A year that began in near-tragedy ended in popular acclaim with Anna Meares being announced as the Australian Cyclist of the Year in Melbourne Sunday night.
Twenty-five-year-old Anna Meares became only the second female to take the prestigious Sir Hubert Opperman medal for cyclist of the year at the Cycling Australia awards, collecting the medal to a standing ovation.
The Queenslander also won the Female Track Cyclist of the Year and Scody People’s Choice Rider of the Year awards.
“Thank you very much, I’m so honoured to win this award,” said an emotional Meares. “I never thought I could win this thing, despite all the records the road riders are just too good. It is such a great honour to be able to inscribe my name on the trophy of the great Sir Hubert Opperman.”
Earlier in the evening Meares broke down while recalling the emotional ride she experienced throughout the season. She expressed her gratitude to coach Marvin Barras and her Australian teammates, who helped her throughout her recovery.
“I had a really long speech before because I never thought I could win this award,” said Meares. “I think it would just be a fitting end to this evening if I could ask my teammates to come up here and accept this award with me.”
The 25-year-old joins Anna Wilson as the only females to win the Sir Hubert Opperman medal. Wilson, who was at the event and presented a number of awards, claimed the medal in 1999.
Meares captured Australian hearts and minds after coming back from life threatening injuries sustained during January’s Los Angeles Track World Cup to win silver at the Beijing Olympic Games in August.
She edged out Cadel Evans in the People’s Choice and Hubert Opperman medal categories, with Evans taking home the Elite Men’s Road Rider of the Year title.
Evans had little to say after claiming his title, only going on to encourage the younger generation of Australian cyclists after he was told it would be rude not to say anything. He had earlier referred to his season of highs and lows being played out world wide on television, with the rider having claimed then lost the Tour de France’s yellow jersey.
Track sensation Cameron Meyer drew a laugh from the crowd as he accepted the Male Track Cyclist of the Year award. “My speech won’t be as long as Anna’s,” he declared, following her six minute speech.
Vicki Whitelaw claimed the Elite Women’s Road Cyclist of the Year award while Sam Hill and Caroline Buchanan claimed the men’s and women’s mountain biking titles for 2008. Nicole Callisto and Jared Graves topped the BMX billing, however neither were present as they are both competing this weekend.
Cycling Australia CEO Graham Fredericks thanked the volunteers who give up so much of their time to ensure the sport’s health in Australia. He also congratulated all of the evening’s medal winners, making a special mention of Meares’ achievements.
“I don’t think there’s anyone in this room who wouldn’t be very proud, as we always are, of our cyclist of the year and I don’t think any of us tonight would be any less proud to have Anna as the pinnacle winner of our sports award this year,” said Fredericks. “She’s a remarkable athlete and a remarkable person.”
The Cycling Australia awards wrapped up a week of bicycling celebration in Melbourne. In addition to the UCI Track World Cup round the Victorian city also played host to the Bicycle Film Festival this week. Showing the strong cycling theme in Melbourne was Tour de France stage winner Simon Gerrans who was seen out riding with countryman Shane Sutton, the architect of Great Britain’s super-successful track cycling program, earlier in the day.
Among the other big names attending the evening was German cycling legend Judith Arndt.
2008 Cycling Australia award winners