What should the Wollongong Worlds road race courses look like?

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It’s the first question that gets asked whenever a new World Championships host is announced: what will the road race courses look like? In the case of the Wollongong 2022 Road Worlds, announced in early October, Cycling Australia has an idea of what it would like to include, but the courses are years from being finalised, yet alone revealed to the public.

Nonetheless, it’s exciting to think about how the courses might look, particularly for the elite road races. We have some ideas, but he wanted to see what others thought too. So we reached out to our VeloClub members to get their thoughts.

We gave the following pointers to our aspiring course designers:

– The elite men’s race needs to be 250km-280km long (as per UCI guidelines).
– The elite women’s race needs to be 130km-160km long (also per UCI guidelines).
– Both races need to finish at the same location, in Wollongong.
– The courses need to do more than provide entertaining bike races — they also need to look good on TV and they need to provide spectator opportunities.

Harry Graham Drive, a road many suspect will feature in the 2022 World Championships. It links together two climbs/descents near town and will provide a great spot for fans to watch the riders come through multiple times.

There were some common themes that emerged when viewing the courses our members sent in. Many think the elite men’s race will start in Sydney, with most pointing to the Sydney Opera House as a likely startline. As VC member Adam Fuller wrote: “Starting in Sydney allows the teams to stay there. There’s not enough accommodation in Wollongong for everyone.”

Like many people, Adam suspects the race will follow the coastline to Wollongong, passing through the Royal National Park on the way. As he rightly points out, “The ride through the national park and over Sea Cliff Bridge is spectacular”. The Sea Cliff Bridge, in particular, seems like a virtual auto-include, given an image of the bridge appeared in the UCI’s announcement tweet.

Adam Fuller was representative of most respondents in suggesting multiple laps of a finishing circuit around Wollongong. In his case, he mapped out a 33km loop featuring the climb up Mt. Keira (5.8km at 6% average), a descent through Kembla Heights, and a beachside finish on Marine Parade. His elite men’s route features four laps of the circuit for a total of 236km (less than the minimum of 250km, but easily modified).

His women’s course also features the southward jaunt from the Sydney Opera House and two laps of the circuit, for 168km (longer than the maximum, but also easily modified).

David Blom — who was born in Wollongong — offered a similar perspective, drawing up a 273km men’s race from the Opera House, down through Bondi Beach, then following the coast down to Wollongong. He used a very similar circuit to Adam Fuller — up Mt. Keira Road, down through Kembla Heights and finishing on Marine Parade — opting for five laps for the men and three laps for the women.

Notably, he has the women’s race starting well away from Sydney — at the Kiama Blowhole south of Wollongong. It’s a 36km stretch from there to the start of the finishing circuit.

David Blom’s anti-clockwise finishing circuit.

CyclingTips’ Australian tech editor, Matt Wikstrom, was also born in Wollongong and grew up in the area. In his own words, his early years as a road cyclist “were shaped by the terrain” around Wollongong. He too has sketched out a finishing circuit that features the Mt. Keira climb and the descent through Kembla Heights.

“It’s easy to see this loop making up the core of the route once the riders arrive in Wollongong,” he said. “Located just outside the centre of town, the climb up Mt Keira starts out steep then mellows as it enters the trees. It’s a pretty climb that gives way to a bit of undulation at the top of the escarpment before the riders get to bomb down Mt. Kembla.

“A few laps of this loop should soften up the riders.”

Matt doesn’t have his 23km circuit going along the beach in Wollongong like others — but he does have a 5km finishing section taking the riders from the end of the final circuit to the finish on, you guessed it, Marine Parade. He too envisages a start in Sydney before a run down the coast road.

Matt Wikstrom’s finishing circuit which also runs anti-clockwise.

VeloClub member Alex Leemon opted for something else entirely. He eschewed a Sydney departure in favour of starting in Wollongong and heading out for a couple of longer laps of the region. His elite women’s race features two anti-clockwise loops — one longer loop out to Appin, then a shorter one back past Lake Cataract. Both loops feature the Bulli Pass climb (3.5km at 9%).

His elite men’s race starts out with a loop that heads to Appin then further north to Campbelltown before the same second loop as the women’s race.

He has both races finishing at the “Dapto Dogs” — the local greyhound racing track. We assume he’s joking when he says the following: “Both courses finish at the Dapto Dogs with a lap of the famous race track, Paris-Roubaix style. I realise the course is meant to finish in Wollongong, but come on, imagine a sprint on the gravel track! You could be lead out by a mechanical rabbit …”

Alex Leemon’s elite women’s road race course. See it on Strava here.

I too tried my hand at designing an elite men’s and women’s course. As you’ll see, I ended up with something very similar to others.

If everything goes the organising committee’s way, I imagine they’ll be more than keen to start the elite men’s race in Sydney. Given tourism is a driving factor in route design, it makes sense to start the race in the shadows of the Opera House. The most obvious way to Wollongong from there is to follow the route used by the MS Gong Ride. It’s a known quantity for local councils and police and it provides stunning scenery.

The closing circuit I sketched out is similar to that proposed by David Blom and Adam Fuller, albeit ridden in the opposite direction. I too can see the circuit starting and finishing on Marine Parade (note the parkland adjacent to the road — good for event infrastructure) with the riders heading up through Kembla Heights (8.4km at 5% average), and down Mount Keira.

I’ve got the elite men doing five laps of this 33km circuit, for a total race distance of 265km with 4,300m of climbing.

If the elite men’s race starts in Sydney, what then of the elite women’s race? It too could start in Sydney, following the same course south, but that would mean the majority of the race is spent on the run down to Wollongong on roads that aren’t nearly as challenging as the closing circuit. That option would also only leave room for one or perhaps two laps of the circuit.

There are other options. The elite women’s race could consistent entirely of laps of the circuit — four or perhaps five if the circuit was shortened slightly. Doing that though would mean the elite women’s race skips the scenic southward jaunt from Sydney, including the Sea Cliff Bridge. If including those elements is considered vital, a start partway along the road from Sydney could be considered — somewhere like Waterfall, perhaps.

Of course there are many course options for the organising committee to discuss, beyond those discussed above. There are several great climbs south west of Wollongong that could be visited, particularly if the race doesn’t start in Sydney. Macquarie Pass (12.4km at 6% average) might be too long, but is stunningly beautiful and certainly worthy of consideration. The challenging Jamberoo Pass (6.4km at 9% average) is also a worthy addition.

And then there are the roads further south of Wollongong. Todd “Norbs” Norbury hails from Culburra Beach south of Wollongong and has drafted an elite men’s course that shows off his neck of the woods. That particular course features four considerable climbs including some challenging ascents near Kangaroo Valley.

It’s still several years before we’ll get to see if any of the predictions above are right. There’s a lot for the organising committee to consider and lots of back and forth to do with the UCI, local councils, police and other stakeholders. Ultimately the courses they arrive at will have to provide more than provide great racing — they’ll have to provide the right tourism benefits, the spectator opportunities, and much more besides.

In the meantime though, it’s fun to get creative and play course designer. What do you think the 2022 Worlds road races should look like?

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