The 2011 Scody Cup, Australia's premier domestic road cycling series, will kick-off with the five-day Lakes Oil Tour of Gippsland, to be raced over a spectacularly-challenging course from July 27-31.
The 520km tour, first held in 2005, will start in Bass Coast Shire at 11am on opening day, with a 33km criterium in Wonthaggi, scene of last year's first stage.
The tour will be backed by five Gippsland municipal councils – Bass Coast, Baw Baw, Latrobe City, Wellington and East Gippsland.
About 150 top-flight cyclists from all Australian states and territories, plus several overseas countries, will contest the tour, which is a widely acknowledged breeding ground for the future stars of Australian cycling.
Australian open road champion Jack Bobridge, Tour Down Under winner Cameron Meyer, double world track champion Leigh Howard and Tour de France regular Wesley Sulzberger all enjoyed success in the Tour of Gippsland as their careers unfolded.
Tour director John Craven said he had already received inquiries from New Caledonia, New Zealand and Malaysia about riders contesting the nine-stage tour.
"The Tour of Gippsland's reputation as a high-class bike race continues to develop," Craven said. "It's a proven fact that if you're good enough to win in Gippsland, you can virtually win anywhere."
Craven said it was satisfying and exciting that a Gippsland-founded company, Lakes Oil, was the tour's major sponsor for the fourth straight year.
"Lakes Oil has made a tremendous contribution to the growth and stability of this event," Craven said. "It is a pleasure to work with this community-minded company."
Craven said the course was specifically designed to present a variety of challenges for the riders, but also to take the race to the people.
The event will feature five CreditCollect-sponsored criteriums – in Wonthaggi, San Remo, Moe, Bairnsdale and Paynesville – where spectators can view the cyclists up-close.
Hill-climbers will also be in for a treat, with an exceptionally-tough out-and-back 68km stage around Wonthaggi on July 27, a brutal 102km trek from San Remo to Warragul on day two, and a testing 70km race from Lakes Entrance to Metung, via Bruthen, on Saturday, July 30.
The Hotondo Homes King of the Mountains championship will comprise 10 hill climbs, and the sprint title, sponsored by SP AusNet, will feature 79 intermediate sprints.
The Gippsland tour will be followed by the Tour of Geelong (August 10-14), the Tour of the Murray River (August 28 – September 4) and the Caterpillar Underground Mining Tour of Tasmania (October 4-9).
The tours, backed by Tourism Victoria and Events Tasmania, are part of Cycling Australia's National Road Teams Series.