Tour of Toowoomba, now in its sixth year, is a Downs sporting event increasingly being compared to the famous Tour de France cycling race. Each year it gains more traction with national and international cycling teams. Back in 2010, eight national teams competed in the inaugural Tour of Toowoomba race. This year, the May event will see 22 teams compete, including the top 15 national teams. “I don’t think there’d be a team that wouldn’t suggest that it’s the best race in Australia,” says Tour of Toowoomba event director John Osborne.
So how does this relatively small four-day event measure up to the three-week Tour de France? “Time trials, hilltop finishes, strong winds, also to finish with a criterion,” says Osborne. “The four days extrapolate out to three weeks. Every year we’ve had a rider that has been picked up by the biggest talent scouts from Europe for the big European races.” Local rider Nathan Earle was contracted to the Team Sky, one of the world’s best teams, within two hours of winning the Tour.
Two weeks after finishing up on the Downs he was racing overseas, proving this is a great launching ground for young Australian riders looking to be spotted. “The large portion of Australians is yet to understand the quality of bike riders that compete here,” says Osborne. “We are the breeding ground for the next lot of top riders.” The sport of cycling has been suffering from public relations problems of late, including speculation about illicit drug usage and cheating scandals.
In the spirit of fair racing, the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority (ASADA) has been involved in the Tour of Toowoomba since the beginning, and continues with random tests throughout the event. “Cycling does more testing than any other sport in the world,” assures Osborne. “It’s getting more and more difficult for those who want to cheat to cheat. In our lower level here, we always work with the ASADA and welcome their involvement.” It is not just ASADA’s involvement that the organisers welcome.
Since the beginning, local police have been crucial to the event’s success. The police set the number of teams each year, and growing in confidence, they are able to take on more each time. As for volunteers, they are the heart and soul of the race. With an expert medical team, which could include a carload of surgeons and GPs at any time, the riders are in the best hands possible. The first day in this year’s race will be exposed to the winds, starting in Nobby and finishing at Highfields Village Shopping Centre, 157 kilometres later.
Day two will see the riders move through the Lockyer Valley, completing short individual time trials in the morning, followed by a tough and testing 150 kilometre road race in the afternoon. Day three will quite simply be “brutal”, Osborne explains unapologetically. The last day will involve 50 kilometres culminating at the beautiful Queen’s Park in Toowoomba. At this finishing stage, celebrations will be held for spectators, including a large screen for watching the race.