Around 20 crashes involving close to 60 riders has so far dotted the opening six stages of the Tour of the Murray River with several teams raising their concerns over race conditions however, Tour Director John Craven doesn't believe that the format of the event is forcing the peloton to take unnecessary risks.
In an interview with Cyclingnews, Craven was at a loss to explain the high amount of crashes that have occurred since Sunday when the event began, pointing out that there had been no significant changes to the course structure where a criterium and a short road stage takes place most days.
"One of our goals and I think we do it well, we teach the riders to race and race aggressively so that when they go to Europe and America, they can step straight into the scene over there without having to learn," he explained.
Craven, owner of Caribou Publications which runs the four tour Scody Cup, which is part of Cycling Australia's National Road Series, claimed that post race in Rochester, "was like a bomb had been through the place – there were wounded riders everywhere."
The Tour of the Murray River is run over the dead flat farming plains of Victoria and is characterised by strong head winds which play a role in some of the incidents that occur. However, it was Tuesday's afternoon criterium that forced at least one team to question their position in the race.
"I'm here with a group of six juniors and I've got Glenn O'Shea and Ed Bissaker who are track specialists and we're using this as preparation for the track," explained Tim Decker, director of the SASI Cycling Team. "I'm saying to them that it's not worth falling off and getting chopped. I want them to go for stage wins but not in these criteriums. I've told them not to get involved."
Decker pointed to a lack of respect in the peloton which numbered just over 100 at the start of the week, saying that the tight 950 metre circuit was forcing riders to do "silly things," and it was no longer about the best man winning.
"They're very, very desperate and they're chopping teams and riders off the road," he said.
Last year's winner, Joel Pearson (Genesys) has so far been involved in five crashes and is a key player in the lead out train for Scody Cup leader Steele Von Hoff, who has also come off his bike. Genesys boss, Andrew Christie-Johnson believes that the high-quality field is as much to blame as the course.
"You have a 90 degree turn and have to kick out to win the sprint 100 metres from the corner,' he explained to Cyclingnews. "It's a matter of positioning more than anything else. It often comes down to not who's the fastest sprinter, but who gets around the corner first.
"It's always been like this, with the criterium racing in Australia, and when we have some competitive teams with some real strength, nobody wants to give way going into the corners. They're putting their necks on the line for a sprint prime."
Craven admits that some of the corners and finishes have been tight, and no different to what you see in the Tour de France but was generally of the belief that the parcours was not the issue.
"I'm always open to change but I think generally speaking our courses are exceptionally safe and very well shut down," he said. "The riders do have to take some responsibility for their own actions."
Craven was quick to point out the entertainment value that criterum racing provides for the public which is something he needs to consider given he is running the series as a business and the circuit races are a money spinner.
"We have to look at the overall production and we're also endeavouring to get people to watch our bike racing and the crowds at this year's Tour of the Murray River are the biggest they've ever been,' he explained. "You just can't let people come along and let them watch a boring 30 lap criterium where the riders roll around. The riders have to put a show – and they're putting on a marvellous show."
Cyclingnews asked Craven if Caribou Publications was currently up for sale and if the added publicity from criterium racing makes the Scody Cup a more attractive asset.
Admitting that he has had several offers to buy the business over the last few years, Craven said that Caribou Publications would have to go to someone with the interests of the development of the sport in Australia at heart.
"I would only consider it if the right person came along and I believe that that person can continue the creative work that we've started," he revealed. "And that's the best answer I can give you at the moment."
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