Cycling Australia has announced a five-person assessment team to evaluate the viability of changes to the Ballarat national championships courses. The regional Victorian city recently extended its contract with CA through to despite calls for a move to a different location.
Consideration for change includes the impact on riders and spectators, alongside logistical and financial constraints.
Heading up the assessment team is Orica-Scott's Mat Hayman, Wiggle-High5's sports director Donna Rae-Szalinski, two-time criterium winner Kimberley Wells, now retired local rider Pat Shaw and CA's recently appointed general manager of sport, Kipp Kaufmann.
During the panel's May meeting, over 12 potential courses were identified with course reconnaissance to follow in the coming months.
"While there are obvious constraints to where the Nationals can be run, and while the course is a great Championship course, I think it's good to explore more options," said Hayman.
"Traditionally a Championship is run on a variety of terrains and courses making sure that all types of riders have a chance to be crowned champion and wear that very special jersey."
While there have been changes and modifications made the criterium, time trial and road race courses since Ballarat first held the championships in 2006, the Mt Buninyong climb has been a feature of the championships. The climb is the best-attended location on the 10km circuit with numerous riders explaining the atmosphere is akin to anywhere in Europe. A statement reiterated by Hayman.
"In recent years, there has been a tremendous atmosphere created by the fans on the Buninyong climb which is equal to anything you will find racing in Europe," Hayman added.
"I think that we have a fantastic course, one that has produced exciting racing and deserving winners across all grades."
A former rider before embarking on a coaching and sports director career, Rae-Szalinski explained irrespective of the result it is an important process for CA.
"I am really excited about the alternatives we have created, but more importantly and regardless of the final outcomes, it shows that CA is listening to our body of cyclists," said Rae-Szalinski.
"I think that the existing Buninyong course is a very good one, it has so many good things, amazing for spectators, and is a challenging course for the riders. And at our nationals, it really feels like you are in Europe, so we don't want to do anything that will diminish that.
Although fastman Heinrich Haussler outsprinted Caleb Ewan (Orica-Scott) for the win in 2015, it was via a breakaway which represented the best option for the sprinters to contest for the win. Rae-Szalinski added changes to the course could open up the opportunities for more kinds of riders.
"However, we want to ensure that all of our riders have the opportunity to win their national title," she added. "So we have looked at ways to create a more tactical race, one that is more challenging to all of our riders. Perhaps that is one that keeps the core element of the Buninyong course but also presents opportunities for sprinters to get around the course and put pressure on the pure climbers."
All potential changes to the criterium, time trial and road race courses are to be approved by stakeholders, Victoria Police and the City of Ballarat in August.
"People have to understand, despite the fact we have engaged time and effort in options, it might be a case that we stick with the original course for 2018 with a look to change in subsequent years," said Rae-Szalinski. "The difficulty comes with the logistics and the costs of implementing changes. As much as we want to deliver something that pleases everyone, ultimately any decision will need to have final approval."
The 2018 national championships will be held in Ballarat from January 3-7 with CA to announce the full schedule and any changes to the courses in the coming months.
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