These short articles are currently being published one at a time in the White Hat Melbourne Newsletter. As they form part of the weekly quiz in that newsletter, no names or dates are given. However, anybody familiar with Australian sport will know the people and occasions to which they refer, and it should to take little research for those less familiar to unearth that information. We don't claim these to be the seven greatest moments in Australian sport, just seven great moments, in no particular order, that we at White Hat find particularly significant. If you don't like our list that is not a problem. You may be inspired to go and make your own
(This was originally published in the White Hat Melbourne Newsletter No. 188 on 14 September 2006)
The scene is the Paris Velodrome. The Australian cyclist is many laps behind. He is riding a clumsy domestic bicycle with heavy mudguards while the local riders on their sleek racing machines continue to lap him. The crowd of 55,000 are jeering. Suddenly, clearly visible to the crowd, a silvery stream appears behind the Australian cyclist – nature’s call could no longer be delayed. Surely this must be one of the lowest points in Australian sporting history.
But wait a minute. Listen closer to the French crowd. They are not jeering the Australian; they are jeering their own riders. And each time the Australian passes there are shouts of “allez, allez!” How has this come about?
The Australian had just competed in his first Tour de France and performed creditably. He fronted up soon afterwards to the Paris Velodrome to perform in the gruelling 24 hour race. He was riding well when his bicycle chain broke. His only replacement racing bike was brought out and he was making up time when the chain on that bicycle broke. The French crowd who are passionate and knowledgeable about their bike racing immediately recognised sabotage, and sure enough, somebody had filed the chains so thin that continued pressure caused them to snap. The crowd started jeering the remaining riders having realised that in their midst was someone who would stoop that low to put a rival out of the race. In the meantime the Australian was determined to finish the race in any way he could. The only bicycle that could be found was a domestic one entirely unsuited to racing. It may as well have had a basket on the front with a baguette in it. That didn’t matter – he would show them he could still finish. He was out on the track again to the cheers of “allez, allez!”
The bike was no match for the racing models and he was dropping back about one lap in every seven. But he was determined to finish (“allez, allez!”). After all, this bike with its upturned handlebars wasn’t too much different from the one he used to ride as a bicycle courier in Melbourne. He would race the trams, deliver his parcel and still beat the tram to the top of Bourke Street Hill – “allez” – he would finish, nobody had passed him for a while now, he might look foolish but he owed it to the crowd – “allez” – he was making some ground now, he had passed one, two, how many times did he have to pass them? he was still many laps behind everyone – “allez” – he had been off the track for nearly an hour all told but he was going to finish – “allez” – just passed another one, was he the one who filed my chains, he looks like the type, calf muscles really hurting, never mind, remember the races in Gippsland, kept going, passed another one – “allez” – this crowd knows what’s what, I’ll wear a beret when I get back to Australia, passed him again – “Allez” – hurting, what were the names of those towns? Warragul, Warburton, hills, haunted hills – “Allez” – passing quite a few of them now, up the bank, keep out of trouble, then pass three at once – “ALLEZ” – if I keep going I could be in with a chance, I reckon he’s the one! I’m hurting! Warburton, Warrigal, Wonthaggi, at least you got to stop for the ferries but I’ve got to keep going – “ALLEZ” – fewer bikes on the track now, I know I can finish, keep passing them, how many more times? must be close now – “ALLEZ, ALLEZ!” – here’s the finish, here’s my manager (that’s what they call them here) how’d we do? "won by half and hour!" he said.
The crowd were going wild but weren’t going home, tell them I can’t “allez” any more – the race is over, but they kept on cheering, there’s a distance record there if you just keep going a little longer, can’t – “ALLEZ” – don’t want to – “ALLEZ, ALLEZ”, how much longer, only an hour and a half – the crowd will stay . . .
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