From time to time I’m going to be delving into the cycling archives and looking at races which are no longer part of the cycling scene. There are rich pickings in continental Europe but what about Australia? There used to be a race from Sydney to Melbourne. It’s been held only twice: in 1930 and 1954.
To my surprise the 1930 race, held over five stages, was won by Frenchman Joseph Mauclair (1906- 1990), riding for a Belgian team, Colin-Wolber. He also finished 2nd in the Tour of Tasmania in the same year. He was a professional road racer (1927 -38) who amassed 14 victories, including the 17th stage (145km from Belfort to Strasbourg) in the 1928 Tour de France. He notched up wins in a number of races which have since disappeared from the calendar, most notably:
- 1933 Nice–Toulon and Paris-Belfort
- 1935 Paris–Sedan
- 1936 Paris-Strasbourg and Paris-Belfort
The first and fifth stages of the 1930 edition of the Sydney-Melbourne race were won by one of the greatest (if not the greatest) Australian cyclists, Hubert Opperman (1904-96). ‘Oppy’, as he became fondly known the world over, died aged 91 while cycling on his home trainer. Some of the 100 world cycling records which he broke or set during a 20-year career still stood at the time of his death.
His palmares is far too long to contemplate listing but he won all sorts of competitive cycling events in his native Australia including the National Road Race Championship in 1924, 1926, 1927 and 1929.
Oppy, a Malvern Star rider, was recognised as the world’s greatest endurance cyclist, and became a French idol when he defeated the cream of European endurance riders in the 1931 Non-Stop Paris-Brest-Paris ( 726 miles/1,166 kilometres) breaking all previous records over the distance.
Back home in Australia, he capped his splendid career when he either broke, or established, numerous state, national and world records in an incredible 24 hours of continuous, unpaced, cycling on the old Sydney Velodrome. After a spell in the RAAF, Oppy became a politician. At his funeral, one of his cycling contemporaries said:
He was a scholar and a gentleman and a damn good sport. He was a politician for a while, but we won’t hold that against him.
The seven-stage 1954 edition was won by Australian Eddie H Smith (born 1926), who turned professional in 1948 having tasted success on both the road and track. He also won back-to-back Australian Road Race Championships in 1954 and 1955. He briefly toured Europe in 1955 but returned home for the birth of his son. His palmares includes:
- 1948, 1949, 1951 Midlands Tour
- 1949, 1950 100 Mile Road Championship
- 1953 Tour of South Australia
- 1954 Victorian 125 Mile Road Championship
- 1954 Sydney-Goulburn and Sydney–Melbourne
- 1955 Melbourne-Warrnambool
Coincidentally, the Sydney to Goulburn is Australia’s second oldest race, having started in 1902, the year before the Tour de France. The road stage from Goulburn to Sydney in 2011’s race was won by our man to watch in the Tour Down Under, Steele Von Hoff, who finished third overall.