Racing is underway in WA with the Tour de Perth opening the NRS for 2014. It’s a time for cycling to relish how far the sport has come in recent years. There’s a big field, a range of professional teams, and optimism about the future of a series which is really beginning to gain some momentum. We are upbeat about… well, almost all of it. Everything, of course, except the bad bits…
Racing through the dark…
– By Nick Squillari
Ride bike long enough and you’ll be familiar with the phrase: “that was the <insert from list below> race I’ve ever done”.
Until stage one of the Woodside Tour de Perth, I’d never legitimately been able to use (or heard) the adjective “darkest” used in that context.
I understand wanting to take the race to the people. Without fans our sport is nothing. And without race promoters the racers have nothing to… ah, race for, nor anything to show for all their training other than a good set of legs and lungs and the knowledge that they’d spent time on the bike rather than being idle. So it’s not hard to see how, on paper, a twilight criterium around the trendy streets of Fremantle would be the ideal way to kick off a stage race – and the opening round of the 2014 National Road Series.
Alas, the reality of the race offered a stark contrast to what is ideal. An over subscribed field of 151 starters were sent rocketing around narrow and twisting streets, in rapidly decreasing light or – in some parts of the circuit – was effectively amounted to no light at all. Scary? Yep. Throw in a few more challenges, like the need to negotiate road furniture like round-abouts that were part of the crit course’s ‘straights’ and it was downright frightening. I’m sure you get the idea. The carnage in the final sprint on the opening night of the Tour of Perth – one that has a team-mate of mine lying in traction in intensive care – sadly capped off a race that saw riders come away with broken wrists, missing skin and busted bikes.
Riders had responsibility for the how the course was raced lumped on them. “The riders make the race…” isn’t that what ‘they’ say? ‘They’ may be right but I can’t help but wonder how avoidable the sprint finish crash could have been if there was more than a narrow street to use.
I love racing and passionately want to see the National Road Series go from strength to strength. Only there seems to be a disconnect between what’s good for the fans and what is actually safe and feasible. Of course, it’s forgivable if the events of day one were an anomaly. Alas, things went awry again in the next stage… yesterday, in stage two, we had moving vehicles driven by the general public coming up the road as we race along what the riders had been informed during the pre-race briefing would be a full, rolling, road closure. It didn’t look that way to me.
I wish I didn’t feel the need to write this. I wish that it was a gushing report about the beauty of the NRS, the benefits for the local economy, the cycling-friendly nature of the lovely namesake city and its surrounds and many other positive elements… but I’m not compelled to do that – not today at least.
Ragging about a race organisation, which I recognise is supported by unpaid volunteers, isn’t a good look. I recognise the effort that goes into putting something like this one, and I’m also aware that this is all part of a developing scheme: they’re building it, and we’re coming. The field of dreams is opening up, but surely it’s got to be a bit safer than this.
For us riders, our race licences are nearly double the price of what riders from other Commonwealth nations pay; surely some of that could be used to form a race organisation committee – charged with running the NRS to a strict and consistent set of race conditions. Surely a little bit of light on a corner of a criterium isn’t too much too ask…
We have a generation of young men and women who are now choosing cycling over other mainstream sports. The least the sport owes them is the reassurance that they won’t have a team manager calling their parents to recommend flying across the country to be by the side of their child, who is unable to be released from a hospital ward.
The race continues… and I hope I’ll be there through to the end. And, when I get the chance for a connection, my plan is to write up how I see things play out on the roads of Western Australia. Let’s hope my next summary is a little less negative – and that we all get what we want… ie. “the best race I’ve ever done”.
– By Nick Squillari