News feature, December 9, 2006.
A combined peloton of close to 1500 hundred cyclists hit the roads between Brisbane and the Gold Coast in Queensland today, honouring the memory of Amy Gillett and supporting the cycling foundation set up in her honour.
From legends of Australian cycling including Phil Anderson, to the current day heroes of the road including Robbie McEwen - it was a day when the stars of cycling mingled with weekend bunch riders to promote a common cause, cycle awareness. The event was perfectly scheduled, one day ahead of the second round of the Grand Prix Criterium series, to be staged in the heart of Australia's holiday capital.
Leading the peloton into Surfers Paradise at the end of the one hundred kilometre journey from Southbank in Brisbane, Amy's husband, Simon Gillett paid tribute to the cyclists who voted with their legs to promote a worthy cause. "It was awesome to see that many riders lining up in Brisbane," Simon Gillett said. "Obviously it's the memory of Amy and to promote that relationship between cyclists and motorists on the road, we've both got to learn to live together."
One of the driving forces behind Amy's ride, Queenslander Lorian Graham, was overwhelmed by the numbers turning out for the ride. "Brilliant, absolutely brilliant, it's exceeded my expectations to see that many people on the ride," Graham said. "It was very nice from them to let me stand at the front, I found it great to go back through the pack and talk to people supporting a worthy cause."
Graham, who along with five team-mates was seriously injured in the crash in Thuringen, Germany, in which Gillett was killed by an out of control car eighteen months ago, has only just returned to competitive cycling.
While her goals include getting back to the top of the sport, off the bike, the work of the Amy Gillett Foundation remains a priority. "Now the foundation's established, in the future we're hoping to establish an Amy's Ride in every state," Graham said. "The key message of today is to promote road safety between motorist and cyclists. It was a great demonstration today that we can share the roads."
Lending his support to the cause, Australian road cycling great Phil Anderson attended the Queensland ride as an ambassador for the Victorian Amy's ride, which takes place at Geelong on January sixth. "It's nice to see that the foundation is spreading its wings, it's a great message," Anderson said. "You've gotta share the road and get the wise usage of bikes and vehicles and make it safe for everybody."
Special guests on the day, Amy Gillett's parents Dennis and Mary Safe took part in the 45 kilometre loop ride on the Northern end of the Gold Coast. "We were amazed just the turn out of people, such a happy vibrant crowd, we've met some lovely people and it's a fabulous experience for us," Dennis Safe said. "A lot of people came up who knew Amy and spoke about Amy. It's a happy occasion and that's what we'd like it to be."
McEwen a marked man on home circuit in race two of Grand Prix Series
In between signing autographs and posing for photographs with his adoring fans following Amy's Ride, Cyclingnews caught up briefly with Davitamon Lotto's superstar sprinter Robbie McEwen.
The newly crowned Australian Criterium Champion is predicting a tough day out tomorrow on his home circuit - the glitter strip of Surfers Paradise. McEwen won in Surfers Paradise last year, but after last week's victory in race one of the 2006 Grand Prix series, (which doubled as the National Crit Championship), McEwen knows the odds are against him going back to back. "I think it hasn't been done that someone wins both Brisbane and the Gold Coast races," McEwen said. "I'll probably be more watched and more tactically ridden against."
The spectator friendly circuit, which takes riders through the famed Cavill Mall before finishing on the beachfront esplanade, also has a reputation for being cruel. "It's kind of a tricky circuit, even though it looks like a basic four corner circuit," McEwen said. "There's a lot of off camber and change of surfaces and a dodgy little corner out of Cavil mall onto the Esplanade. There's a lot of opportunities to split the field."
Tomorrow will also be the last race in Davitamon Lotto colours for one of McEwen's team-mates, Henk Vogels. Off to Toyota United in the U.S. for 2007, Vogels is rumoured to be in strong early season form. Vogels featured in the recent Darren Smith Memorial criterium on the New South Wales North Coast and could be just the man for a breakaway. "He's fit and looking pretty lean," McEwen said. "I think he wouldn't mind going out with a bang and coming away with a win tomorrow."
And as for the location .. well the place McEwen calls home nowadays, isn't such a bad place to spend the Northern Winter. "We're sitting here it's about 27 degrees, full sun, people wandering to and from the beach, people sitting in the café's in bikini's and singlets," McEwen said, sporting his trademark cheeky grin. "I'm about to go home and take a dip in the ocean, it's something you can't do in Europe right now, there's no better place to be at this time of year."
Sara's back - and motivated
Tomorrow also sees the return to racing for another local Gold Coaster - Olympic Road Race Champion Sara Carrigan. Having taken a lengthy break from the sport - Carrigan has spent much of her time studing property economics at University. "It was basically six months totally off the bike, no riding from after Commonwealth Games, I just needed a break, getting a little bit stale, I wasn't enjoying my riding as much anymore," Carrigan said. "I just wanted to study, wanted to work, enjoy the nicer things in life for a while."
The bad news for her rivals though, with a new contract to race in Europe in 2007, and with an eye to defending her Olympic title at Beijing in two year's time, Sara Carrigan is back. "I got the fire back in my belly now after that little break ," Carrigan said. "Got back into training and really enjoying it."