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by Simone Giuliani
October 11, 2017
Photography by Tim Bardsley-Smith
ADELAIDE, Australia (CT) – The pursuit of Olympic medals has led Cycling Australia to implement a new high performance strategy, with key changes including a re-routing of its early athlete development to the track and an increased depth in its focus on individuals with medal potential.
The casualty has been Cycling Australia’s involvement in key road development programs. Young cyclists looking for high performance programme support from the nation’s key cycling body will have to follow the path of track initially. If they are intent on starting out on the road, they will have to look outside the Cycling Australia system.
“We want the talent to come through this track/endurance pathway,” Simon Jones, Cycling Australia’s High Performance director told CyclingTips. “The fact remains we just don’t have the resources to sustain [the road development teams], and I can genuinely say that I would love to do more. These decisions haven’t been easy to make but I do believe that we have got to be more focussed, narrower and deeper, to increase our chances.”
With that increased depth of focus to improve Australia’s Olympic medal chances also come some lofty goals. This whole process of change was set in motion by the nation’s failure to come anywhere near meeting its medal targets at the Rio Olympics. Australia expected five to seven medals, but won two. After that, Jones was bought in six months ago to try and turn things around.
The new target still includes the previously missed Olympic target of five to seven medals, but the ambitious part is that the aim is to make a lot more of them gold. The goal is now four to six Olympic gold and 15 Paralympic medals in 2020. And he is also aiming for eight Commonwealth Games gold medals in 2018.
“We are setting the bar high, but what I have learnt from my previous experience is that we have to aim high: have the courage to say we want to win, and back ourselves to work how we bridge the gap,” said Jones.
Part of that process, said Jones, is knowing how to time the performances. He said that Australia in the past had not delivered its peak performances at the Olympics. So, part of trying to change that will be paring down the 2018 track team for the World Championships. Only those athletes with a clear individual reason to be there will go. The focus for most will instead primarily be the Commonwealth Games, in a bid to cut the performance treadmill and clearly look to Olympic medals instead.
With three times as many medals up for grabs on the track as there are on the road, plus a greater level of predictability, its not surprising that the focus on increasing medals puts a high degree of emphasis on the track.
“I’m not going to make excuses for aligning our resources to our objectives,” said Jones.
The cold hard reality for fans of the road race is that due to the team nature it requires a depth of investment. Plus ultimately its unpredictability makes it far from a reliable bet that the investment will yield a medal. Where the road is considered a more reliable prospect is in the individual time trial, where Katrin Garfoot just picked up a bronze medal at Road Worlds.
The aim across the cycling disciplines, is to give potential medallists like Garfoot a greater depth of focus. That means honing in the resources on individual athletes and moving away from investing in teams.
This part of the announcement wasn’t a surprise. News has been coming out in dribs and drabs over the previous weeks that made it clear there was a change in strategy afoot. Word came through that women’s development pathways were at risk and then there was the announcement that Cycling Australia was ending its support for the Orica-Scott women’s team and under 23 men’s Mitchelton-Scott development team, although owner Gerry Ryan said he would provide increased funding to help cover the shortfall.
“So, we are changing the road, but from that I don’t want us to jump to that we are stopping all development on the road,” said Jones.
Track is earmarked as the initial development focus for Cycling Australia’s High Performance unit for two reasons. Firstly podium level performances are likely at a younger age in track than on the road. Secondly, it can be a pathway that branches off into road cycling later in a riders career.
Then there are also the plans to try and bolster the racing in Australia.
”I think we can still develop domestic activity and we can go and use this fantastic country to provide a stepping stone,” said Jones.
Riders climb the Gibraltar Range during the 2017 Grafton to Inverell. (Image: Bruce Wilson/Veloshotz)
There is some way to go before that can happen though. The National Road Series, the top level of domestic racing, has undoubtedly been going through a rough patch. There has been a long and uncertain process trying to plan its rejuvenation but it looks like change is finally just around the corner.
“Clearly there’s a significant gap in our system that we don’t provide the depth of competition for a 17 year old male or female cyclists to then say they don’t need to travel overseas,” Cycling Australia chief executive officer, Nick Green, told CyclingTips.
The plan is to transform the series competition to better align with what’s happening internationally and allow for young riders to tie in cycling around study ambitions, by providing breaks around exam time. Green is also hoping, if everything falls into place, the series will provide parity by running a men’s and women’s race at each round next year. The changes don’t stop there either.
“In essence the NRS will have a combination of tour racing, criterium racing and a little bit of track racing,” said Green. “Its what helps the riders, what helps the teams, what’s commercially sellable and what broadcasters want to see.”
There will be further announcements on the plans for the NRS in the coming weeks and months.