In 2010, the Goulburn to Sydney Cycle Classic was expanded to include a prologue, allowing a racing display in Goulburn the day before the traditional 171km race to Camden on the outskirts of Sydney. Though historically a single-day race, the prologue is part of a format change by race organisers which is hoped will grow the race as a spectacle and a sporting event on the National Road Series (NRS) calendar.
This expansion however is not without its ‘teething problems’. In last year’s race, Ben Grenda (Genesys) took out the overall win of the two day expanded event, despite not winning the prestigious second day, on which all the history of the event is based. The same occurred in this year’s race with classic winner Steele Von Hoff finishing third overall behind teammate and NRS leader Nathan Haas.
Race committee member Paul Hillbrick explained to Cyclingnews that while the prologue had created some problems, it was something that they were working on.
"Basically, that’s what we’ve had to address in the new format," Hillbrick said. "The issue we’ve had is that we do to a large extent need to grow the event or else it will die. By having the prologue we bring another dimension to the race which helps that side of things.
"Of course we also need to make sure we acknowledge the history of the event as well. Who goes in the record books as the winner? That’s an issue we’ve got to contend with.
"Conversely you’ve got to understand that we don’t have a race without sponsors and supporters, without them the race can’t be run, so it’s not easy.
"I’m certainly happy to hear different ways to run the event and to maintain the history, I’m more than happy to go down that road, but what we do need is consensus. A few people are starting to give us their opinions which is good, and that’s healthy because we need the feedback."
A number of team managers and riders have also raised concerns over the way the results of the prologue affect the racing on day two. If the overall win is now the goal, it encourages the leader’s team to ride considerably more defensively. Bikebug.com rider Phil Grenfell said he’d never seen Genesys ride quite so defensively, and a different criticism came from Tour of the Murray River winner Patrick Shaw (Genesys).
"Well I think the danger is that the Classic becomes just another stage," said Shaw. "Before you had the prologue, in previous years, you’d often see ones and twos trickle over the line. I think today was good, but that’s the danger."
More direct still was BikeBug.com manager Trent Wilson, who questioned the value of the first day to the race.
"The prologue shouldn’t be in it," said Wilson. "I told my guys last night that, goal number one is today [the classic], goal number two is the team’s classification, and goal number three is the overall. As far as I’m concerned the Goulburn to Sydney Classic was today, Steele Von Hoff won it, Phelan was second and Chris Jory ran third."
One thing Hillbrick said that has been done to address some of these concerns has been the introduction of the KOM and sprint classifications, with the winner of each earning a 30 second time bonus for their team.
"The riders need to have something to fight for, or you just kill or [neutralize] the [Classic]," Hillbrick argues. "The prologue and the sprints add another dimension, but we always need to be mindful of the implications. If we can get a great idea on modifying or tweaking the format, then we’re happy to consider it, we just need to make sure to keep all stakeholders happy."
Nathan Haas was one rider who did defend organizers, aptly pointing out that at the end of the day riders have to come to terms with the way the race is formatted and race accordingly.
"I don’t think you can have issues with the structure," said Haas. "We all have the same race. Everyone has to work within the current framework. It’s a beautiful race, the actual classic itself but everyone knows at the beginning [with the prologue], that if you time trial well you put yourself in a better position for the classic. That’s the way it is at the moment, though I’m not sure what the future of the prologue holds."
In 2011, the Goulburn to Sydney Classic was a smashing success, raising more than $90,000 for charity, and stimulating the local economies in Goulburn and Camden, but it will be interesting to see what format revisions organisers consider in the years ahead.