Deciding the Australian Tour de France 'Team of the Century'

An account of the panel's debate in selecting the nine riders

The plan by Cycling Australia (CA) to name a nine-rider Tour de France 'Team of the Century' at its annual awards night in Melbourne on Friday (local time) will surely spark plenty of debate with a number of world class candidates missing out.

Certainly, as one of six judges asked to select the team, debate is what I expect if the variety of nominations submitted from each member of the selection panel and what it took for us all to reach a final and collective decision is anything to go by.

Reaching that decision was far from easy for a panel that also included Peter Bartels AO (1962 Commonwealth Games gold medallist); Anna Wilson (two time UCI World Cup winner); John Trevorrow (three time Herald Sun Tour winner), Shayne Bannan (Orica-GreenEdge team general manager) and Matt Keenan (Tour de France commentator).

And yes, through telephone calls and email exchanges, various cases were tabled for and against certain riders, based on the selection guidelines that were provided by CA.

Just to refresh you, CA stipulated that the 'Team of the Century' be made up of two general classification riders, two domestiques to support the 'GC' riders; one sprinter; two lead out riders for the sprinter, one all-rounder and one team captain

And under CA's anti-doping stance, CA said riders who have served a doping suspension or made a doping confession will not be eligible for selection to the team.

Interestingly, no member of the selection panel had his or her full nominated team endorsed. Nor did any selector nominate the same team of another on the panel.

Suffice to say, opinions varied; but mixed opinions within the panel provided a healthy reminder of how strong Australian Tour riders have become over the last 100 years.

It also reminds where this rich history all began – with Duncan 'Don' Kirkham and Iddo 'Snowy' Munro becoming the first Australians to race the Tour in 1914.

While Friday night's announcement will champion those who make the 'Team of the Century', it should also laud Kirkham and Munro for having raced that 1914 Tour.

Who knows when Australia's Tour history would have started had Kirkham and Munro not had the daring, desire and strength of mind and body to set off for France by boat – with Australian riders Charlie Piercey, George Bell, Charles Snell and Fred Keefe who missed out on Tour starts - and finish 17th and 20th in the Tour respectively?

Sure, someone would have been the first. Maybe it would have been Sir Hubert Opperman who rode the Tour in 1928 and 1931? Maybe it would have been Russell Mockridge and John Beasley Snr who raced it in the 1950s, or Don Allan in the 1970s; or even Phil Anderson in the 1980s who became the first Australian to claim the yellow jersey? Or any other of the Australians who followed in Anderson's wake, from the likes of Robbie McEwen who won 12 stages and three green jerseys, to Cadel Evans who in 2011 and became the first Australian to win the Tour overall?

No matter … history shows that Kirkham and Munro were the ones who took the leap of faith to begin a chapter of Australian cycling history that is so strong 100 years on.

The recognition by CA for Kirkham and Munro for what they did is long overdue. But that it comes on the Centenary of their pioneering achievement is at least fitting.

And for that they deserve the accolades, despite whatever debate erupts over who made 'Team of the Century' (or didn't) that, after all, was initiated in their honour.

As for the enormity of what Kirkham and Munro achieved … no one can argue that.

Rupert Guinness is a sports writer on The Sydney Morning Herald (Fairfax Media)

To read more on Kirkham and Munro, click here for a story I wrote for The Sydney Morning Herald, published on July 4 when this year's Tour started.

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