With the Subaru National Road Series (NRS) currently on a mid-season break, Cycling Australia last week announced the start of a “comprehensive review” of the series. In the same announcement the national body also revealed that two upcoming events — the Tour of the Murray River and the Tour of Gippsland — would be removed from the 2015 NRS calendar, the former being cancelled, the latter postponed until next year.
To find out more about these decisions and the impact they’re likely to have on the NRS, CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef caught up with Cycling Australia CEO Nick Green and representatives from two of the men’s series’ biggest teams — Avanti Racing and CharterMason Giant Racing.
Six months into his tenure as CEO of Cycling Australia, Nick Green has had the chance to take stock of what the national body is doing well and what it could be doing better. And the former Olympic rower now has the National Road Series in his sights.
“80% of … races [in the NRS] are in really good shape, but at the same time there are things that need to be improved quite dramatically,” Nick Green told CyclingTips. “In my conversations with various stakeholders, when I floated the idea … ‘I’d like to conduct a review’ … 100% of the people I would speak to would say ‘absolutely, I agree with you, the time is right. While the series is terrific, it needs a bit of a shake-up’.”
Green has given that task to Rik Fulcher, CA’s recently appointed Head of Sport and a stalwart of the Australian cycling scene. Fulcher will head up a review committee with the job of answering the following question posed by Nick Green: “How we can make the NRS better and more compelling?”
In answering that question, Fulcher and his team will need to assess the roles that Cycling Australia, the state associations and the private promoters are currently playing in running the NRS and what roles they should be playing.
In addition to overseeing the National Road Series as a whole, Cycling Australia has, in recent years, taken responsibility for the delivery of some events on the NRS calendar, namely the Tour of Tasmania and the Tour of Gippsland (before it was postponed). Other events on the NRS calendar are executed either by the relevant state body or a private promoter. According to Nick Green, the time is right for Cycling Australia to step back from delivering events and to focus on taking a more top-down view:
“From my point of view I don’t think [delivering races is] the right use of our time and resources; in some degree being a competitor to either state or private promoters,” Green said. “They do that really well so I want to remove [CA] from the delivery of events in the Series and escalate our role into governing the series and having more time and energy on the series as a whole, rather than one of two components of the series.”
One of the issues in need of greatest attention is a lack of consistency in the way NRS events are being executed. This is as a result of having multiple organisations responsible for running events and, as Nick Green admits, a lack of comprehensive oversight from Cycling Australia.
“There is some documentation that we haven’t been clear on in terms of the standards we expect of private promoters when they deliver events,” Green told CyclingTips. “There are some events that have different levels of standards from one event to another. Our view would be to lift the standard of all events that end up on the NRS.”
Among the things Green and CA would like to see is the use of one timing system for the entire series, rather than different timing companies being used for different races. Tom Reynolds, media manager at CharterMason Giant Racing, pointed to other examples of inconsistency within the NRS.
“From my point of view [there’s] an absolutely wildly varying quality of media coverage from the series and/or Cycling Australia,” Reynolds told CyclingTips. “A lot of that came down to individual organisers and what they did for the event.
“I could follow the Tour of Toowoomba on Twitter because the [person tweeting from the] official account was clearly in the commissaire’s car. For Battle [on the Border] the last tweet was two days old and the results were three days old,” Reynolds said. “That was, in my view, inadequate given the previous event [Toowoomba] had been outstanding.
“If you can be really good, then you need to be really good all the time.”
Perhaps of greater concern is a lack of consistency in rider safety throughout the NRS.
“[There are] issues around road closures, rider safety (our overriding and #1 concern),” Reynolds said. “I don’t think it’s any secret there were issues around the Battle on the Border last year and we even saw them this year. I was just chatting to a rider who said there was a 4WD coming up the road on one of the stages this year, which is less than ideal.”
“[Battle on the Border] was a disappointing race from an outside view of media and coverage while at the same time being the most expensive race of the year. Team entry was $2,500 and it was $1,600 for Toowoomba. That’s the critical point we need to come back to — it’s the consistency of presentation in terms of marketing, media and on-the-road safety of riders. That’s paramount and any compromise won’t be tolerated.”
Green’s hope is that by creating a more consistent and more “compelling” NRS, organisers of the individual races will find it easier to get support from local and state governments and, crucially, from sponsors.
“Individual events must be in a position where they can attract government support and sponsor support and to do that I need to make sure an event can grow the economic impact of a region,” Green told CyclingTips. “So the Tour of Toowoomba is an example. While that event doesn’t have any government money of substance, that event will drive an economic benefit to the region. People will come because of the Tour, because of the standard of the racing and the standard of the delivery.”
One event that struggled to attract enough sponsor and government support was the Tour of Gippsland.
“Tour of Gippsland was under some commercial distress,” Green said. “Also, the major sponsor, Lakes Oil, had a very strong view that … that event should be postponed to 2016 so that we have a bit more time to ensure the partners are on board, the local government is on board, and we build a real community sense around the event.”
“We agreed with them 100% that the event, in this stage of planning, probably wasn’t ready to be raced at that level. And I wasn’t prepared to compromise the event by having a sub-standard event. So it was logical that we postpone that event, from everyone’s point of view.”
In the case of the Tour of the Murray River (run by Cycling Victoria) it wasn’t necessarily a lack of sponsorship that saw the race cancelled, but a feeling that the event had reached the end of its lifespan.
“The local council have a view that the event had run its course in their region and while they’ve been very supportive, there’s a collective view … that it was best not to run an event that wasn’t 100% supported by all the partners,” Green explained to CyclingTips. “To ensure it wasn’t delivered at a sub-standard level it was best to exit the partnership that local councils and Cycling Victoria had and so we agreed with that.”
The decision to cancel these two events for 2015 has been met with disappointment by National Road Series teams.
“It’s bad for the series and bad for our sponsors and bad for the series sponsors for events not to happen,” said Tom Reynolds, media manager at CharterMason Giant Racing. “It means that we have to turn to other things to give our sponsors value for the rest of the season.”
“The top teams are running on a budget of $1 million a year*. If we look at the number of races … we’ve got to generate value to sponsors at nearly $100,000 an event and now we’ve lost two. And for us they’re important because they’re home events.”
Avanti Racing team manager Steve Price shared a similar sentiment.
“Clearly we are disappointed with the cancellation of Murray and Gippsland. The NRS is an important part of our roster for our riders and our sponsors so it will leave a big hole,” Price told CyclingTips. “We’ll also lose money as a result due to the fact that we’ve booked some flights and accommodation for the races. We are a bit shocked by the decision and especially the late notice.”
“It also puts into jeopardy our goal of taking the NRS Teams Champion Trophy as we now have less events in which to catch up. Which really begs the question: why? Some transparency from Cycling Australia would be refreshing, as would a clear statement regarding their vision for the future of the NRS.”
So what is Nick Green’s vision for the future of the National Road Series?
“The standard of the Series needs to continue to attract the best racers in the country and the best developing racers in the country to ensure the standard of Australian cyclists continues to reflect where we think we should be on an international stage.
“If we provide that really good basis of riding in Australia, the transition of those younger athletes when they go and race in Europe or Asia or the Americas, the [difference in standard] is quite minimal,” Green said. “Ideally, from an elite point of view, those riders are riding some of the toughest races they can in this country so that when they get on the international stage they’ve already got tough racing behind them, they’ve got competitiveness behind them. That should be developed in our National Road Series.”
From here, Cycling Australia will pull together a committee to assist Rik Fulcher in reviewing the National Road Series.
“We’ll call it a ‘review working group’ or whatever the title might be, and we’ll bring in a variety of stakeholders who have greater knowledge of the NRS series to give input on how they want to see the series move forward,” Green said.
An audit will then take place to see what contracts are in place for 2016 and beyond, for each of the existing events on the NRS calendar.
While Green isn’t sure exactly when the review might be finished, he points to the Australian Road Nationals in January next year as an important moment. It’s there that CA will hope to present the review committee’s findings to a wider group of industry stakeholders before implementing whatever strategies are deemed necessary to improve the National Road Series.
As Nick Green admits, the whole process is not going to happen overnight.
“It’s going to take a bit of time but … it’s a great time to do it now.”