Takeways from the Aussie summer of cycling

No Tour Down Under, no Cadel’s, no Herald Sun … again

It was another season without the glitz and glamor of the international peloton heading to Australia to kick off the WorldTour with the TDU and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race. The Herald Sun Tour normally attracts a few WorldTour squads plus some interesting Continental teams, but these were notably absent from Australian shores again this year.

The easing of restrictions are now such that the teams could come out and race, but given the uncertainty in the lead-up to each event and the long-term planning involved, it was not feasible to have international events this year. It does detract from the spectacle, the chance of getting up close and personal with Peter Sagan is not there, and with the lack of WorldTour teams, there is not the same drive from the fans to get roadside and support the locals.

The ‘Tour Down Under’ (TDU) name was again not in use, it’s being saved up for the WorldTour event, but I hope the concept of the ‘Festival of Cycling’ sticks and maybe even gets expanded to other events during the summer. There were always extra events around the TDU, but the more structured and organized displays of other disciplines appear to be a great inclusion.

That was even reflected in the Australian riders making the trip back down under being significantly reduced. Without the additional lure of the WorldTour and UCI races, there is not the same drive to be there for road nationals and National Road Series (NRS) events.

Less glamor, more fun

For all that the total eyeballs on races was down, it was not because of the product on offer. All races were approached with an attacking mindset, with the Australian teams relishing their chance in the spotlight.

Past Tours Down Under have been quite controlled races (2020 was actually very good and not a particularly helpful example, see other years) but the NRS riders mixed in with the Australian overseas professionals have consistently put on a great show with audacious, attacking moves claiming the landmark wins.

This extended into the rest of the NRS races, with the men’s and women’s Tours of Gippsland decided by long-range moves, while the women’s Warrnambool Cycling Classic saw seven of the best riders in the domestic ranks take the race by the scruff of its neck .

First Women’s Warrny a landmark

There was an excited hubbub at the start of the Women’s Warrnambool Cycling Classic, with the female athletes all excited to have the opportunity to race in a women’s-only edition of the male-dominated historic fixture of the cycling calendar. While the men’s 270-kilometer Melbourne to Warrnambool is still an open event where women can compete in the grade system, there were no female competitors this year as the women looked instead to the new event.

Plenty of riders went out of their way to compete in the first-ever women’s Warrny, Sarah Gigante (Movistar) was very keen to make her return from illness there and plenty of riders lined up despite knowing that they were little chance to win. Alana Forster (Butterfields p / b Van D’am) had been struggling with hip flexor issues in previous races, giving her significant pain, but she was present smiling on the startline, saying ‘of course I’m here, it’s the first- ever Warrny ‘!

The longest race on the road for women in 2022 did not disappoint, there was a good pace from the start, before the fireworks really lit up as they hit the Great Ocean Road. The seven riders who made their way clear were reduced to six who fought it out for the win, one from each of the major teams within Australian domestic cycling.

Plouffe won with a superb sprint, but it was my own dodgy photo afterwards of the six exceptional riders standing arm-in-arm, recognizing their competitors, that captured the moment that will live with me for the longest time. Also check out the interview with event director Karin Jones, who has put countless hours of effort over years to make the women’s Warrny dream a reality.

Like a bar-tailed godwit flying north for the winter

More and more local men’s teams (and riders) have ambitious plans for 2022, with Asian, European and even a USA trip or two being planned by many teams for the upcoming season.

The Savoie Tour MontBlanc has been a race where Aussie talents have grabbed attention in recent years, expecting to see the likes of James Whelan and Matt Dinham stake their claim for a pro contract this time around.

Tour de l’Avenir selection will be hotly contested rather than limited to who is already overseas and the Belgian domestic racing will be an important battleground in the fight for professional deals.

On the women’s side, there are a number of riders looking for guest stints overseas with Roxsolt Liv SRAM with some ambitious plans to get back to international racing. They were down to start the Tour of Flanders in 2020, so they could well be popping up at the top races this year with Australian National Road Race champion Nicole Frain a drawcard.

For prospective pros, the Oceania Championships, raced as part of the Tour de Brisbane will be crucial, particularly with the WorldTour teams scrapping for UCI points by the end of the season to avoid relegation. A win there is worth more than twice the UCI points for winning a Tour de France stage, so it will be hotly contested.

The NRS battle will be a hot one

If there was any general trend to be drawn from the opening three races of the NRS season, it was that things are really well-balanced across the top five teams, while the men’s races have three teams that look well-matched at the top, with others ready to pounce in the right situation.

Racing in the NRS has, in the past, often by dictated by the tactical decisions of one or two teams, with the decisions of Bridgelane or Inform in the men’s and Roxsolt or Specialized in the women’s shaping the way those events play out.

Now, that dynamic has evened out dramatically with a number of teams particularly in the women’s NRS coming up to mix it with the best, and doing so in an attacking fashion. ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast, Roxsolt Liv SRAM, Inform TMX Make, Sydney Uni Staminade and surprise packet Knights of Surburbia are all equally capable of taking regular wins.

With the men’s, it’s a bit more of a closed competition at the top, with ARA-Pro Racing Sunshine Coast, Inform TMX Make and Team Bridgelane the clear top teams with depth of talent. St George are also very strong, but aren’t often sighted at NRS races, and sound like they’ve got a larger Asian race calendar on the cards this year.

SBS is the place to watch the National Road Series in 2022 with the highlights of races, livestreams where available and race reports on SBS Cycling Central.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Back to top button