Is Australian track cycling nearing 'crisis point'?

Scott McGrory, the man who along with madison partner Brett Aitken broke Australia's 16-year Olympic gold medal drought in Sydney in 2000 has warned that the nation's track cycling stocks are nearing 'crisis point' due to the continuing demise of the sport at a grassroots level.

McGrory told SBS' Cycling Central during last week's national titles that, "The top one per cent of the Australian team is exceptional. Shane Perkins, our team pursuit team, Cameron Meyer, Jack Bobridge... these guys are really the world's best but I think the group behind that is really starting to slow down a bit."

Currently a track coach with the Victorian Institute of Sport, McGrory told Cyclingnews when asked to expand on his comments, that a packed and competitive Australian summer calendar, along with a March world championships was to blame.

"What we're noticing is the track nationals now have to be the first week of February, which virtually comes one week after the Tour Down Under which is one week straight after the road nationals; Bay Crits are one week before that and you've got your Christmas break before that," he explained.

"The only track racing we end up doing in December is the smaller championship races – state championships, metros, country championships... Oceania's gets tacked on right at the start of the season and there's just no room for the old carnival racing anymore.

"I think this is probably for your domestic team for track cycling the worst it has been... This weekend there's some track racing on in Ararat and Ballarat - my young guys have just said they're tired and over it and do they have to go and race.

"That wouldn't have happened in the past. The championships would have still been coming and all these carnival races would have been the path towards the championships. Now that they're on after the championships because they can't be before because of Tour Down Under and everything it really makes things hard to try and get guys motivated to front up.

"We've still got a great national identification program, we're going to have the big stars that are racing in Europe, we're still going to get people coming into the sport and it's almost in spite of our domestic scene."

Crisis, or just evolution?

Stephen Wooldridge, four-time team pursuit world champion and Olympic gold medallist in the same event, told Cyclingnews that while he understands where McGrory's comments are coming from, Australia's depth on the track is at a high not seen in over a decade.

"On one hand there may be not the strength in carnivals compared to what it used to be; the sport's making it up on the other side," he explained. "People are now riding the track all year round whereas before they'd probably hang the track bike up in February or March and wouldn't dust it off until September or October.

"The dynamics of the whole sport have changed. I'd love to see carnivals back at their glory days... but as a whole we're very strong."

Wooldridge, now a director on the Cycling Australia board, said that there was plenty of reason to be confident in the nation's future on the track following the performances at last week's national titles.

"Let's not squabble over numbers, the depth of the sprinters I think it's the best depth they've seen at a national titles for 10-15 years back to the [Darryn] Hill- [Gary] Neiwand days. Just to get through to the top eight, the times are incredible.

"It's not just two guys that are able to be world champions, there are eight or 10."

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