New festival to put Clarence Valley on the map
- Wed, May 9: Official Opening; Screening of Mamil (Middle Aged Men In Lycra)
- Thurs, May 10: Screening of Wheelmen of the Clarence
- Fri, May 11: 'Bike Bus', guided heritage cycle tour, race sign-on, meet and greet
- Sat, May 12: 58th annual Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic
TIM Keogh is a self-confessed Mamil, part of a growing band of 'middle-aged men in lycra'.
"I am a Mamil," the Grafton schoolteacher said.
"In about November 2016, I jumped on the bathroom scales and it said 'one at a time, please'. I got myself up to 91 kilos and, although I'd been involved in sports administration, I'd not taken the time to take care of myself.
"So because I'm on the slippery slope of 50, I decided to do something about it. I took up cycling."
Keogh joined Grafton Cycle Club and, apart from what he refers to as a near-death experience on his first club ride, hasn't looked back.
"I'm 80 kilos now versus 91. The health benefits are unbelievable. But the social benefits are great and the fact it's such a diverse group of people makes it a really interesting group of people to hang around. A mixture of people from all walks of life.
"I found the team to be so relaxed and welcoming of new people, and they have rides for different ability levels.
"I didn't think I'd ever race, but I've started racing. It's been a midlife sporting crisis for me, I guess."
Keogh has been part of the driving force behind the planning of the inaugural Grafton Festival of the Bike to hit the city in the lead-up to the 58th annual Grafton to Inverell Cycle Classic next month.
The gruelling 228km event, which includes an epic climb of European proportions up the Gibraltar Range, is widely considered the toughest one-day classic in Australia.
Yet until now the host city has done little to embrace this iconic race, or the legacy behind it.
"We've got a long history of cycling in the town," Keogh said.
"The club was formed in 1892. We're trying to re-establish those historic links and we also want to make the Grafton to Inverell an event the community can get involved in and take ownership of."
Screening of MAMIL - Middle Aged Men In Lycra
The festival will commence on Wednesday, May 9 with an official opening at the Clocktower Hotel from 5.45pm followed by a screening of the film Mamil (Middle Aged Men In Lycra) narrated by legendary Tour de France commentator Phil Liggett at the Saraton Theatre at 7.15pm.
"It's a light-hearted documentary that talks about the mental health, physical and social benefits of cycling," Keogh said.
Mamil is an on-demand film, which requires a minimum number of pre-purchased tickets to guarantee the film. This has already been achieved for Grafton and only a limited number of tickets, at $20 each, remain.
WATCH: Documentary about the proud history of cycling in the Clarence Valley
The following evening at 6pm on Thursday, May 10 the Pelican Playhouse will feature a screening of Wheelmen of the Clarence, a documentary by Grafton filmmaker Danny Loyden about the local history of cycling.
The 35-minute film was premiered during last year's Jacaranda Festival.
"The Grafton Cycle Club started in 1892 and is one of the longest continuing running clubs in Australia," Loyden said.
"We interviewed some of the elders of the club who date back to when Fisher Park was a cycle track and also McKittrick Park.
"The oldest gentleman I interviewed was Henry 'Corky' Caldwell. I think he's 98 now. There's photos of him as a teenage boy doing laps of McKittrick Park.
"I also interviewed Kevin Brindle of course, who's still riding, Athol Green, Kevin Betteridge, Freddy Forbes and Roger Green.
"As some of the older chaps mentioned, Grafton was a bike town. If you look at any old photos throughout history documented in Grafton, there's always been a strong presence of bikes."
Ride along with the Grafton Bike Bus
Members of the public will be invited to join Grafton Public School students and staff on the weekly 'Bike Bus' at about 8am on the morning of Friday, May 11.
Keogh has also been instrumental in this initiative, who along with fellow staff member Howard Avery has escorted children to school through the streets of Grafton suburb Dovedale since 2016.
"Grafton Public School runs an initiative called the Bike Bus where we ride children to school every Friday to encourage them to cycle to school," Keogh explained.
"We're inviting people to come along and do that ride with us and see what we do.
"We tend to find the kids who have ridden with us for a couple of years now ride by themselves. They learn the road road rules and how to use a bike, and after they've been with us for 12 months they quite often form their own little bike groups and ride every day of the week, which is great. It cuts down the traffic at school, and it's a healthy option."
Grafton Public now offers cycling as a sport and both Keogh and Avery have completed a Cycling Australia training course.
"We've done some of the hard yards and I guess we've become a pilot school for the Bike Bus program," Keogh said.
"Initially people thought it was a difficult thing to do and were worried about the legalities. But we've got a very supportive community and a very supportive executive of the school who can see the benefits and been behind us the whole way.
"Ninety-nine per cent of motorists are just absolutely fantastic with the kids. They'll stop and wait and go out of their way to be helpful. It's an education process for them too, because they become aware we do have children on the road and it often changes the way they look at riders and the way they drive."
Guided heritage cycle tour of Grafton
Also on Friday will be a guided heritage cycle tour which will include a heritage trail map, and a guide who will accompany cyclists and give a fun insight into the magnificent city of Grafton.
Race sign-on, meet and greet with competitors
Festival organisers are planning to build up the atmosphere on the eve of the race during the sign-on period from 4pm to 6pm outside Toast Espresso in Prince St.
Fans, cycling enthusiasts and members of the community interesed to see what professional cycling is all about will be able to mingle with the teams and meet the riders who will undertake this gruelling event.
"We'll have a PA and interview some of the cyclists, and have some bicycle displays," Keogh said. "It will be great to see some of the technology because some of the bikes are worth $20,000.
"It's a thing we hope to build over a number of years."
Only a handful of carparks will be closed off this year. However, if it clicks into gear it could one day take up the whole street with food trucks and entertainment in true festival style.
While organisers admit they've started small for the first edition with the potential to grow and expand in the future, the creation of the festival is a big step towards celebrating the proud cycling heritage of the city.
"The Grafton to Inverell is a great opportunity for us to promote cycling in Grafton," Grafton Cycle Club president Paul O'Connnor said.
"Cycling is booming in Australia and we'd like to encourage those people who are riding a bike to step up and ride socially, for all ages from teenage to late 70s."
Grafton Cycle Club secretary Nigel Blake said the cycling demographic has changed in recent years.
"It's not just people crazy about racing," Blake said.
It's great to have new people with new ideas. The Valley is perfect for this sort of festival."
$15,000 in prizemoney up for grabs
Grafton to Inverell cyclists will be vying for a total of $15,000 in prizemoney.
The grand depart for the National Road Series competitors (Division 1) leaves Memorial Park and rolls along Prince St at 7.15am, Division 2 at 7.25am and Division 3 at 7.35am.
The peloton turns right at Fitzroy St, crosses the Grafton Bridge and turns right again at Ryan St, before the race proper is signalled at the South Grafton city limits and the riders continue to race west along the Gwydir Highway all the way to Inverell.
Entries close on Sunday, April 29. Click here for more details.
"I think it would be good to build more interest in the race," Loyden said.
"It's a very important race; it's a classic race - one-day tour - and there's not a lot of that left in Australia where they can close off roads and highways.
"But we just want to inspire people to ride in general, whether it's to ride to work, or join us on a coffee ride, or to come and race."