Is Buninyong too tough for sprinters? Some, like HTC-Highroad's Mark Renshaw think so and are prepared to boycott the national road race until balance is brought back to the course.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

There appears to be tug-of-war looming between organisers of the
Australian Open Road Championships and many of the high profile
Australian pro-riders set to take to the unforgiving Mount Bunyinyong
circuit in Victoria this weekend.

While climbers will relish the
challenge, some sprinters have already raised the white flag. They say
they have no chance of winning given the quality and depth that
currently exists within the Aussie male ranks.

In case you're
unfamiliar with the tough 10km circuit, Bunyinyong's main feature is a
relatively short but sharp climb which starts at the town centre on the
Midland Highway and kicks up to the summit with a gradient of around 10
percent - a total distance of almost three kilometres.

On the
surface astute followers may not see what all the fuss is about, but try
and clear the climb on 16 ocassions (as will be the case in the men's
RR) and you may understand why the European-based pros in particular are
making the loudest noises.

Leading the band of protesters is Mark Renshaw who has vowed never to return to his national race unless there is a balance.

Renshaw says he's disappointed the course hasn't changed since Ballarat City Council first hosted the Nationals in 2002.

He
believes sprinters of his calibre have no chance of collecting the
iconic natiional jersey which has become a symbolic endorsment for
Aussie cycling.

"I come to Ballarat every year out of respect to
the national championships but if the course doesn't change next year, I
won't be coming back," said a frustrated Renshaw.

The HTC-Highroad riders will use the RR as vital preparation for the Tour Down Under - nothing more, nothing less.

Renshaw
believes only two men - Simon Gerrans and Wes Sulzburger - are capable
of conquering Buninyong in 2011: both are climbers whose speciality is
tailor-made on such a course.

There's no denying the Australian cycling landscape has been dominated by sprinters for more than a decade.

Matt
Goss, Leigh Howard, Robbie McEwen, Graeme Brown, Cameron Meyer, Baden
Cooke, Chris Sutton, Allan Davis, Jack Bobridge, Jonathon Cantwell (to
name but a few) will make it to the start line at 11am, but how many
will be in the lead group towards the back end of the 163km race?

Sure, the history books show that sprinters have previously graced the victory spoils at Bunyinyong.

Robbie
McEwen (2002 & 2005) and Stuart O'Grady (2003) were crowned
national champions at a time when Australian stocks weren't (arguably)
filled with the same amount of quality and depth it currently enjoys.

As for race director John Craven - he is standing firm on the subject.

He says he's prepared to listen to the concerns of riders but refuses to bow to their requests.

"The Road Race won't change as it's a proven course," Craven said.

"If you can win on Bunyinyoung, you can win anywhere in the world.

"The number of people who come to the mountain has increased every year. It's a successful formula."

Renshaw
has hinted of taking the case further by issuing Craven with a petition
signed by the riders who disapprove of the course the way it currently
stands.

As for myself, I'd ike to think I speak on behalf of
most neutral followers of Australian cycling and hope that a
European-based rider wins the title this weekend.

It might sound a
little selfish on my part but to see the green and gold among the blur
of colour in big international races such as the Tour de France is
spine-tingling and a definite highlight if/when it does happen again.

But
unless the Aussie who wins in Bunyinyong has climbing legs and is
subsequently selected to race on French roads in July, we may have to
wait another year.