THE year is 2003. Michael Cross from Taree looked at some of the other starters in the Summer Cycling Series held in conjunction with the Noosa Triathlon.
Cadel Evans. Nick Gates. Stuart O'Grady. Some of the sport's heavyweights.
"I had to pinch myself,'' Cross now laughs.
"But it was so good to hang with those guys, to hear some of their stories. I knew I was nowhere near their calibre, but just to lineup with them was a highlight.''
He didn't get there by accident, Cross receiving an invitation to race in the event. He was competitive, which he was chuffed about.
Cycling has been a major player in Cross's life since he was a teenager. A former president of the Manning Cycle Club, he was honoured with life membership along with Belinda Crossingham at the club's recent annual meeting.
Cross, now 52, has been mates with Gates since they were teenagers and was involved in the triathlons. In fact, that's how Cross became involved in the sport.
"We entered a team in the 1987 Taree triathlon,'' Cross recalled.
William Sharp, a swimmer, Cross and Gates made up the team. The multi-talented Gates opted to do the run, Cross the bike.
The bike leg started in Fotheringham Park, headed to Wingham and then Tinonee before returning to Taree. It was a gruelling 48km and the race was conducted in sweltering conditions in late January, in conjunction with the Aquatic Carnival.
Despite that, it ignited Cross's interest in the sport. That hasn't dimmed in the years since.
At his prime Cross was an ultra-keen competitor, travelling the State for major events.
"I got a couple of bronze medals at Country Championships... they were probably my best performances,'' he said.
I must admit riding across the harbour bridge and then getting to the Opera House where I was met by my family and friends, I got a bit tearyMichael Cross
Cross completed the 5500km journey in 25 days, arriving at the finishing line at the Sydney Opera House on his 50th birthday.
"I must admit riding across the harbour bridge and then getting to the Opera House where I was met by my family and friends, I got a bit teary,'' Cross said.
He also used the event as a fund-raiser for close mate Jason 'Buddy' Miller, a former Taree local who had his hands a feet amputated contracting a bacterial infection. Initially Cross hoped to nett around $5000.
"I think I ended up with something like $15,000,'' he said.
He won't rule out attempting the event again.
"It's a big thing - you have to be selfish for about six months with training and preparation and I'd also have to get time off work, it would be difficult,'' Cross said.
"I think if I did it again I could finish in around 20 days.''
Cycling is a family sport for the Cross's. Michael's wife, Tanya, is the Manning Cycle Club secretary and a regular competitor. His son, Ben, is a former club member while daughter, Alex is a member of the NSW development squad.
Cross has served two terms as club president and he was in charge when the club opened its headquarters at the Manning Hockey Centre. He credited Graham Norris, Lloyd Ninham and MidCoast Council's Dan Aldridge with laying the foundation for the project.
He also take pride in the club's efforts to establish the criterium track at Taree Recreation Ground.
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"It's a shared facility and good use of public space,'' he said.
"You see parents teaching their kids to ride there... other sporting clubs use it for training... people walk or ride around it, it's a community asset.''
Cross said cycling is beneficial for both physical and mental health.
"You're out there on your own and it clears your mind and it's great for self discipline,'' he maintains.
Cross is still enjoying competing, but says his days of travelling to major events are over, unless it's to watch Alex race. He also believes the club is in a healthy state, run by a competent committee with a focus on developing juniors.
And he'll be on his bike for a long time yet.
"While ever I can, I'll keep riding,'' he assured.
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