"In our day it was like stepping up from kindergarten to college."
FAIRLESS is a film that tells the story about Steve Fairless, a rising star of Australian Cycling who gave it away at the age of 26 to return home to his dairy farm and provide for his family. At the age of 50 (so 20 years later), Steve returned to settle some unfinished business. He quickly became one of the best riders in the country and qualified for the UCI World Masters Championships in Slovenia.
FAIRLESS sold out at its premiere screening at the Melbourne International Film Festival and has been selected to play at the Adelaide, Albury and Lorne Film Festivals.
We spoke to film director Marcus Cobbledick, fresh from a screening in Steve's hometown of Shepparton.
Hi Marcus, how did the screening go?
It went really well, we had a huge response. At least 300 people arrived and easily packed out the cinema. Steve grew up in Shepparton working on his dairy farm and is still based there now so he has a lot of friends there.
The Shepparton Cycling Club hosted the event and used it as an opportunity to present Steve with life membership to the club. He even got a video message from ex-Prime Minister Julia Gillard.
We never saw the best of Steve. Why is that, what happened or didn't happen that prevented Steve from taking his cycling journey to that next level?
Steve was a stand out junior rider, selected for State and National squads. One of the squads trained and raced in Italy (with Orica-GreenEDGE General Manager Shayne Bannan) and although Steve wasn't suited to the mountains, he was the glue that held the team time trial group together.
Steve went to the 1988 Seoul Olympics and the team achieved a top ten result in the TTT. One or two of the guys from that squad went on to ride with pro teams, but Steve missed out on a contract. So he went back home to dairy farming and to support his young family. There weren't many Australians racing overseas at that time, and even fewer making a living out of it. Steve had a young family to support so that took priority.
How did Steve make his comeback?
Steve tried to race a couple of seasons but it is impossible to be a dairy farmer and competitive cyclist, so the initial comeback never really got off the ground. It wasn't until 2009 that his kids were a little older and he had some more time on his hands that he was able to string some good training together.
Initially, people had no idea who he was. His first race back was the Tour of Bendigo and in the opening ITT he recorded the second fastest time. And this wasn't against club riders, it was against the best 19 and 20-year-olds in the country.
After that, the riders were asking 'who is this guy?! That's when the word started getting around. The dads of the kids he had just beat were telling them who Steve Fairless was - he was back!
How did the documentary come about?
I met Steve’s Father Don through my Grandfather, Bob. They live at the same nursing home and share stories about past sporting glory. Don often speaks of his son, Steve.
I approached Steve after a race at the Shepparton Lakes. I had only planned a five-minute piece about Steve and the Shepparton Cycling Club but it quickly turned into much more. Steve announced he would be attempting the UCI World Masters Championships and through some funding from BikeForce we got on a plane to Slovenia to complete the story.
Watching the early scenes in the documentary you can't help feel nostalgic and wonder what might have been? It also makes you appreciate how good young riders (and people in general) have it these days. As Orica-GreenEDGE Director Shayne Bannan says, if he was riding today he would be a world tour rider.
You can't help but smile when you hear some of the stories during the movie. Steve's return to his first ITT against some young up-starts from South Australia is priceless. You can only imagine what was going through the minds of these fresh-faced 19-year-olds when a 47-year-old smashed them in his first ever race on a time trial bike.
The story is well told and draws you into Steve's life and ambitions. You can feel the nerves on the eve of the World Championship race. As calm as Steve presents, you get the sense he is like a duck on a pond, calm on the surface, but feet kicking like crazy underneath. You certainly get the sense this race means more to Steve than anyone else.
The race played out almost as planned. Steve was at the front of the field all day long and was with a select group of 15 or so riders coming into the final corner. He dropped a bike length on the corner but started to wind up the legs and threw to the line along with half a dozen other riders.
It was a photo finish...! A tyre width between gold and silver... We'll leave it there, we don't want to spoil it for you.
If you want to see Steve's incredible journey and find out if he was crowned World Champion, you can attend any of the following screenings;
Adelaide Film Festival, SA 18th October, 10:30am Palace Nova
Star Cinemas, Bendigo, VIC 20th October, 7pm Hosted by the Central Victorian Veteran Cycling Club
Village Cinemas, Morwell, VIC 29th October, 7pm Hosted by Natasha Agafonoff
Lorne Film Festival, VIC 14th November, 6:30pm Cumberland Resort Auditorium
Cinema Nova, Carlton, VIC 25th November, 7pm Hosted by Brunswick Cycling Club
Paramount Cinema, Echuca, VIC Date: TBC Hosted by Echuca - Moama Cycling Club
To attend or host a screening call Fan-Force on: 1300 722 431 or any clubs / organisations interested in hosting a screening of the film can make enquiries at: firstname.lastname@example.org
"Boxing and cycling - in boxing you're bugged and getting flogged... And cycling is not far off!"
Image credit: Hélène Neuville & Daniel Bovalino