WILL Walker has completed a cycling fairytale by clinching the Lakes Oil Tour of Gippsland following a three-and-a-half year break from the sport.
The Drapac Professional Cycling member was touted as a superstar as a teenager, winning the SCODY Cup and the Melbourne to Warnambool as an 18 year-old.
He progressed to an overseas career with Rabobank but was forced into premature retirement due to a heart condition.
“This just means everything,” he said after yesterday’s final stage of the Tour of Gippsland, a 40-lap Paynesville criterium in which he finished fourth to hold onto the Lakes Oil leader’s jersey.
“Six months ago I thought I would never race again.
“Michael Drapac has shown a lot of faith in me to get me back to 100 per cent health.
“It’s been a long road back – I’ve seen so many different doctors and there’s been alternate medicine but it’s good to be back.”
The 26 year-old said the early stages of his return were challenging.
“I really got belted in a few local races,” he said.
“Then I went to Italy and really trained hard.
“I killed myself to make sure I’d be strong enough to get back.”
Walker – who is the new Subaru National Road Series leader – claimed GC honours ahead of RBS Morgans-ATS Pro Cycling’s Ben Hill and Genesys Wealth Advisers’ Patrick Shaw.
He highlighted the strength of the field in the five-day event, which attracted a record 168 entries.
“All the local teams are fantastically strong,” he said.
“I would’ve been happy to just get in the top 10 and just stay on my bike.”
The Victorian said prior to his retirement, the sport was not as enjoyable for him.
“It was undermining the enjoyment because I was so fatigued and I had to think about my problems,” he said.
“Now I’m having fun.”
Team Budget Forklifts’ Luke Davison took out the 44-kilometre race, capping off an exceptional tour for the New South Wales cyclist, who won four out of the nine stages.
It steered him to equal top of the SCODY Cup leaderboard with Walker.
While Davison admitted he naturally would have preferred the yellow jersey, he was pleased he exceeded his expectations.
“Coming into this, I didn’t know whether I’d be contending for top 10,” he said.
“You thrive on the confidence when the wins back up.”
Hill helped RBS Morgans-ATS Pro Cycling to GC team honours, while he was also the Hotondo Homes King of the Mountains champion.
“I was trying to hold onto second place (in the GC) and I managed to do that,” he said.
He added Walker was “just way too strong”.
Genesys’ Anthony Giacoppo continued his jersey collection by taking home the SP AusNet Sprint Championship.