• The 2020 Melbourne to Warrnambool (Con Chronis/NRS)Source: Con Chronis/NRS
The National Road Series (NRS) has been thrown into disarray with the cancellation of events due to the COVID crisis, but things are looking up for domestic racing fans with the best Australian men and women set to do battle in northern New South Wales to decide overall NRS honours.
By
Jamie Finch-Penninger

23 Nov 2020 - 3:02 PM 

What is it?

It's called the National Tour. Starting November 28, there is going to be a nine-day series of road racing and time trials, featuring Australian teams, with one Malaysian team in there as well. All race days will be individual events, there's no general classification, but given that there's only been one other NRS event this year, the men's Melbourne to Warrnambool, the points that will decide the overall 2020 NRS winners will act as the real overall prize for the event.

The roads around the Tweed Valley will play host to the event, from a beachside time trial to a mountain-top finish on the Queensland border.

Domestic racing gets boost with NRS nine-day race set to decide 2020 honours
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.
Tour de Tweed wrap: Herfoss and Thomas lead the week
Hard racing and a varied course produced a well-rounded champion for the Tour de Tweed as National Road Series (NRS) leader Emily Herfoss (Roxsolt-Attaquer) again showed why she is regarded as one of the best in Australia.

Why is it going to be good?

Local riders have been hungry for good competition. Local criteriums have been reporting bumper numbers from riders looking to put their indoor trainer form onto the actual road against their peers. When you get to a certain level, it's only national competition that scratches that itch. 

For riders looking to progress to the professional ranks of cycling, NRS racing is pivotal and for the likes of Jensen Plowright, Cameron Scott, Tyler Lindorff, Jay Vine, Jaime Gunning and Ruby Roseman-Gannon you need to be consistently putting results on the board to attract overseas attention. 

Teams have largely been stuck in Australia. While professionals have managed to secure permits to fly out of Australia, the Continental squads hunting for opportunities at local level haven't been able to show their wares. Asian and American races have largely been cancelled, and there's been precious little chance to show off team colours.

Team Bridgelane are going for their 11th NRS men's overall team title in a row, but there are plenty of men's teams that will fancy their chances on the undulating circuits of the region. In the women's, it will likely be an all-out battle between Roxsolt and Specialized Women's Racing for the overall, but there's plenty of scope for Sydney Uni - Staminade and ARA-Sunshine Coast to pop up with some results as well.

The point is, every single rider and every team is going to be supremely motivated for the racing.

Key battles

While Brendan Johnston (CCS Canberra) currently leads the men's NRS, it's only one race's worth of points. For the women, there's been no racing at all, and it will all be decided on the roads of northern NSW. 

There's little in the course details provided to suggest that there's going to be a distinctive type of rider that will be favoured by the stages on offer, but it looks like it will take an all-round performance to secure an individual or team victory.

The queen stage will be the summit finish up Tomewin climb, the first time a national level race has gone up the local legend. Team Bridgelane pair Sam Jenner and Sam Hill have been doing some detailed reconnaissance of the region, both set the same time up the five-kilometre climb, setting a new Strava record in beating Troy Herfoss' mark up the ascent.

On the flat, it was a similarly impressive showing by the reigning NRS champions on the Sydney criterium scene, with Jensen Plowright taking out three consecutive wins in sprints as the team focused on drilling the front of the race. It's as much about in-team competition as sending a warning for others, with the squad notoriously difficult to make for the big races, with the NRS the only race available this year. 

"The boys had some good fun whilst up in Sydney for four races together," said long-time Bridgelane sports director Andrew Christie-Johnston. "It's been a long time for some of them to get back to racing. Some haven't raced since February.

"Whilst they got some nice results in Sydney they were just crits and not long road races which is mostly what the NRS will be. Short criteriums are far from three to four-hour road races in the heat of northern NSW. The hitout was great though and they are excited to get back to NRS level road races."

The overall win in the men's field will likely come down to team tactics and if enough teams are committed to bringing races back together for bunch sprints, which will favour top-tier sprinters like Plowright and Cameron Scott (ARA-Sunshine Coast). If the tactics allow more select breaks to fight it out for the win, then the likes of Jay Vine (Nero Continental), Brendan Johnston (CCS Canberra), Ryan Thomas (ARA- Pro Racing Sunshine Coast), Carter Turnbull (Inform TM Insight MAKE), Ben Hill or Tyler Lindorff (both Bridgelane).

In the women's racing, 2019 NRS individual champion Emily Herfoss won't be returning to defend her title as she's taking time off the bike currently. Her Roxsolt-Attaquer team is lining up with plenty of stars, including Tomewin Strava record-holder Bree Wilson. She and teammate Justine Barrow will have to fight off Jaime Gunning (Specialized Women's Racing) on that ascent, but the real favourite looks to be current national time trial champion Sarah Gigante (TIBCO-SVB, but riding as an individual) who's coming off a lockdown where she's been training the house down.

The overall win will likely go to one of those riders as well, but perhaps a rider with a fast finish that can handle the tough terrain, think Georgie Whitehouse, Haylee Fuller (both Sydney Uni-Staminade), Matilda Raynolds (Specialized Women's Racing), Maeve Plouffe (ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast) or Nicola MacDonald (Roxsolt-Attaquer).

The total unknown nature of this 2020 year has meant that it's impossible to get much sense of form lines and if any youngsters are potentially on the rise to challenge the more established generation of NRS riders. The beauty of these races is that they'll throw up a hundred new scenarios with new names and possibilities for the current and next generations of Australian cycling. 

There are some legitimate gripes to be had with the last-minute scheduling of the event, the exorbitant cost of sending a team to race and safety concerns with the single lane, open roads that may expose the men's and women's peloton to more traffic than is ideal. All issues are attributable to COVID-19 shutdowns and the resultant rush to get things organised.   

SBS will feature daily highlights from the National Tour NRS event which will be featured daily on the SBS Cycling Central website, with additional stories from the racing as well as some coverage on Twitter and Facebook.