Sporting greats have inspired and united generations of those who hail from the land of Oz throughout history, and the sport of cycling have provided some of the greatest. Australians embrace the passion, dedication and commitment shown by their sporting stars and success in the saddle can turn you into a modern day celebrity. Here we have a look at some of the cycling greats that Australia has produced.
Sir Hubert Opperman
No list of Australian cycling greats could be put together without the inclusion of Sir Hubert Opperman, or Oppy as he was known. Oppy was born in Rochester, Victoria in 1904 and as a youngster delivered Post Office telegrams by bicycle.
Oppy showed great promise on the bike as a youngster and was crowned national Australian road champion in 1924, 1926, 1927, and 1929. The Victorian rider was part of the first Australian/New Zealand team to be entered in the Tour de France and took part in the 1928 race. Although the team missed out on the podium, this trip proved that Oppy could compete with the best in Europe.
The hearts and the minds of the French public were won over when Oppy defeated the best European endurance riders in the 1931 ‘Non Stop Paris-Brest-Paris’. This race covered 726 miles (1166 km), and Oppy not only won, but also smashed all previous records over that distance. After this particular victory the French press and public idolised him.
The former road and track cycling star continued to ride bikes up until the age of 90 when his wife, who feared for his safety, convinced him to stop. Sir Hubert Opperman died at the age of 91 on an exercise bike at his retirement village in 1993.
Phil hails from Melbourne where he grew up in the suburb of Kew. He got a taste for racing in his early years with the Hawthorn Cycling Club. As an amateur he had a reputation for crashing but in 1978 Anderson took gold at the Commonwealth Games road race in Canada at the age of 19.
The Melburnian’s professional career spanned 16 years. Highlights included stage wins at the 1981 Giro and top honours at the 1983 Amstel Gold, 1983 Critérium du Dauphiné Libéré, 1984 Züri-Metzgete. Phil is most famous for being the first rider outside of Europe to wear the yellow jersey at the Tour de France when he pulled on the famous Maillot Jaune in 1981.
Although not generally credited, Phil was also the first cyclist to use STI in the European pro peloton. He also helped develop and test many of Shimano and Oakley’s race products during the early 80s.
Anna started competing at the age of 11. Living in a small coal mining town in Queensland the nearest track for Anna to train on was 2 hours drive away which her parents and sister commuted to twice a week when growing up.
The Queenslander got her first taste of Olympic gold at the 2004 Athen’s Games in the 500m time trial. But it was 2008 that was the most remarkable year for Anna after she suffered a severe crash during the third round of the World Cup circuit in Los Angeles in January.
Meares broke her neck and was a staggering 2mm from needing the support of a respirator to breathe for the rest of her life. This fall would have scared off the most hardened of cyclists from clipping back in any time soon, but Anna was determined to compete in the Olympic games later that year. She was back on the bike 10 days after her crash and went through a relentless rehabilitation process. She managed to get herself back up to full fitness within four and a half months after her near near fatal crash. Anna went on to win a Silver medal in the Women’s Individual Sprint at the 2008 games and became a house hold name in Australia.
But Anna’s story is not finished. She continued to claim golds at various 2009/2010 world cup events as well as setting new records along the way. Anna is now on track for London 2012 for the finale of what would be a fairy tale comeback from a horrifying crash.
Cadel Evans hails from Australia’s Northern Territory. He started riding BMX at the age of two and sometimes would ride so far away from his home that Cadel’s mother had to use the family dog to track which direction he went.
Even at the age of 8 Cadel showed mighty resilience during a recovery from being kicked in the head by a horse. He slipped into a coma for a week but surprised his doctors by returning to school just a month later.
Cadel never expected to become an Australian sports icon as he failed to excel at most sports at school including rugby and cricket, although at 14 he set himself the goal of winning the Tour de France.
But a young Cadel didn’t make his mark on the cycling world riding skinny tyres. Cadel started out on mountain bikes which he rode throughout the 90s. During his time riding knobbly tyres, Cadel would ride road bikes to train for his mountain bike races, but in the summer of 2000 Evans switched to road cycling full time. He gradually made his way through the ranks of professional road cycling although success wasn’t instant. Cadel was considered the bridesmaid of cycling after finishing second in the Tour de France in both 2007 and 2008. However in 2011 he overcame this stigma to become the first Australian to take home the Tour’s yellow jersey.
After many years of speculation of an Australian team entering the top ranks of road cycling, and the failed attempt by Pegasus to secure a ProTeam license, some feared that an Australian ProTeam was a bridge too far. However in January 2011 GreenEdge was launched and received a two year World Tour license later that year. 17 Australian riders make up the roster of 30 riders in the team. The team has secured some big sponsors including financial backing from the owner of Jayco Australis, Gerry Ryan.
It’s still early days for the GreenEdge team but they have already racked up an impressive tally of wins for such a young team including the Tour Down Under, Milan – San Remo, Volta a Catalunya and Circuit de la Sarthe.