The first ‘AusCycling’ event? The Santos Festival of Cycling

There’s no Tour Down Under for 2021, but in it’s place will be a festival of local cycling, with many disciplines featured as an early test of AusCycling’s one cycling model, writes Jamie Finch-Penninger.

The Tour Down Under was cancelled when it became clear that a COVID-safe plan wasn’t going to be worked out that would be able to please both government authorities looking to keep South Australia coronavirus cases to zero and international teams looking to start their season in Australia without onerous restrictions.

Long-rumoured, the Santos Festival of Cycling has been announced in its place, and it has an ambitious scope that – in terms of racing action – appears to eclipse the Santos Tour Down Under.

From the press release: “The Santos Festival of Cycling, presented by the Santos Tour Down Under, will be a six-day domestic cycling festival which is set to delight both cycling enthusiasts and festival goers, and will include a variety of cycling disciplines, including Road, Track, Paracycling, BMX, Mountain Bikes and Cyclo-Cross.

The program will kick off with the Adelaide Track Event at the Gepps Cross Superdrome followed by a 4-stage National Road Series (NRS) race with Men’s and Women’s stages held on the same day, showcasing the Barossa, Adelaide Hills and Fleurieu regions. Program details for Paracycling, Track, Cyclo-Cross, Mountain Bike, and BMX are set to be rolled out over the coming weeks.

Of course, it will not literally be the first AusCycling event, there have a few events running under the new organisation already. Nor are they the sole organisers, with the team behind the Santos Tour Down Under in charge.

What it will be is the first example of ‘one cycling’, bringing together all the different disciplines into the same event to share the pie and get some real cross-promotion for mutual benefit.

The stakes are really quite high, if this event is a success in South Australia, it’s a proof of concept that a successful amalgamated event can be run. From there, it could be a new way forward for packaging cycling races. In the past, events have tried to hold mass participation rides alongside racing, with some positive, some middling results to attract more people to travel to an event so they can ask for more tourism money from councils and state government. Maybe this could be a more successful and transportable blueprint.

Optimistically, a good event will translate into a bigger South Australia festival of cycling in the future. Really optimistically, it will act as a cast study to show that domestic cycling is worthy of ‘big event’ status. At the very least, if well-run, it will show other governments and councils that this sort of amalgamated event can be transported elsewhere in Australia.

I’m looking forward to see the future announcements for this event, what collaboration there is between events, the flow of spectators and interest from race to race and between venues, and whether it all feels like a cohesive and exciting exhibition of cycling. Of course, we’ll have to be grading on a curve here, while Tours Down Under are constantly in planning, this event has come together on a much shorter timeframe and is arguably more ambitious.

I’m personally more excited for this event for this event than a regular Tour Down Under, though admittedly I don’t get the same experience as most as a journalist, my job is to travel all over for races, do as many interviews as possible while riders and teams are in Australia and write them all up as fast as possible. I’m not able to attend and enjoy the side events as much as others, so I’ve perhaps missed the glitzy attraction of the Tour Down Under.

For someone like me who’s more interested in the racing, but hasn’t had as much opportunity to check out cyclocross, BMX and Mountain-Bike (will it be XC? XCM? Downhill?) up close, I’m looking forward to the chance to be race-side to watch riders in action.

There are still many questions. Is this event going to attract top-quality domestic riders in all disciplines? Will we see interstate travel operate without restrictions and/or will people be too afraid to travel? What will the spectator and competitor experience be like?

I’ll endeavour to get answers to these questions in the lead-up to the Santos Festival of Cycling, so keep your eyes peeled here, and also likely on SBS Cycling Central for forthcoming articles.

By Jamie Finch-Penninger