Much more than ‘just a ride’
COLLECTIVELY hands rose at the small country school assembly.
The fresh faces looked up at the lycra-clad guests who were visiting as part of Tour de Cure. Prompting the show of hands was the question "Who thinks they can catch cancer from someone else?"
Part of the daily routine on Tour, the riders spread the cause's "be fit, be healthy, be happy'' message and raise money to help fight cancer in the process.
But that night after 100-odd kilometres of riding, a small group were finished for the day when a lowered Commodore ute pulled up beside them. They expected the typical barrage of abuse for taking up space on the road as a man stepped out.
He emptied his wallet and donated everything he had.
The burly bloke was paying homage after that day's school visit. His appreciation was profound, because after their stopover children had played with his niece. She had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, given only six months to live, and ostracised at school.
That is part of the reason why riders join the Tour de Cure each year.
It's become Australia's most renowned cycling event away from professional racing, and this year's 10th anniversary event celebrated by retracing the original ride's journey from Brisbane to Sydney… albeit this time going via Armidale.
Covering 1518km over 10 days, the 222-strong team raised more than $2.8 million to help fund Australian cancer research, support and prevention projects. Among the riders were 13 cancer survivors and three riders who've taken part in all nine previous "Signature Tour" events.
The Signature ride has become prominent Australia-wide with extensive television coverage through Channel Seven. Sunrise sports presenter Mark Beretta and weatherman James Tobin were among those in the saddle.
Having completed seven Tours, "Berrets'' gets passionate when talking about the event. Now a board member, he can't envisage a year where he won't be in the peloton.
"I don't know a more efficient or more worthwhile charity that I work with. I find you can do incredible things with this group," he said.
"It's the most amazing group of people I have worked with from all sorts of backgrounds from all over the country. What they bring to the party when they come together is an enormous energy, an enormous amount of skill and an incredible desire to give. It's everything, it's everybody and incredibly inclusive and they are brought together by this real desire to see cancer eradicated."
Geoff Coombes is a co-founder and board member of the Tour. Regularly you see him watching his surrounds and smiling, soaking in the atmosphere and astounded at what they achieve annually.
Together with Samantha Hollier-James and Gary Bertwistle, they wanted to give something back in the Australian health landscape. Cancer was an area which they thought needed help more than a decade ago - and since then it's become very personal. "Mothers, brothers, a lot of the team involved… and I attend too many funerals each year," Geoff said.
Successful in business through sponsorship, field sales, marketing and category management arenas, Geoff now works on Tour.
"The Tour is growing and it's the energy of people who want to keep getting involved."
Pivotal to the event's growing stature has been cycling. Regarded as "the new golf", the ride's popularity has mirrored growth and interest in the sport.
Getting to the Tour requires more than just a fitness base. Each participant commits to raise at least $12,000, although the average is about $17,000, with some raising more than $60K.
"There is something to cycling that really does engage people and business executives are taking it up because they are time poor or they see the health benefits," Geoff said. "Cycling seems to be a good leveller. You could be riding next to an executive, farmer or a CEO.
"We have young folk, with our youngest 24, our oldest would be 62. Age isn't a barrier. If you are here for the right reasons and you train for it, and you know physically you can take on this challenge then come and join us."