Editorial: Cycling classic pushing up hill to survive

Nathan Elliott celebrates as he crosses the finish line to become the first rider to win the Melbourne to Warrnambool two years running. Picture: Rob Gunstone

Nathan Elliott celebrates as he crosses the finish line to become the first rider to win the Melbourne to Warrnambool two years running. Picture: Rob Gunstone

The famous Melbourne to Warrnambool Cycling Classic will be missing from the sporting landscape in 2018 under a controversial Cycling Australia move.

Cycling Australia is planning to shift the race from its traditional October timing to April in a bid to attract more sponsors and international riders. But it says it is impossible to find the sponsors in five months so the race will not be run again until April 2019.

The fact the sport’s governing body wants to improve the race is a positive because the ‘Warrny’ as it is known among riders has struggled for financial backing and profile in recent years.

But the way Cycling Australia has gone about the change has been appalling. An executive told a cycling blog about the timing change before consulting the Warrnambool-based organising committee. It smacked of disrespect, arrogance and a lack of professionalism.

The way in which the change has come about gives the impression Cycling Australia has no understanding of the community’s investment in the classic.

This isn’t just a bike race. It is a race that is entwined in Warrnambool’s history. It has helped give the city and region an international profile.

Changing the date and breaking the race’s 89 consecutive years of being run is a seismic shift that ought to have been floated with the community first.

Cycling Australia should have presented its grand plan to the organising committee, the custodians of the event and local councils and sought feedback.

The race was built on community spirit and the tireless work of several long-standing volunteers has sustained it for so long.

The build up to the race in the past two years has been flat. It’s time for the race to re-connect with its community roots.

Participants need to embrace Warrnambool and the race’s history more instead of just riding into the city one Saturday afternoon and leaving virtually straight away.

They need to promote the sport and its healthy messages to school children in the weeks leading up to the race, the city, with support from the council, needs to embrace the cycling fraternity and treat the race as a golden tourism and economic opportunity.

The possibilities are endless – the race can survive – but only if all stakeholders are pushing in the right direction.

Sadly, that’s not the case based on this week’s events.