Opinion: How is Cyclocross in Australia Managed?
Posted by auscxmag
Posted in News
words: Sean Couley photography: Fiona Morris, Pete Findon and Rob Parbery
Here in Australia, now that the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships have been run and won, the passionate great unwashed masses start to turn their eye to the southern hemisphere Cyclocross season. There is plenty to be excited about too, with dates for local and state series already being announced in Victoria, NSW, W.A, QLD as well as the certainty of another successful Crossfire Cup series in Adelaide. Cross is strong and getting stronger.
What is good about the health of local Cyclocross? The level of participation and involvement. It’s people turning up with no agenda willing to volunteer by either sitting on rego desk for an hour, or helping set up the course, or marshalling a corner during a race – anything to help – all before, or after, pinning on a number and racing themselves mostly just for the thrill of it. The sport is growing faster than any other cycling discipline in Australia and the accessibility along with the friendly feel at local races is the reason for this growth.
Sounds good doesn’t it?
At the end of 2014 MTBA (Mountain Bike Australia) took over the reins as the caretakers of Australian Cyclocross from Cycling Australia. Having some knowledge of the bid process for the 2015 National Series and Championships a person can easily make the assumption that Cycling Australia sold the idea of Cyclocross to MTBA as some form of cash cow that will make a lot of money for little effort.
Why do I say this?
At the completion of the 2015 National Cyclocross Series, there was not a single event host that was willing to bid for an event in 2016 unless conditions drastically changed.
Remembering that the people who were hosting the National Series rounds were volunteers organising the events in their spare time, the expected payments to be made to MTBA for each round was more than a shock… It would mean some clubs hosting a round (or two) would go into debt unless over 150 elite entries were sold per round. Combine this with the appearance of a lack of ground support from MTBA, by the end of August some organisers may have finished the season with a bitter taste in their mouth.
So was the eventual frosty relationship part of the plan?
Before Christmas, the strangest of press releases was made by MTBA, announcing National Series and Championship dates for the next three years, albeit without any venues or organisers.
The key quote I took from the announcement was ‘MTBA are also in discussions with potential partners as host locations, which if plans can be realised could see an injection of financial support into the sport for national level events.’
This, and seeing an email from MTBA CEO Shane Coppin unofficially announcing the 2016 National Championships will be held at Bond University on the Gold Coast that made me realise that MTBA possibly don’t have the best interest of Australian Cyclocross at the heart of their business strategy.
Although I did enjoy the QLD NCXS weekend last year, racing a bone dry course in mild temperatures in QLD will not find a worthy national champion that can attempt to compete with the best in Europe. Just to ram it home, the rumour, and it is an unsubstantiated rumour, is that following on in 2017 the National Champs will be held during October in conjunction with the Mountain Bike World Champs at Cairns. The tropics. Apparently an opportunity to boost the crowds by enticing other riders to come and compete ahead of the big show.
The promised bid criteria is still to be released for the 2016 series, so what happens still very much remains to be seen despite my speculation. But I really cannot help but feel that the business model MTBA have attached to the National Cyclocross Series is purely driven around how much money they think can be made rather than focusing on the success of what has already been built through grass roots development. Again, this is a wait and see…
So now I turn my attention to the MTBA social media post at the completion of the 2016 Cyclocross World Championships…
Social media can be a strange beast – especially if you don’t understand your audience, so when the only thing MTBA had to say about the Elite Men’s race was that Chris Jongewaard and Garry Millburn finished over 7 minutes behind winner Wout Van Aert you may be forgiven for a second if you didn’t understand my immediate disappointment. Yes, Chris and Garry finished over 7 minutes behind the winner – but they also started the race 7 rows behind the winner on the start grid.
Although that is not an excuse I think anybody is interested in, so here are some facts: Until this year no Australian competitor in the Elite Men’s Cyclocross World Championships had ever finished the race on the lead lap. Chris and Garry both did when the placed a very credible 36th and 38threspectively.
In fact, of the 11 members of the Australian team this year 10 riders finished on the lead lap, with only Lisa Jacobs having to withdraw mid-race due to illness. This is a stunning result that even last year many would not have considered possible.
After a fair amount of vitriol towards MTBA due to their social media post, it was deleted. This morning a new post arrived with a personal apology from MTBA CEO Shane Coppin for the previous effort, but still not supporting or congratulating a single member of the team that proudly represented the country over the weekend.
To put into perspective again what Chris and Garry achieved, they were very much on par with riders representing the United States. Jongewaard was just two places behind American Champion Jeremy Powers, while Chris and Garry were the 4th and 5th placed non-European riders on the day. Sounds pretty good doesn’t it? That’s because it is!
Well, hopefully there is some food for thought here. What would I like to see as an outcome? I would like MTBA to SHOW us how they plan to support the sport of Cyclocross in Australia, not TELL us that they support the sport of Cyclocross in Australia. Even better, I would like if somebody could prove every single negative thing I have written here concerning MTBA is wrong. I’d be delighted!
Meanwhile, even if we are all currently in the dark on another National Series and Championships, I still have almost 20 local races to look forward to this year, and I’ll still book tickets to fly around the country