Australian Road Nationals to remain in Ballarat until 2020

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Cycling Australia has today announced that the Australian Road National Championships will remain in the Victorian city of Ballarat until 2020.

The national championships have been held in Ballarat — which lies 90 minutes west-north-west of Melbourne — every year since 2007 and all but two years since 2002. Cycling Australia’s contract with the City of Ballarat contract concluded with this year’s Road Nationals in January, prompting renewed discussion about alternative venues for 2018 and beyond.

But newly appointed Cycling Australia chairman (and former Victorian premier) Steve Bracks told CyclingTips that while other locations around Australia had been considered — including Bathurst/Mount Panorama — it made the most sense to return to Ballarat.

“It’s always tempting to say ‘Well you could move it around the country and hopefully we get people bidding for these’, but this was the best deal,” Bracks said. “There was testing of other places in Australia — particularly in New South Wales — where we could have this, but no one could match the deal that we’re getting from [Victoria’s] major events corporation and from the City of Ballarat to keep it there.”

The Road Nationals’ extended stay in Ballarat has prompted criticism from some riders and fans who are keen to see a change in the course used for the meet’s flagship events — the road races. Excluding a minor change to the course in 2013 — to include a larger opening lap — the circuit for the Nationals road races has been the same for 14 of the last 16 years. The 10.2km loop, which goes partway up Mt. Buninyong, is challenging and attracts large crowds, but is seen to favour only certain riders.

Cycling Australia confirmed in a press release that “a review of the famous Mount Buninyong circuit is currently underway” but it would seem unlikely that Mt. Buninyong would be removed from the road races entirely. As Ballarat Mayor Samantha McIntosh told CyclingTips, the climb isn’t just an important part of the race — it’s a key drawcard for spectators who come to watch the race live.

“I think that we’ve come up with something pretty spectacular that delivers for the cyclists but also delivers for the spectators,” said Mayor McIntosh. “This particular event is not just about the cyclists on the track, as much as they’re the ones that we all come along to cheer on. We want to know that it is a great spectator’s event as well and it absolutely proves to do that exceptionally well with the mammoth crowds that line the hill on that big day.”

Related: | Why moving the Australian Road Nats from Ballarat isn’t quite that simple

As part of its negotiations with Cycling Australia, the City of Ballarat was keen for the Victorian government to make a greater contribution to the event; an event which costs several hundred thousand dollars to stage each year.

“We did lobby state government very strongly, through the Sport and Recreation Victoria component, because we know how important it is for the state and for the country for that matter,” said Mayor McIntosh. “Obviously Ballarat local council has significant investment into this and we have had some support come through state government which we absolutely welcome and thank them for.”

An increased investment in the Road Nationals, from the City of Ballarat and the Victorian government, is hoped to yield several additions to the event week, including the introduction of junior races.

Australia’s junior road national championships are currently held separately to their senior equivalent, but Cycling Australia hopes to bring the events together as part of the January carnival. CyclingTips understands that U19s might be included in the Australian Road Nationals from January next year, with other age groups added in the following years.

While no racing is currently held on the Friday of the Wednesday-to-Sunday Road Nationals carnival, adding junior categories to an already busy schedule will likely pose significant logistical challenges.

Another planned addition for 2018 and beyond is further TV coverage of the women’s road race. Before 2016 the event was only covered in highlights packages and in 2016 and 2017 it received “as-live” coverage, delayed by several hours.

It’s not yet clear whether the women’s race will be covered live in full from 2018, as the men’s event is — the TV broadcast deal is still being negotiated — but a Cycling Australia spokesperson told CyclingTips “It is a priority of CA to have more women’s cycling broadcast”.

Cycling Australia’s new three-year deal with the City of Ballarat and the Victorian Major Events Company also includes a plan to, in Steve Bracks’ words, build “a cycling strategy in Ballarat and Victoria more broadly”. It’s not yet clear what this strategy will entail, but existing tourism efforts include a gran fondo held on the Mt. Buninyong circuit on the day before the elite road races, in an attempt to drive overnight visitation to the region.

The 2018 Australian Road National Championships will be held from Wednesday January 3 to Sunday January 7.

What’s your take on today’s announcement? Let us know in the comments below.

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