Controversy over direction of Australian cycling

Take two: Road cyclists, like those in this week's Tour of Tasmania, are being told they are second choice in Australian cycling's pecking order. Picture: Paul Scambler
Take two: Road cyclists, like those in this week's Tour of Tasmania, are being told they are second choice in Australian cycling's pecking order. Picture: Paul Scambler

Australian cycling is in transition – seemingly unsure where to go.

Is it with the juggernaut of road racing, mountain biking and extreme sports or back to the future on the track?

Every word uttered at any sports symposium over the past 10 years would not even countenance the latter, but that seems to be where there sport is heading.

In so many ways it’s bizarre, especially when the Australian Sports Commission has been unrepentant in urging sports to jump off the nostalgia train and get on board just about any vehicle that will deliver it commercial success and self-sufficiency.

But it looks like a huge swag of taxpayer dollars is about to be diverted with the ASC’s blessing back towards track cycling – the sector of the sport which has the least participation numbers – either at the base or in the international ranks.

If that’s the case, it all comes down to a singular obsession with Olympic success.

And there’s no need to read on to the foot of this column to find out what the situation should be – for quite simply it’s an appropriate mix of the two, just as it always should have been.

Australia’s latest high performance import from the UK is cycling guru, Simon Jones. He wants to concentrate on the track. It’s hardly a surprise because that’s what he knows.

Despite Britain producing the likes of Mark Cavendish and Brad Wiggins it has continued to enjoy great success in the velodrome – even luring back road men like those two.

Back tracking: Cycling Australia's track focus is good news for the likes of Tasmanian teammates Amy Cure, Macey Stewart, Lauren Perry and Georgia Baker.

Back tracking: Cycling Australia's track focus is good news for the likes of Tasmanian teammates Amy Cure, Macey Stewart, Lauren Perry and Georgia Baker.

The first implication of the new Australian direction was embarrassingly witnessed when Jones led the charge to select a smaller than permitted women’s team for the recent world road championships.

The women resisted, appealed to higher authorities and not only got their way but delivered on the road.

There has rarely been a better example of why a multi-pronged approach is required in high performance investment.

Over time Australia has enjoyed much greater success on track than road.

But from Dunc Gray onwards when Australians, including Tasmanians like Danny Clark and Michael Grenda, regularly stood on the Olympic dais, there were still stars on the road. They just had fewer opportunities back then.

Such has been the growth of road cycling at home and abroad, opportunities abound for way more male and female riders than could ever be imagined from track-generated achievements that may come in the future.

Only a handful will make a living from the velodrome – much of it from high performance grants and training environment allowances.

The quandary is from where those riders will come – for the last decade has redirected young talent from track to road way earlier than in the past. Track programs at state institutes have been dismantled and track-based clubs have disappeared.

If the idea is to engage simply in talent identification as a means of feeding national development squads, then sport is the loser – even if medals are generated.

It makes no sense to create heroes and then to tell their admirers that there is no pathway to join them.

Far better to revive what once there was – including the Tasmanian Christmas Carnivals which could be a real beneficiary of a genuine re-investment in Australian track cycling.

The reality is that cyclists are inherently versatile – with a huge capacity to switch codes internally.

Much is possible, as was demonstrated by this week’s Tour of Tasmania which had no established names but yet produced furious and high quality racing.

As an older rider picked up in the sag wagon observed – with no experienced hands controlling the bunch there was just attack after attack from an impetuous peloton anxious to impress.

Perhaps we may be treated to more of the same on Sunday afternoon when the Stan Siejka Classic hits the streets of Launceston.