Hitting the road with Australia's cycling elite

Tales from the peloton, November 11, 2004

South-East Queensland's Grand Prix Cycling Series is about more than just watching Australia's best professional cyclists in action. As a prelude to race two of the series, cycling enthusiasts were given the chance to join the pro peloton for a day, on a 100 kilometre bunch ride from Brisbane to the Gold Coast.

Featuring names like Robbie McEwen, Brad McGee, Cadel Evans and Baden Cooke, it was no surprise to find plenty of local cyclists turning up for the coffee ride to Surfers Paradise. Cyclingnews' John-Michael Flynn went along for the ride and on the way caught up with Olympic road race champion Sara Carrigan, who's back on the bike.

Following a week of torrential rain in South-East Queensland, it was a small but hardy 100-strong bunch who turned out for the annual bunch ride to Surfers Paradise on Saturday.

Sporting his national team colours, Brisbane-based pro David Betts led the peloton on the journey south, the gods finally shining on the promoters of the Grand Prix Cycling series, with the rain lifting long enough to make the ride enjoyable and relatively trouble-free.

One of the few incidents of the day involved FdJeux.com's Baden Cooke, who suffered a flat tyre... bummer! With no team car, no neutral spares either for that matter, the 2003 Tour de France green jersey winner had to find his own spares, but managed a decent workout, getting motorpaced back onto the bunch.

"Yeah, feel pretty good, had a bit of a good hitout today," Cookie admitted, relaxing afterwards at the Surfers Paradise Coffee Club.

Meeting the Australian-based members of the FdJeux.com team, bearded battlers John and Darryl Van Cooten were also enjoying the atmosphere. The brothers, who turned plenty of heads on their tandem, (as you do on a bunch ride) hoping to pick up some tips from the likes of Cooke and Brad McGee.

"Oh it's excellent great day for riding, great day for coming down the coast," John Van Cooten told Cyclingnews. "We've done 100k's today so we're happy with that... and on the tandem."

Sara's back

Turning out for the bunch ride was none other than Olympic Women's road race gold medallist, Sara Carrigan. The Gold Coaster, finally back in serious training after a whirlwind couple of months, much of which has been spent off the bike.

"It's been a bit of a wet week last week but, no back into it, I'm enjoying the routine at the moment," a smiling Sara revealed. "It's actually quite good at the moment, 'cause we've got some good bunches going out with Robbie and Nick, now that the boys are up here throughout the last week for the criterium series, the Grand Prix."

On Sara's agenda over the Christmas break, hundreds of kilometres each week of base miles. The Olympic champ joining the McEwen bunch on regular rides over the popular Gold Coast climbs of Beechmont and Springbrook, then onward to Murwillumbah in northern New South Wales.

Carrigan's planning to return to serious racing at next month's National Open Road Championship race in the Adelaide Hills.

"That's sort of my first big race I suppose down in Adelaide," Sara revealed of her up-coming plans. "Then we'll follow with perhaps the criterium series in Adelaide afterwards, then the Geelong World Cup Tour, then the New Zealand World Cup."

Sara admits she's still coming down off the high of winning in Athens. The aftermath of which has seen the Queenslander swamped with demands for public appearances. It's included everything from makeovers with Kerry-Anne to flying to Canberra to meet Federal Ministers. The new-found 'mover and shaker' finding it difficult to balance her off-road commitments with training.

"It's actually really hard at the moment to try and find recovery time, I'm sort of burning the candle at both ends still a little bit at the moment," Sara said. "I can't believe it's been four months already, it's actually flown by."

Tomorrow sees race two of the Grand Prix Cycling Series, contested on a tight street circuit in the heart of Surfers Paradise. Race one winner Allan Davis (Liberty Seguros) will surely be tested on a circuit which will suit hometown hero Robbie McEwen (Lotto Domo), who's won regularly here in the past. Baden Cooke another rider determined to challenge, if team-mates Brad McGee and Matt Wilson manage to get him into position for a sprint finish.

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