Cycling Australia (CA) has today outlined its vision for the 2018 National Road Series (NRS), revealing a calendar that is largely similar to last year’s, while also bearing the signs of a series under transformation.
In November 2017 Cycling Australia announced that it would be restructuring the NRS so as to cluster one-day races in April and May, stage races between August and November, and criteriums from November to January. The 2018 calendar is a step towards that vision, with several events being removed from the calendar because they aren’t run at the right time of year.
But new events have been added to the 2018 calendar as well, leaving both the men’s and women’s NRS with a very similar amount of racing compared with 2017. If all races go ahead as planned, the men’s NRS will comprise eight races for a total of 25 race days — the same number of races as last year with one more race day. The women’s series will comprise six races, like last year, albeit with 17 race days compared with last year’s 15.
Cycling Australia’s general manager of sport, Kipp Kaufmann, told CyclingTips that while there aren’t any sweeping changes to this year’s series, the 2018 calendar creates a foundation for the years to come.
“I think the first thing people will probably see is that the changes are subtle and they probably don’t come out at first,” Kaufmann said. “If you just look at the calendar you might think there hasn’t been much change but that probably underlines a lot of the change that is happening.
“If you look a little bit closer you start seeing Tour of Tasmania [is] now having a women’s event. Tour of Gippsland you’ll see — while they did some great things with crits last year they’re going to have a couple of circuit races. So events are starting to work toward what the strategy is and [implementing] that.”
It’s the women’s calendar that has changed the most compared to last year. Three races have been removed, while three have been added in their place.
Gone is the Mersey Valley Tour, a tough Tasmanian stage race and a mainstay of the women’s NRS.
“It sat within, I believe, the May period which wasn’t a period of the NRS [tours],” Kaufmann explained. “While the local club had done a great job we wanted to bring an event [to Tasmania] that could be sustainable and at a really high standard into the future.”
That event, as foreshadowed by Kaufmann, is a women’s Tour of Tasmania. While the Tour of Tasmania has long been one of Australia’s most prestigious men’s domestic stage races, it hasn’t had a women’s equivalent until now. In 2018 the women’s Tour of Tasmania will be raced over three days, compared with five for the men. As Kaufmann explains, adding a women’s Tour of Tasmania is a step towards another key goal of the NRS — bringing equality to the men’s and women’s calendars.
“So again thinking equality between men and the women: the women will move into Tour of Tasmania so there’s one event in Tasmania,” he said. “It’s working towards the strategy and we’ve worked closely with the event organisers and the state government there for several months to make sure that could happen.”
The Tour of East Gippsland and the Tour of the South West are the other two races to be removed from the women’s NRS calendar in 2018. Both of these early season Victorian races were elevated from the Victorian Road Series (VRS) to the NRS last year to fill gaps in the calendar, a move that happened under the auspices of Kaufmann — Cycling Victoria’s (CV) CEO at the time.
“I guess I probably have an odd position in having started that up at CV and then having come over here [to CA],” Kaufmann said of the Tour of East Gippsland, which ran a few weekends ago as a VRS event. “I guess last year we did [it] because we were just looking for some events and we are able to kind of get it in, but I don’t know that it was … it was just kind of do it to do it rather than do it at a sustainable level.
“And so right now obviously at that time it doesn’t fit into the calendar … because it’s early season. It still allows some great state-based racing but not into the future of what the NRS will be.”
Likewise with the Tour of the South West.
“Again, I would suggest that last year Cycling Australia didn’t have many hosts and at Cycling Victoria we just simply slotted [in] a race that was there, out of goodwill rather than a sustainable strategy.”
The second of the new additions to the women’s NRS calendar in 2018 is the Tour of Gippsland, an event that has been on the men’s NRS calendar since 2016. The final new addition to the women’s calendar is the Giro della Donna, a gran fondo run by CyclingTips that will feature an NRS tour for women and men in 2018.
“I think we’re excited to be working with [the Giro della Donna] for a number of reasons,” Kaufmann said. “The events which are able to have big crowds around and multiple people participating bring: one, the fans and excitement and interest to the NRS because people are around and able to see it. Same as happens at Amy’s Gran Fondo [with Amy’s Otway Tour]. So there’s actually a connection with them. And secondly we know because of the size and scale of the event there’s sustainability.”
While the Giro della Donna is currently a one-day ride (excluding CX racing and some community events on the Saturday), the plan is to expand the event into a two-day stage race for the 2018 NRS. The exact nature of Saturday’s opening stage is to be confirmed, but the Sunday will comprise a lap of the tough, partly unsealed Giro della Donna loop.
“Our expectation is that any of the events during that time [August to November] are multiple days,” Kaufmann. “So yes certainly we need to scope what the first day [will be]. Obviously we can work through the second day pretty easily but we need to work with the team there over the next short while to scope what exactly that day 1 will be and what gives the most value to both the teams, riders, the event, and the spectators.”
Only one event from the 2017 men’s NRS calendar won’t run again in 2018: the Melbourne to Warrnambool. As reported on CyclingTips in November last year, ‘The Warrny’ won’t run this year due to a shuffle in the calendar — the race is being moved from October to the new ‘Classics’ period of April-May — and due to funding constraints from the Victorian government.
“Government have provisions where they can only fund an event once in a financial year,” Kaufmann told CyclingTips in November 2017. “As such the event couldn’t be funded in both October  and April , as they are both in the same financial year. The event is already a tough event to financially sustain — this would make it even harder. Additionally, running it [in the traditional October timeslot] would not fit with the new structure of the series.”
Like the women’s calendar, the 2018 men’s calendar will be bolstered by the addition of the two-day Giro della Donna.
Kaufmann told CyclingTips that as CA moves towards a more structured NRS, organisers of former NRS events have spoken positively about re-joining the series. Among them are the National Capital Tour, which was scheduled to run last year but was eventually cancelled, and the men’s Tour of Toowoomba which last ran in 2015. New events are also looking to become part of the NRS.
“National Capital Tour — we’ve certainly had that discussion with them,” Kaufmann said. “The Tour of Toowoomba is another one. The newly started event in Queensland: the Tour of the Tropics, which is great new event out of Cairns … And there’s also been quite a bit of interest out of the Northern Territory, to look at events into the future.”
The Tour of the Great South Coast, too, is looking to add a women’s race to its men’s event in 2019.
Meanwhile, the Camden to Goulburn, a one-day men’s race slated for last year that never eventuated, is also expected to join the calendar in 2019.
“I know Cycling New South Wales and the organiser’s really focused on that and into 2019 that’s our focus, to ensure that there’s some of those Classic races that are happening in that early season period,” said Kaufmann. “Certainly the Warrnambool as we spoke about, moving into that period, the Grafton to Inverell there. And we believe there at least has to be one or two others that can sit there and that would obviously be a fantastic one if that was it.”
It will be intriguing to see what impact the NRS’ segmentation has on its future, and indeed whether it will grow from 2019 onwards. For 2018 though, despite a few changes here and there, the NRS calendar presents a similar amount of racing to last year for both women and men.