The dates for the fifth edition of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race weekend of cycling in Victorian were announced earlier today. Lock away 24-27 January 2019 and get ready for a great holiday…!

A legacy of the impressive racing career of Cadel Evans is an event that helps promote the concept of cycling for all. He was pivotal in helping secure government backing of an event that is now part of Australia’s ‘Summer of Cycling’. The dates for the fifth edition of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race were announced earlier today: 24-27 January 2019.

It’s a coup for the race promoter, Jason Bakker, as it means the event has the benefit of a long weekend that includes Australia Day.

With races in Melbourne and Geelong – and, of course, Victoria’s Bellarine peninsula and the Great Ocean Road itself – there is a series of events that add up to a great cycling holiday.

  • Thursday 24 January – Towards Zero Race Melbourne, Albert Park
  • Saturday 26 January – Swisse People’s Ride and Deakin University Elite Women’s race
  • Sunday 27 January – UCI WorldTour Elite Men’s race

 

– For more, see the official website

 

RIDE Media caught up with Bakker during his event in January this year and got his thoughts on the growth of cycling, the race itself, and how some of the athletes he manages – including Cadel and Caleb Ewan – are dealing with life in 2018.

 

– Click the SoundCloud link to listen to the interview and/or read the transcript below –

Listen to the full interview by clicking the SoundCloud file (above).

“One thing which you’d be interested in,” explained Jason Bakker about the early negotiation phase, “was when he spoke with the government, Cadel wouldn’t put his name to it unless there was a women’s race. Any race costs a lot of money but for him it was absolutely critical that there was a men’s andwomen’s race. He didn’t want any kudos for that, he just said, ‘Well, why wouldn’t we have a women’s race?’ That’s his attitude: why wouldn’t you?”

It’s still early days for the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race but the government support is in place, the formula has been tried and tested, the timing is good… and the event has become an integral part of the cycling calendar. Why wouldn’t Bakker be pleased?

“There’s the People’s Ride, a family ride,” says Bakker at the end of our interview. “It is an event with which we wanted to promote inclusiveness – everyone is welcome – and accessibility, not charging. People can come down and be part of it for free. And [they can] absolutely leave a legacy and an economic stimulus for the region that is going through a huge transformation.

Geelong is a hub of cycling activity.

“The Saturday is all about the women’s race,” says Bakker. “We have the People’s Ride in the morning. The great thing is we’ve got a great crowd down here; we have 3,000 or 4,000 people in the Swiss People’s Ride but most hang around to watch the women’s race. We’ve got a good crowd around the course.

“The race goes through Barwon Heads and Torquay, which is great. And I’ll be really interested to see the crowds up at Challambra [Crescent, a climb which featured on the Saturday for the first time in 2018] as the women go up the climb for the first time in the race. I think that, as you say, it’s a different dynamic and we’ll probably see a different style of winner this year because of it.”

In 2018, the commentary team include David McKenzie, Pat Shaw, Kate Bates and Juan Antonio Flecha…

RIDE: It’s interesting to talk to you because you came to cycling, more or less, after the world championships in Geelong. That was a week that I’ll never forget – it was fantastic fun. It was a great atmosphere and fitting winners. Tell me about your arrival in the cycling scene and what you’ve gotten out of it in the last eight years…

Jason Bakker: “It’s almost been like a second life for me, to be honest. I’m a traditional footy and cricket guy. I played cricket.

“As a kid I watched the Sun Tour come through Geelong a lot. I remember the days when John Trevorrow won it and Peter Besanko… I remember, as a kid, lying beside the road and Pat Shaw senior, senior used to live around the corner from me and train. I also had Glenn Clarke and Hilton Clarke (senior) around the corner from where I lived in Grovedale near Geelong. So, I was always sort of interested but I was never a rider.

“I fortuitously met Cadel. I got involved in the worlds. I started up a new business, so I worked around the worlds on the VIP program and, to be honest with you, I’ve never really looked back.

“I’ve been absolutely captivated by the sport. I think it’s such a tough sport and I think the absolute commitment of the athletes is amazing. I think the ambiance of cycling events is like no other sporting event I can think of.

“You go to stadiums to watch most sporting events but this stadium is just such a natural… you’ve got the amphitheatres, you’ve got the coastlines, all sorts of terrain – everything is different about cycling. Every race is different.

“I’m a hacker, but I love the sport now and I just see it growing and growing. And it’s great to be part of it.

“I’ve never ever presented myself as an expert. I’m a late-comer – I’m a Johnny-Come-Lately in the sport but I’ve been welcomed into the sport and people have been fantastic. I’m forever grateful that I’m part of it.”

Big screens are installed in Geelong and in towns along the route including the surf capital, Torquay…

We could call you a mover and shaker in Australian cycling. You’ve brought a lot of money into it. First with Winner’s Bars, I guess, with sponsorship of Cadel and just recently I think you’ve been responsible for getting Vegemite and Swiss Wellness products involved with the sport. How difficult is it at a time when cycling tends to ebb and flow a little bit?

“We talk a lot about the business model of cycling and it’s a bit of a fragmented business model but the one thing I do see in cycling that I don’t see so much in AFL or cricket or other sports is: opportunity.

“I think there’s opportunity in cycling. And cycling is a truly international sport – and becoming more and more international by the day, by each event.

“The other part of cycling is that you can participate in it. You can’t reallyparticipate in footy, not when you’re my age. And cricket? You can, but you embarrass yourself.

“So [with cycling] there’s this elite element and then there’s this absolute grassroots momentum and you can be part of it.

“I think the messages out of cycling are so much about health, fitness, travel… getting out there and having a go and I think a lot of big companies love being a part of that.

“The Austalian [riders] come from a fair way back. I think the commitment from the young Australians, men and women, to get over to Europe and succeed at [the top] level is enormous. What they have to do, you know?

“I used to think a young footballer getting drafted from Victoria to South Australia was a huge commitment but if you’re a cyclist, you have to move to the other side of the world and speak another language… you’ve got to find your own way and it’s tough.

“For those who make it, I take my hat off to them.

“There’s all these little things that I think the corporate sector and the business sector see in cycling… and they’ve really brought into the sport, haven’t they?

“It’s just about connecting the sport with them and how we can match it up and grow. I think we’ve made a great start [with the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race] but I reckon there’s a lot of upside ahead.”

 

There’s other connections. You’ve got fingers in a lot of pies. You’re looking after the management of Caleb Ewan as well. He’s going for a big year, he’s down to do the Tour de France. All going well he’ll be lining up in July in the Vendée region. What do you expect form him in 2018?

“We always expect so much from Caleb – you can’t help it. He’s so impressive and he’s so good, so you always have these high expectations. You know what? All I hope for is that he improves from the year before.

“There’s factors that can take races out from under you but I think if Caleb can win a stage of the Tour de France this year that’d be amazing. By the age of 23, he could have a stage win in each of the Grand Tours. That’d be wonderful. But I think, for Caleb, it’s got to be a progression.

“You can get a bit ahead of yourself sometimes. Last year he could have won three or four stages of the Giro; he won one. You know? You just don’t know how the cards fall – sometimes your way, sometimes not.

“The other thing we’re hoping for is that Caleb is working to keep on developing his leadership. He’s a young guy, 23, and he’s telling Mathew Hayman, 38, how he wants things. You know, it’s hard! It’s hard for a young guy to do that. But I think he’s increasingly becoming more confident and taking responsibility.”

The weekend includes the ‘Swiss People’s Ride’ – something a little larger than your Saturday morning adventure…

Cadel is another interesting case study. I knew him during his riding career. You’ve known him very well in his post-riding days. That transition is very difficult for people. He seems to have really settled into his ambassador role and he’s certainly still, obviously, riding his bike and loving it. How is he, one-on-one at the moment?

“He’s really happy… you know the thing I really notice about Cadel? The thing I think is Cadel’s greatest trait – the one I enjoy most about him – is that he loves his sport. He wasn’t in it for fame and fortune or whatever. Cadel actually just loves riding his bike. He’s got a pure love of the sport.

“And I think it’s really important that he still rides now. Cadel’s a happier bloke if he’s been for a ride in the morning. He’s got a really good, balanced life and I think one of the things he wanted to do after his retirement was to have a more balanced life and a more normal life.

“He’d spent 200+ nights in a hotel room every year, now he spends a lot more time at home. He spends more time with his son, Robel, and his partner, Stefania. They’re in a really good place. He’s engaging with people and I think he’s in a really relaxed, happy place and I don’t think we should take that for granted. That’s a really great achievement in itself.

“A lot of sports people come [away from competition] and they may never ever adjust.”

 

It’s interesting to hear your perspective. It is a fragile environment once you’ve been lauded for so long, and particularly the halcyon time of 2011 – when he stopped a city when he came home to Melbourne… it could really go either way for him, couldn’t it?

“Absolutely. [In the past] he’s never had to book any flights. He’s never had to organise transfers. He’s never had to do lots of things. He’s doing a lot of things now that he never has [before] and I’ve seen a lot of other athletes in other sports just not be able to cope with that. They’ve lived in the cocoon of their sport and they’ve come out of that and they just haven’t acquired the skills to live and succeed outside.

“But Cadel, bit by bit, has had a plan.

“I’m sure there have been moments when he’s really had a few flat spots. He’s a competitive beast… he loves it. He did the Cape Epic last year and I think he loved that.

“I think, every now and then, to get something like that out of your system, I think that’s great for him…

“It can’t be easy just, all of sudden, saying, ‘It’s finished’.

“When he crossed the line of the first Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race it was all over. That’s a bit of time for reflection but the big thing he does say is that he feels like he has no regrets. I don’t think too many people could say that but with Cadel, you wouldn’t doubt it. The guys just got 100 percent out of himself. I think that helps him.”

Chloe Hosking (above) and Jay McCarthy (below) won the elite races in 2018.

Photos: Jean-Pierre Ronco

I saw [Cadel’s] mum, Helen, after she’d just finished the People’s Ride. In other words, there’s a legacy, obviously. He’s gotten people riding, as well as his mother. A lot of people have ridden their bikes because of what Cadel Evans has achieved. Just to conclude…: the legacy of Cadel is the fact that the Victorian government is spending what seems like kazillions on this event. How important is it to have that support? And how integral was Cadel in getting them on board as a backer of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race?

“It’s all about Cadel… when he won the Tour, they wanted to name roads after him, [name] bridges after him, build statues… have this, that… and, with all due respect, he didn’t want any of that. He just didn’t think that was suitable. He appreciated all the offers but…

“Then the opportunity came up to talk with the government about creating an event, not replicating the Tour Down Under but complimenting what’s happening in Adelaide – which is a magnificent event. And that’s when we came up with the idea: well, why not try and get a true one-day race?

“We have the nationals, which is one day, but an international one-day race in Australia and for Australians to see a stage race in [South Australia], follow it up by one-day races here – the men’s and women’s races.

“Around that, one thing which you’d be interested in was when he spoke with the government, Cadel wouldn’t put his name to it unless there was a women’s race. Any extra race costs a lot of money but for him it was absolutely critical that there was a men’s and women’s race. He didn’t want any kudos for that, he just said, ‘Well, why wouldn’t we have a women’s race?’ That’s his attitude: why wouldn’t you?

“The People’s Ride, a family ride… it is an event with which we wanted to promote inclusiveness – everyone is welcome – accessibility, not charging. People can come down and be part of it for free. And absolutely leave a legacy and an economic stimulus for the region that is going through a huge transformation. Manufacturing has pretty much died in Geelong so events like this are critical for the future of Geelong.

“There are lots of boxes ticked out of the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race but the Victorian government – vis-à-vis, Victoria – support is critical and without that… you know: cycling events as a business model don’t necessarily stack up. So we’ve got to keep building it. We’ve got to keep growing it.

“We need people to keep coming down here and visiting the region, spending money in the region. And that’s what the government needs out of the event.

“We’re really proud of where we’ve come in four years. It’s a short time. We’re still embryonic, we’re still learning and we hope we’re here for many years to come and really build a great Australian summer of cycling.”

 

 

– Interview by Rob Arnold