Cronulla Grand Prix race organiser Phill Bates believes that Sydney's biggest annual criterium could be the catalyst for more racing in Australia's most populous city, Sydney. Speaking at the launch of this year's event, Bates said that a long-overdue criterium series could eventuate, given appropriate levels of support from the right quarters.
Bates is an experienced race organiser, the man behind the successful Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic, which attracted the likes of Jan Ullrich and Jens Voigt to Australian shores during the 1990s. The 2009 Cronulla Grand Prix is the fourth edition of the race and this year's lineup boasts the likes of United States of America Criterium Championship race winner Ben Kersten (Fly V Australia), former Australian Open Road Champion Matt Wilson (Team Type 1), Rabobank professional Graeme Brown and Chris Sutton, who will join Team Sky in 2010 after riding for Garmin-Slipstream during the past two seasons.
Bates explained that government support for the event has been vital. New South Wales Minister for Sport Kevin Green spoke at today's launch and the continued collaboration with state authorities could bear fruit in the future. "I had discussions with [former NSW Premier] Nathan Rees just prior to the end of his term as premier; I've had discussions with Kevin Green, the Minister for Sport and I'm sure those discussions will continue through with [new premier] Kristina Keneally - I think the most important aspect is putting on a series here," said Bates.
Australia's most populated state has suffered from a love-hate relationship with cycling over recent years - events on the road involving amateur riders has resulted in levels of animosity between motorists and cyclists. Comments from certain government officials hasn't aided this situation at times, although Bates believes that by increasing the number of events such as the Cronulla GP, the sport's profile and reputation can improve amongst the general public.
"I think the most important aspect is trying to maximise government involvement as much as possible," said Bates, who also explained that recent comments made by government in relation to decreasing bunch sizes on the road can be construed as constructive for the future of the sport in New South Wales. "Over the years I've tried to work closely with government to enhance the road [safety] aspect; the Roads and Traffic Authority will be represented on the day with a marquee promoting cycle safety. I think some of the issues raised by government in relation to reducing the bunch sizes has been a positive one; as a former cyclist, coach and mentor I've been concerned about that."
Many of the stars riding the Cronulla GP were raised in Sydney - Sutton, Kersten, Rochelle Gilmore and inaugural winner Brown are all locals who return to the area during their off season. It's hoped their continued presence at the race will aid in raising the interest in staging more high-profile races in the state.
Bates reiterated the importance of government support in terms of sponsorship, however. "We'll never get back to the halcyon days of the Commonwealth Bank Cycle Classic; not unless you get big government support seen at events such as the Herald Sun Tour and the Tour Down Under, which are just superb events in this country," he said.
Bates also explained that there are plans to re-introduce large races in other parts of the state on the back of the continued success of the Cronulla GP. And it's good news for women's cycling on that front. "We're also looking at the women's World Cup again and I'd love to bring back the Tour de Snowy," said Bates. "There are a lot of positive aspects to it - the Tour de Snowy was one of the best women's road tours in the world because the level of competitors was so good," he added.