Advance Australia Fair!
Australians first made their debut in the Tour de France as early as 1914. Don Kirkham and Ivor (Iddo Snowy) Munro, having already competed in the Milan San Remo, finished a very creditable 17th and 20th respectively. However the horror of the 1st World War curtailed Australian participation until 1928 when the endurance cycling legend Hubert Opperman competed with the Ravat-Wonder – Dunlop team which consisted of Opperman, Osbourne, Bainbridge and the new Zealand rider Harry Watson.
Oppermann finished in 18th spot and in 1931 returned to compete in the race with an Australian/Swiss team finishing 12th. Later the same year Oppermann was hailed as the world's greatest endurance cyclist when he defeated the cream of European endurance riders in the Paris-Brest-Paris over 1186 kilometres, setting a new course record of 24.012 km/h. It took Oppermann 49 hours 23 minutes and 30 seconds to complete the race winning from a 5 man leading group. The victory won Oppermann great fame and acclaim with 'Le Journal' being typical as describing him as 'a marvellous dynamo of human energy'.
However Oppermann chose not to ride the Tour again, concentrating on his speciality, endurance racing. In 1934, for example he travelled to England with the set purpose of attacking English National road records. Within 14 days he had broken five records in two great rides, setting a new 24 hour mileage record of 431.5 miles, and covering 1000 miles in 3 days 1 hour and 52 minutes.
Oppermann’s legend was assured and to this day old timers still refer to musettes as “Oppy bags”, since the Australian is credited with inventing them.
However, for the next 50 years Australia had only 3 riders compete in the Tour de France, but in 1981 Phil Anderson burst into the limelight.
Anderson became the first ever non-European to hold the yellow jersey, riding for the Peugeot Esso Michelin team. On stage 5 in the Pyrenees, which saw the riders climb the Peyresourde and finish on the Plat d’Adet, Anderson showed his climbing skills to take third spot and the yellow jersey.
Here is how he described the day -
"It happened in the Pyrenees. This was my first Tour de France. I didn't have aspirations of becoming the wearer of the yellow jersey or anything like that. I was given my instructions and I was supposed to look after a rider on my team, the team leader, a Frenchman, and I forgot my instructions and just sort of went into survival mode over a number of mountain passes, just staying up with some of the top riders, and before I knew it, my team director came up beside me in his car and told me, 'Listen, what happened to your leader, the guy that you've been instructed to watch today?' you know. And to help if he has any troubles, or just pace him back if he's having some troubles. And I said, 'Oh gee, that's right. Where is he?' And he said, 'He's five or ten minutes back, in the next group.' I said, 'No worries, I'll wait up for him.' He said, 'No, no, stay up here, you're doing OK, just stay out of trouble and try and hang on as long as possible.'"
"So hang on I did, and whistled down the next mountain and got to the last climb and I stayed up with Bernard Hinault; there was one rider, a Belgian rider, Lucien van Impe, rode away, an excellent climber, he rode away and so we came in a couple of minutes later, but I had enough time from some good days previously, that I climbed into the yellow jersey, and I had no idea of what the sort of yellow jersey represented, because I mean there's so much history to it, and for me it was just like, 'Oh yes, great, I don't have to wash my old jersey tonight, you know, get a new one'. But really, you're sort of at the highest level of the sport."
Anderson went on to ride thirteen Tours, wear the yellow jersey for a further nine days win the best young rider’s jersey and had two stage wins.
While Oppermann is credited with feeding bags, Anderson also changed the face (quite literally) of the peloton, it was “skippy” (his nickname and a reference to the Australian TV series about a bush kangaroo) who popularised sunglasses amongst riders.
As the 1980’s progressed, other Australian riders began to feature in the race: Alan Pieper (now a sporting director with Davitamon Lotto), Shane Sutton, Michael Wilson, Stephen Hodge and Neil Stephens all raised the profile of the sport and inspired increasing numbers of Australians to try to earn fame and glory on European roads.
In 1998 three Australians rode the race and Stuart O’Grady wore the yellow jersey and won stage 14.
By 2003 the number was up to 7 riders with Baden Cooke winning stage 3 and the green jersey, Brad McGee winning the prologue and O’Grady winning the Prize of the Centenaire.
In 2005 a record number of Australian’s will compete in the Tour de France, they are:
Ag2r: Simon Gerrans (VIC)
Quick Step: Michael Rogers (ACT)
Davitamon-Lotto: Cadel Evans (VIC), Robbie McEwen (QLD)
Francaise des Jeux: Brad McGee (NSW), Baden Cooke (VIC)
CSC: Luke Roberts (SA)
Cofidis: Stuart O'Grady (SA), Matt White (NSW)
Liberty: Allan Davis (QLD)
It is an interesting mix of riders, Robbie McEwen, Baden Cooke and Allan Davis will be competing for the sprints and the Green jersey.
Meanwhile Michael Rogers and Cadel Evans go into the race with hopes of a high General Classification. Rogers, who found himself short of team help in the Tour de Suisse when he was pipped at the post by Aitor Gonzalez, he will ride for a Quickstep team that is more geared to one day racing and helping Tom Boonen than solid backing for a General Classification place. Whereas Manolo Saiz of Liberty Seguros spent time with Patrick Lefevre at this year's Paris Roubaix, hoping to learn about one day racing, Lefevre, it would appear, has lost any ambitions for the Grand Tours. Having signed two big Tour prospects, Mercado and Pecharromán, both of whom have failed to deliver the goods so far, Lefevere has hinted that in 2006 he will concentrate on the style of races he knows best.
Rogers, double World Champion in the Time Trial, is considering his options for 2006 and has been linked with both T-Mobile and Cofidis.
For the time being however, Rogers will hope that Patrik Sinkewitz can provide him some cover in the high mountains and has more luck than last year when he crashed three times in the opening stages. His strategy will be to follow the trains of T-Mobile and the Discovery Channel and profit from other teams' work, a tactic that worked so well for Paolo Savoldelli in this year's Giro d’Italia.
Quickstep for the Tour de France
Tom Boonen (Bel), Wilfried Cretskens (Bel), Kevin Hulsmans (Bel), Servais Knaven (Ned), Michael Rogers (Aus), Patrik Sinkewitz (Ger), Bram Tankink (Ned), Guido Trenti (Ita) and Stefano Zanini (Ita)
Meanwhile, former world mountain bike champion Cadel Evans is also looking for a high GC place. After two seasons plagued by injury and broken collar bones, Evans' 12th place overall in the Tour de Suisse would suggest he has made a full recovery from another, less serious, collar bone injury earlier in the season. The 28-year-old has missed the last two Tours after suffering collarbone injuries, but his non-selection by T-Mobile last year was one of the shocks of the 2004 season. Evans will have good support from riders like Axel Merckx and Mario Aerts, and it will be very interesting to see how Johan Van Summeren copes in his first Tour. Interestingly, Davitamon Lotto could have fielded four Australians in their squad but Nick Gates and Henk Vogels (on the comeback trail since his near fatal crash in the USA 18 months ago) were not selected. Meanwhile former BMX champ, the "Kangaroo of Brakel" Robbie McEwen, who has already had success in the Giro d'Italia and the Tour of Switzerland, must fancy his chances for the Green jersey.
Davitamon Lotto for the Tour de France
Mario Aerts (Bel), Christophe Brandt (Bel), Cadel Evans (Aus), Robbie McEwen (Aus), Axel Merckx (Bel),
Fred Rodriguez (Usa), Leon van Bon (Ned), Johan Van Summeren (Bel), Wim Vansevenant.
Brad McGee will also be hoping for a high GC finish and like Michael Rogers ,his fellow Australian team mate, Baden Cooke will also be hoping to do well in the Green Jersey competition. McGee was in good form in the Tour de Suisse, winning stage 3, but faded on the final day and finished 12th overall. The Olympic Team track pursuit Gold medal winner has been steadily improving in the high mountains and has an exciting team in support. With Sandy Casar, and the exciting Belgium talent Phillipe Gilbert as fellow team members, the strength of the FdJ team could be enough to see McGee be the highest placed Australian rider.
FdJ for the Tour de France
Sandy Casar (Fr), Baden Cooke (Aus), Carlos Da Cruz (Fra), Bernhard Eisel (Aut), Philippe Gilbert (Bel), Thomas Lövkvist (Swe), Bradley McGee (Aus),
Christophe Mengin (Fra), Francis Mourey (Fra).
Luke Roberts was also part of the Australian Olympic Track Team pursuit team which took Gold in Athens, and after a run of good performances he finally got the nod from Bjarne Riis to take the last place in Basso’s Tour de France team. Roberts will ride entirely in support of Ivan Basso and the 28 year old's Tour debut will be more about protection and water carrying than individual glory.
CSC Tour de France Team
Ivan Basso (Ita), Kurt-Asle Arvesen (Nor), Bobby Julich (Usa), Giovanni Lombardi (Ita), Luke Roberts (Aus), Carlos Sastre Candil (Spa), Nicki Sørensen (Den), Jens Voigt (Ger), David Zabriskie (USA).
Stuart O’Grady has had a long and successful career since he first struck Gold in the Commonwealth Games in 1994. He made his Tour debut in 1997, and has worn both the yellow and green jerseys in the race. In stark contrast, Matt White while riding with teammates, hit a TV cable and crashed breaking his collar bone just hours before last year's Tour was about to set off. The Cofidis Australian duo will be hoping for better luck in 2005.
Cofidis Tour de France Team
Stéphane Augé (Fra), Frédéric Bessy (Fra), Sylvain Chavanel (Fra), Thierry Marichal (Bel), David Moncoutié (Fra), Stuart O’Grady (Aus), Janek Tombak (Est), Cédric Vasseur (Fra), Matthew White (Aus).
Allan Davis seems to have been around a long time yet the Liberty Seguros rider is still only 24 years old. Building on last year's successful season, Davis has scored two victories in the Vuelta a Murcia and a stage and points classification in the Vuelta a Aragon so far this season. You don’t often see kangaroos in the Basque Country, but Allan Davis is an exception. He has lived in Oiartzun for the past two and a half years. He arrived here from Italy, after 5 years, where the Australians have an amateur cyclist development program. He will be looking forward to his second Tour and will be hoping to leave his mark.
Liberty Seguros Tour de France Team
Roberto Heras Hernandez (Spa), Joseba Beloki Dorronsoro (Spa), Alberto Contador Velasco (Spa), Allan Davis (Aus), Igor Gonzalez de Galdeano (Spa),
Jörg Jaksche (Ger), Luis Leon Sanchez Gil (Spa), Marcos Serrano Rodriguez (Spa), Angel Vicioso Arcos (Spa).
Wild card team AG2R have picked their own wild card in the shape of Simon Gerrans. The 25 year old in his first full year as a pro has had a cracking debut season winning the Tour du Finistère in April. It is unusual for a first year pro to ride the Tour de France, but Gerrans may still be unkown enough to slip away with a successful break away.
AG2R Tour de France Team
Mikel Astarloza Chaurreau (Spa), Sylvain Calzati (Fra), Samuel Dumoulin (Fra), Simon Gerrans (Aus), Stéphane Goubert (Fra), Yuriy Krivtsov (Ukr),
Jean-Patrick Nazon (Fra), Nicolas Portal (Fra), Ludovic Turpin (Fra).