After announcing a long-term shift last year from the previous calendar of a sporadic and unconnected series of races to the ‘Tours’ format, this announced calendar has taken up the task of moving the NRS towards that goal, albeit at a slow pace.
This means a number of races have been shuffled around, others won’t run this year, while the whole series has a more concentrated and compact look.
Kipp Kaufmann, CA’s General Manager for Sport, is the driving force behind the changes and responsible for their implementation. He spoke to Cycling Central about the changing face of the NRS moving into the 2018 season.
“What it is,” said Kaufmann, “it’s a reset from previous seasons, moving the pieces around so we have a more cohesive narrative and race season to present in future years. Both from a marketing and sporting perspective, it makes it easier to package it and make it attractive to teams, event organisers and sponsors.”
Last year’s announcement by CA heralded the arrival of a ‘Classics Season’, a ‘Tours Season’ and a Criterium Summer Series, with each taking its own segmented part of the calendar.
The Tour of East Gippsland, Mersey Valley and Melbourne to Warrnambool have fallen by the wayside as a result for 2018, though the high profile race affectionately known as the ‘Warrny’ is set to return in 2019 when funding from supporting governments will be available.
“Yes, Tour of East Gippsland was one of those hard decisions that we had to make to change to the new format,” said Kaufmann. “The decision to stage the event at an NRS level came last year at a time when maybe it wasn't quite ready to be an NRS event, when I was involved with Cycling Victoria (as CEO).
“We were asked to put it on with the low number of race days on the calendar, but it wasn't necessarily a fit with the overall series.”
2018 Cycling Australia NRS
- Grafton to Inverell, NSW (Men) May 12
- Battle Recharge, QLD (Men & Women) July 27-29
- Tour of the Great South Coast, VIC (Men) August 15-19
- Tour of King Valley, VIC (Men & Women) August 31- September 2
- Amy’s Otway Classic, VIC (Men & Women) September 15-16
- Tour of Gippsland, VIC (Men & Women) October 9-12
- Tour of Tasmania, TAS (Men & Women) Nov 14-18 (Men), Nov 16-18 (Women)
- Giro della Donna, VIC (Men & Women) November 24-25
CA has also tweaked a number of existing races. While there's no Mersey Valley Tour this year, there will be a Tour of Tasmania for women along the same roads that featured heavily in the earlier event. It will be transplanted to November and joins what is becoming a small festival of cycling on the Apple Isle, featuring the Tour of Tasmania and the Stan Siejka Classic.
This represents one of the major benefits of moving events closer together. It offers fans and media an easier way to engage with the sport, is attractive to local councils who provide funding to the events and provides a bit of character to the season.
But It is far from that rosy picture at the moment. Race days aren’t at the level to support domestic teams looking to ride a full schedule for the 2018 season. This has prompted the recent push by many squads to seek Continental status and look for racing opportunities overseas.
One of the benefits of the new segmented season for those teams is they can race overseas for extended blocks of in Asia, Europe or North America but not miss the local Australian races.
The ‘Classics Season’ in particular looks a bit barren at the moment, with Grafton to Inverell sitting by itself on May 12. The race will shift to a different date next year and will be joined by the Warny and possibly a new race between Bendigo and Castlemaine in 2019. Kaufmann acknowledged CA will look to expand the Classics period.
“We're looking for three classics at least,” he said. “And ideally something more like five races for future years. We've received a number of expressions of interest from race organisers, the process now is getting them to run as state-based events and make sure that they are up to the standard of being run as an NRS event, rather than just putting them straight in there.”
The new addition, the Summer Criterium Series, will bring together a number of well-attended short course events and put them beneath the banner of the NRS. It mirrors efforts in recent years by Shimano to make a ‘Sprint Series’ across a number of different races in different major cities during the summer.
“We've been really impressed with what Shimano has done with their SuperCrit and the three events they run with it,” said Kaufmann. “We're obviously not looking to stop any of that success and we're keen to talk with them about how we can work together.
“It should be something a bit different from the normal racing on offer, it represents what I think is an exciting opportunity for teams and sponsors to get some more exposure in front of bigger crowds."
Also on the agenda is a shift in the way races are run, with more accountability placed on events with feedback and professional standards taken much more into account going forward. This will be partially driven by a CA program to make the commissaire pool a more consistent, homogenous group guaranteeing a degree of continuity throughout the racing season.
The other part of the burden falls upon organisers, with issues like road closures and safety recurring problems in the past on the domestic scene.
“That's something that we've looked to develop this year,” said Kaufmann. “really trying to listen to feedback and look to implement what we’re hearing. We went through a similar process at times throught the season last year.
“There are more expectations around what is expected of organisers of events. There are some one-on-one meetings between myself and organisers, and a process where we can take the feedback from the teams and provide that to the event after each race.”
One aspect of the domestic scene that few question is the quality of the fields that turn up to contest events. Recent graduates from the women's peloton have already lit up the start of the season with Lucy Kennedy and Shannon Malseed already big players after earning their stripes in the NRS.
On the men’s side, local players like Bennelong SwissWellness and Mobius Bridgelane showed their strength in battling WorldTour and Continental squads during the Australian summer. The NRS peloton will boast the likes of track world champions and up and coming stars of the future, perhaps the most important role the NRS plays is in developing that talent of tomorrow.
“I think you've seen the development role that the NRS has to play within the road cycling scene,” said Kaufmann, “with so many teams taking the step up to the Continental level and proving themselves there after spending seasons racing in the NRS.
“I think that plenty of reason for optimism surrounding the new calendar and where it positions us looking forward into the future.”
Details of the National Criterium Series and Classics season, plus NRS broadcast details, will be announced soon.