By Mal Sawford in Melbourne
The 2006 Jayco Herald Sun Tour was launched on Friday morning by the Premier of Victoria, Steve Bracks at a gala breakfast attended by 300 cycling enthusiasts coinciding with the third annual Bicycle Victoria Tour de France Breakfast. Mr Bracks and the Minister for State and Regional Development, John Brumby, announced the route, which will take the peloton through some of the state's major provincial centres, from the opening city centre criterium in Shepparton, through Bendigo, Nagambie, Benalla and Lake Mountain before concluding in Melbourne with a time trial and the traditional Lygon St Criterium.
The State Government hopes to build on the revitalisation started in 2005 of the 50 year old race, to assist in their promotion of the ‘Make it happen in Provincial Victoria' campaign, which promotes the lifestyle and business opportunities in provincial Victoria. The Sun Tour was recently elevated to Hallmark status under the state's major events program, alongside the F1 Grand Prix, AFL Grand Final and Spring Racing Carnival, making it the only such event outside of the state capital, Melbourne. Mr Bracks envisioned that the tour will continue to grow to "become the biggest and best cycling event in Australia."
Similarly to the 2005 edition, the seven day tour will see 14 teams of seven tackle one stage per day, but will reintroduce time bonuses for stage finishes, intermediate sprints and hill climbs. Defending Champion Simon Gerrans (AG2R Prevoyance) was confirmed as a starter, which will be directed for the second time by Michael Hands. Hands is in negotiation with a number of other ProTour teams to join Continental teams from Australasia, but is yet to announce the full list of starters.
Gerrans, one of only three local riders to win the event in the last twenty years told Cyclingnews recently at the Tour de Suisse that he "was looking forward to defending his title. It's my home town race, my friends and family get to watch, so it's really important." If Gerrans can triumph in October, he will become the first back to back winner since Graham McVilly in 1973-74. While admitting that the win was not rated as highly by his team as a win in Europe, Gerrans noted that "the event gets bigger and bigger every year. One stage per day makes the race a lot more 'Euro', so as a race it's going to get a lot more popular."
Prior to the official launch, the Tour de France breakfast featured a panel including former Giro d'Italia stage winner David McKenzie, dual Women's World Cup Winner Anna Wilson and Olympic Gold Medal Mike McKay, the patron of the local Drapac-Porsche team. Asked for their predictions on Lance Armstrong's successor, there was clearly some home town bias evident, with all three predicting another Green Jersey for Robbie McEwen. Both Wilson and McKay tipped Jan Ullrich for Yellow [before the latest news developments - ed.], while ‘Macca' stuck with another local, Cadel Evans as the rider to take cycling's biggest prize.
Stage 1 - Sunday 8 October: Shepparton Criterium, 50km (approx)
Stage 2 - Monday 9 October: Shepparton – Bendigo, 179km
Stage 3 - Tuesday 10 October: Bendigo – Nagambie, 158km
Stage 4 - Wednesday 11 October: Mitchelton Winery (Nagambie) – Benalla, 178km
Stage 5 - Thursday 12 October: Benalla – Lake Mountain, 183km
Stage 6 - Friday 13 October: Yarra Boulevard, Kew ITT, 12km
Stage 7 - Saturday 13 October: Lygon Street Criterium, 65km (approx)
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