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The 2021 Australian Summer of Cycling got off to a rocky start with the news, broken by CyclingTips, that the Tour Down Under and Cadel’s Road Race would be cancelled.
For the first time in more than a decade, the WorldTour calendar will not commence in Australia, with the international travel arrangements and quarantine requirements proving a bridge too far for teams travelling from Europe.
As a result, there’s been growing angst as to what the implications might be for the remaining stalwarts of the Australian summer – the National Championships, traditionally held in early January, and the Bay Crits, traditionally held in the days surrounding New Year’s Day.
Australian cycling fans can rest easy: even in the absence of WorldTour racing, there’ll be something on.
AusCycling – the newly formed national cycling body, formed from the ashes of Cycling Australia, MTB Australia and BMX Australia – has announced that the Road National Championships will be held on the Mount Buninyong circuit, from February 4 to 7 (around a month later than usual). The Bay Crits will also take place, CyclingTips can confirm, with details to be finalised in the coming days.
Speaking to CyclingTips on Monday, Kipp Kaufmann – AusCycling’s General Manager: Sport – explained the implications of COVID-19 on the Nationals, and what this year’s iteration of the event will look like.
The move to February is one of the most visible changes to the 2021 Road Nats, with the event dovetailing into other shifts in the calendar. It’s also reflective of a broader fatigue from 2020, which has upended the lives of almost everybody – athlete or otherwise.
“You know, it’s been a crazy year for everyone,” Kaufmann said, before outlining four main reasons behind the date shift:
“One: we wanted to give a little bit of extra time for people to prepare, especially if they’ve been in heavy lockdown and haven’t been able to race as much.
“Two: it also allows a bit of extra time during Christmas. I think people are actually going to want to see family and friends… to allow that time that doesn’t have to be focussed on bike racing.
“Three: it allows a little bit of extra time between the delayed Track Nationals as well, for any of the endurance athletes. [Track Nationals was rescheduled from March to 16-20 December due to uncertainty around coronavirus]
“Four: it also provides hopefully a lead-on after whatever gets decided around the planned ‘domestic Tour Down Under’. That event would provide an opportunity to race at a fairly high level in advance of the road nationals – to allow those domestic riders to prepare at that level. And then there is obviously a nice lead-in as well, too, to the Melbourne to Warrnambool [rescheduled to February 15], with a lot of riders which will be able to go back-to-back with that.
“So there’s a few things at work in pushing back this year. We think it’s probably fair to all of cycling and the people involved.”
The cancellation of the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race was due to an inability to overcome the obstacles of mandatory 14 day quarantine and international border closures, with organisers unable to convince the teams to make the long journey to Australia for the season-opening racing block.
That raises some questions about the calibre of field that might be expected at the 2021 Road Nationals, the appeal of which will no longer be bolstered by adjacent WorldTour racing. Will European-based Australian pros make the journey out for the off-season and the Nationals? Kaufmann certainly hopes so.
“We know from the discussions we’re having some riders won’t come back, but we think a lot of riders are coming back. We still think it’ll be a fantastic event whoever comes back, even if we do miss out on a few,” Kaufmann says. “It’ll make it just a different race this year… and a really great opportunity for hopefully a few breakout performances as well.”
The entire National Championships “festival” is expected to be held – inclusive of juniors, U23 and paracycling categories – although due to the shifting nature of the pandemic, the situation with regards to spectators is “still to be determined”.
“The environment is changing every day; we’ll ensure it’s done within those restrictions and done in a safe manner. In regards to how the whole thing will operate, we still need to get closer to the event to make those announcements,” Kaufmann says.
Few things are the same now as they were when the last National Championships were held. The centrepiece of Australia’s cycling calendar, the Summer of Cycling, has had a particularly turbulent passage, but the National Championships have a slightly easier run of it than the WorldTour races that have already fallen by the wayside. “There’s extenuating travel circumstances that really hurt them, which don’t affect the road nationals quite as much,” Kaufmann says. “We’re excited about the opportunity to showcase cycling – the domestic part of cycling and the international riders who are there. So, no, there will be a Summer of Cycling – it will just be different.”
Between the Bay Crits and Melbourne to Warrnambool, with the addition of whatever the domestic Tour Down Under affiliate may look like, there’s still something for Australian cycling fans to anticipate.
“I think all of those things together actually make a really interesting domestic summer of cycling,” Kaufmann says. “Within the current circumstances, I think that’s something we should be pretty excited for.”