Sydney is the most populous city in Australia. It’s home to tens of thousands of cyclists and many of the largest businesses in the land, making it the undisputed economic centre of the country. Yet aside from a couple of (UPDATE: now cancelled) measly off-season crits each November at Cronulla and Wollongong – the latter of course which is not even in Sydney – the city gets precisely zero elite level road cycling events each year.
Even worse, as of last October the only NRS level race that came remotely close to the harbour city, the Goulburn to Sydney Classic, has ceased to exist. In fact, even charity rides are now falling foul of local councils and police, with Bicycle Network’s inaugural Sydney to Newcastle Challenge in 2014 forced to become the Gosford to Newcastle Challenge.
All of this, of course, is a source of considerable ongoing frustration for NSW’s cashed up but action-starved cycling fans. As anyone who knows the region will tell you, the geography in and around Sydney is ideal for superb road racing. Beautiful scenery. Excellent roads. Punchy climbs. Great climate. Yet for a variety of reasons it just doesn’t happen – apparently, it’s all too bloody hard and the city just can’t get its head around all the disruptions and up-front expenditure such an event would require, particularly when most of the combatants would be, at best, ‘no names’.
Thing is, as many other parts of Australia – and indeed the world – know only too well, when they’re done right, top level cycling events can be a huge boost not just to the cycling community itself but to the wider community and, certainly, the local economy through both the visitors they attract directly and also the ongoing tourism benefits that remain long after the two-wheeled circus has moved on to the next race. Aside from being a great race every January, the Tour Down Under is also one big “Come and Visit Adelaide” campaign.
Which brings us to the UCI Road Cycling World Championships. If Sydney can’t get its head around holding an annual stage race, or even a one-day NRS race featuring the country’s top domestic riders, why don’t we go the whole hog and shoot for the biggest names in the cycling world instead?
Let’s not forget that despite all the moaning and fear mongering beforehand, Sydney ended up loving every minute of the 2000 Olympic Games and the legacy continues to be enjoyed a decade and half later. So why shouldn’t we try to host the World Championships? If Melbourne and Geelong can do it so well (in 2010) surely we can too?
We’re happy to have the roads closed once a year for the Sydney marathon and barely any of the world’s top runners turn up to that. Imagine Sagan, Froome, Quintana, Contador, Cancellara, Rodriguez, Cavendish, Greipel, Gerrans, Porte and even a local hero like Caleb Ewan racing for the rainbow stripes past the Opera House, over the Harbour Bridge and on to magnificent West Head before returning via Hornsby and Galston Gorge. Or maybe the course could head south through the Royal National Park, Wollongong and Kangaroo Valley before returning north via Camden and Razorback? Then there’s the Blue Mountains, of course, dripping with possibilities. There are so many spectacular routes waiting to challenge the planet’s finest riders. But first we need some vision and aspiration at both Government and Cycling Australia level to make it happen. Or at the very least to give it a chance.
Sure it’s bold. But the best ideas almost always are. Come on guys. Let’s put our hand up and tell Mr Cookson we want the next available slot: 2017. Or if that goes, as expected, to Bergen in Norway, 2018. It’s time to give Sydney the elite level road racing it deserves. Get it right and, who knows, it might just pave the way for more of the same.