One of Australia's oldest cycling events is under threat following team protests over rider safety. Following a tumultuous period of racing and rider safety at races within the state of New South Wales, loggerheads have been reached with five of the top teams due to participate in this year's Paradice Investment Goulburn to Sydney Classic all agreeing to boycott the event if safety standards are not met.
Cyclingnews can confirm that a letter has been sent by Australian UCI Continental teams Drapac Professional Cycling, Budget Forklifts and Huon Salmon-Genesys Wealth Advisers, along with top domestic outfits search2retain p/b health.com.au and Euride Racing stating their position that unless full rolling road closures are enforced for the September 15 race, they will not attend.
The Goulburn to Sydney one-day road race has traditionally started out with the first 80 kilometres of racing taking part on the Hume Highway, the major piece of road running along the east coast between Sydney and Melbourne. Repeatedly this has met with complaints from team managers over rider safety. The safety measures put in place consists of closing the left-hand lane for participants to race in whilst traffic passes on the right-hand side at normal speeds of up to 110 kilometres per hour.
The New South Wales Police have worked hard to maintain the continuation of the Goulburn, and their intentions are not being questioned by teams. It's simply put that the current arrangement leaves no buffer zone allowing for riders to move sideways following any incident in the bunch. Teams are calling for a greater margin for error when error occurs. Tim Decker, Euride racing director and new Australian track endurance coach confirms this.
"We need to look after the rider's safety first," Decker told Cyclingnews. "I've raced the race before and when you're in the race [as a rider] you're not really thinking of those consequences. But from being a team manager when you're behind races and you're seeing being trucks go past, it's only going take one slight incident in the bunch and it could be a sad day for everybody."
At this year's annual road forum held in Ballarat during the Australian Open Road Championships, the main topic of discussion was the enforcement of a set of minimum standards for events to be classified as part of the National Road Series (NRS).
According to Budget Forklifts manager, Cameron Watt, the understanding over the need for rolling road closures was clear.
"The meeting that we had in January back at nationals, not one team or the organisers could have come away from that meeting not knowing what was expected. It was so black and white," explained Watt. "Eventually, [Cycling Australia National Manager] Sean Muir said, 'Alright, who then is not going to race if there are no rolling road closures?' And everyone put their hand up and said that no one will race if there's not a rolling road closure."
Such determination by the teams however, appears to have escaped Goulburn to Sydney organisers for some time. Michael Gleeson, the race director of the Goulburn to Sydney, told Cyclingnews that the gravity of the issue and the team's stance is something that he's only recently become aware of.
"We only really heard about it [rolling road closures] at a meeting with Cycling Australia in April this year," he explained.
"We can see where they're coming from," Gleeson continued. "We race down the Hume Highway, this is Australia's number one highway and I don't think it's even achievable. The police would rightly so say: 'Go and race somewhere else.' So we've sort of done what we can do to increase the level of safety but as far as getting rolling road closures, even the NSW Police are not so keen on it."
Decker and Watt both confirmed that the topic of rolling road closures and the Goulburn had gone off the radar as the NRS got underway successfully this year. Rider safety was sighted as the reason behind the cancellation of the final stage at the North Western Tour last year. To the credit of New South Wales Police, Cycling Australia and the event organisers, that event was re-run this year with rider safety much improved.
A question for race organisers is if rolling road closures can be achieved for the North Western Tour, why not the Goulburn to Sydney?
The threat of cancellation is a less-than-ideal situation for all parties.
"My priority will be to protect my sponsors," said Gleeson. "We have had a lot of support from a man called Simon Poidevin who has brokered a lot of deals for us. Also at risk here may be the televising of the event. If they take it off us, I would need to talk to Simon to make sure that our sponsors are protected and talk to our committee and make a decision on what happens."
Asked by Cyclingnews if it was possible to put a price on safety, Gleeson was forced to concede.
"No, you can't."
Watt admits that the collapse of the race is not something that the teams want to see.
"If the race does not go ahead we'll be pretty upset, everyone wants to race! The sponsors want us to race and the boys have specific goals too," he said. "For it to not go ahead, we'll be spewing. We're desperate to race."
Race organisers and Cycling Australia are set to meet this afternoon at Cycling NSW headquarters.