Robert Merkel is a cycling tragic who dreams of one day repeating his glorious summit victory in the local D-grade club criterium. In his spare time, he is a lecturer at an Australian university. In this follow up to a previous article on developing Australian climbing talent, he explains how and where this can be done.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

In one of the many thoughtful responses to my previous article
on Australian cycling's "flatland fixation", a Cycling Central reader
wondered whether Australia's lack of "long cols" is somehow responsible
for Australian cycling's focus on sprinters, and races that suit them.

Australia
does indeed lack the sheer number and geographical density of long
climbs that characterise the Alps. The only region offering very long
climbs within easy reach of each other is north-eastern Victoria, far
from Australia's major cities (but then again, the Alps and Pyrenees are
a long, long way from Paris and Lyon) and nowhere near any existing
race on the national calendar.

However, this lack does not -
contrary to popular belief - represent an impediment to Australia's
cycling calendar offering a better balance of challenges to riders of
all types.

You don't need to replicate a Grand Tour queen
stage to construct race routes that offer a stern climbing test. The
key climb of Fleche Wallonne - a one-day race won by Cadel Evans and
Alberto Contador - is only 1300 metres long! What makes the Mur de Huy
decisive is that it is very steep, it is preceded by numerous other
climbs, and its summit represents the race finish.

Every state
capital in Australia has similarly hilly roads nearby. You don't even
need multiple different climbs - one or two are enough, if they can be
put together in a circuit that can be repeated multiple times. If it's
good enough for the World and National championships, it's good enough
for a junior or National Road Series race!

But both for
participants and spectators (particularly TV viewers) alike, there is
something special about long, tough summit finishes. And, conveniently,
there are some steep, long enough, and ultimately selective enough
climbs that could be incorporated into the existing NRS calendar without
too much difficulty.

The Tour of Gippsland has two hellishly
difficult climbs, Mount Baw Baw and the Dargo hillclimb, in the vicinity
of its present route. As things stand, however, it can't use them
because of its midwinter scheduling.

The springtime Tour of
Tasmania, by contrast, already features the long, tough climb of Mount
Wellington, but nullifies its potential as a test of Australia's best
individual climbers by riding it as a team time trial. Instead of that,
why not allow a young rider to emulate the feat of a certain Cadel Evans
in 1998 - winning solo on a road stage finishing on Mount Wellington?

If
a conventional road stage to Mount Wellington is not possible due to
the impracticality of extended road closures, there are other options
for tough summit finishes close to existing Tour of Tasmania stages.

The
Poitana climb, roughly as steep and two-thirds as long as Alpe d'Huez,
could presumably be used. Heck, there could be a second summit finish on
the shorter but very steep Cethana to Moina climb, which is presently
used in the Mersey Valley Tour.

Such changes would not be cost
free. The NRS would not exist without race promoters - notably John
Craven of Caribou Publications, who organizes many of them. These
enterprising and dedicated individuals have kept the sport alive for a
long, long time on the smell of an oily rag, scrounging scarce
sponsorship money from all over the place.

The sponsors they
find want races to have as many spectators as possible, and summit
finishes on out-of-the-way climbs will attract fewer of them. So some
lateral thinking - and perhaps some long-term investment in the national
series by the governing body or their associated backers - will be
required to ensure that any course changes are financially viable.

But
if there's a will, there should be a way. For the long-term health of
Australian cycling, incorporating a feature climber's race or two within
Australia's national road calendar would be a relatively cheap
investment.

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