Annabel Bowles

Tropic Now journalist

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Three-day Port Douglas cycling event given council go-ahead

A three-day cycling event in Port Douglas, tipped to inject over $3 million into the local economy, has been given the green light by councillors. 

Cairns-based event company Connect Sport Australia plan to host the Gran Fondo Festival from September 10-12 this year, attracting visitors to the region ahead of the school holidays. 

While some councillors expressed concerns over the impacts of Captain Cook Highway closures, the Douglas Shire Council unanimously voted to provide a letter of support to Connect Sport Australia.

The company is now seeking funding for the event from regional and state tourism bodies.

The Port Douglas Gran Fondo Festival schedule includes three cycling distances, as well as a short circuit for families around the Crystalbrook Superyacht Marina and a mountain bike event along the Wangetti Trail. 

There’ll also be live music and a range of activities for the 3500 travellers expected to stay in the region for the event. 

Connect Sport Australia Managing Director Bade Stapleton said the Gran Fondo Festival will appeal to a broad range of riders, from enthusiasts to serious cyclists.

“The most popular distance will be the 100km ride from Port Douglas to Palm Cove and back, while the 46km one-way ride from Palm Cove to Port Douglas will be open to anyone who has ever wanted to safely ride the iconic Great Barrier Reef Drive,” Mr Stapleton said. 

“We have included a 160km challenge for the more adventurous that takes in the 5km climb up Quaid Road and across to the Mulligan Highway which will remain open to traffic.

“Cyclists will then ride on open roads through Mount Molloy and Julatten, before descending down the Rex Range and back into Port Douglas.”

Mr Stapleton said the festival – which has the potential to be a $10 million event based on past Gran Fondo Festivals in Australia – will only be one part of visitors’ experience.

“We will be encouraging all the riders, and their family and friends travelling with them, to explore the many natural wonders within the Douglas Shire (and) enjoy the vast array of tourism experiences,” he said. 

“Port Douglas is the perfect location for a gran fondo – a European term for a big bike ride – as the festival will take over the community with cyclists and their families filling cafes, restaurants (and) markets.” 

The event proposal would see the Palm Cove to Wangetti stretch of the highway closed from 5.30am to 11.30am, as well as the Wangetti to Port Douglas stretch from 6am until 1.30pm, on Sunday September 12.

Mr Stapleton has been meeting with local businesses that may be impacted by Captain Cook Highway closures, with 41 already signing a support register. 

The event’s also received eight letters of support from various companies including Cairns Airport, CaPTA Group and Accor. 

Exemplar Coaches and Limousines owner Gordon Wellham said disruptions to his business would be worthwhile for the good of the wider community.  

“Any event that promotes the region and, in particular, Port Douglas is sure to be valuable to local businesses, especially after the challenges of 2020,” Mr Wellham said.

“It is also commendable that the organisers are giving consideration to locals, tourism operators and the transport operators that utilise the Captain Cook Highway in their planning for the event.” 

Thala Beach Nature Reserve Manager Johan Klindt said Connect Sport had been proactive in working with Thala to minimise the impact of the road closure on the property.

“We can work around the road being closed for half a day and believe the Port Douglas Gran Fondo Festival should give both Port Douglas and Palm Cove a healthy economic injection,” Mr Klindt said.