Cycling Australia reworks Nationals schedule, adds ‘as-live’ coverage of women’s road race

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Every year there are renewed calls for Cycling Australia and its partners to broadcast the elite women’s road race at the Australian Road National Championships. And with good reason — in recent years the men’s race has been broadcast live while the women’s race has appeared only in highlights packages (mostly aired late at night).

But things have changed for the better in 2016. After months of planning and negotiation with the Nine Network and Fox Sports, Cycling Australia has moved the women’s race from its traditional Saturday afternoon timeslot to Sunday morning, placing it before the elite men’s race and ensuring increased coverage of the race.

“We’re just delighted we’re able to showcase and promote the women athletes and their performances and personalities to a bigger audience,” Cycling Australia CEO Nick Green told CyclingTips. “Women’s sport broadly in this country doesn’t get a lot of live coverage in any discipline. So it would make [road cycling] one of a few women’s sports that has this level of broadcast coverage.”

The women’s race will start at 8 a.m. on Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 and finish at roughly 11 a.m. The men’s race will then commence at midday, with presentations for both the women’s and men’s races to be held at the conclusion of the men’s race (rather than having the women’s presentation directly after the race).

Where this year’s Nine Network/Fox Sports broadcast of the Road Nationals was three hours long on the Sunday, the 2016 broadcast will be extended to four hours. The show will begin at 1 p.m. with a highlights package of the opening laps of the women’s race, before the last hour of the race will go to air “as-live”, with a two- or three-hour delay. The broadcasters will then jump to live coverage of the last three hours of the elite men’s race.

While live coverage of the entire women’s race would be the ideal situation, the deciding factor was how much airtime the broadcasters were willing and able to make available to Cycling Australia.

“Unfortunately we don’t have enough hours within our broadcast agreement to do it all live, but the last parts of the women’s road race will be as-live,” said Nick Green. “We’re not going to make all the changes we want to make in 12 months. But definitely there’s an absolute willingness, through one logical step at a time, to make the right changes in certain areas.”

While there’s considerable excitement at Cycling Australia about the changes to the women’s race, the organisation still expects some criticism of the new arrangement.

“Part of my job obviously is to prepare for any negative backlash towards any announcement or decision by CA,” Cycling Australia media manager Amy McCann told CyclingTips. “And yes, we believe many people will voice their opinions on ‘why are we only seeing one hour, and why isn’t it live?’

Among those voicing their opinions is rider Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon-SRAM).

“[Having the women’s event the morning of the men’s race] can be looked at from two different ways, because having it at the same day as the men can also be looked at as a sideshow. And having such an early start, I wonder how many people will actually get there early enough to watch us race,” Cromwell said. “Why not make the women’s race a key event on Saturday with its own broadcast and fan engagement?

“That being said, it is exciting to change it up a little bit, and the broadcast is good,” Cromwell continued. “Maybe if it is well received we’ll see a live broadcast next year.”

McCann also acknowledged the room for improvement in future years, stating: “I think the 2016 schedule and TV coverage is a huge step forward. For example if we go back 10 years, it wasn’t on TV — so if we go forward 10 years, who knows: it may have its own day, and it may be completely live or all online. Who knows? But we’re pretty happy with what we’ve achieved for this year.”

Cycling Australia had investigated the possibility of broadcasting the women’s road race in its traditional Saturday timeslot, but the cost would have been somewhere between $100,000 and $130,000 for a few hours’ airtime — well beyond what Cycling Australia was able to afford. Moving the race to the Sunday morning reduces the costs considerably, given the broadcast infrastructure and personnel will already be in place for the men’s race. Overall, though, Cycling Australia’s investment in the event will increase as a result of adding as-live coverage for the women’s race and an extra hour to the broadcast package as a whole.

There will be other challenges associated with having both the women’s and men’s races on the Sunday. Coordinating the volunteer workforce over eight hours of racing will prove challenging for Cycling Australia, and for photographers and film crews covering the races, eight hours on the back of a moto will be more taxing than even the longest one-day Classic or Tour de France stage.

But according to two-time national road champion Gracie Elvin (Orica-AIS), the move to a Sunday time slot is definitely a good thing for the women’s race.

“It’s a major step forward for women’s cycling to get more coverage in general, and in Australia particularly because it is only just becoming a mainstream sport,” Elvin told CyclingTips. “It gives us a chance to create a bigger following and also represent all the sponsors involved in women’s cycling who don’t get enough exposure like they would with men’s teams or other sports.”

Runner-up in this year’s race, Rachel Neylan (Orica-AIS), shared a similar sentiment.

“It’s a great move by Cycling Australia and the Australian sport fans will be the real beneficiaries because they will get to see awesome women’s bike racing which they don’t often get to see,” Neylan said. “Having the women’s race on the same day as the men’s is really a no-brainer. You’ve the permits and signage in place, you’ve got the broadcast, you’ve got the fans lining the roadside. Many people come down for only one day. So if we can package it all up and present the fans with two exciting races, why wouldn’t you?”

Moving the women’s race to the Sunday morning will also provide an opportunity for amateur cyclists to ride and race the same Mt Buninyong course as the elite riders do. The first-ever Australian Gran Fondo Championships will be held on the Saturday morning, followed by the U23 men’s road race that afternoon.

The full schedule for the 2016 Australian Road National Championships will be as follows:

  • Wednesday, January 6, 2016: U23 men’s, elite women’s and elite men’s criteriums
  • Thursday, January 7: U23 men’s, elite women’s & elite men’s individual time trials
  • Saturday, January 9: Australian Gran Fondo Championships & U23 men’s road race
  • Sunday, January 10: elite women’s & elite men’s road race

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