John Craven goes Under the Auld Pump

VETERAN: John Craven remains involved with the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic through his company, Caribou. Picture: Rob Gunstone

VETERAN: John Craven remains involved with the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic through his company, Caribou. Picture: Rob Gunstone

John, let’s go back in time to when you played footy in Papua New Guinea. How did that all come about?

I was working for the Department of Information as a junior publication officer.

A few of the blokes I was working with were involved with the Port Moresby Football Club, so I decided to play.

There were 12 teams in the Papua National Football League. It was in 1966. I was the youngest player in the side.

We won a few games. It was a great experience.

The temperature for a few games was pretty hot, as there was no real winter season. The average temperature used to float around 33.

The monsoon season would kick in around Christmas.

I got a few kicks in a some games, but overall I never measured up to the talents of other players that played in the competition.

I would have to say one of the best things about my 18-month stay up there was I wore long pants on only one occasion.

I suppose one of the biggest issues being in such heat is you would use a lot of sunscreen cream to protect the skin. Is that a fair call?

I’m talking about 1966, so we were unaware of the problems the sun can do to your skin.

Not like today, where we are aware. 

Let me tell you I’m suffering from it now, as I’ve had a few sun spots cut out and I’m often going back to the doctors to get things checked out.

John, you’re a former race director and now involved in a sponsorship role again of the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic, which is on this Saturday. How are preparations going for this year’s event?

They seem to be going along all right.

Cycling Victoria is promoting the event and my company Caribou is organising sponsorship.

It looked like a few months ago that the Classic had some major financial concerns, but due to the support of great people including Tim Scarborough, Frank McCarthy and Colin McKenna and a few others helping  out when the begging bowl was placed in from of them.

I would say this year’s event is best described as in a holding pattern mode, as we have to plan on making the Classic a wonderful sporting event, not only for Warrnambool but Victoria.

The Classic is screaming out for some stability.

The Classic requires a promoting group who are passionate about the race and it’s incredible history.

The Classic needs a major injection of resources and money and that can’t be achieved without the support of the state government and the Warrnambool City Council.

They must all realise the significance of the Classic  as one of Australia’s sporting institutions – being the second-oldest bike race in the world.

Where does this year’s Classic begin?

It kicks off at Eagles Stadium in Werribee at 7.30am on Saturday.

It looks like we’ll have over 200 cyclists, which is a great result.

We’ve got some highly credentialed overseas cyclists riding in the event.

John, it would be fair to say the Classic has had numerous changes over the years. Have they been for the better?

A lot of the changes have related to safety concerns.

I first got involved with the Classic 20 years ago and the changes have kept on happening at various levels since then.

Many of the changes have been forced on us, some I have agreed with but others we’ve just had to cop it on the chin for the Classic to survive.

Talks are always  ongoing relating to the staging of the Classic with the Victoria Police, state government, municipal councils and other authorities like VicRoads.

We’ve just go to have open dialogue with all the groups to ensure the safety of the Classic is a priority.

What does it cost to put the Classic on?

I would say there is no change out of $120,000, and that is a bare necessity of money. A few years ago the cost to the Victoria Police was $23,000.

I’m not sure what the cost for them this year is, but I would think it will be more.

How did you first get involved with the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic?

It was through Lyndsay Hill, Val Bertrand and the late John Holland.

My company Caribou got involved in 1996.

We were involved when the Warrnambool Citizen Road Race Committee decided to make the Classic a scratch race instead of a handicap event – that move has been positive for the event. I was on the committee for 20 years.

John, you’re 71 years old and you appear to have great drive and enthusiasm for the Classic. What drives you to keep on putting in long hours for the event?

That’s right, I just celebrated my 71st birthday just a few weeks ago.

I love life. I only feel like about 45.

I try and walk up to six to eight kilometres each day.

My legs are not as good as they used to be, but I consider my mind is as sharp as ever. 

I try and keep busy and also stay positive.

Apart from the Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic, my company is involved with the Tour of the Great South Coast Cycling event, which goes for five days.

The Tasmania Christmas Sports Carnivals are another event we help to promote, with our main responsibility being cycling.

The carnival has been going for 131 years and goes over seven days.

It’s a huge event for Tasmania, with thousands of people attending each year.