First the positives. The Tour of Tasmania will now take place from November 10-15, with the aim of bringing it closer to the Stan Siejlka Classic, creating a Tasmanian festival of cycling, rather than separately successful events.
Cycling Australia has also confirmed that the Battle on the Border has been rescheduled and renamed, it is now the Battle Recharge and will now take place from September 22-24.
Originally scheduled for April, the northern NSW event was postponed after concerns for rider safety and community welfare in light of the devastation and damage caused to the area by Cyclone Debbie.
There were hopes that the event would still go ahead in its normal date, just weeks after the storm hit, but it was thought better of and now assumes the new September date.
Organisers have been working closely with Destination NSW to try and create an event that offers a chance to revitalise the disaster-hit region.
Now the negatives. The total race days on offer drop down to 27 for the men and a meagre 18 for the women. The Battle takes the spot on the calendar originally held by the National Capital Tour, which will not operate in 2017 following the insolvency of its promoter Capital Cycling. The organisers had encountered a lot of difficulties in the past with road closures and securing police presence to shut down roads around the ACT, a fact that was highlighted at the Oceania Championships in March.
The Tour of Margaret River was scheduled to be on the calendar as an NRS events this year, but whilst it will still be run, it won't be under the umbrella of the NRS.
Other changes include the Melbourne to Warrnambool which will not feature a women’s NRS level event in 2017 due to an inability of police resources to meet the need for two rolling road closures. The cost of police protection is a constant spectre within the sport, with road closures not coming cheap and police unwilling to commit to the organisational effort required to operate the tricky business of rolling road closures on open roads.
In what is more of a logistical change, the Camden to Goulburn will now operate in reverse with the finish in Camden. This brings it into line with the traditional format of the race, formerly named the Goulburn to Sydney, which ran its 110th edition in 2012.
On the heels of this news, a new Sports Director for Cycling Australia has begun work. Kipp Kaufmann was (and is actually still temporarily operating as CEO of Cycling Victoria) but has now stepped in to fill the role of coordinating the competitive aspects of cycling in Australia. The role involves a lot of liasing with race organisers, teams, riders, government and sponsors in an effort to put a comprehensive racing experience for fans and competitiors alike.
That goal has not been met in recent years, with almost everyone involved in the sport having the universal complaint of lack of communication from Cycling Australia. Kaufmann comes in with glowing reviews of his work at Cycling Victoria, which is one of the healthiest state bodies with by far the most extensive racing scene and good support from the local cycling clubs and supporters. Kaufmann spoke to Cycling Central about the challenges of the position and where he sees the future of competitive cycling.
“I think the major challenge is that we have to get everyone aligned within the sport. We need everyone to buy into a way to move forward, that’s from the top all the way down. Bring everyone on the journey.”
“Communication is the cornerstone, that’s what we need to start doing better."
"We’re not going to be able to do anything overnight, but we need to start moving the needle, listen to people and start to make a difference. And make a holistic difference."
"So while we often talk about the NRS and the national championships, and whilst those are vitally important, we need to have an alignment throughout the country so that all riders can be satisfied and that racing, in this context, is as strong as it can be.”
Such statements aren't without precedent in Cycling Australia's past, the National Road Series Technical Review from last season came out with a particular emphasis on the implementation of safety of riders as one of the highest concerns and the introduction of modern management techniques as key to securing the future of the NRS.
Safety has, if anything, been worse in NRS events this year, with roads not fully closed down at the Tour of East Gippsland and a number of near misses with traffic on the course at that race as well as Oceanias. Modern managment techniques, if implemented, haven't seen their effects filter down to the point where they are making an impact.
Kaufmann brings a different energy to the sport, whilst not from a traditional cycling background, he's regularly on the ground at events co-ordinating with organisers, even wrangling stray barricades and sponsor signage by the side of the road. Kaufmann talked about the knowledge he brings from his time at Cycling Victoria.
“That’s probably the key asset and experience I bring. Victoria has an impact, in a good way, beyond its borders, hosting a lot of the high profile racing, the nationals, UCI races, etc. I guess the difference is now I can have an impact directly rather than on the periphery. Hopefully we can grow all the states to increase the national racing scene.”
Kaufmann and Cycling Australia face an interesting battle, with Australian cycling fans typically following the racing in Europe more than the local Australian product. The real exceptions are the Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Road Race with the National Championships and Herald Sun Tour positioned around it to form the 'Summer of Cycling'. That is largely the extent of the summer events, with criterium events like the SuperCrit and the Bay criterium series the sideshows to the main show.
Moving the Tour of Tasmania to a later slot in the season forms it into a Tasmanian cycling festival with the Stan Siejka Classic and the Longford criterium and there is clear potential to have more NRS and local cycling events in the warmer months, both to attract spectators and competitors. Kaufmann was cautious about the push to have more events scheduled in the summer months.
"That's something we're going to be looking at within the overall format," said Kaufmann. "When you look at the funding of the current events they are all quite dynamic and different.
"In Victoria, with all the World Tour and UCI events, I know that the police are on a lot of the events and road safety, so some of the availability is limited. Also, some of the local governments prefer events in the winter months, because it increases tourism.
"We need to work at something that is sustainable as well, not just move to something that sounds good. Ideally, so we're not having this conversation about lost events in the future."
"We want events that we can bank upon, with levers extending all the way down to the states and the clubs. So how do state events fit into that, how do club events work within that framework... all leveraging into each other. I think most people would say 'yes' right away to that idea (of moving races closer to the 'Summer of Cycling'), but if we jump there without thinking it through it won't be sustainable."
The construction of a thriving domestic scene is certainly possible with the depth of talent that Australian cycling has, as well as a sport-loving populace that participates overwhelmingly at a grassroots level and is proven to engage with higher profile events like the Tour de France and the Tour Down Under. Translating that potential to actual success has always been the issue and it will be worth keeping an eye on what changes Cycling Australia will be making in the near future.
Remaining 2017 Subaru NRS schedule
- Tour of the King Valley (VIC) 25-27 August 17 Men’s & Women’s
- Tour of the Great South Coast (VIC) 26-30 July 17 Men's
- Goulburn to Camden (NSW) 10 Sep-17 M Men’s
- Amy's Otway Tour (VIC) 16-17 Sept 17 Men’s & Women’s
- Battle Recharge (Nth NSW) 22-24 Sept 17 Men’s & Women’s
- Melbourne to Warrnambool (VIC) 14 Oct-17 Men’s
- Tour of Gippsland (VIC) 18-22 October 2017 Men’s
- Tour of Tasmania (TAS) 10-15 November 2017 Men’s