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by Matt de Neef
November 25, 2016
Photography by Con Chronis/Cycling Australia
After the most challenging year in the short history of Australia’s National Road Series (NRS), the domestic racing competition appears to be on track for a stronger season in 2017.
In 2016, a total of five events slipped off the combined men’s and women’s NRS calendar, slashing the number of race days available and compounding concerns about the health of the series. Today, Cycling Australia has released its provisional calendar for the 2017 NRS season, revealing the addition of several new races and the return of several older events.
Assuming all races take place as currently planned, the 2017 NRS will comprise a total of 58 race days — 33 for men and 25 for women. This is a notable increase on the 42 race days that made up the 2016 NRS (23 for men; 19 for women) and puts the 2017 series on similar footing to the 2015 edition which saw a combined 61 days of racing (35 for men and 26 for women).
Cycling Australia’s general manager of sport, Darren Harris, told CyclingTips that while the NRS calendar is a work in progress, he feels things are shaping up well for 2017.
“My personal look at the calendar … is it’s kind of just been, in the past, a bit of a bolted together series and next year is no exception to that — it is a bit of a bolted-together series,” Harris said. “That being said though, we put out an expression of interest to promoters and to our state federations and the feedback that came back is reflective of the calendar.
“Promoters definitely want to be part of it.”
In 2017, the women’s NRS calendar will be defined by the loss of two races but the addition of five:
– Both the Santos Women’s Tour (SA) and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (Vic) will no longer be part of the NRS, with both events having attracted strong international fields for 2017. A handful of the top NRS teams will still be in attendance at both races, but no NRS points will be available.
– The Tour of the Goldfields (Vic), while yet to be confirmed, appears set to return to the NRS calendar after a one-year hiatus.
– The Melbourne to Warrnambool (Vic), which has included a small contingent of women for the past two years, will step up to become a women’s NRS event in 2017.
– The Tour of Margaret River (WA) will be promoted from a state-level event to the national series.
– The Tour of East Gippsland (Vic) and Tour of the South West (Vic) are also set to receive an upgrade from state level, moving from the Victorian Road Series to the National Road Series.
As Darren Harris explains, the addition of these last two events in particular is an attempt to fill the gaps left by the Santos Women’s Tour and Cadel’s Race.
“Both those events had unprecedented expressions of interest from the international women’s teams which in some ways squeezed out the NRS roster,” Harris said. “It was a matter of going back to the states and saying ‘What events are out there?’”
The 2017 men’s NRS calendar, meanwhile, will be bolstered by the addition of four events:
– The Battle on the Border (NSW) appears set to return to the men’s NRS after being cancelled in 2015.
– The Tour of the Margaret River will have an NRS men’s race in addition to its women’s race.
– Amy’s Otway Tour (Vic) will now have a men’s race as well, three years after the women’s Amy’s Otway Tour began.
– The Goulburn to Sydney Classic is likely to be resurrected as the Camden to Goulburn (NSW).
Starting in 1902, the Goulburn to Sydney Classic was one of the longest-standing races on the Australian cycling calendar but was cancelled in 2013 when riders and teams protested over safety concerns. The race hasn’t been run since.
The plan for 2017 is to run the race in the opposite direction, starting south-west of Sydney in the town of Camden where the Goulburn to Sydney finished between 1995 and 2012. The race will all but avoid the Hume Freeway, the source of previous safety concerns, instead following backroads wherever possible. A 6km stretch of freeway is seemingly unavoidable, however, and the existence of the race will likely hinge on whether the organisers can get approval to close that section of the Hume Fwy.
While the 2017 NRS calendar is still provisional, Darren Harris is optimistic about how it’s shaping up.
“I’m confident the calendar, once it’s finalised over the next month or so, will end up looking very similar to this,” Harris told CyclingTips. “We’re asking teams to register in good faith that this is how it will look.
“We’ve now got to work over the next month or so with all the event promoters and get them to formally agree to sign agreements to be part of the NRS.”
As 2016 showed, it’s certainly possible that changes will be made to the 2017 NRS calendar before the series begins, and even while it’s in progress. But assuming everything goes according to plan, the 2017 calendar will bring the number of races and race days back in line with what was available in 2015.
As Cycling Australia’s recent review of the NRS showed, much work is still required to ensure the long-term commercial viability of the series but NRS stakeholders — teams, riders, promoters and sponsors — will surely be buoyed by what seems to be a small step back in the right direction.