Compiled for OzSportsHistory by Brian Membrey

The cycling road race was held at Broadmeadows, about 12 miles from the city and close to Oaklands where the pentathlon riding and cross-country run were conducted.

It was the only cycling event held away from the Velodrome at Olympic Park - from 1912 to 1932, there had also been a road team's time trial, later re-introduced in Rome in 1960.  There were however two gold medals to be won - for the individual winner and for the team with the last three placings from their four riders.

The race was just on 116¾ miles, each of the eleven laps just over 10½ miles; of 88 participants on a warm afternoon, exactly half completed the race

The starting and finishing points in Pascoe Vale Road, the roads used were between 14 and 20 feet in width and sealed to make them as puncture-proof as possible; the topography was said to be rather more difficult than Helsinki, mostly flat. but with two steep rises in Somerton Road, and short climbs in Broadmeadows Road.

When the site was selected, the anticipated finishing time was suggested as likely to be about six hours, but improvements to the surface made over a series of test events saw the winner’s time as five hours, 21 minutes and 17 seconds.six hours. (Helsinki by comparison was also roughly 177 miles, but involving 18 laps with the winner’s time just over five hours and four minutes).

There were no existing facilities at Broadmeadows and temporary stands, competitor amenities and ancillary offices had to be constructed, mostly at the finishing point.  A dress rehearsal was held over 52 miles on 27 October, but was cycling officials were bitterly disappointed when only eight riders volunteered to participate.   

The race was held on 7 December and was not without controversy - before, during, and after!.

The individual winner was by around two minutes was Ercole Baldini, of Italy, from Arnaud Geyre, of France and Alan Jackson, Great Britain, but French officials bitterly protested that the official film unit car had helped Baldini win by pacing him over the last two laps of the course; the British team also complained that the car had consistently been 30 yards in front of the Italian and helping him (neither however suggested a reason why anyone in the car would have a motive to aid the Italian rider).

However, the Frenchmen decided that discretion was perhaps after all the better part of valour and at the last minute withdrew the protest. France won the Teams medal from Great Britain and Germany.

Italian officials locked Baldini away in a tin shed to protect him from hundreds of excited Italian supporters, but when he emerged for the Victory Ceremony some 15 minutes later, it was discovered due to a misunderstanding, a band had not arrived to play the anthem and with the distance from the city, disc records could not be sent in time. However, the presentations were made for the individual event and the winner's anthem sung by groups of Italian officials and spectators.

As for the presentation of the Gold Medal for the Teams event to France - C’est La Vie!  (That’s Life!)

(Well, not really!  It had been pre-determined some months beforehand that because of the remoteness of the locations where the results were to be decided that the Victory Ceremonies for the Modern Pentathlon and the road cycling Teams event were to held in the Main Stadium on the day after the completion of these events. The road cycling Teams medals were presented prior to the Football final on the closing day!

The Luck (or Lack) of the Irish

Even before the race, there were disruptions - several minutes before the scheduled start, three Irishmen attempted to gate-crash the event and had to been forcibly moved away from other riders before being questioned by police.

The trio claimed they were members of the National Cycling Association of Ireland, which was not a member of the international body and that they had entered for the race, but their entries had been ignored.  That their attempt to disrupt the race became apparent when they were later seen handing out hundreds of pamphlets.

The road race included a Great Britain and Northern Ireland team - Ireland was represented in Melbourne, but did not include a cycling team.

Constable Plod Intervenes  

The race had an amusing prelude - a 100-mile race staged at Broadmeadows in August, 1955 by the Victorian Amateur Cyclist's Union to give local riders experience in road racing ended in farce when a local constable demanded after the event concluded to see every rider that completed the course - eleven in total - and then took down their names and clubs for whom they rode as they had allegedly ridden on the wrong side of the road during the final half-mile!.  

Constable Plod (a.k.a. J. F. O’Toole) claimed he had driven alongside the riders and asked them to stop … "We all kept going, we had no idea he was a policeman", one of the bemused riders explained to the press.  "A few more yards down the road, the man shouted to us, Stop. Police" … "I heard one of the boys say, "Fair go, constable, we'll be finished in another 200 yards … someone started to sprint to the finish line and everyone else followed him").


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Playgrounds : Broadmeadows

Above : A helping hand, Broady-style! Unknown competitors get a cooling-off on a warm afternoon. The post-Games report suggests that only 738 seats were sold for the event, but given the open nature of the event. contemporary accounts suggested probably 30,000 actually saw at least part of the race.

Bottom : The start of the road race - it is not clear how starting positions were determined; the text accompanying the image suggests the two leading riders were from Chile and Uruguay.

Below : The temporary Press accommodation at Broadmeadows; 69 seats were provided.

 

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Click above to see the Broadmeadows course of just on ten-and-a-half miles