|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?
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.
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.