.C. “That means more goes into input costs such as supplies and upkeep, printing, advertising, paying employees, which puts that money right back into the local community.

By shopping at the independent record store, instead of the global online retailer, you can stop your community from becoming a ‘clone town’, where the Main Street now looks like every other Main Street in the world with the same fast-food and retail chains. This is a compelling argument for supporting RSDA and its fun too. Save some cash and get into those independent record stores on 16th April and spend, spend, spend. Not only will it give you a smug good all over glow feeling but you will also come away with some music in a tactile format that will stay with you for the rest of your life. That’s why I support Record Store Day Australia; I’ll see you in-store on 16th April?

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EMMA GRELLA, KATE PALETHORPE and ANNA THOMSON ARE THE CREATIVE ENTREPRENEURS BEHIND FONDO

Emma Grella, Kate Palethorpe and Anna Thomson are the co-founders of Fondo. What started as a creative passion project to address the current market gap for modern and trendy women’s cycling kit, has metamorphosed into an entrepreneurial business that supports women cycling at all levels.

Dalton Koss HQ talks to Emma, Kate and Anna about their desire to grow Fondo while simultaneously improving women’s cycling across the globe.

We all met while working for a food company. Anna and Emma were in the marketing team, while Kate was in product development. Someone came up with the idea to enter Around the Bay in a Day as a team. Coincidently the three of us had just started riding bikes. We entered the event and bonded over the riding learning curve, laughing at our first attempts of riding in cleats.

Our first cycling kit purchases consisted mostly of drab patterns and heavy text logos. As we continued riding we noticed there wasn’t any fashionable cycling kit for ladies that wasn’t pink. This is how Fondo started. Instead of lamenting the lack of fashionable, fun and sexy women’s kit we created a new line that moved beyond pink lycra and florals. We discussed the concept for about 12 months before we actually took the jump into manufacturing.

When we started Fondo it was almost by accident. The three of us were at a crossroad with our careers. We were, and still are, working full time day jobs while we manage and grow Fondo in our spare time. When we initiated Fondo it was as simple as lets just do this. We became creative entrepreneurs overnight. Moving from the conceptual design of the kit to manufacturing has been the hardest part in realising Fondo. A lot of time went into researching cycling clothes manufacturing. We found that many of the companies that manufactured cycling kit were not flexible, preferring to stick with their designs rather then meet the needs of a new customer. As Fondo, we wanted flexibility to design our own kit and not rely on other designs. That was the whole point of Fondo, to design something new, fresh and appealing to women across all age groups.

Anna, Kate and Emma in the stylish and sexy Fondo kit.
Anna, Kate and Emma in the stylish and sexy Fondo kit.

We eventually found a manufacturer that was willing to design our kit but unfortunately this company didn’t take us seriously. There was the usual discrimination that women’s cycling constitutes a small market. The manufacturer wanted to use their own branding and had different ideas as to what our product should look like. It was a difficult 6 months; we knew what we wanted but didn’t know how to get there.

Using our networks, we eventually found another manufacturer who was based in Italy, one who produced good quality products and had an excellent reputation. Our account manager was also a woman and she understood what Fondo was trying to do and supported us in realising our company. She was very patient and explained all the manufacturing nuances that one doesn’t know if you are not in the manufacturing industry. By being flexible, our designer was open to our ideas and most importantly provided us with an excellent chamois for our kit (a must for anyone who wants to be comfortable in the saddle!). All of the sudden our concept became tangible.

When we received our first prototype, we were very excited – it was amazing! Emma made a trip to Italy to oversee the manufacturing process. It was a wonderful experience and was very reassuring for Fondo being a small and new business. The owner of the company, a wonderful older Italian man, spoke to Emma during her visit. Keeping in mind that this company makes kit for pro peloton teams, the owner was highly supportive and encouraging of our work emphasising that we are the new and young generation filled with fantastic ideas that need to be realised. Receiving these words made us realise that Fondo was at the right manufacturing company.

Having a go is the key; we would not have done this as individuals. We had to put our own time and capital into Fondo. Since we started Fondo, we have received a lot of support. Fondo has also reciprocated by giving a lot of support to women’s cycling. To hear our customers and networks confirming how well Fondo is doing is really nice and satisfying. As we continue to ride we know what we like and want for Fondo. We listen to women and our customers and tailor our designs to address the issues they raise. Fondo injects fashion for women who are into cycling and are fashion conscience. Although Fondo took time to develop, we are doing what we love and delivering a product to fill this large gap in the market place.

Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing; just keep going. Don’t let your fears stop you.

Developing Fondo from a passion project into a successful business taught us some key lessons including:

  1. Communication: with three co-founders of Fondo we have to make decisions collaboratively. Everyone needs to be kept in the loop across all decision-making.
  2. Honesty, Integrity and Trust: You need to trust in each other and have the confidence to make decisions.
  3. Courage: move beyond your fear by just doing it. Two sayings we apply at Fondo are: “This time next year you wish you started today” and “It is always to beg for forgiveness then permission”.
  4. Inquisitive: always be inquisitive, ask questions. It is the only way to become knowledgeable.
  5. Respect: be respectful to everyone around you no matter if they are your customer, colleague, family member or friend.
  6. Passion: love what you do. Being passionate moves beyond fun as it gives you that edge. Fondo doesn’t feel like a job. It is fun. We never thought we would be those people who love their work.
Fondo supports women's riding at all levels, from sponsoring women's racing to hosting a monthly women ride in Melbourne, Australia.
Fondo supports women’s cycling at all levels, from sponsoring women’s racing to hosting a monthly women’s ride in Melbourne, Australia.

There have been a few challenges growing Fondo from a passion project into a business. When we started to design the Fondo kit, we wanted women to freely mix and match tops and bottoms, a bit like finding the right bikini for your body shape. However this makes ordering challenging – it can be difficult to know what sizes to order when we haven’t been in business long enough to experience any trends.

Overseas manufacturing is also a challenge. Waiting for designs and stock can be stressful at times, specifically where there is high customer demand and no product to fulfil that need. Additionally, we have to be mindful of northern hemisphere holidays, for example, the whole of Italy shuts down in August, meaning Fondo has to timetable and organise production and manufacturing to avoid being caught out. As mentioned earlier, finding a reputable and good quality manufacturer took time.

All of Fondo’s co-founders work full time in day jobs, so we need to be organised and ensure we meet at least once a week to make decisions and discuss our next steps. Fondo’s success has come from networking, both face-to-face and online. We have learnt to be open. There is always someone who has a connection and can assist. Never underestimate the power of a conversation. Fondo receives a lot of support from the local community especially from the many wonderful female cyclists. The women’s cycling market in Australia continues to grow. Fondo has opportunities in this market place and being a business led by women for women strengthens our brand in this space.

Two years ago, we joined a ride at Tour Down Under. Most of the women were left behind as the men sped off into the distance. We learnt a lot from this experience so when Fondo hosted a ride to Wilunga Hill for the 2015 Tour Down Under, we ensured no one was dropped whether they were female or male. Fondo’s customers came from across Australia, totalling around 75 riders. It was wonderful to meet our customers. There was a steep hill, but we all made it shouting and encouraging each other along the way. There is nothing more powerful then getting a group of women together to egg each other along. We all rejoiced and connected through the love of cycling.

Fondo kit is sexy and fun simultaneously and beautifully manufactured in Italy.
Fondo women’s cycling kit is simultaneously sexy and fun and beautifully manufactured in Italy.

Our next greatest challenge will be moving Fondo into the international market space. We have just launched a Fondo Ambassador program to advocate and promote our business internationally. Catching up once a week to discuss these initiatives is important for growing Fondo beyond our Australian shores. These weekly meetings form part of our business discipline; it is our Board Meeting. It can be risky going into business with your friends but we put our friendship before Fondo. We all have different skills sets. It helps to cover all aspects of the business. Emma is Fondo’s self appointed Chief Financial Officer, Kate is Fondo’s legal team and Anna leads and manages Fondo’s marketing, PR, networking and brand ambassador. We believe that women and physical activity will receive investment in the long term.

At Fondo, we all believe in looking after our health and wellbeing. We do a lot of cycling, practice yoga and meditation and support exercise in general. This keeps Fondo going. All of us need to have reflection time in a relaxing environment. Creating the second Fondo range was draining and hard. There was a lot of pressure, high expectation and we didn’t want to release something poor or second rate. We did a whole range and then scrapped it because we weren’t happy with the idea. We are releasing a new Fondo range very soon; we are incredibly excited.

We keep an eye on fashion trends and work with people who can help achieve Fondo’s vision. We stay true to Fondo’s philosophy and founding principles. There has been a conversation about designing a men’s range, based on feedback from male cyclists, but at the moment we really want to focus on women.

We need to create new visions for Fondo’s product line. What is next and how do we achieve this? If we don’t continue to create, we run the risk of doing the same thing. Once you are in a business there are always new opportunities. It is important for all of us to step out, carefully address each opportunity and then focus on delivering just one creative idea. It is important for us to keep having a go until one of the ideas is successful.

To learn more about Fondo and how to be part of their monthly women’s rides, please click on the links below:

Fondo website: http://fondo.com.au

Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: FondoCycling

Fondo-4

The Beach Road

You’ve probably never heard of the 27 kilometers of road stretching from Brighton, a wealthy southeast suburb on the outskirts of Melbourne, to Mordialloc along the edge of Port Philip Bay. Officially this is ‘State Route 33’ but known by all and sundry as ‘The Beach Road’. It’s hardly in the same mythological league as Alpe d’Huez, or the Ventoux but hosting 7,000 riders every Saturday, according to the 2013 Victorian Road Census, must make this one of the great cycling routes by sheer numbers alone? Add in the number of riders on Sundays, weekday commuters and the evening/early morning lycra warriors and the rider numbers are colossal. You get all types along this hallowed stretch of tarmac, mainly amateur ‘choppers’, but also families, tri-athletes, ex-pros now in retirement and the infamous ‘Hellkrew’ riders, considered so dangerous they elicit the attention of Melbourne’s law enforcement community. All shapes, sizes, styles and tastes are catered for on The Beach Road, very metro-sexual and very Melbourne. It’s so easy to dismiss 90% of these riders as ‘new agers’, converts from golf so that they can ride 27kms on their $20,000 Italian bikes head to toe in the latest designer threads and to sip their low fat, soya, lattes at the “Moordi” coffee shack. If you believe my 80 year Yorkshire father, Karl, who’s ridden a bike since his 12th birthday all over the world and at every discipline known, there are only two types of people in this world “those that ride bikes, and those that don’t”. Thanks Dad it a useful thought, then the Beach Road is definitely inhabited by “the right people”.

I arrived here in Melbourne 18 months ago, January 2013. Straight from the middle of a Liverpool winter into a 40-degree Melbourne summer – BOOM! One of my old Scouse cycling mates arrived at the same time for a ‘work project’, at a carbon composite company that has a factory within Melbourne’s outer suburbs. He’s a real hard-case ex-pro bike rider who now lives in Oodenaarde, Belgium. He stayed on there after a successful European racing career; some places are hard to leave. The bike was an escape mechanism from 1980’s Thatcherite unemployment in Liverpool, transforming into a life of pave, Belgium mix and the rough and tumble of the pro peloton. For our first ride along the Beach Road we meet at 09:30, Euro style, at the cycling mecca of Café Racer in trendy, Bo-Ho St. Kilda. But there’s a problem, where are the 7,000 cyclists? The roads are deserted, no wheels to sit on, no one to show us where to go. Even at 09:30 the temperature is approaching the mid to high 20s, not a good sign. We push on down the Beach Road, through Elwood by the kite surfers, Brighton Beach and all the tourists looking for the brightly painted beach huts, to Black Rock with the famous brick tower clock in the middle of the round-a-bout. Past the bike shop run by two ex-world and Olympic champions Kathy Watt and Steve McGlede, on over the ‘bonks’, which the locals consider hills to Moordi. It’s a great feeling to be free of overshoes, leggings and gloves; the roads are pretty good here too. In a tad under an hour we’ve covered the famous Beach Road in its entirety. Coffee at Moordi, no thanks we’ll leave that to ‘The Choppers’, we push on up to Frankston, another 16kms up the road and then another 11kms over Mt Eliza and drop down to the seaside town of Mornington for our coffee. A 30-minute stop and we hit the road back for the 50km return to our start at Café Racer. Now we understand where everyone is as the temperature hits 40 degrees. This ride home isn’t going to be fun for two middle-aged blokes straight from a Northern European winter. We buy, beg and even contemplate stealing water on our return ride, we’d drink form puddles but there aren’t any. Now we know where all those thousands of cyclist are, they ride at 6am; they get four solid hours in and are home by the pool or on the beach by the time the heat kicks in. It’s a mistake you only make once, lesson learnt.

In a classic case of neo-liberalism state intervention there is no parking on the Beach Road up to 10am on a weekend. This allows enough space along this four lane, with bike lane in places, route. Enough room for the masses to chop, weave, undertake, surge, slow, baulk and fan out three or four abreast. This certainly isn’t Europe. From the age of 11 I was out on club runs with the Hull Thursday Road Club riding around East Yorkshire in neat symmetrical pairs, doing a turn at the front and then swinging to the back at the command of my dad’s whistle. Everything was very regimented, organized, very British, as one would expected by a cycling club run by working class, ex-national service squaddies. Just because these cyclists can afford $20,000 dollar top spec bikes doesn’t mean they know how to ride them. Money can’t buy knowledge or skill though there are plenty of people trying to sell it along the Beach Road. Search the Internet and you will find a cruel satirical web site called “Pro Kit Wankers”, lots of these riders could feature on this web site.

There are some unwritten Beach Road rules, which go thus: –

  1. Always ride in your big ring, over geared is always best, never go over 54rpm and it makes for a slow and knee cracking start at traffic lights.
  2. Its shorts, always shorts not matter what the weather conditions. If its cold, not often, then its shorts but with hefty overshoes.
  3. Wheel choice on this parcour is crucial. It has to be 80mm deep section carbon with flashy graphics. Lots of shwooshing on the Beach Road.
  4. Always stand up and get the center of gravity as high as possible when coming to a stop at a junction, a little weaving/wobble is also good here.
  5. Why sit neatly on a wheel when you can leave gaps and weave about all over the place?
  6. Never ride tempo when you can surge and brake, surge and brake.
  7. Ride on the left out the way of traffic – NO! Ride as far right as possible, into the second lane is best.
  8. Half way to the Moordi coffee stop always have a gel or two as the cake at the stop might not be enough to keep the bonk at bay.
  9. Taking turns at the front is overrated; the pros have got it all wrong. Always sit on the front guy and let him get slower and slower until you can jump him and then sit on the front until you get jumped.
  10. Crash helmets are the law in Australia; as everyone knows riding around with a polystyrene hat makes you a safer rider/target.

Sometimes the inverse of European rules apply, well it is a land down under. For example in Europe if you don’t do your through-and-off turn some gnarly Belgium will threaten you or put you in a ditch. Here you can’t join in a through-and-off session unless you have, and are wearing, their club jersey. Here sitting on the back in the ‘armchair’ is the default.

All satire aside the Beach Road is probably one of the world’s great cycling routes. My Dad is probably right; if you ride a bike then you are a cyclist. No room for my elitist Euro snobbery here in Australia. Bike sales, cycling clothing and accessories make for a boom cycling industry here. No old shabby steel bikes, and cycle jumble sale clothing. In Melbourne the bike shops are spotless, modern boutiques and there are lots of them. The bikes and clothing match the salaries and house prices. This isn’t Hull or Liverpool it’s the Beach Road, Melbourne, Australia.

The Herald Sun Tour

This article was written by Tim Dalton for the cycling magazine Conquista (http://conquista.cc)

Think of early season professional cycling and most people think of Tour Down Under, which is held each year in mid January in and around the city of Adelaide. But there is another race which passes through some equally stunning countryside and has a much more rightful claim to be Australia’s longest running professional bike race, the Herald Sun Tour. Melbourne was recently voted the world’s most polite city and is regularly voted the world’s number one city in which to live. That’s not to say that Melbourne doesn’t have rivals, namely Sydney and Adelaide. Back in 1996 Melbourne secured, some would say stole, the Australian Formula One Grand Prix from Adelaide. One gets the feeling that Adelaide didn’t take this too well and was out for retribution. In some people’s eyes at least, mainly lazy journalists, is the view that Adelaide is simply Melbourne’s smaller cousin. The state of South Australia is a major investor in the Tour Down Under, the only UCI World Tour race in Australia. Granted the Tour Down Under is the better-known event, but the Herald Sun Tour is a gem of a race, the shrinking violet, the bridesmaid and not the bride. Rated by the UCI as a 2.1 stage race, the Herald Sun Tour is a third tier competitive event, open to UCI Continental and national teams.

The race started back in 1952 and was won in true Aussie style by Keith Rowley, a sheep farmer from the rural town of Maffra. Keith beat his brother Max by 49 seconds to win with a time of 42hr 57min 55sec. At the back of the peloton, 19-year-old Roy Underwood, the youngest rider in the field, spent five of the six days arriving at the finishing towns in the dark. His father made a £50 bet with him that he would not finish. The Saturday stage saw a search party sent out to find him. After finishing the last day’s stage, his father handed him ten crisp £5 notes. The race’s total prize money was only £1,500 sponsored by the local newspaper.

It is not unusual for newspapers to support cycling events with many European bike races connected to news media. A bike race is a great way to stimulate newspaper sales, think Tour de France, Giro de Italia, Het Volk, etc. The original Sun Tour was no different. Originally named the Sun Tour after the Sun News Pictorial, it changed its name to The Herald Sun Tour in 1990 when Melbourne’s local daily news paper, The Morning Herald, merged with the Sun News Pictorial. The race is owned and backed by the Herald Sun newspaper, Australia’s largest daily newspaper and part of the global News Limited Group. Rupert Murdoch’s interest in cycling keeps cropping up.

The first Sun Tour in 1952 was the first professional stage race held in Victoria since the 1934 Centenary Thousand Classic. An estimated 500,000 people throughout Victoria saw the ‘Sun Tour’, as it was known then, pass along local roads. Of the 56 starters, only 18 finished the six-day event throughout Victoria. Sixty editions on and the Herald Sun Tour is now cemented as a significant event within the state of Victoria and its cycling heritage. With significant support from key sponsors, including caravan manufacture Jayco and the Victorian State Government, this iconic event now demands daily electronic and print news coverage as the stars of today and tomorrow go head to head in the battle for supremacy in Australia’s oldest stage race.

The Herald Sun Tour became a part of the State Government hallmark events calendar in 2005, with an injection of State funding to support its growth and development.  A major revamp including a new business plan, management team and enhanced world ranking has laid the foundation for strong growth with a dramatic increase in the number of riders and entourage, global media coverage (200 countries in 2007) and local coverage via TV and radio. The 2012 Tour de France champion, six-time world and Olympic champion Sir Bradley Wiggins won the tour in 2009, further highlighting the quality of riders required to win this prestigious event.  After this win he stated “If I was going to pick a tour to win other than the Tour de France, the Jayco Herald Sun Tour is the one“. The race took a year off in 2010, during which Melbourne and Geelong hosted the UCI World Road Cycling Championships.

Australia in January and February is becoming a mecca for professional continental cyclists. The attractions include a huge country with fabulous vistas, empty well surfaced roads and superb weather conditions making it a warm place to skip the northern hemisphere winter. Spectacular sunny beaches also help with the tan when not out on bike. The three major Australian summer cycling events are a good measure of warm weather training. Starting with the Tour Down Under (late January), it is followed closely by the newly established Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Classic and the Herald Sun Tour as the finale in early February. These three events make for a great racing itinerary before returning to Europe for the Classics.

Continental Pro and former Irish National Champion, Matthew Brammier after the prologue TT.
Continental Pro and former Irish National Road Champion, Matthew Brammier from team MTN Qhubeka after the prologue TT.

To avoid the northern hemisphere winter, a large peloton of professional cyclists descend upon the old gold rush city of Bendigo, 150km north of Melbourne at the geographical center of the state of Victoria. Every morning large bunches of professional cyclists head into the hills around Bendigo with almost everyone ending up at The Old Green Bean Café for post ride coffee and analysis. John Herety’s JTL Condor team has made this town their center of operations for the last few years. Julien ‘Ju-Ju’ Bérard of Ag2r La Mondiale arrived in early December 2014, quietly stacking in the miles while taking in a kangaroo or two along the way (according to Twitter and Instagram). Think of Bendigo as an Aussie Girona if you will.

Tim Dalton and John Herety of JTL Condor at the Tour's prologue in Melbourne City Centre.
Tim Dalton and John Herety of JLT Condor at the Tour’s prologue in Melbourne City Centre.

In the 2015 edition of the Herald Sun Tour, Bendigo confirms its status as cycling central Australia by hosting a finish (Stage 2) and start (Stage 3). Victoria might not have the mega climbs of the Alps or Pyrenees but the rolling terrain; grippy roads and warm 30 plus Celsius degree summer heat can take its toll. The 2015 edition started on Melbourne’s Southbank Promenade with a lung-bursting 2.1km prologue, an event that attracted over 25,000 spectators in 2014 and an even larger crowd in 2015.

The evening prologue along the south bank of the Yarra River in central Melbourne from Federation Square to Queens Bridge Square is a photographer’s delight. The world’s most livable city is bathed in fading summer light with the CBD and river making a stunning backdrop. The 2.1km parcour is tough, with some early technical turns to negotiate followed by just over 1km of ‘full gas’ along the south bank. This is a prologue that’s built for spectators with the course meters from the front door step of Melbourne’s most trendy bars. The Tour then moves to regional Victoria for the longest stage, a 152km hike from Mount Macedon, past Hanging Rock, before finishing in Bendigo.

Stage two was a shorter 120km route from Bendigo Velodrome, through the beautiful Heathcote-Graytown National Park and across the Goulburn River into Nagambie. The 148km stage three route showcases the Nagambie Lakes as riders loop around the Mitchelton Winery, where the stage began, before heading back to Nagambie. The final 122km stage of Arthur’s Seat is where the race is traditionally won and lost. The climb of Arthur’s Seat may only be 304 meters in height but it’s climbed from sea level, three times. The crowds rival anything seen in Europe with every meter packed with screaming Aussie tifosi. This climb is the highest point on the Mornington Peninsula and provides spectacular views from the top. On a clear day the view from the summit of this extinct prehistoric volcano extends as far as the Melbourne city skyline, the You Yangs and Mount Macedon. Melbourne’s hard-core club cyclists ride from the city, watch the race and then ride home in a gigantic, seething chain gang, a round trip of some 180kms, down the Nepean Highway.

This race is a good barometer of early season form judging it by past winners. From the Herald Sun Tour’s start in 1952 up until Malcolm Elliot’s 1985 win, all winners were home grown Aussies. It took a Yorkshire man to break the Aussies’ 33-year stranglehold on the race. Past winners include hard case British Cycling Technical Director Shane Sutton OBE (1983), ably assisted by Tour de France stage winner Neil Stevens. Flying Dutch man Adri van der Poel won in 1988 with a massive attack on Mount Hotham and German breakaway specialist Udo Bolts took out the winnings in 1990. As mentioned earlier, Sir Bradley Wiggins won this event in 2009. The son of Australian track cyclist Gary Wiggins, the locals claimed this as a home win. Even my next-door neighbor, Saturday morning riding partner and local bike shop owner, Terry Hammond, has won this race twice (1978 & 1982) and finished second and third a few times.

Former Herald Sun Tour winner Terry Hammond at his shop Terry Hammond Cycles with a very cool Colnago C59 frame.
Former Herald Sun Tour winner Terry Hammond at his shop Terry Hammond Cycles with a very cool Colnago C59 frame.

Terry takes great delight in reminding me that he was the 1983 National Australian Road Race Champion and that as a European professional cyclist, won many races. According to Terry the winner of the Herald Sun Tour is “a sprinter that can also climb”. Evidence of this manifests itself in the form of Barry Waddell who won a record 5 straight Herald Sun Tours from 1964 to 1968. Though best known as a road cyclist, Waddell also won 17 National track titles and the Australian National Road Race Championships in 1964 and 1968.

The 2015 version of the race has attracted a fantastic field. Newly registered continental Team MTN Qhubeka are here with Aussie star Matt ‘The Boss’ Goss. Desperate to validate their wildcard entry to the 2015 Tour de France they are hungry for early season results. Team sprinter of MTN Qhubeka, Tyler Farrar, confirms that the Herald Sun Tour is far from being an exotic training race. With vital UCI points on offer for this 2.1 event everyone is racing hard for the win. With only small teams of five riders controlling the race over this deceptively lumpy course, it is extremely difficult. Farrar was keen to point out that himself and many others are here direct from a cold Northern hemisphere winter with little more than ‘base’ miles in their legs.

The local Australian contingent is coming to the end of their racing season and are race fit. They also have the added incentive of prime time TV coverage, are eager to impresses potential continental teams of their ability and revel in getting one over the hot-shot European pros. DraPac Professional cycling are here with newly appointed sports director, ex-UK professional cyclist Tom Southam in the team car. After this race many of the riders will depart for Europe for the shock of spring weather and the Classics. Orica Green Edge always takes this race very seriously having won last year with Simon Clarke. The stages may be short, but with lumpy roads and hot weather, it is a hard race to win.

Anyone wanting to escape the harsh northern winters could do a lot worse than de-camp to Australia for a month or so. Ride your bike; take in the Tour Down Under, Cadel Evans’ Great Ocean Road Classic and the Herald Sun Tour. The countryside is classic storybook pretty; it is dappled in light, dotted with quaint villages and bustling towns. The stunning views from the Victorian hills and big blue skies take your breath away. There is no shortage fine gastronomy here, with acre after acre of vineyards and orchards over gentle rolling hills and fields full of the prettiest cattle and sheep. Stood at the side of the road waiting for the race to pass, I have been serenaded by Galahs, Cockatoos, Rainbow Lorakeets and Rosellas. One day I even met a field full of fluffy headed alpacas.

JLT Condor rider Felix English ready to give it Bigpowa on the course.
JLT Condor rider Felix English ready to give it Bigpowa on the course.

A month long of Australian cycling events attracts all types of international visitors, making the 27 hour long-haul international flight bearable. This year my good friend and ex-international rider Terri Riley and her husband Brian did just that to take in all these races and more. Arriving in Australia in early November 2014 they spent the first few weeks riding the 3,064km from Adelaide to Sydney via Melbourne camping every night. I bumped into them on the climb of Mount Buninyong at the Australian National Road Race championship, then at the Tour Down Under, the Great Ocean Road Classic and finally at the Sun Herald Tour before they headed back to the UK.

This reminds me of my adventure a number of years ago with my son where we loaded a beaten up old car with bikes and drove from Liverpool to Province in the south of France for the Dauphine Libré race. Our expectations where pretty low having attended the Tour de France a number of times. In actual fact the Dauphine proved to be a superb race with stunning countryside and easy access to the star riders. The lack of security staff, fencing, barriers and throngs of spectators actually provided a much better experience than the Tour de France. In a similar way the Herald Sun Tour provides a much better experience of Australian stage racing than the Tour Down Under. The Herald Sun Tour offers fantastic countryside, a low-key atmosphere but with easy access to the riders and some great racing. As they say biggest isn’t always best.

So how did the Aussie cyclists stake up to the Continental Pros for the 2015 Herald Sun Tour I hear you ask? Well the results run like this:

Prologue – Melbourne 2.1km

1st Cameron Meyer (DPC) 2:35.53

2nd Caleb Ewan (OGE) 2:36.42

3rd Breton Jones (DPC) 2:36.85

Stage 1 – Mt Macedon to Bendigo 146.2km

1st Cameron Myer (OGE) 3:29:47

2nd Joseph Cooper (ART) +0

3rd Patrick Bevin (ART) +10

Stage 2 – Bendigo to Nagambie 117.9km

1st Caleb Ewan (OGE) 2:38:51

2nd Steele Von Hoff (AUS) +0

3rd Samuel Witmitz (BFL) +0

Stage 3 – Mitchelton Wines to Nagambie 146.7km

1st Caleb Ewan (OGE) 3:25:17

2nd Tyler Farrar (MTN) +0

3rd Steele Von Hoff (AUS) +0

Stage 4 – Arthur’s Seat 122km

1st Patrick Bevin (ART) 2:54:38

2nd Cameron Myer (OGE) +0

3rd Simon Clarke (OGE) +0

Overall

1st Cameron Myer (OGE) 12:30:55

2nd Patrick Bevin (ART) +11

3rd Joseph Cooper (ART) +19

So why not pack your bike bag and make your way down here to crack open a bottle of local wine, throw a shrimp on the barbie and enjoy the racing?