World's oldest track event on Saturday

The Jefferson Ford Austral Wheelrace, the World’s oldest track cycling event, will be staged for the 107th time on Saturday, February 26 at Vodafone Arena. With previous editions of the Austral ending in crashes, cries of race fixing, and triumph, the 2005 edition will no doubt add to the folklore that surrounds the Austral.

In 1887, the Melbourne Bicycle Club, then the oldest cycling club in Australia, organised the first ever "Austral". The race was run over a distance of 2 miles (3200 metres) on grass at the Melbourne Cricket Ground, with the first prize being a Walnut cabinet containing 152 pieces of silver and cutlery. The event moved to the indoor track in 1912 & 1913, only to move back outdoors again for three events on the board track that was eventually relocated to North Essendon in 1938.

The Melbourne Olympic Park area had two Austral tracks, the concrete Motordrome and the 250m wooden Velodrome that replaced the 1956 Olympic 333 m concrete velodrome. Since the late 70's, the race has been held at various times on the Brunswick, Coburg and Northcote Velodromes. The 2001 event was the 103rd running of the 'Austral', conducted indoors for the first time in 87 years on the new 250 metre wooden velodrome at Vodafone Arena, Melbourne Park. Also, prize money had evolved to exceed $18,000.

A crack field has been secured in 2005 to contest this event with World Cup champion and Athens Olympians Ben Kersten and two time Austral winner Darren Young secured to ride. Both Kersten and Young and programmed to ride of the mark of honour, the Scratch mark.

Recently crowned Australian Champions Joel Leonard and Sean Finning will also be competing as part of the 120 strong field and with former winners of the calibre of Sid Patterson, Danny Clarke and Garry Neiwand, all competitors will be desperate to add their name to the honour roll.

The Jefferson Ford Austral Wheelrace will be run over 2000 metres or 8 laps of the 250 m Vodafone Arena board velodrome. There will be six heats, with the top four riders in each heat qualifying for the final. The Jefferson Ford Austral Wheelrace is also one of the highest ranked National Track Series events, and as such, a large points swag will be on offer to the triumphant rider in this historic event.

The Jefferson Ford Austral Wheelrace will also have a full support carnival including the Vodafone Keirin Series, the Reuters Dealing 3000 Women’s Scratch race and a host of action in the scratch races.

The Drapac-Porsche Cycle Team has also announced two riders, Zak Dempster (17) and Tess Downing (16), competing at the Austral Wheelrace this Saturday night. Zak and Tess won six medals (two Gold and four Silver) between themselves at the recent National Titles and are in good form for the Saturday night racing.

Tickets are on sale at Ticketek (132 849 or from $20.

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