The Grafton to Inverell will usher in the rebooted and reformed National Road Series (NRS) with Cycling Australia confirming the 2018 calendar.
The one-day classic will be held May 12 with the men and women's Battle Recharge to follow in July. The Tour of the Great South Coast is next up for the men with the remaining five events held for both men and women. Including a women's Tour of Tasmania.
The reforms to the NRS were first announced by Cycling Australia in November and included an overhaul of the structure of the calendar. The full effect of the reforms will come into force from 2019 with the 2018 season a chance to test out the changes.
A 'Classics season' is set to open the NRS across the autumn, aligned to the European spring classics, and then a block of stage racing from July through to November. The third component of the new calendar will be a National Criterium Series held across the Australian summer in November and will also serve to provide a base for the Australian national championships.
Cyclingnews spoke to Cycling Australia's General Manager Sports Kipp Kaufmann for an overview of the reforms and long-term plans of the governing body, including what place foreign teams have in the NRS, the push for parity and growing the Oceania Tour.
Cyclingnews: The changes to the NRS model were first announced back in November. In the months since, what have been some challenges and changes to the new NRS model?
Kipp Kaufmann: The first thing we wanted to do was create the clear seasons that we announced. That is what we are doing with this first iteration and step one. We are also putting a big pivot into 2019 and this was obviously a challenge and people were concerned, but there won't a Melbourne to Warrnambool this year because it has to move into 2019. We are also seeing some changes come in right away. Tour of Tasmania is a good example of where there is a men's and women's event, which we have committed to. Almost all the events have that this year. The one that doesn't is the tour of the great south coast, but that event is committed to it in 2019. We are really changing things and things are happening and everyone has their eyes on making sure things are in place for 2019.
We have also been working really closely with upgrading our people. By that I mean, event organisers. They are all great and focused on the series but we working more closely with them leading up to the event. Briefing them appropriately and setting appropriate standards with them. That is a change for them and I think it will take some time to make sure that is articulated and met accordingly. One of the key pieces of feedback from organisers, but mainly teams, was the consistency of officials.
We have moved to a model similar to the UCI for WorldTour events, which have a small number of chief commissaires and those are some of best. They will also be trained around the specifics of the NRS. They will meet on an on-going basis to communicate with them and we have also appointed two mentor chief commissaires, and Greg Griffiths, who will work directly with those individuals so there is consistency event to event. Feedback can also go from event to event around commissaires and they are part of all the briefings and de-briefings. That people part was a big part of what we are doing and want to continue to improve upon that.
CN: In the recent summer of cycling each UCI event on the calendar hosted a men's and women's race. Moving forward, will CA insist parity at NRS races?
KK: It was something we were already looking at but that certainly helps. We have been working with all those UCI events closely to ensure parity will continue. I know they are completely committed. They have some challenges from time to time but it is a commitment that Cycling Australia has and we need to continue to improve in that area and we will. Each organiser is acutely aware of the needs and commitment to it.
One thing that has been really interesting to me is that we have had a number of organisers want to join the series or come back into the series, they have previously been promoters, you might not see them on the calendar yet but they will be running state-based events and ensuring the quality standard is there. Rather than just put them straight onto the calendar and they can understand what the pinch points will be.
With those events wanting to come back on, we are also checking they have all the safety standards and understand the changes that have been made to have men's and women's events, understand that we want long-term and sustainable commitments. Those events will really help transform the nationalisation of the NRS into each of the states.
CN: Will you also look to apply the new standards of quality to teams and ensure there is a model that benefits long-term investment from them into the series?
KK: That is something we need to continue to do, and one thing we are looking to do is how do we add value to their sponsors? One is that we have a clear expectation model with the teams. Now that is still is difficult with a number of them being volunteers or sourcing sponsors each year. We understand those difficulties. Again, we are focused on how can Cycling Australia add the most value and that those sponsors and teams can stick around. Those are some things we are focused on with the media and marketing of the event and the teams. That will be the next push and we won't announce that yet, but an announcement will come from us about what that looks like for the 2019 season.
CN: In a crowded Australian sports market, how can the new NRS model attract the non-cycling fan?
KK: What will we be able to do is bring it into communities. What I mean by that is that you will be able to absorb it a bit more than we have by things like live streaming, being clear about who our teams are and connecting a bit better with them. Some of the organisers have done it really well and we need to take a better leadership role on it is engaging the events into community. An example was the Tour of the Great South Coast over the last few years, which has done a great job with local schools and talking to hundreds of the kids about bike safety and really being able to connect with community as a result.
CN: Cycling Australia has assisted a number of new Continental teams in making connections to secure race starts across Asia and further afield for 2018. Is there reciprocation that could see the likes of Malaysian Continental team Terengganu race in the NRS again?
KK: We have spoken to organisers and international teams about that reciprocal process. There has been really good interest both from the national federations talking to them and directly talking to teams as well. Our organisers would incentivise those starts, whether that is through entries, travel, and those kinds of things. We don't have firm commitments yet but there is strong interest on both sides and we need to be able to tie that up and look forward to hopefully announcing a few of them. It is an area that is the next thing to finalise for the year.
We have been working with those teams to help them get starts overseas and a few have secured more starts overseas, or even starts in countries where they may have a sponsor and thing it is really important and able to make those connections. Hopefully, we are adding that greater value for the teams and sponsors as a result.
CN: Looking longer term, could races like the Melbourne to Warrnambool regain UCI status and the NRS help to grow the number of events in the Oceania Tour?
KK: That is something we have talked about. If there is a better collaboration between the Oceania Tour and NRS and could those comingle in some way. I think there is a strategy around that. We have had some preliminary discussions around that with New Zealand and how that may look. We certainly haven't advanced it more than a preliminary discussion. I think a strategy should be in place that is bigger and broader and benefit events, teams and the sport as a whole. 100 percent it has been within our discussion and maybe a few years away but certainly should be a primary strategy.
2018 Cycling Australia National Road Series (NRS) Tours Schedule
- Grafton to Inverell, NSW (Men) May 12
- Battle Recharge, QLD (Men & Women) July 27-29
- Tour of the Great South Coast, VIC (Men) August 15-19
- Tour of King Valley, VIC (Men & Women) August 31- September 2
- Amy's Otway Tour, VIC (Men & Women) September 15-16
- Tour of Gippsland, VIC (Men & Women) October 9-12
- Tour of Tasmania, TAS (Men & Women) Nov 14-18 (Men), Nov 16-18 (Women)
- Giro della Donna, VIC (Men & Women) November 24-25