Time McEwen rode off into the sunset?

Monday, 10 January 2011

No country for old men

Several riders have got caught up in a public debate over the Australian championships. Here’s what John Craven, organiser of the Nationals had to say about Robbie McEwen:

I’m a big fan of Robbie McEwen … but maybe it’s time that he just rode off into the sunset and let the young men take over, and he can go out as glamorously as he came into the sport.

Now McEwen might have joined retirement halfway-house that is Radioshack but that’s strong stuff from a race organiser to a double Aussie champion. There’s a debate going on and I’ll summarise it. Some riders don’t want the race open to all nationals and some don’t like the way the race is always held on the same circuit.

An open race isn’t unique to Australia, for example the Slovenian, Slovak and Czech championships are shared and until 2006 the US championships were open. And repeating the course every year is something done in the US, but most other countries vary the course.

Well he would say that, wouldn’t he?
Mark Renshaw is just one of the riders suggesting the course should change from time to time to ensure a variety of riders can win, here is what he said at the weekend:

“I’d just really like to see it change annually, to give everyone a chance. I don’t mind that it’s super hard one year, I don’t mind that it’s medium/difficult the year after. I think you’ll always have a good winner but I just don’t think it’s fair that we repeat, every year, the same circuit.”

The self-interest is obvious but valid, he is a top sprinter and deserves a crack. Craven didn’t exactly calm the waters:

Get yourself properly fit for Buninyong… …Mark specialises as a lead-out man in Europe, and maybe, just maybe, he needs to learn how to win again. And I say that in the kindest possible way.

Even meant politely, I think this is a bit harsh. Top pros have to marry the southern hemisphere summer with the European road season, meaning they begin their national championships with only a few weeks of training in their legs. As such many guys are not at 100% and know they can’t be, having duties to their teams to be in shape for other points in the season. It’s contrast to the European championships which are held at the end of June. Clearly Australians can’t be expected to race in June but surely the demands of the World Tour calendar can be accommodated?

Done deal
For the time being, things won’t change much. The race is organised by a company called Caribou Publications and there’s a six year contract in place. The event brings substantial publicity and returns to the area of Ballarat. According to an Australian website, “the economic impact of the event is anticipated to be in excess of $4 million each year“. But perhaps an alternative route can be found, although Craven was very pleased to see 10,000 fans on the climb.

Dialogue
That said, this should not be a money-making machine, the national championships should be the property of a nation. I appreciate a private organiser can be tasked with running the show but it raises eyebrows when a race organiser tells the likes of McEwen and Renshaw to get lost.

I’d like to see some top brass at Cycling Australia sit down and get people on board here. Certainly having the race 100% Aussie has to be considered. Renshaw suggests putting the race after the Tour Down Under in order to let riders have more miles in their legs and why not? It at least gives the top level riders some more time to arrive feeling stronger which means a better race.

As for changing the circuit to suit different types, then I can understand the fears that a flatter route won’t bring so many crowds. Spectators like a climb but is there room to reduce the 16 ascensions to, say, 10 times? Either way, it’s time to talk rather than fire broadsides via the media.

Anonymous January 10, 2011 at 7:25 pm

Not only are Slovenian championships shared, in 2010 the Croatian championships were raced in the very same race, both time trial and road race.

masteringtheuphillshift January 10, 2011 at 8:20 pm

what is baffling to me is how race officials/directors can be so disrespectful, blatantly lacking in impartiality, and dismissive of those they are meant to be governing/overseeing! the UCI does it, WADA does it, it's crazy. as ruling bodies, they shouldn't be on any side!

bikecellar January 10, 2011 at 9:52 pm

One would think that an own nation championship would be perfectly feasible i understand that there is a thriving domestic scene in addition to the euro based pros. As for the circuit, if the deals been done they are stuck with it but you would think in future they would move the race round a bit, if only for the sake of the fans.
Ps I seem to remember an Aussie name of Bill Lawrie once winning the British National Championships. Hmm now where did i put those copies of International Cycle Sport.

Anonymous January 10, 2011 at 11:05 pm

Surely CA has some say in where the race organiser Craven, sites the championship? Nothing wrong with Ballarat but there are plenty of appropriate roads in the area which could vary the course year on year and give different styles of rider a chance at the "Green and Gold".

We can certainly do without Craven's arrogant and dismissive attitude, he demonstrates a conplete ignorance of what the top guys do for a living.

TheInnerRing January 10, 2011 at 11:26 pm

Anonymous: that's almost a Slavic championship. Thanks for the additional information.

masteringtheuphillshift, bikecellar and Anonymous: I don't mind the straight talk and Craven can have his opinions although he is sailing close to the wind. But it's the nationals and not his personal fiefdom.

haitch January 11, 2011 at 2:59 am

The prez of Cycling Australia has come out and made some more concilliatory noises in the media today – http://www.theage.com.au/sport/cycling/nationals-course-could-change-20110110-19l5n.html

I understand the organisers want to turn the Buninyong course into the cycling equivalent of Bathurst, the public road circuit that's attained pretty iconic status for the motor racing community down here. One big plus is that the climb is a fantastic place to watch from – there's two dead-straight sections that go for about a mile each, so you can see the riders for a comparatively long time. There's no shortage of other roads they could use around the area, though, according to the locals.

Timbo January 11, 2011 at 10:01 am

Re: open to everyone…I'm in two minds (if it's open, I'll probably race it next year)…it just leads to a super quick first few laps to blow off everyone who can't win, or might get in the way (I'd personally hate to take out one of the pros).

Good idea about reducing the number of times up the climb.

Having said that, look who won it. I am not sure you could call JB a climber (not saying it's a pure climbers course, just that it certainly suits guys from JB to Gerro).

However, the comments toward Robbie are fairly harsh.

The blokes a national treasure!!

I guess the question is what is the race for?

Is it to make money for the private promoter/operator (presumably CA gets a cut of it), through the best viewing spectacle, no matter how hard a selection it makes of the riders, including spitting out guys who are fairly handy riders…

E.g. do we want to give everyone a fair chance (World's course was a good example), or make it the best spectacle.

Robert January 11, 2011 at 2:01 pm

Is it old fashioned to think that the first guy across the line should be the champion ? If so, it can (and in my view should) only be open to (in this case) Australians.

TheInnerRing January 11, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Timbo: with you that the race isn't a personal event run by Craven. Like I say, I'll forgive the opinions as we don't get the full context but they do appear disrespectful. His race would not attract 10,000 fans if it wasn't for the riders involved. The riders are the big asset here and even if you want to run the race as a $$$-machine, then at least aim to keep the riders happy.

Robert: I think that's the plan. Remember in the past that they had to have the U-23 race included in the main one. Now they have separate fields.

b January 11, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Hey it's worth remembering that Robbie has won *on this course* – twice. So I think that removes any arguement that it's a climbers course.

I was at Buninyong on Sunday and 2 things: 1) Robbie was much, much slower than Bobridge and Gerro. Sorry, but there it is. 2) It's not really a climbers course. Yes there is a 3km hill, but it's not that steep. And then there's 7km to recover.

It's not like the Buninyong course was a surprise to anyone – the race has been there for years – so If Robbie or Renshaw really wanted to win that race, then they could have been out there training on it, and for it, specifically. Clearly they haven't done that (enough).

Anonymous January 12, 2011 at 12:48 am

I think a big apology is due to Renshaw & McEwen.

Whoever John Craven is, he needs to go back to being a grumpy old course marshall because he sure as hell isn't deserving of a role in Oz cycling.

He was lucky anyone turned out to watch the race, because it sure as hell wasn't advertised anywhere. The Pro's choosing to attend made those people turn up (it wasn't even advertised) and if he treats them like this it'll be back to being like a Northen Combine race in Woodend before you know it.

It's simply good luck (that there's a boom in cycling and websites are talking it up, for free) that anyone even turned up.

Then again, the 'good old days' of Oz cycling was one where the administrators treated the riders like dirt anyway. The huge amount of top cyclists we have right now is hardly due to the likes of John Craven…

From what I know and have seen, Renshaw is a lovely bloke (the headbutt aside) who simply made a genuine comment when asked directly by Sam Lane of The Age. It's not like pandering to a petulant twt like Cav. His langauge showed didn't even go hard on the issue.

As for Robbie, I agree with Timbo about him being a national treasure. I'd love to see some sort of testimonial here for him while he's still racing. Maybe something the TDU or Bay Crits organisers could add on? Even a one-off cycling based event would drag a crowd. Sheesh, Pharmstrong and Cadel Twitter and 10,000 people turn up.

Robbie is on the 'Euro training timezone' (a harsher man would say he looked slow and out of condition in the Bay Crits) but has always had the best intentions when it comes to Aus cycling. He's been here, he competes here and he's a great ambassador to us mug wheel suckers. Three green jerseys would get him near God-like status in Europe, not a slap from some nobody course marshall.

I disagree with b, more training by Renshaw & Robbie does not make their comments any less valid (although I don't think they are suited to the course no matter how fit they are).

The issue that Robbie raised as to why we have internationals racing our national title is a good one. Why do we?

The depth of talent (look at the non Pro's performances on Sunday) shows we don't need to give our green and gold away. We had a massively talented Pro list too, Gerro for one is looking pretty sharp.

As much as KdK, Ben Swift, etc are probably lovely blokes, they simply shouldn't be even riding it. It makes it worse when they work with their trade team mate against a local Aussie.

TheInnerRing January 12, 2011 at 8:21 am

b: I hear you but what about a variety in the course. This would also include putting the finish at the top of Buninyong?

Anonymous: I'm with you. I can't claim to know Renshaw but I chatted with him in the past and he comes across as a very nice guy. It's perhaps a shame the debate has happened in the media and let's hope the riders and organiser can get together on friendly terms to discuss.

Brett December 3, 2011 at 10:53 am

Hi bikecellar

Correct, Bill Lawrie was my father (passed in 1997). He won the Brittish title in 69 and they then changed the rules to ensure wouldn’t happen again (ie a non national).

BWL

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