Mid-season update reveals more bad news for Australia’s National Road Series

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With Australia’s National Road Series (NRS) currently on its mid-season break, Cycling Australia has announced some changes for what remains of the 2017 series.

While the latest announcement includes some good news, the majority of the changes suggest another backwards step for Australia’s highest level of domestic racing.

Here’s what’s changed:

The National Capital Tour, for men and women, has been cancelled.

Initially scheduled to run from September 22-24, this men’s and women’s tour was cancelled when it surfaced that the race’s parent company, Capital Cycling, had become insolvent. Cycling Australia’s new general manager of sport, Kipp Kaufmann, says the national body is working towards a replacement event in the years to come.

“Over the last few years they [Capital Cycling] put on some great events but they’d been unsuccessful in raising the revenues in regards to those and were left with some debts and couldn’t continue,” Kaufmann told CyclingTips. “I guess on the positive we’ve been working with Cycling ACT to look at a model for the future and hopefully be able to not only bring something that’s nationally relevant, but that can benefit their members.

“So [we’re] looking at it in a more holistic sense [to] see what we can do to really have something sustainable [in] the nation’s capital.”

The planned women’s NRS-level Melbourne to Warrnambool won’t be happening.

The Melbourne to Warrnambool, Australia’s oldest one-day race race, has included a women’s category for the past two editions, and for 2017 Cycling Australia had announced a women’s NRS version of the nearly 300km race, to sit alongside the men’s race of the same level.

Ultimately it was the cost of running a separate NRS-level race that scuppered those plans.

“It costs over $100,000 to run that day, so while it’s a fantastic event it’s a very expensive exercise,” Kaufmann said. “So within the logistics of it you have to make a couple decisions: one is to come back and try and run a women’s race separately, which has some financial concerns to do that on the second day. Or run a version that’s not the same as the men’s. Or the third is run a version that is within the same race, which causes a whole host of issues with different teams [of different genders] helping different riders.

“There’s been some people who’ve done some fantastic work over the last couple of years to build up the women’s portion of the Melbourne to Warrnambool as the event within the event and that’s been just a superb job done by many. If we put it in as an NRS event it would inevitably cause some concerns that we don’t think we can quite manage yet, in terms of the race logistics.”

A women’s category at the Melbourne to Warrnambool has been run since 2015.

As it stands, the 2017 Melbourne to Warrnambool, scheduled for October 14, will look the same as in recent years — with a men’s NRS event and a state-level women’s event, all run as part of the one, mass-start race (which also includes B-, C- and D-grade riders).

The Tour of the Margaret River is not stepping up to NRS level as planned.

This popular state-level event in Western Australia has gained traction in recent years and Cycling Australia had announced a promotion to NRS level in 2017. Unfortunately, a gap in communication between Cycling Australia and the race organisers put an end to those plans.

“There was probably some miscommunication … between CA and the promoters at the time, where there was interest and there’s a great event over there but perhaps the fit and the requirements within the NRS … didn’t quite meet up,” Kaufmann said. “The requirements around closed roads or rolling road closures [for NRS events] — those types of things [were to blame].

“There probably wasn’t any clarity I guess on both sides and certainly, like I said, they’ll run a fantastic event but the model they run doesn’t currently fit within the NRS.”

The proposed Camden to Goulburn looks likely to run in the opposite direction.

By running from Goulburn to Camden, this new addition to the NRS calendar will more closely resemble its predecessor, the Goulburn to Sydney. That particular race was one of Australia’s oldest bike races, having started in 1902, but was cancelled in 2013 due to safety concerns.

Riders line up at the start of the 1930 Goulburn to Sydney.

The change in direction comes at the request of NSW Police who have suggested that running the race from Goulburn to Camden, rather than Camden to Goulburn, will make for a safer race.

As yet it’s unclear why running the race in north-easterly direction is safer, but the proposed Camden to Goulburn route did contain a near-unavoidable 6km stretch of the Hume Highway — the main carriageway between Melbourne and Sydney.

The race is scheduled for September 10.

The Tour of Tasmania is moving forward a week, to November 10-15.

Regarded as Australia’s most prestigious non-UCI-categorised stage race, the Tour of Tasmania has been brought forward by a week for logistical reasons.

“From my understanding it had initially clashed with the CA Awards, and obviously that’s when the presentation for the NRS is made, so that was one of the reasons,” Kaufmann said.

The Tour of the Goldfields will not run as initially indicated.

This Victorian race for women was included in the provisional NRS calendar for 2017 after a one-year hiatus. The race won’t go ahead now.

“We’d always had really great feedback about that event however from a resourcing standpoint and an organisational standpoint we have to always balance up what’s best for our members versus what was best for the national series,” Kaufmann said. “And so it was probably a bit of excitement that that got it on there [the provisional NRS calendar], more than actual confirmation.”

The Battle on the Border has been reborn as Battle Recharge and will run from September 22-24.

The return of Battle on the Border is perhaps the sole piece of good news in the latest announcement from Cycling Australia. Originally scheduled for April 29-May 1, this three-day race for men and women was postponed as a result of Cyclone Debbie.

“It wiped out roads, which makes it difficult to have an event when the roads are wiped out — it made it unsafe.” Kaufmann said. “That was obviously a natural occurrence — it’s happened and it was unfortunate but what’s been great is to see the ability to work with QSM Events and Cycling Queensland to ensure we can get something back on, and their ability to work with local government, their funding authorities through Destination New South Wales and the local tourism authority to get things across the line.”

After much to-ing and fro-ing, the event has been reborn with a slightly different look.

“It’s still a National Road Series event, still a state-based event for Masters and graded athletes, but it’s going to be a not-for-profit event that’s going to have some give-back to the local community,” Kaufmann said. “So Destination New South Wales has really invested in the marketing to get people to come to the area after the flooding. It’s really really good news for the area and that cycling’s able to be part of [it].”

The wash-up

The result of all these changes is a 2017 NRS calendar that looks noticeably leaner than it did when provisionally announced in November 2016:

In summary, the number of races and total race days is down for the women’s calendar: from seven races in 2016 to six in 2017, and from 19 race days down to 15. The men’s calendar looks slightly healthier, with nine races vs seven last year, and 27 total race days vs 23 in 2016. It’s worth noting, however, that both the men’s and women’s calendars still have considerably fewer race days than they did back in 2015.

That year, the men’s calendar included 35 days of racing; in 2017 it will have 27. The women’s calendar had 26 race days in 2015, compared to 15 this year.

The health of the NRS

In November 2016, with the announcement of the provisional 2017 NRS calendar, there was cause for cautious optimism among those invested in the NRS. The suite of new and returning races announced by Cycling Australia looked to be bringing the NRS back to where it was in 2015 — prior to a challenging 2016 season where five events fell off the calendar.

But with this latest announcement, much of the expansion has been rolled back — of the five new races promised for the women’s calendar, three aren’t happening and likewise with one of the four new additions to the men’s calendar.

From a bigger-picture perspective, there’s also the issue of the ongoing Cycling Australia review into the NRS. At last update, in November 2016, CA had identified the need to develop a comprehensive business case, which would then allow the national body to chart a course to smoother waters for the NRS. At that time, the Cycling Australia board was yet to provide approval to start work on the business case.

It’s unclear what’s happened in the seven months since that last update and Cycling Australia has not responded to questions along these lines.

Riders climb the Gibraltar Range during the 2017 Grafton to Inverell. (Image: Bruce Wilson/Veloshotz)

Cycling Australia has received considerable criticism for taking nearly 17 months to identify the need for a business case, rather than just getting on with the job. CA’s new general manager of sport, Kipp Kaufmann* seems keen for the organisation to get a move on.

“While the seven recommendations and the vision were a great starting point and a leverage point, now it’s time to bring people onto that and actually operationalise things,” Kaufmann said. “Whether that’s through a business case or actually starting to make those changes and letting people know what we’re doing about those changes …

“So I just see that as … we just have to start doing.”

Kaufmann, the former CEO of Cycling Victoria, says there are easy wins to be had for Cycling Australia, not least better communication between the national body, event organisers, teams and other NRS stakeholders — something CA has struggled with in the past.

“That’s the first step. That’s the step we know we can do,” Kaufmann said. “And then everything else will start to come out of that. And what I see is then we’ll bring people onto a vision, will start to have small wins, small wins lead to big wins and then we can really have a series that can be up there with other [sporting] codes.”

Coming into the role, Kaufmann is optimistic but realistic about where the NRS currently stands.

“I think there’s portions of it [the NRS] that are really strong. However it’s not unified in its strength and I think there’s lack of clarity among the promoters and the teams of its direction,” Kaufmann said. “What we need to do is to give them that clarity and assurance of where that’s going.

“What that will do is create a greater alignment and vision that we’re all working towards one outcome. And I don’t know that we all know where that outcome is right now.”

The latest news about the NRS isn’t terrific for community confidence in the health of the series. But it’s clear Kaufmann brings a renewed sense of energy and purpose to the issue — something the NRS needs if it’s going to get back to where it was in 2015, as a start, and then to improve.

Remaining NRS Calendar for 2017

* Kaufmann takes over from Darren Harris as general manager of sport after the latter left Cycling Australia earlier this year to take up a role at the Essendon Football Club.

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