National Tour in Tweed squeezing in a lot of NRS racing

Australian Cycling Insider spoke to the race director of the nine-day extravaganza of racing to conclude the 2020 National Road Series, Mike Crawley, who has high hopes for the event that has been put on at such short notice.

AusCycling announced a last-minute event for the 2020 season, with the Tour de Tweed organisers, NXsports, stepping up to run a nine-day series of events that will effectively decide the 2020 National Road Series titles for men and women.

With only one event run so far, the men’s classic one-day race Melbourne to Warrnambool run to date due to COVID-19 restrictions there was a desire to get back to racing with the reopening of state borders. That was facilitated by the northern NSW region around Murwillumbah, long-time host of the Tour de Tweed and Battle on the Border races.

Mike Crawley spoke of his optimism for the event in an interview with Australian Cycling Insider.

“I guess the mission is a clear one, create a nine-day event with nine days of racing that focus on the rider and experience as a racer,” said Crawley. “Make it safe and everything else is secondary. We’ve built some challenging courses, what I hope will be aggressive circuits that will light the boys and girls up.”

In a discussion with SBS Cycling Central, National Road Series head honcho Kipp Kaufmann of AusCycling spoke of the strict requirements that would be put in place to allow the event to be run.

That was driven home in recent days as a spike in cases within South Australia prompted renewed restrictions, with no states keen to re-enter full lockdown in the same manner as Victoria.

“We lost 14 riders because of South Australia and we have probably 30 riders stuck in Victoria nervous about coming north in case some other rules come up,” said Crawley. “It will be a last-minute decision for a number of teams.

“The event will go ahead. The only reason it will stop is cyclone, fire, or police changing their mind at the last second, but we’ve already got the police permits.

“We’ve got the best domestic teams, international teams, and professional riders who’ve come back to Australia to get out of Europe. The numbers aren’t big but the capability and talent is right up there.”

“When the racing is on, it’s going to be on,” emphasised Crawley.

With teams and officials to stay in micro bubbles, with just one member of the bubble allowed to go out into the wider world for groceries and other supplies, no sign-ons for riders, and heat testing before each stage, there will be a different feel to this event. What will be familiar for many are the roads around the Tweed region that will incorporate classic stages of the Tour de Tweed as well as a long-awaited summit finish.

“We’re utilizing similar circuits, or cut and re-divided circuits,” said Crawley. “I would have thought that those courses were pretty hard already and we’re adding on things that we’ve wanted to do for 11 years now. The Tommy Wynn mountain finish, it’s one we’ve wanted to use for years.

“It’s a fantastic, beautiful climb and a great finish.”

With nine very different stages set to test the riders, it will be interesting to see how the battle develops for the individual and teams NRS title. While the competition on the road is set to be fierce, the normal rules of the road will be different.

Instead of a full rolling road closure that is the normal procedure at NRS events – one that was recommended by then Cycling Australia safety commission – there will be just a single lane for racing, with traffic flowing in the opposite direction.

“We’re not operating with a rolling road closure, we’re operating with a single lane road, which is not what we want but there aren’t enough police in northern NSW to support us,” explained Crawley. “They’re absolutely stretched in all different directions. We’re thrilled that they’ve given us the resources that they have with two to three weeks notice.”

The short notice has prompted a little short of stunning effort from the organisers to drag this all together in mere weeks, but now everything seems ready if not perfect and Crawley is keen to get riders on the road racing.

“Financially, it’s going to be challenging, that’s being honest,” said Crawley. “Destination NSW have fast-tracked a funding support application for us, without that there was no way it could be done. The Deputy Premier is involved, the local member Geoff Provest.

“We’ve got the financial support, we just need to get the riders. The loss of South Australia and the effect of the closure into Queensland has a number of teams nervous in case they get trapped somewhere with the borders. In regards to that we had a meeting with teams across the country.

“Everyone wants to come, it’s just a matter of getting over what happened this week in terms of Adelaide.”

With COVID safety at the front of everyone’s minds currently, it is important that safety on the road is maintained as well, with improving on-road conditions in the NRS being seen as a priority by NRS teams in the past. Hopefully, everything goes well from here and the NRS can conclude on a high note for 2020 after a prolonged silence.

Australian Cycling Insider will be providing coverage for the National Tour in some capacity, whether at the race or not. There will be articles up on SBS Cycling Central, and there are plans to produce a number of podcasts throughout the event, with a preview podcast when we’ve got some more information about the course and team lists.

By Jamie Finch-Penninger