The 2008 Jayco Herald Sun Tour will kick off in Traralgon for the first time in the event's 57-year history and return for a finale in Lygon Street in Melbourne. Victorian Minister for Sport and Recreation, James Merlino, today released the route for 2008, announcing Traralgon, Inverloch, Warragul, Alexandra, Marysville, Mt Buller, the Yarra Valley and Melbourne will all host stages, which will run from October 12 to 18.
The 57th edition of Australia's oldest stage race will continue the growth of an iconic Victorian sporting event and will, for the first time, be based predominantly in Gippsland and eastern Victoria. The 2008 Tour will host 14 teams of seven riders making up the 98 rider field.
"A new tour route is devised every year, ensuring that as many Victorians as possible can experience this wonderful international sporting event - and this year Gippsland will be in the spotlight," Merlino said. "The towns, vineyards and landscapes of Gippsland will be showcased through local and international coverage of the event, as well as the many thousands of visitors who will cheer on their favourite competitors along the way."
Merlino said the Tour, combined with the recently announced UCI Track World Cup in Melbourne and the 2010 UCI Road World Championships to be held in Melbourne and Geelong, would enhance Victoria's reputation as a centre for world-renowned international cycling events.
"Victoria can now lay claim to a series of cycling events equal to any city in the world, consolidating our position as the epicentre of cycling in the region," he said.
Last year, Hodgkin's disease survivor Matthew Wilson won the "greatest prize of his career" in front of an adoring home crowd. The 30 year-old Victorian, who now rides for the United States of America-based Team Type 1, produced seven outstanding rides in seven days to take out the 56th edition of the prestigious race.
Wilson said he was hopeful of a return to defend his title. "At this stage I would love to come back to defend the title but as always with cycling it depends on my program and how it would work in with everything," he said. "But if it does work in well, and I hope it does, I will be coming and it will be a big objective for my end of season."
Tour director Michael Hands, who is currently at the Giro d'Italia building support from international teams for the race, said this year's route had been carefully constructed with the riders in mind, whilst retaining the key climbing and time trial stages that have become a feature of the event in recent years.
"We recognise that after a long year, the world's best cyclists don't want to face a torture test," said Hands. "However they still want a challenge and this year they will face a tough climb to Mt Buller and then a spectacular individual time trial in the Yarra Valley.
"We also return to Lygon St in Melbourne for the final stage," he added. "The finish there in 2006 was nothing short of sensational, with Robbie McEwen winning the stage and Simon Gerrans claiming his second consecutive Tour win. We will be in a position to begin naming the international teams after the Tour de France in July."