A closer look at the National Road Series calendar

Credit: Stephen Harman / Cycling Australia

Cycling Australia (CA) has released the 2020 calendar for its premier domestic road racing competition, the National Road Series (NRS).

At first glance, the Tour of King Valley is the most noticeable loss from the calendar, but it is offset by the addition of two new races for women and one for men. Otherwise, the series retains essentially the same structure as 2019.

As was the case last year, the season is divided into two blocks: a “Classics” series of one-day races in the first half of the year, followed by a “Tours” series of stage races from July onwards. However, the division is a little clumsy given the new one-day event L’Etape Australia falls within the latter half of the calendar.

For men, the NRS commences in February with the world’s second-oldest classic and the season’s longest race, the 267-kilometre Melbourne to Warrnambool.

That longstanding classic will be followed by a new kid on the block, the Tour de Brisbane, which returns in April for its second year. Starting and finishing in Queensland’s capital city, the Tour de Brisbane marks the beginning of the women’s NRS – although it’s the men who may have more trouble waking up the legs, given their 6:00AM race start time.

The three-race “Classics” series ends with the Grafton to Inverell in May, which for the first time in its 60 editions will be included in the women’s NRS. Women have previously been able to compete in mixed-gender lower divisions, but a separate women’s race will be a new development. With the traditional 228-kilometre course being used, the Grafton to Inverell will be the longest women’s race by some margin – last year’s longest NRS race for women was just 125 kilometres.

After a break of almost three months, the “Tours” series begins with a Queensland double-header featuring the Tour of Tropics (for men only) in Cairns at the end of July and the Tour of the Tweed (for men and women) one week later.

Afterwards, the peloton heads to colder climes for the Tour of the Great South Coast (men only) in late August, which has been extended from six to seven days. Racing continues at the Tour of Gippsland in early October, which also gains another day of racing, up from three to four

While the dates for the Tour of Tasmania have not been confirmed, it is expected that the competition’s southernmost and hilliest race will be the penultimate event, likely in mid-November.

The NRS will conclude with a new race, L’Etape Australia, in Kiama on November 28. First established in 2016 as a gran fondo in the New South Wales Snowy Mountains, since 2018 L’Etape has incorporated a state-level race ahead of the mass participation ride. Now, L’Etape will come down from its alpine home while stepping up to NRS level at a new location on the NSW South Coast.

Overall, the NRS remains centred on Australia’s eastern states, with Western Australia again missing out.

Assuming each event retains its format from 2019, this year’s NRS calendar will feature one more race day than last year’s: 26 for men, 13 for women.

Australian Cycling Insider reached out to CA’s head of sport, Kipp Kaufmann to talk about the 2020 NRS calendar which he described as a quality over quantity approach.

“We’re excited that there are a few new additions with Grafton to Inverell and L’etape,” said Kaufmann, “but we certainly didn’t look to expand it in any major ways. We actually want to improve the quality of the events, working closely with the organisers and teams on those areas than having a huge expansion.”

“We know the teams are stretched for budget and we think quality experiences will be better than a quantity increase.”

When asked what that increase in quality will mean for the 2020 events, Kaufmann responded, “Safety, exposure, the quality of officiating by commissaires at the events and delivering to a high standard at each event. That takes all the organisers, us at CA and the teams all working together to deliver that high quality competition.”

The delineation between the Classics and Tours continues in 2020, with the one-day races and multi day tours being seperated in the front and back half of the season respectively.

“I think it works all right,” said Kaufmann. “It created an initial clarity on the start and finish of the season. I don’t necessarily think it should be our vision forever.

“We need to look at that after this year and whether there should be some mix-up at different parts of the year. It’s definitely something we’ll look at with the teams as a concept and review if it’s the best way to go forward. It’s important this year to have a year of consistency, we’re slightly improving the 2020 calendar and we’ll work with the teams and organisers to see if this is the best layout.”

Kaufmann was optimistic about the inclusion of L’Etape to the season schedule, with his eye on exposing more fans and potential spectators to NRS action.

“The move to Kiama brings it closer to the population,” said Kaufmann, “and the opportunity to be in front of 5000, 6000 people at a cycling event is a fantastic opportunity to put our racers and spectators together.”

The idea of bring the Tour of the Great South Coast into line with most other races and adding a women’s NRS event has been around a few years, but won’t be delivered upon in 2020, with 2021 sounding like a likely date for the new venture.

“I met with John Craven (TOGSC organiser) the other day in regards to the Tour of the Great South Coast and he’s completely committed to bringing in the women’s race,” said Kaufmann. “I’ll use his words, he wants to do it in a high-level way and not in a haphazard fashion so he can do a race that is sustainable for the women, not a secondary race to the men.

“They just hadn’t quite got there and we didn’t want something that was going to be pulled out on. He’s told me that he’s committing to do that next year. Putting my hand on my heart and believing John, that will be on the calendar for next year. We also recognise that a big jump in racing days has a cost to teams, so that’s something we’re conscious of.”

The NRS starts on February 15 with the Melbourne to Warrnambool first on the calendar.

Classics

Powercor Melbourne to Warrnambool, VIC (Men) 15 February
Tour de Brisbane, QLD (Men & Women) 05 April
David Reid Homes Grafton to Inverell, NSW (Men & Women) 09 May

Tours

Tour of the Tropics, QLD (Men only) July 31 – 2 Aug
Tour of Tweed, QLD (Men & Women) 7 – 9 August
Tour of the Great South Coast, SA/VIC (Men only) 25 – 30 August
Tour of Gippsland, VIC (Men & Women) 08 – 11 October
Tour of Tasmania, TAS (Men & Women): TBC
L’Étape Australia, NSW (Men & Women) 27-28 November

By Ryan Miu, additional reporting by Jamie Finch-Penninger

Ryan Miu is a cycling writer and photographer from Sydney. He also works for Cycling NSW, which assists in organising the Grafton to Inverell and L’Etape Australia. Find more of his work at http://BGradeCyclist.com and follow him at @RyanHMiu (Twitter) and @ryan.miu (Instagram).