Australian Open Road Championship organiser John Craven has pledged to raise Robbie McEwen’s objections to having foreign riders contest the title race at Cycling Australia’s next National Racing Calendar meeting. The star sprinter has called on other riders to voice their opposition to overseas riders competing at the Ballarat event, with January’s race expecting one of the largest foreign contingents to date.
“I would really like to start a movement among Australian riders to change it back to Australian championship,” he said. “It just isn’t right, the Australian Championship podium – a German, a Pom and a Kiwi…let’s please change it.
“I just find it so disappointing that our federation finds it necessary to include foreigners in our national championship who can and will change the course of the race, thus influencing [for better or worse] the result,” he added.
McEwen’s comments come after Columbia-HTC announced a solid six-man squad, including German champions Andre Greipel and Bert Grabsch, for next month’s race. Both Greipel and Grabsch are big-name riders on the international scene and will use the race to prepare for Tour Down Under, held in Adelaide one week later.
With Columbia-HTC losing last year’s title to Drapac-Porsche’s Peter McDonald, despite having two of its riders in the three man sprint, there are fears having riders like Gripel on hand could tip the balance against domestic riders. Drapac-Porsche has won two of the last three titles, with Silence-Lotto’s Matthew Lloyd splitting their wins with his 2008 victory.
The majority of nations run their national championships prior to the Tour de France, during the European season. The main exceptions are Australia and New Zealand, both held on the same weekend in January, and the USPro Criterium Championship which was ironically won by Australia’s Ben Kersten (Fly V Australia) earlier this year.
“No other country runs their road champs as an open, except the USA crit champs,” said McEwen. “They stopped running their road race as an open a few years ago.
“We are the number three ranked nation in the world which shows that we have the depth in talent to run a perfectly challenging and exciting race,” he added. “Another issue is that foreigners who are ineligible to win the white, green and gold jersey are open to selling themselves to the highest bidding rider who can win it. So it’s more complex than them just riding for Australian team-mates.”
McEwen is sympathetic with the fact the race is a perfect precursor to Tour Down Under, however is asking for the same rules to apply to foreigners riding the Australian titles as applies to Australians riding foreign championships prior to the Tour.
“We would love a tune-up race before the Tour de France but are, of course, ineligible to ride and we accept that,” he said.
McEwen, who won the road race title in 2002, will contest next month’s criterium championship, which will be held in Ballarat with the other national titles for the first time.