Cyclists to pit their puff against the train

Alf Grigg will celebrate turning 70 by joining hundreds of mountain bike cyclists racing the Victorian Goldfields Railway steam train from Castlemaine to Maldon this Sunday.

Alf Grigg will celebrate turning 70 by joining hundreds of mountain bike cyclists racing the Victorian Goldfields Railway steam train from Castlemaine to Maldon this Sunday.

Alf Grigg will celebrate turning 70 this weekend by jumping on his trusty mountain bike and racing a steam train.

Alf won't just be racing the Victorian Goldfields Railway's authentic restored heritage train all the way from Castlemaine to Maldon, he'll also be going head to head with his keen mountain biking son Brendan Grigg of Ashwood.

Both father and son will be among the anticipated hundreds of cyclists taking on the VGR heritage steam train in this Sunday's fiercely contested and keenly spectated annual Race The Train event.

It won't be the first time that Alf and Brendan have battled it out in the unique annual bike-versus-train race either.

For the past two races Echuca-based Alf has competed against his cycling son in his on-board capacity as a VGR volunteer fireman tasked with the critically important role of keeping the engine's steam boiler running hot.

On each of those former occasions, on board fireman Alf (and the train) have bettered Brendan to the finishing post - the historic Maldon station - while some of the top cyclists have managed to beat the vintage train which cannot exceed its regulated safe speed of 15 miles an hour in the old measurement.

"The first time I beat him, not by much, because he slashed a tyre and he had to stop and repair it, and last year I beat him again because of the appalling weather," Alf says.

"It was alright for me because I just turned on a bit more oil."

This time Alf decided to switch from his on-train task of striving to beat the cyclists (and Brendan ) to take up the challenge on board a bike.

"Many think I'm mad," chuckled Alf who, all up, will have 22 relatives and friends on board the train to taunt and cheer he and Brendan on as they race each other and the train into the bargain.

"He's a vastly better rider than me - but then he is half my age, so that helps," Alf says.

This Sunday's race will start in Castlemaine at 11.45 and finish in Maldon, providing competitive cyclists a unique chance to race the heritage steam train, and each other, with the lure of line honours as well as a cash prize pool for category winners who beat the train.

The cyclists' Castlemaine to Maldon long course is over a distance of 20.8 km a while the short course covers 17.6 kms.

For those keen to catch the spectacle, key viewing points include the historic Muckleford Station about halfway along the route, the Old Castlemaine Gaol (which is the starting point for the cyclists) and Maldon Train Station where the race and ride finish.

The best vantage point of all, however is generally considered to be from the steam train itself where spectators will get a front row seat to watch the riders tackle the course and pit their puff against the train.

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