Long course challenge ahead at Tour of the Murray River

No mail today as the 2010 Elgas Tour of the Murray River speeds by.

No mail today as the 2010 Elgas Tour of the Murray River speeds by. (Image credit: Shane Goss)

Course planners for the 2011 Tour of the Murray River road cycling classic have produced the most expansive and challenging route in the event's 16-year history. The 847 kilometre tour will start in Yarrawonga on Sunday, August 28, and conclude with its traditional 66 kilometre kermesse in Mildura on Sunday, September 4.

The tour will embrace seven municipalities – Moira, Campaspe, Gannawarra, Swan Hill, Balranald, Yarriambiack and Mildura – and is backed by Tourism Victoria and the New South Wales Government. Cities and towns to also feature in the 15-stage tour will include Cobram, Numurkah, Nathalia, Echuca, Kyabram, Rochester, Kerang, Swan Hill, Lake Boga, Robinvale, Euston, Ouyen, Patchewollock, Merbein and Red Cliffs.

Tour director John Craven described the course as "tremendously exciting" and said he expected the eight-day race to be one of the most fiercely-competitive for some time.

"Early expectations are that we will again have a top-quality field, with strong representation from all Australian states and territories and New Zealand," he said. Craven said the course contained many mysteries for the riders, especially with the opening two days being held for the first time in the Moira Shire.

Moira will host four stages – criteriums in Yarrawonga and Numurkah, and testing road races from Yarrawonga to Cobram, and Numurkah to Nathalia.

"Expansion into the Moira region will make this event a true Tour of the Murray River, with fresh challenges and the retention of traditional courses such as the Kerang, Robinvale, Euston, Ouyen and Merbein criteriums, and the Ouyen-Patchewollock road race," Craven said.

"I expect to see a lot of weary bike riders at the end of this race." Craven reinforced the view that the tour continues to unearth the future stars of Australian cycling.

Canberra's Michael Matthews, winner of the tour's Balranald criterium stage as a 17-year-old in 2007, won the world Under 23 road championship in Geelong last year. Geelong's Leigh Howard, 2008 winner, has since won three world track championships in the madison and omnium events. South Australian Jack Bobridge, third placegetter as a 17-year-old in the 2007 tour, won the Australian open road championship in Buninyong in January before smashing the world individual pursuit record in Holland.

"The list goes on," Craven said. "No doubt there will be another emerging champion in this year's tour."

The Murray Tour is the third round of the four-part Scody Cup, Australia's premier domestic road cycling series, which starts next Wednesday with the five-day Lakes Oil Tour of Gippsland. Other events in the series are the Eastern Oak Structures Tour of Geelong (August 10-14) and the Caterpillar Underground Mining Tour of Tasmania (October 4-9). An overall points and prizemoney system operates on the series to produce the Scody Cup champion.

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