By Greg Johnson in Cronulla, Australia
Australian Matt White (Discovery Channel) has ended his professional career on the highest of notes, taking victory at the Cronulla International Grand Prix an event staged in Sydney's Sutherland Shire, home to White and many other professional cyclists. The victory on his home's shores served to bookend White's career. The 33 year-old claimed his first major win at the Under 17 Road Team Time Trial component of the 1990 Australian Titles in Western Australia.
"The most important thing today is all my friends are here, it's a special day for me," said White. "They've all come to say goodbye to me. We're a real tight knit group the Aussie blokes – we race together all year. We live in different states of Australia but they're all here... I'm really appreciative."
The super-domestique enjoyed the support of the sport's biggest names in Australia for his emotional farewell, with Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O'Grady (Team CSC), 2003 Tour de France green jersey winner Baden Cooke (Unibet.com) and Olympic champion Brad McGee just a few of the names out braving the overcast conditions to farewell their friend. Additionally, this year's Tour de France runner up Cadel Evans was on hand to commentate during the opening half of the men's event, and embraced the retiring White while congratulating him after the event.
"Wins are always special, but when they're at home and it's your last race... I'm never going to forget today," said White. "It's an honour. You only retire once, so I won't be able to pull this stunt again. Hopefully I can get them all back here next year, but they've all come to say goodbye to me."
While Sunday's race marked White's final event as a professional competitor, the Discovery Channel rider will remain heavily involved with the sport as a director at Team Slipstream in 2008. When the Australian takes up his role at the American Professional Continental squad next season he will be joined by some familiar faces from down under. Christopher Sutton and Julian Dean – both of whom competed in White's last race – will be moving to the outfit next year.
White was congratulated one by one by his fellow professionals after taking victory at the event, with them all wishing their compatriot the best for the future. "It couldn't have been to a better person," said Rabobank's Graeme Brown, after finishing second to White in the race he won last year. "He's great for the sport, it's a big day for the sport. Full credit, he had a bloody good ride, he was too good today and it just so happens it's his last race so there's no better way of going out then like that."
Brown was joined by event director Phill Bates and winner of the elite women's race, Katherine Bates (no relation), in praise of their fellow Shire resident. "He's always been a great champion and a great person for the sport," said Phill Bates.
"I have to say, Matt White, it's a real honour to be able to race on the day that he's retiring. I think he's really put a lot into the sport and I wish him well," added Katherine.
While Predictor-Lotto's Evans wasn't able to join his team-mates Robbie McEwen, Nick Gates and Matthew Lloyd in the race, the ProTour champion summed up the fairytale ending to White's professional career with a single word. "Beautiful…beautiful," he told White while embracing after the event.