Sport

Cycling a ticket to travel

by
July 21, 2017

Seoul Olympian Steve Fairless took a break from cycling before reaching his peak again in masters racing, winning the World Masters Championship in his age group in 2015.

Steve Fairless represented Australia at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, as well as in countless other international meets against the elite.

Steve Fairless continues to be involved with the Shepparton Cycling Club having started his career when the velodrome was at Deakin Reserve.

Greater Shepparton Sports Hall of Fame inductee

Entry into the competitive realm of cycling opened up a world of opportunities for Steve Fairless.

After starting to ride with encouragement from his late father and cycling legend Don, the sport has taken him across continents.

With the 1988 Seoul Olympics at the forefront, he has also ridden in Japan, Mexico and Italy, among various places.

But the Shepparton East cyclist recognises that without sport this would never have been possible.

‘‘Absolutely, if it wasn’t for my sport, travelling would have been few and far between,’’ he said.

‘‘I’ve been to some great parts of the world, although a lot wasn’t for holiday — it was for sport and I wouldn’t have got to those spots whatsoever.

‘‘While we’re riding a tour in Canada, we snuck off and saw the Niagara Falls, so you do see bits and pieces, but you’re not on a holiday.’’

Marcus Cobbledick turned Fairless’ life into a 44-minute movie titled Fairless that was shown at the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival.

Detailing the Olympic year right through to his comeback to be crowned World Masters Champion in 2015, Fairless was a reluctant protagonist.

But he said if anything else it was a nice memory of his father who died last year, with Don having been instrumental in the creation of the new velodrome for the Shepparton Cycling Club to move from the Deakin Reserve complex.

Fairless can remember dodging football and cricket balls while riding around the old track, just all part of the training as he headed towards an Olympic Games.

At his peak Fairless would ride at least 600km a week, ranging to 1000km depending on what was on the calendar.

‘‘It’s always difficult, but that’s part of the dedication, it’s always difficult to find the hours and force yourself to be on it (the bike). I generally did most of my training after work,’’ he said.

‘‘Back in the day there was only a handful of blokes riding bikes, there was no big early morning bunches or anything.’’

Having finished runner-up at the 1985 Australian Road Championships, Fairless also won the 1986 Tour of Tasmania and headed to the 1987 World Cycling Championships in Austria in the lead up to the Olympics.

Heading to Seoul in 1988, Fairless’ Australian side finished ninth out of 31 teams in the 100km time trial, with the Shepparton East rider taking it all in his stride.

‘‘It was an unbelievable time being there, bloody hell it was a long time ago,’’ he said.

‘‘We rode the 100km team time trial, there was a team of four and you don’t get overawed because you’ve been in the sport for a long time.

‘‘Competition day was just another competition day at an elite level, which we’d ridden many times.

‘‘We missed the opening ceremony because we competed on the first day, but certainly to be involved in the closing ceremony and be there over the two-week duration was a fantastic experience.’’

The yellow Driza-Bone coat Fairless wore as part of the team uniform is packed away in a cupboard: he said it only comes out once every four years when he shows it to Shepparton East Primary School students.

With no professional contract on offer to race in Europe, Fairless took an extensive break from cycling as life intervened following the Olympics.

‘‘I was off working on the farm and bringing up kids and just going about family life, but I got back into it seriously in 2010, I’d hopped back on in fits and starts,’’ he said.

Fairless was back on a bike to ride for the 1997 season after the Melbourne to Shepparton race was reinstated onto the cycling calendar, winning the event that finished in his home town.

He also raced at the World Masters Games when they were hosted in Melbourne in 2002, but his major success at the event would come more than a decade later.

Having been pipped at the 2014 masters titles, he was on a mission the following year and achieved the ultimate success in the 50-54 age group in Denmark.

But despite plenty of top finishes in high level events, there are also other races that Fairless recalls with a great sense of achievement.

‘‘Certainly winning a world masters title was great, to get back on the bike,’’ he said.

‘‘It might sound funny, but I got the fastest time honours at the Cootamundra Open in 1985, 1991 and 2010 riding off the scratch mark and them being so far apart, well they’re the little things that mean a lot to me, but to nobody else.’’

It has been a remarkable journey for Fairless, who can remember riding in an under-12 state title at Brunswick Velodrome, despite spending his elite career focusing on road racing.

‘‘There was always road season in the winter time and track in the summer and I just progressed through the ranks,’’ Fairless said.

‘‘I was better suited to being a road rider, just better suited to the endurance side of things.’’

His older brothers Robert, Chris and David were also talented cyclists, leaving Fairless with someone to always compete against.

An Australian schoolboys road cycling championship would be a major coup of his junior career, travelling to Mexico for another important meet.

‘‘The junior world titles were certainly a great experience and an eye-opener to what was out there in the big wide world and we were lucky enough to ride the Gran Prix Liberazione, which was one block from the Colosseum, so my sport has taken me to some fantastic places across the world,’’ he said.

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