• The High5 womens development team has been key to the development of a number of womens WorldTour riders. (Cycling Australia)Source: Cycling Australia
Cycling Australia (CA) has shifted the priorities of its high-performance funding, moving away from established road development programs to keep the focus on track racing at the Olympics.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

Cycling Central
10 Jan 2018 - 6:00 PM  UPDATED 10 Jan 2018 - 6:32 PM

A number of women riders have objected to this switch publicly, with the national road championships seeing more athletes add their voices to the growing chorus of discontent. 

The shift in Cycling Australia's funding for what used to be called the High-Performance Unit, now known as the Australian Cycling Team, has seen a number of changes to the support provided to the top cyclists in Australia.

The announcement that the women's development team would no longer be supported by Cycling Australia, along with men's development team Michelton-BikeExchange and women's World Tour team Michelton-Scott, has been met with disappointment from many within the cycling community.

The women's development team was mostly funded in recent years by Wiggle-High5 owner and former elite cyclist Rochelle Gilmore, with support and staff provided by Cycling Australia (CA). It was considered an important step on the way to a career in the sport for aspiring youngsters. Almost all the current riders riding in the Womens World Tour are products of the team.

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National road race champion Shannon Malseed (TIBCO-SVB) was vocal in her post-race press conference about the dissolution of the team, a squad she has been a member of for the past three years.

"I'm not going to hide my disappointment in that decision," Malseed said. "I think that it's a crucial part of developing the road team for the women.

"I hope that something can step through so that people like myself have that chance to get themselves over to Europe in racing. It was something that was a big part of my development, along with being on the Holden Cycling Team for five years."

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Malseed is one of the success stories of the women's development team and another of its alumni, Gracie Elvin (Michelton-Scott) also highlighted its worth after nationals in a Facebook post. 

"It’s great to see the depth of Aussie women’s cycling at the moment," she said. "Interesting that top three and 13 out of top 20 have been part of Aussie development teams."

Simon Jones, Australia's high-performance director since being brought across from Team Sky in early 2017, has been the person put in charge by CA to ensure a return to the levels of success that Australia has had in past Olympics. 

"We want a strong performance focus," Jones said. "Every decision needs to be based on what will make us go faster. That's what I call a real performance culture.

"When I came in initially and was interviewing the staff, they were saying that it felt a bit like a treadmill... Groundhog Day. One year would blend into another.

"I believe you have to peak, not just as the athletes but the staff as well. Our goal is the Olympic Games, that's why we get funded and it's our number one objective."

The women's national road team faced a significant hurdle getting their full quota or riders that they had qualified to the World Championships, with Rachel Neylan and Chloe Hosking successfully appealing their non-selection to the team. Jones explained the factors that have gone into recent changes to shift the focus away from road riders to the track.

"The decisions have been made looking at where we can maximise our chance to win. I don't care if it's men's events, women's events," he said.

"The fact is we've got a lot better chance of converting seconds, thirds and fourths from track results into wins. Ask most road riders and they'll say one-day road races are a bit of a lottery.

"If you treat this like your own personal money, which I do, we've been given a good amount of investment and we have to put that money where it's going to get the most return.

"You can't please everybody, and hearing all the commentary that's been going on... I thought the Poms were the whingers, but maybe the tables have turned. I think we've made logical evidence-based factual decisions."

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The shift in funding to focus on track athletes has had people within the community questioning where our next generation of road stars will develop. Matt Keenan made the point during the nationals broadcast that Cadel Evans, if he was coming through the system today, would be without any support from Cycling Australia.

"I think the investment we have in the pathway currently is focused around endurance (endurance track events)," Jones said.

"I believe for athletes to progress through they should at a younger age win on the track, develop their endurance and go onto the road career from there. If I had a magic wand, I'd love to do more - and I don't have a magic wand, I'm not Harry Potter - but with the resources we've got, we have to prioritise."

The road women are faced with a different situation to the men, who are assured a level of financial stability when they reach the top level of the sport and even before that in a number of cases.

The women are not guaranteed that security, and many look for financial independence or a least an education they can fall back on before pursuing a cycling career. 

For those not lucky enough to make it into the narrow stream of athletes drawn into the Australian Cycling Team, the road offers the best chance for advancement, with teams in Europe and America providing the ability to fashion a career in the sport.

With the demise of the women's development team in providing a path for riders into Europe, Jones sees a different way forward for the future of women's road racing development.

"All the disciplines of cycling are quite different, almost like a different sport," Jones said. "With road, I think our role as a national body should be more systemic. We want to improve and stimulate domestic racing and we need stepping stones.

"So what we're trying to do is promote some more NRS (National Road Series) racing. It's not going to be quick - it's not a five-minute job - but the emphasis that CA could take is around competitions, teams and domestic development rather than sending teams overseas, which as I said, is incredibly expensive."

The NRS has been key to the production of some star riders in recent years, Lucy Kennedy and Shannon Malseed being the most recent to take the step up to international competition from the local races.

Both were also members of the women's development team this season.

The NRS has suffered from a gradual decline in race days over the past few seasons, with only 26 days of competition for the men and 18 for the women in 2017.

"Our role is to provide a good domestic racing infrastructure, I think that should be our principal objective," Jones said.

"Road racing, by and large, is more like the private sector. Anyone can run a team. We need to foster good quality teams and good competition. Yes, there's a bit of work to do but you have to start with that vision or what is there?"