Last week I was very interested to read news reports quoting Robbie
McEwen's vehement opposition to foreign riders competing at the
National Open Road Championships.
McEwen's comments came after the organisers of the national
championships claimed that team Columbia-HTC would send a powerful
squad to the January 2010 event in Ballarat.
A squad that would include not just four Australians but Andre Greipel and Bart Grabsch. Wow.
Looking at their palmares there would be no doubt Greipel
would figure prominently in the road race and Grabsch in the TT - but
is that what we want to see at the nationals?
It's also worth remembering that this years men's event at the
nationals was already dominated by two Team Columbia riders, Adam
Hansen and Mick Rogers, with Rogers winning the TT title and both
riders standing on the podium in second and third in the road race.
Were it not for a canny ride by Drapac Porsche's Peter McDonald who went
on to win, Team Columbia would have utterly dominated the proceedings.
Now imagine a road race where Grabsch and Greipel were on the road with Hansen and Rogers against McDonald.
No slight to the opportunistic New South Welshman, but it would have been game over.
Short term, the idea has been knocked on it's head but it is an issue worth exploring.
As McEwen said: "I just don't get it, it's as if they're saying, 'Hey,
all you Australian riders, you're too shit to have your own race, we're
going to throw in some foreigners to spice it up, I really don't agree
with it and I find it absolutely ridiculous."
And I think he's right.
What McEwen is talking about is
the good old-fashioned cultural cringe, where a domestic event is not
regarded as legitimate unless it contains some kind of 'international'
We see this in the arts to science, from the Logies to Idol, and just
about every cultural endeavour Australia engages in and it's annoying.
So, as much as it would be interesting to see the nationals spiced up
with more international flavour, I'd have to say I'm in the McEwen camp
- let's back ourselves.
Include Robbie, Jack Bobridge, Chris Sutton, Trent Lowe, Matt Wilson,
Cameron Meyer, Leigh Howard, Richie Porte, Matt Goss, Baden Cooke,
Allan Davis, Wes Sulzberger, Heinrich Haussler, Stuart O'Grady and of
course our world champion Cadel Evans, etc, etc, etc...
However, nationals race promoter John Craven is quoted as saying: "On
the other hand, if somebody like Alberto Contador was to put his hand
up to ride the Australian Open road championship, it would be a brave
and foolish promoter to reject his entry."
But what's not international about the above bunch? That's a race field I'd like to watch. That's a race I'm excited about.
What I'd like to see is every single one of those riders, and more,
line up at the start line. That's what Craven should be attempting to
achieve. That's the marquee.
Now I understand that makes sense from a promoters point of view -
someone like Alberto Contador would bring a momentary media sugar rush
and profile to the event - but his presence would overshadow an already
stellar cast of locally produced internationals.
Think Tiger Woods and the Australian Masters golf tournament. Was there
any other golfer playing? How did that help the local talent?
Like McEwen I'm not sure the development of cycling in Australia would
be best served if someone like a Contador came, saw and conquered, in
fact I think it poses the decided risk of making the sport look bad to