Spotlight on Australia
Last month, the Santos Down Under in Australia opened proceedings for the 2018 UCI WorldTour.
Local riders were constantly in the action up front, and it was enough to see the crowds lining the streets of Adelaide to understand that cycling in Australia is a passion. And we’re not talking just about road cycling. Last year Cairns hosted the UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, while the Gold Coast is currently preparing to welcome the Commonwealth Games (April 4-15) which will include road, track and mountain bike.
Across all the 2017 UCI World Championships, Australia’s Elite, Under-23 and Junior cyclists and para-cyclists raked up 14 rainbow jerseys, 19 silver medals and 13 bronze.
But one of the statistics of which Cycling Australia Chairman, the Hon. Steve Bracks AC, is most proud is that there are now five million active cyclists in Australia. “That’s the highest it has ever been,” he points out.
The popularity of the sport means that cycling is now a must watched sport, particularly with young people. According to Bracks:
“The depth of talent on the road and the track is also at an all-time high. Australia is now a Cycling Nation.”
However, there is always room for improvement, according to the former Premier of Victoria, who was elected Cycling Australia (CA) Chair in February 2017.
As he states in CA’s 2017 Annual Report: “We always want to do better, and that relies on making sure the organisation is effective, that it is running well and that it has a clear strategic direction for the sport.”
He would like this strategic direction to be common across all peak sporting bodies, including BMX Australia and MTB Australia.
When it comes to the Elite side of the sport, Cycling Australia last year announced a new High Performance Strategy under the leadership of high performance coach Simon Jones, also appointed last February. The goal is to win 4 to 6 gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and 4-5 gold medals at the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.
“Our recent results at Olympic Games were not where we wanted them to be, and change was necessary,” says Bracks. “We are working within a set of guidelines and rules that rewards gold medals and so we are now focusing on track, where the majority of the medals can be won. This means we have to reallocate funds and in some cases, change the focus of how we spend the funds we have.”
There was good news as this year’s Santos Tour Down Under drew to a close in the South Australian capital of Adelaide.
After the sixth and final stage, the South Australian Government announced an AUS $11.2 million investment in cycling in Adelaide. This will be used to undertake a complete overhaul of the Adelaide Super-Drome. The velodrome will include a wind tunnel for testing body position, equipment and bike set-up, and an adjacent AUS $2 million national BMX training facility in addition to the AUS $3.5 million world-standard Sam Willoughby International BMX Track being built in Adelaide’s south. The South Australian Government also announced equal prize money for the Santos Tour Down Under and the parallel women’s event.
UCI President David Lappartient applauded these initiatives, pointing out that the equal prize money was in line with the men-women parity the UCI had already introduced at its UCI World Championships and World Cups. Concerning the investment in Adelaide’s facilities, Mr Lappartient said: “The South Australian capital will be truly unique in terms of the facilities it offers cyclists and cycling fans. I congratulate the South Australian Government on this announcement and all it does for our sport.”
A population that rides bikes
Australia has no shortage of cycling stars across the different disciplines and they have their part to play in inspiring the rest of the population to get on their bikes. Fans like nothing more than to see their cycling heroes live in action.
Bracks became fully aware of Australians’ appetite for big cycling events when he chaired the Organising Committee for the 2010 UCI Road World Championships in Victoria.
“Australians have access to some fantastic cycling events that really showcase the sport locally, like the Tour Down Under, the Herald-Sun Tour and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, all UCI events that give Australians the chance to see some of the biggest names in world cycling in action in their own backyard.”
He continues: “Australians really embrace outdoor leisure activities, and cycling presents opportunities for people to compete, train with a goal, get fit, commute or do things as a family. It is also a very social activity and the community solidarity and goodwill is amazing within the cycling community.”
Dedicated cycling programmes
To encourage recreational cycling, the Federation has set up two specific programmes:
“She Rides” was established in 2014 to encourage more women to ride regularly. The programme is divided into different levels:
- She Rides Basics: for women who don’t know where to start riding
- She Rides Confidence: for women seeking the confidence to ride regularly on road/in traffic or off-road/bushland in a group
- She Rides Together: for women wishing to ride for fitness, develop advanced skills and enjoy the freedom of riding together.
- She Rides On: for women wishing to participate in regular bunch rides.
The Let’s Ride programme for children was set up two years later and has already taught more than 11,000 children to ride safely. In 2017, Cycling Australia ran more than 160 programmes across the country thanks to the support of over 50 accredited coaches. With emphasis on having fun, the programme teaches children to ride safely by developing their knowledge, skills and confidence.
For the Chairman of the Federation, one of the big priorities now will be to get more people commuting by bike. This will not only benefit community health and improve traffic flow, it will also lead to more harmony on the roads, according to Bracks: “More people commuting, means there are more people who are both motorists and cyclists. These people tend to share the road more empathetically and respectfully,” he explains.
Overall, the CA Chairman is optimistic and positive about cycling at all levels in his country:
“Australia has a wonderful record in cycling. We have some terrific athletes and coaches and I think anyone who has seen the performance of some of our younger athletes recently would recognise that we are in good hands.
“I’m an avid cyclist myself and I’m passionate about how our elite athletes can inspire kids and adults around Australia to lead fit and active lifestyles by jumping on the bike.”