A new format shook up the Towards Zero Race Melbourne this year on the renowned Albert Park F1 circuit.
Think track cycling's points race, or the Hammer Series Sprint, with an intermediate sprints point-focused system declaring teams the winner at the finish, the individual prize for the sprint winner a secondary concern.
With sprints punctuating the race every two laps after the fourth lap, and a decreasing scale from 15 points for the first eight riders (rising to a 25 point scale for the top 10 for the final sprint), teams' tactics centred around getting the sprint trains together for their fastest rider.
In the women's race, a solo attack from Emily Roper (Kordamentha Real Estate National Team) was quickly brought back before she could nab the points and a CCC-Liv full-team attack failed to drop the top riders.
Trek-Segafredo’s Lotta Lepistö was the individual sprint winner, leading her team to overall victory. The Finn talked about how the new format reinvigorated the event.
“It was a little bit hectic and of course I was a bit surprised that it was a new formula,” said Lepisto. “Of course, for the spectators it was more interesting this way. It was harder certainly.”
Most teams seemed content to sit in and see how the sprints panned out and that was how Trek-Segafredo organised their tactics.
“For me it was more like I will sprint every time,” said Lepisto. “We also had Ruth Winder all the time there, so she could win points. That’s why we won.”
The men’s race saw a dual-tactic wielded effectively by Deceunink-QuickStep, with Elia Viviani put on sprint duty and breakaways stacked with the rest of their team propelling the squad to a massive lead after the second intermediate sprint, which continued to grow throughout the race.
The Belgian team’s lead was practically insurmountable by the final sprint, won by an in-form Luis Leon Sanchez (Astana).
The new format ensured action despite the extreme heat of up to 41C, a fact which race director Scott Sunderland highlighted after the event.
“Once everyone cooled off they’ll say it was a good format, it was just too hot,” said Sunderland. “But I mean, with no points, they would have been just riding around waiting for the finish.”
The new format was part of an extensive consultation process which will continue into the future, with event promoter Jason Bakker confirming alternate courses are being looked at for future years, with the Albert Park course maybe a bit too flat and wide to encourage attacking racing.
For Sunderland, the new format wasn’t anything new, or derived from Velon’s Hammer Series, but a product of his youth in northern New South Wales.
“Actually, this comes from when I was a kid in Inverell,” said Sunderland. “We had no track, and used to do points races in criteriums to get ready for racing and fit for the track.”
“It is a bit similar to the Hammer Series, but the inspiration didn’t come from there.”
“Whenever I’m considering any sort of changes, I’m always consulting the teams and the riders and seeing how it works for them. At this time of the year, teams and riders are looking to hone performances and get ready for the season.”
Far from the traditional spectacle of a standard road race, the new event showed Race Melbourne is prepared to improvise to attract attention.
“This format came up trumps, not just for the riders but the spectators as well,” said Sunderland. “We’ve seen two very active and dynamic races in both the women’s and the men’s.”
“In all, I’m happy. Just a bit disappointing that it was so hot and kept the crowds away and made it so uncomfortable for the riders.”