The news last week that Ballarat will host the national road championships until at least 2017 reignited a long running debate over the suitability of a venue which continues to polarise, writes Al Hinds, but perhaps solutions that please both parties are not as unimaginable as they seem.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

Orica-AIS cyclist Tiffany Cromwell's comments in reaction to the announcement were just some that came from many professional roadies, who felt a chance to change up the venue had been missed.

Take a look at the winners since 2007: Darren Lapthorne, Matt Lloyd, Peter McDonald, Travis Meyer, Jack Bobridge, and Simon Gerrans, all of whom can hold their own uphill.

It's no coincidence. The three kilometres of climbing per 10 kilometre lap unequivocally lends itself to a climber. It's a hard course and one likened by some to a 'classic'.

And It means that if a rider like Matt Goss or Mark Renshaw wants a chance to wear green and gold in the European season, they have to be at their best.

Even then, see Renshaw this year, and Goss in 2011, the possibilities are still far from guaranteed.

The answer, and the push from detractors of Buninyong like Cromwell, is for diversity. Diversity in parcours or diversity in location, although it's the former that is most easily adjusted, particularly now with the announcement to keep the race in Ballarat.

Don't get your knickers in a knot, that in itself is not such a bad thing. The idea of creating an event with real attraction for spectators, media hype and riders at a single location carries weight and should not be completely demonised.

John Craven famously envisioned the championships with a potential akin to the Australian Open tennis, or the Melbourne Formula One Grand Prix, a fixture with its own identity.

After six straight years in Ballarat, 2012 showed that at least part of the vision is becoming a reality, a resounding success, that speaks brightly of the future.

Cycling Australia, the new owner of the event, will no doubt want to capitalise on that growth to make the most of its investment. The financial side for CA is attractive, and I can sympathise with its desire to keep the championships in Ballarat for four more years. How big can this event get?

Is it so far fetched to imagine a Geelong world championship-esque crowd in Ballarat by 2017? Who's to say otherwise? And that's a goal that should be pursued.

But I'm only OK with it on the proviso that the concerns of the riders are listened to. There is no reason why Ballarat cannot host a different road race course each and every year. The most famous cycling event in the world, the Tour de France, hits the Champs Elysees every year, but the three weeks beforehand are barely recognisable.

That prospect is exciting. Why should Ballarat City, which last time I checked was a pretty big area, be any different?

Robbie McEwen, now retired, is one who has been outspoken over the nature of the course before and says organisers should not baulk at experimentation.

"There are lots of different routes in and around Mount Buninyong, even into the city of Ballarat," he said.

"Nationals should give a range of riders a chance to win, and as it stands that's not the case.

"Even if Buninyong had to host the race, there are simple things that could be done, like adding additional distance to the existing 10 kilometre loop to allow riders more time to recover."

The most interesting point McEwen raised, however, is an idea which should please both Cycling Australia and riders calling for change.

"When was the last time Cadel Evans turned up at the nationals?" McEwen said.

"The fact is, and we've seen this, as it stands the race turns away riders who are serious about peaking later in the season. Why? The course is too hard. You can't just turn up and roll around Buninyong, it's a very hard slog.

"A change opens it up for guys like Cadel to turn up, and that's what you want to encourage."

Of course, you have to be wary of going too far one way and alienating the ability of climbers to animate the race. The scales are already firmly titled away from climbers at the domestic level in the National Road Series.

But a balanced course, a changing course, keeps things interesting. Cycling Australia says it is open to the idea of change, and is already looking into potential alternative routes.

There are lots of reasons to make those alternatives a reality, and I hope that the governing body goes down that road.

The final announcement for the 2013 course is expected later this year. Make your voice heard in the comments below.