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Back to an old stomping ground for 2022 Road Worlds race director Scott Sunderland

Scott Sunderland is the race director at Wollongong 2022 Road World Championships
Scott Sunderland is the race director at Wollongong 2022 Road World Championships (Image credit: Wollongong 2022)

It was over 30 years ago when the 2022 UCI Road World Championships race director, Scott Sunderland, learnt what much of the cycling world should find out in 10 months time – Wollongong, with its windswept coast line and escarpment views, has all the ingredients required to deliver a spectacular bike race.

Belgium may be where Sunderland is based now, as he works as a race director at Flanders Classics, Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Ride London Classic and Classique, but the Wollongong World Championships are on such a familiar stomping ground that his new role is somewhat of a homecoming.

“For me personally, it just goes back to my roots,” Sunderland told Cyclingnews last week after he was appointed race director at the second Road World Championships ever to be held in Australia. “I come from the country, Inverell. I was born and bred there, started my career at the age of seven, did everything I could from out of the Inverell and then went to live in Sydney.”

Inverell is in the same state as Wollongong, but his home town on a bend of the Macintyre River is still more than 600 kilometres away. However, that early-career shift to the west of Sydney, less than an hour’s drive from the coastal city, opened the door to an exploration of the region.

“A very good friend came from Wollongong,” explained Sunderland. “I used to go down there all the time racing and training. We used to go out in Wollongong, out to the footy club, the league club. I've got great memories of the area from before I came over to Europe full time.”

Memories that included racing the Commonwealth Bank Classic through the district – a stage race that ran for 19 years through to 2000 and had a winner's list including Jan Ulrich and Jens Voigt. Then there was the 943-kilometre Mazda Alpine Tour, where Sunderland battled through tough conditions to take the overall win in 1992.

All that time spent riding and racing around the varied terrain south of Australia's largest capital city meant that as soon as Wollongong Worlds was announced Sunderland was well aware of the area’s potential as a race and event location, for riders and spectators alike.

"You are so close to Sydney, but it's still got that country feel to it, with wide open space,” said Sunderland. “You have got the escarpment, you have got the climbs right there at your fingertips. You have the beaches and the flat to ride on so it's very much got just about all you need as a cyclist for training requirements. And it's just a beautiful area to be in, splendid beaches, a great surfing community and the cycling culture there has always been very strong." 

With that quick awareness of the potential, also came the immediate realisation that the role of race director at a Wollongong Road World Championships was one he didn’t want to miss.

Joining the Australian Worlds team again

Campionati del Mondo 2000 - 73rd Edition - Plouay (FRA) 268,9 km 15/10/2000 - Scott Sunderland (AUS) - photo Roberto Bettini/BettiniPhoto©2000

Scott Sunderland (Australia) on his way to seventh place at the 2000 Road World Championships in France (Image credit: Bettini Photo)

Sunderland not only has many years behind him as a race director across some of the most prestigious cycling events in both Europe and Australia but has direct Worlds experience. He has supported riders from trade teams at World Championships in his role as sports manager, was involved as the latest event unfolded at close quarters in Flanders and also raced in 13 Road World Championships, representing Australia in the race for the rainbow stripes from the late 1980's through to the early 2000's.

That background meant that when Sunderland’s name was announced as race director it seemed the obvious choice. It would be hard to look past the 55-year-old's cumulative experience, particularly with the overlay of that bank of local knowledge, all-important in an era where the COVID-19 pandemic related border restrictions made it hard to travel in and out of Australia.

Sunderland, for one, said there was no one aspect of that experience which alone would dominate as he set about his tasks as race director at the Road World Championships, with the broad picture gathered from his time in the race director's chair at various other events combining with the perspective he has obtained from all the other different vantage points he has had throughout his cycling career.

"I pull from my time as a rider, from my time in the team car as a team manager … but then I draw from everyday one-day events and tours but also from my participations in so many World Championships,” Sunderland said, adding that it was important to understand the different dynamics at play in the races for the rainbow jersey.

Selecting the ingredients

As national cycling bodies analyse their performance at the Flanders Worlds and then start thinking about their teams for Wollongong, one of the big questions to be answered is what will the course for 2022 look like? Given what the Wollongong team had to work with while formulating the yet to be announced routes, the answer is far from obvious.

"What Wollongong provides is an opportunity to create just about anything,” said Sunderland. “It has something for all types of riders from GC riders to classics riders to pure sprinters.”

“Of course we are running 11 events, from juniors to elite men, so you need to be able to make events which are suitable for everyone but also we want to, of course, have an exciting event that's dynamic, that's live spectator friendly, that's TV broadcast friendly and that creates those great shots of the riders within the sport, but also of the backdrop of Wollongong, because it deserves that – it's such a beautiful, picturesque area of New South Wales." 

The dramatic stretches of coastline aplenty sit alongside numerous options for inland jaunts and, while the area has its share of flat roads, there is also the climbs of the escarpment.

"Wollongong offers a full package,” said Sunderland. 

That meant the challenge at the beginning when contemplating course design was not what to put in, but more about what to leave out. 

“When you have got as many things to choose from as Wollongong it's tempting to think let's put that in and this in and then all of a sudden we have got too many ingredients ... we’ve got to start taking something out," said Sunderland. "That's been a problem for us here – because you can just add so much in – not to go into overkill and spoil it."

Though, Sunderland believes the right balance is there.

“I think everyone's going to be very happy with how this course will pan out, for all events,” concluded Sunderland.

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