In the past, I've sat on the fence when the question of moving the nationals from away from Ballarat comes up. My thinking was split between the benefits of making the national championships truly 'national' and broadening the supporter base for the sport and wondering if another location would be able to offer what we have come to expect from a national championship.
After another pulsating set of races, set to the backdrop of Ballarat and Buninyong, I have to say that there's no competition.
1. Location, location
Unlike a number of journalists and pundits on this topic, I'm out there on the roads a lot. Following National Road Series races is a (not particularly well-paying) passion of mine and out of all the places I've travelled Ballarat is the place that consistently puts out the best community engagement and offers a great atmosphere for cyclists.
And let's be honest, this is the sort of area we are talking about when we talk about national cycling championships for the foreseeable future, regional centres are the best we can do when we're talking about disrupting traffic for five days of racing. No capital city would put up with that, Adelaide does for two days of inner-city racing (both of the days are weekends), but that's for a much more prestigious and cosmopolitan race.
In most places that host bike races, you're lucky to get away without an incident of dangerous driving endangering the cyclists on the road, or at least a few locals that mouth of at you for shutting down their roads for five minutes longer than they'd like. Ballarat's local populace is relatively supportive and the lanes and width of the roads mean that taking your bike to ride is much more viable than most places in Australia.
Ballarat is also close enough to Melbourne (the hub of cycling and sport in general in the country) for fans to make a day or a weekend of it.
2. The racing spectacle
Thinking back on the last few year's of professional cycling, it's hard to think of too many more compelling exhibitions of racing than what we have seen on the Mt Buninyong course.
Fast, unpredictable racing where everyone from Richie Porte to Caleb Ewan is in with a chance of winning. Some of the best pros in the world go head to head with riders earning nothing. There is no defined way of winning on the course, some years a climber will solo to a win, a break might make it or we could see a sprint finish.
I'll remind you that in the under 23s, men's and women's respectively this year we saw all three of those finishes.
The criterium gets a good turnout, twilight racing is a great way to experience the sport and while the racing is never going to experience the variety of an event like the Bay Criteriums, basically the crowds are there to see riders going fast.
The time trial does need something new, I'd love to see GPS trackers stuck on the bikes so we can get a proper sense of what's going on out on course. Dot watching a Katrin Garfoot or Rohan Dennis mow down the riders ahead of them would be a lot of fun.
3. If it ain't broke don't fix it
It's an old adage and an enemy of innovative thought, but I'd like to see a proposal from another regional council or city that can offer something approaching the package that Ballarat provides. A new host city would have to build up those institutions that have become so familiar to those making the pilgrimage to Mt Buninyong.
The tunnel of spectators and sound on the hill isn't transferable to a Bathurst or a Gold Coast, they are fans who have built a tradition of travelling each and every year to lap up the spectacle.
Speaking with the Zwift Cycling Central podcast's own Christophe Mallet, he was talking about his time at the French national championships. He contrasted the experience, saying the French race was a lot better organised, but the Australian race had that community feel to it. I'd have to say I agree, very few races have the eclectic experience of wandering through the feed zone and seeing stars of the sport so close, friends that you know well and new people to chat to that can surprise and delight.
I had the good fortune to find myself next to Holden Team Gusto riders for the finale of the women's race, where they were cheering on former teammate Shannon Malseed as vociferously as their current rider Grace Brown.
The number of people that you meet - and enjoy talking to - where you say, 'When was the last time I saw you? Oh, a year!'. There's a special camaraderie that has developed, from the top riders down to the individual spectator that will take a number of years to transplant to another location.
I understand that not everyone watches from the roadside and there a number of hardcore fans who would love to see the race outside their front door. To those people, I would say, seriously consider taking a holiday down to Ballarat for the nationals.