David Sanders could barely believe what he was viewing as he sat bleary-eyed in front of his
television screen in Melbourne in the early hours of Friday, July 15.
Crashing heavily in the 12th stage of the Tour de France was Simon Gerrans – the incredibly- durable cyclist he had spent the previous few weeks mentoring in Europe for the three-week tour and the upcoming Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.
Gerrans, 36, three-times a Tour de France stage victor and winner of a multitude of major events on the international stage, scrambled to his feet nursing his left shoulder but courageously pedalled the final 35 kilometres, which included the feared Mont Ventoux, to the finish line.
“Initially, I thought he was okay and I called him at the hospital,” Sanders recalls. “Then, later on after the x-rays, we spoke again and he told me he’d broken his collarbone. That’s the third time in three years he hasn’t finished the tour and the injury could be career-defining.”
For Sanders, the 60-year-old Victorian Institute of Sport head cycling coach and personal mentor and confidante to some of the biggest names in Australian bike riding for many years, Gerrans’ injury and subsequent withdrawal from the Rio Games threw his life into typical, but controlled, turmoil.
The Andorra-based Victorian Simon Clarke was selected as Gerrans’ replacement for the Games road race and Sanders received an urgent call from Cycling Australia to get back to Europe to fine-tune his Rio preparation.
“It’s the third time I’ve been to Europe this year, but I believe Simon is crucial to Richie Porte’s chances of winning a medal in Rio,” Sanders said from Andorra today.
“Simon has a history of being an outstanding team rider and this Rio course will suit Richie. There’s three climbs in it, each of about eight kilometres, and Simon knows what he has to do.
Today, Sanders was due to depart Andorra – one of the world’s smallest countries nestled in the mountainous Pyrenees between Spain and France – and fly back to Australia to finalise the VIS team’s preparations for next week’s fifth annual Lakes Oil-Fulton Hogan Tour of the Great South Coast, the five-day challenging event which has become a breeding ground for some of the future stars of Australasian cycling.
It’s not quite the Tour de France or Rio Olympics, but to Sanders it’s a critically-important road race and is one of the top-rated events on Cycling Australia’s Subaru National Road Series calendar.
“The Tour of the Great South Coast is a stepping stone event for up-and-coming cyclists,” he says. “I wouldn’t miss it. The course is fantastic and the organisation spot-on. From this race next week, we’ll almost certainly see a couple of riders emerge and go on to greater things.”
Sanders is hopeful that at least one of those riders will come from his compact four-man VIS team – a youthful all-Victorian line-up of Angus Lyons (Ballarat-Sebastopol), Riley Hart (Brunswick), Ben Mavrodis (Hawthorn), and Ethan Berends (Caulfield-Carnegie).
“It’s only a team of kids, really,” Sanders says. “But the Tour of the Great South Coast is a race where young riders learn. It’s a terrific event. I’m looking forward to it.”
The 511km Tour of the Great South Coast will begin with criterium racing in Mount Gambier’s Vansittart Park on Wednesday, August 10, and end with a spectacular waterfront street race in Portland on Sunday, August 14. It will also take in Port MacDonnell, Penola, Casterton and Cape Bridgewater.
The tour is backed by the municipalities of Mount Gambier, Grant and Wattle Range in South Australia, and Glenelg in Victoria.