• The NRS will make a 2020 return in a series of races in the Tweed Valley. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The National Road Series (NRS) is staging a nine-day series of races in northern New South Wales at the end of November to ensure that there’s at least some decent national-level racing in Australia since the COVID-enforced shutdown.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

12 Nov 2020 - 12:10 AM 

From November 28, the Tweed region will be the hub of domestic cycling, with one of the most extensive series of races seen on the domestic scene in recent memory.

The picturesque area of northern NSW normally stages its own NRS event yearly, variously called the Tour de Tweed, the Battle on the Border and even the Battle Recharge after floods delayed the running of the race in its normal slot.

In 2020, the event will form the bulk of the NRS season, and decide the NRS overall winner, the lead in which is currently held by Melbourne to Warrnambool winner Brendan Johnston (CCS-Canberra) in the men’s. With the women yet to race an NRS event, the Tweed series will form the entirety of their NRS schedule.

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With a lot of questions about how a national level event would be run in a COVID-safe manner, SBS Cycling Central spoke to AusCycling’s General Manager for Events and Racing, Kipp Kauffmann about the racing and the issues surrounding staging an event of this type.

“I think everything is about making sure it’s COVID-safe and the community is supportive of it, said Kaufmann. “We don’t want anything to be unsafe at any point, for the competitors or the community. We’re taking precautions… potentially going beyond the necessary precautions to make sure it’s safe for everyone involved.”

The schedule for the series is nine races, featuring a mix of road races, criteriums, a time trial and a team trial. It will be raced by invited National Road Series and wildcard teams, with each team restricted to a bubble that will insulate the event from contact with the community.

“It’s a bunch of standalone events, all one day races, with points awarded each day. There won’t be a GC,” said Kaufmann. “The only one that won’t go to individuals is the team time trial which won’t go to individuals, but to teams.”

A ‘bubble’ system to ensure that COVID isn’t spread is very new to domestic cycling, with most teams more informally run than what you would see at WorldTour races and riders normally doing their own thing outside of races during events.

“A little bit different in that it’s not a full quarantine,” said Kaufmann. “The teams will need to be COVID tested before they come to the event and there will need to be a lead-up and check-in similar to what the UCI does.

“There’ll be a COVID test before you join your team and you have to stay with your team and no one else and come to the race and go back. One person per team will be allowed out into the community. Which means that person could get groceries, food, etc, and come back in. Only when they are racing will they come out of that.”

“All the other individuals that may be part of it, let’s just say the media, any time they’re coming close to riders, they’d have to be in that bubble. So most TV interviews would be by Zoom and print interviews by phone."

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While the event has been scheduled on very short notice, a lot of domestic cyclists starved of competition will be very keen to compete. Kauffmann indicated the number of teams already planning to race in the Tweed was impressive, particularly on the women’s side of the peloton.

“Certainly, from the women’s side, a big field has committed already,” said Kaufmann. “From the men’s side, a lot of the big teams are already committed but not all of them will be coming.

“Every NRS team has been invited, some teams have chosen not to participate. A few teams have asked for wildcards and as long as they can meet the fairly strict requirements that we’ve put on then they’re invited to come in.” 

New Zealanders will be allowed to compete as well in the event of late developments in the Trans-Tasman lifting of travel restrictions.

The nine-day event will be run in lieu of other events on the calendar, with every race apart from Melbourne to Warrnambool unable to be run in 2020, even ones that were scheduled for a similar time period to the slated Tweed series.

“We looked into options of keeping races alive,” said Kaufmann. “For instance, Tour of Tasmania would have been in this timeframe but it would have been near impossible to plan. It was a case of checking every day ‘will the Tasmania border open?’, but there was no certainty around it.

“We essentially had to go for one plan. Early on, we we’re holding for multiple plans and that just wasn’t going to work. With one plan, it was something that teams could work towards and hopefully we’d get the funding and local community to buy-in.”

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While the potential issues with hosting the event and coordinating with teams from all around Australia as well as local authorities in the midst of a pandemic are evident, there’s been a positive response from the cycling community.

“I think everyone’s really excited to race, that’s the underlying feeling,” said Kaufmann. “It won’t be like every other NRS race. We’re fortunate to get support from the NSW government and the Tweed shire and get a location where most people can or will be able to get to. It’s the best possible outcome that we could get and I think it will be really good racing.

“There are a few impediments that it won’t be like other events, we won’t be able to get big crowds, not so many sponsors with the short build-in and coverage. The police, while they’ve been fantastic, have struggled a bit with the nine-day event. While they’ve been really supportive of it, the size of the convoy will have to be shorter.

“None of these are dealbreakers and we’ve had to deal with the parameters of a COVID-19 environment and a changing season.”

For those looking to watch the event, there will be daily highlights from the racing and a post-event package that will screen on SBS and be viewable on SBS On Demand the weekend after the racing concludes.

The current event schedule (further details to be confirmed):

Saturday 28 November – Time Trial

Sunday 29 November – Criterium

Monday 30 November – Road Race

Tuesday 1 December – Road Race & Mountain Top Finish

Wednesday 2 December – Road Race

Thursday 3 December – Road Race

Friday 4 December – Road Race

Saturday 5 December – Team Time Trial

Sunday 6 December – Criterium