Sunday, July 28, 2013

The 1973 Sun Tour and Mount Skene

Mount Skene is between Jamieson and Licola. We had a holiday house about 2 kms out of town on the road to Licola and Heyfield. That was back in the 60s to the mid 70s. In latter years, Phil Anderson had a property there when he met Simon Gerrans.
In those years we lived in the northern suburbs of Preston and later Keon Park. I may be wrong but possibly Easter 1965 my friend and competitor, John Rush and I rode from Melbourne to Jamieson - and yes, we rode back home again. I must have been 15 at the time because I was on a straight gear from memory.

A few times when we had the house at Jamieson, we tackled the dirt road leading to Mount Skene. It was nothing more than a graded track with the greatest views of the Victorian Alpine country. In 1973, the League of Victorian Wheelmen ran a stage of the Sun Tour from Jamieson to the top of Mount Skene, a mere 20 miles in the old currency. Now that seems like a rather short stage but the conditions were horrendous. Remember that the roads were rough and graded gravel. The rains came and as the riders climbed to an altitude of 1517 metres temperatures would have dropped below freezing. Although only 20 miles in distance, the rain, fog and snow would have made it one of the hardest stages in the history of the multi-stage race.

Paul Ciuro climbs to the top of Mount Skene in the snow and slush.
Paul's gear ratios for the technically minded were;
The race winner was Graham McVilly - Graham came from Hobart, Tasmania. I can actually remember him having his first ride on a steeply banked velodrome. It was the Melbourne Olympic board track and Graham fell off at the first bend. After getting back on he fell at the next bend. No wonder he became a great road rider.
He finished up with 3 Sun Tour wins; 1971, 1973 and 1974. The National road championship came his way in 1970 and 1971. I did some research to see where Graham McVilly is these days and discovered that he'd  taken up cross country horse riding. In 2002 he had a fatal accident while riding his horse, BWS Felix at Huntingfield Tasmania. He was only 53.

Paul Ciuro remembers some of the riders that year - although he did tell me his brain and body were so numb, he could not remember much of the day.
Graham McVilly, winner
Hilton Clarke
Jan Bylsma
Mick Hollingworth
Brian Carlson
Frank Atkins
Ken Evans - 1972 Winner
G Rowley
Keith Oliver
Both Bylsma and Clarke suffered the torment of Mount Skene - Here they are in the 12 Hour Tarax  Madison  Brunswick Velodrome. 
Keith Oliver could possibly be the longest competitive cyclist in Australia.
Starting as a teenage his competitive racing career concluded recently with  World Masters Track Titles to his credit.
His palmares are too long to list here.
Hilton Clarke also remembers it as on of the most gruelling experiences of his cycling career.
Maybe we'll ask some of the riders of their experiences of the stage for a future post.

 The Stages of the 1973 Sun Tour
Stage 1 ITT Melbourne CBD washed out
Stage 2 Penhurst to Casterton 70 miles
Stage 3 Casterton to Edenhope 50 miles
Stage 4 Edenhope to Horsham 74 miles
Stage 5 Horsham to Nhil 58 miles
Stage 6 Nhil to Charlton 64 miles
Stage 7 Charlton to Bendigo 75 miles
Stage 8 Bendigo to Cohuna 85 miles
Stage 9 ITT Cohuna to Leitchville 9 miles
Stage 10 Leitchville to Echuca 34 miles
Stage 11 Echuca to Yarrawonga 62 miles
Stage 12 Yarrawonga to Lavington 70 miles
Stage 13 77 laps of Lavington bike track
Stage 14 Lavington to Bright 81 miles
Stage 15 Bright to Beechworth 59 miles
Stage 16 Beechworth to Bonnie Doon 106 miles
Stage 17 Bonnie Doon to Eildon 47 miles
Stage 18 Jamieson to Mt Skene (20 miles)
Stage 19 Glenmaggie to Sale (record of distance)
Stage 20 Sale to Yallourn
Stage 21 Yallourn to Warragul showgrounds.

Just as a side issue, I remembered somewhere amongst my archives, I had an original copy of an account of the very first Sun Tour of 1952. It was written and compiled by Laurie Jones who was considered to one of the founders of the event. Within the pages is much more fodder for future posts for "the CYCLING SCRAPBOOK".
An original copy of the founding of the Sun Tour and the first event in 1952 won by  Keith Rowley which finished at the Brenock Park cycle track in Ferntree Gully.
If you have any info to add on this post, please add a comment. Great to get some feedback even if it is to say I have it wrong.


Matthew Sumner said...

Would have been two stages a day in 73 as well. Makes the modern Herald SunTour look a bit soft. McVilly and Oliver were two guys I heard a lot about from my father whilst growing up.

leon sims said...

Matthew - you must be a young fella.
I race with Keith as a young Pro and then raced at the World Track Masters when he won his titles in 2007/2008.
He even asked me to monitor his schedule for the pursuit. He's agreat guy.
Thanks for reading.

Brian Ward said...

Thanks for all the effort you've made in putting the blog together!

I raced against Keith Oliver (mostly on Unanderra Velodrome in Wollongong) in the latter part of his 'early' career, if I can put it that way. He was in his late 30s then. I'm 2 years younger. This was before the amateurs and pros came together.

I returned to an amateur club that I'd started, so was a spectator, when Keith came off worst of several riders who fell in the feature event one night. He ended up in Wollongong Hospital for a while, so I visited him the following weekend (I think). We spent a bit of time talking about cycling, mostly about his career. (Mine wouldn't have been worth talking about!) He told me about the times he rode in the Sun Tour and was usually all at sea on the loose gravel. However, he said, this year (and I'm sure it was '73) I was determined to win the tour, so I spent a bit of time training on dirt roads and, when the tour came to that Mt. Skene stage, I would be ready. But you wouldn't believe what rained and I was so far back, I couldn't regain the time in the final couple of stages."

Keith was definitely one of the classiest all-round riders that I ever saw race.

Brian Ward, Grenfell