The 2014 National Road Series (NRS) for the second year running will start with the Tour de Perth although the stage race has been slightly pushed forward in the calendar to the last weekend of March. The Adelaide Tour is the next race on the calendar and takes place the following weekend with a month long break before racing resumes at the Battle of the Border from May 15-18.
Having been treated to a spectacular summer of cycling in Australia, the WorldTour peloton may have moved onto Europe leaving local teams to fight it out for the NRS overall and team classifications but Perth is relishing the upcoming cycling festival that is Velofest with the Tour de Perth a showcase event.
The 2013 Tour de Perth was won by Joe Cooper who set up the win by blitzing the Rottnest Island time trial and held onto his lead thanks to a strong Huon Genesys team, who in 2014 are racing under the Avanti name. The driving force behind Tour de Perth, Craig Smith-Gander, explained to Cyclingnews that there will be a few changes to the parcours this year.
"We've had Rottnest Island as a part of the festival right from the first day and we have a significant amount of support from the business community on Rottnest and they provide us with a lot of assistance. Rottnest Island an iconic part of Western Australia and Tourism WA are very keen for it to be used.
"We experimented with the road race over there last year which didn't really work and there are a number of factors behind that. Our first stage was the road race [which was the first race of the NRS] and things were a bit 'fidgety' so starting off with a road race in retrospect probably wasn't a good idea."
Smith-Gander isn't a man who takes no lightly and where others may have seen insurmountable obstacles he sees possibilities.
"It was clear to me that there was enough backing, corporate and government wise, in WA to put on a proper bike race. Certainly Tourism WA had been waiting for someone to essentially come along and to put a proposal to them that met their criteria.
"So I put a proposal to them which obviously met the criteria as they put a significant amount of funding into it and have continued to do that in each of the four years. In fact, they have raised the funding each year and raised it while I've increased the corporate sponsorship so the festival now has proportionately less government involvement, but from an absolute dollars term, more than when it started."
While there is no women's NRS event in 2014, Smith-Gander is looking to ensure that isn't the case next year. "I tried very much to get a women’s NRS event on this year but it didn’t come to pass. I think I’ve got a potential sponsor even on next year and if I put a race on it will be the same prize money as the men. I’m quite deliberate about that because if the girls are racing they should be racing for the same prize money."
"You have to get beyond the logistical and technical challenges that get in front of you. When we first put on a race with my three of my mates back in the mid-1990s we ran a thing called the Perth Criterium Series which was spectacularly successful and we had television and they said 'you'll never get television' so I rang Phil Liggett up and said 'why don't you and Paul [Sherwan] come out and commentate?' and they did so we got on television.
"It just went off. If you have a challenge in front of you, you work through it."
The race director Matt Poyner is anticipating the race will be a showdown between Avanti and Drapac for the title of Australia's best team and highlighted several riders to watch.
"Defending-champion and Oceania time trial champion Joe Cooper well and truly one of the guys to watch. The full Drapac squad with Henk Vogels looking after them are coming over and in that squad it really is a question of take your pick with Travis Meyer who won the Tour de Perth a few years ago," Poyner told Cyclingnews.
"Jack Anderson is returning with Drapac and he won the first stage last year at the Tour de Perth and he also won the last race on the NRS calendar so it was a Jack Anderson sandwich last year.
"There is enough varied terrain in this race to give everybody an idea of who is going to be the strongest team to beat throughout the year. Teams like Avanti and BudgetForklifts will be trying very hard to show Drapac that they aren't the number one team in Australia and Drapac will be out to show that they are number one. I think there are a lot of bragging rights based on this tour over the top of any other in the year."
While last year the race was decided by the Rottnest Island time trial, a slight tweak to the parcours should see a much closer race.
"The road stage around Kalamunda has a 39-25 [lowest gear] climb in the last kilometre and half after they riders have climbed repeatedly for about 116km. it's not that long of a climb, it's only about 800m but it comes out of nowhere so this year there is a big opportunity for a non-time trialist to win the race as the time trial comes after the first major road race whereas last year we had a short road stage which was more of a kermesse.
"Realistically the race was all over after the time trial as the then Huon Genesys team controlled the race. This year, there won't the same control on the Kalamunda Rd stage as the first stage is a criterium, the day before which will set up the race before the time trial."
From a local perspective, Poyner highlighted Giant Satalyst's Sam Wellsford, U19 Oceania time trial champion Michael Storer, Anthony Giacoppo (Avanti) and Travis Meyer as names to look out for. There will be a much larger peloton for the race this year with numbers increasing from 116 to 155 which Poyner suggests symbolises the growing stature of the race
"This year we have three international teams from Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan and we've been overwhelmed with response to want to ride."
A UCI 2.1 race next year?
With race organisers, CIC Events, having come close to getting a new UCI 2.1 event Australia off the ground in 2012, Poyner set the record straight in telling Cyclingnews that Perth not only wants to continue hosting the Tour de Perth but complement the NRS event with another separate event.
"We don't have any interest in making the Tour de Perth a 2.1 category race but we do have a massive interest in having another race here in Perth that is a 2.1 and I've quite literary mapped out a course that can be used as a stage race or as individual road races around 160-180km so we aren't looking at dropping the Tour de Perth as a NRS event but we are looking to include a 2.1 race in 2015 as part of the Velofest weekend of racing."
Smith-Gander also stated his intentions to ensure the 2.1 event goes ahead and with interest from financial sectors and the Cycling Australia (CA) president and Orica-GreenEdge owner Gerry Ryan, 2015 may just see the expansion of the Australian Summer of racing.
"I've had some interest from government and one particular corporate about putting on a 2.1 or 2.2 category event during the same festival.
"I'd like to see the race have the same sort of impact the Sun Tour has. I'm not going to create another Tour Down Under, that’s the premier stage race in Australia and should remain so. I'd like to be part of the Oceania Tour that Tracey Gaudry has spoken a lot about.
"Tracey and I have had quite a few discussions about that and she has certainly encouraged me to do that, as has Cycling Australia. I had a meeting with Gerry Ryan at the Tour Down Under and he really encouraged me to do that.
"We're working away at developing with Cycling Oceania and CA about being the third leg to the Oceania Tour which will be the event in New Zealand, the Sun Tour and hopefully one over here which means we’d have to look at the calendar to have the Tour happen you pretty much have to have it happen straight on from the other two events."