JOHN CRAVEN proudly recalls the day he dipped into his wallet and found $50 to help a baby-faced bikerider who couldn’t afford breakfast:
AS A DOWNTRODDEN cycling promoter for the past 28 years, quite often something happens that either provokes a barrage of red-faced cursing or a bucket-load of puzzled amusement.
Such was the situation on the 2008 Tour of the Murray River, an 857-kilometre, 14-stage speed trek which criss-crossed the flat terrain of the Victoria-NSW border for eight days and sorely tested the durability of the 88-strong field.
The racing on Tuesday, September 2, included a Stage 5 slog from Swan Hill to Lou Richards’ favourite town, Manangatang, and among the budding hopefuls were the future Tour de France luminaries Luke Durbridge, Rohan Dennis and Nathan Haas, the Olympic silver medallist Glen O’Shea and the dual Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic winner Joel Pearson.
A baby-faced 17-year-old kid from Canberra finished fourth in the stage and nobody took much notice of him. He earned $125 prizemoney.
The action switched to the NSW rural town of Balranald the following day and before the warriors lined-up for a 63 km, 35-lap closed-circuit street contest at the local primary school, I received a relayed message from one of our more prominent officials that the Canberra lad was broke and didn’t even have enough money to buy breakfast.
The kid was requesting his $125 up-front to help make ends meet. Always a soft touch, I dipped into my wallet and produced its entire contents of $50. I asked the official to give it to him to help ease his pressing financial burden, and said we would have a chat after the stage to sort out a few things.
We didn’t need to. The kid won the stage. First prize was $750 and his baby-face smile was in full bloom as he stood proudly on the podium to accept a generous supply of prizes from the adoring school kids and municipal dignitaries.
Then a local businessman and community leader hauled his ample frame up on the podium and seized the microphone from our commentators.
“I just want to make a small presentation to the winner as a sign of our appreciation,” bellowed the businessman, who ran a district wood-cutting operation.
Then he extracted $3,000 in cash from his pocket and handed it over to the kid, who was stunned. So were the rest of us.
The tour entourage was back in Victoria the next morning for another closed-circuit street scrap in Robinvale. The kid from Canberra was missing. He’d vanished.
His name? Michael Matthews. Last night he won the Green Jersey sprint championship at The Tour de France.
JOHN CRAVEN was a highly-regarded sportswriter at the Geelong Advertiser, Launceston Examiner and Melbourne Herald before leaving full-time journalism in the early 1980s to embark up on a career as a publisher-promoter.
His company, Caribou Publications and Events, grew into Australia’s largest cycling promoters, employing up to 150 full and part-time staff, and organising the Herald Sun Tour for 16 years, the Melbourne to Warrnambool for 18 years, and creating other modern-day classics.
Craven has written three books – the biographies of Raelene Boyle and racecaller John Russell, and an acclaimed history of the 122-year-old Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic.
He is currently collaborating with the recently-retired race broadcaster Greg Miles on his biography.