Embrace city’s lycra squeeze on our roads | From the Press Box with Melanie Whelan

WELCOME: Our roads filled with cyclists should not be confined to nationals. We must embrace the lycra to truly be Australia's home of cycling for all riders. Picture: Dylan Burns

WELCOME: Our roads filled with cyclists should not be confined to nationals. We must embrace the lycra to truly be Australia's home of cycling for all riders. Picture: Dylan Burns

This is a deal about more than money or just a major event. This is a deal about developing our culture and identity. Promoting our health.

Cycling Australia is promising to evolve Ballarat as a true cycling city as part of a three-year contract extension for its road national championships.

It is an investment in what happens in between national, getting more people on their bikes in Ballarat, as much as it is about the main event.

What does it mean to live up to this city’s billing as the ‘home of Australian cycling’?

We must stop rolling away the welcome mat mid-January and really live and embrace cycling – even if we may not be fond of the lycra or the extra squeeze on our roads.

Ballarat already has great courses: a wide tree-lined boulevard that ranks among the most beautiful in Australia with great all-round viewing for criterium racing; and, a compact, tough hill course at Buninyong that delivers excitement and upsets year after year.

It is hot, but not so hot as the searing heat in Adelaide’s Tour Down Under that starts the UCI World Tour calendar. We have world cycling doyen Phil Liggett singing our praises on a huge global stage each year, especially if there is an Australian champion, made in Buninyong, contesting Tour De France.

But are lacking between championships as a truly cycle city.

Ideas touted include better cycling infrastructure and signage, cycle-friendly cafes with floors that suit cleats, tapping more into the booming cycling tourism industry, training camps and leader-sessions. Our world-class sports science university researchers could also take on a firmer cycle focus.

These are just potential beginnings. How all this will shape up is still being fleshed out in a partnership between the nation’s peak cycling body, tourism board Visit Ballarat and the City of Ballarat, which is already fleshing out a cycle strategy.

Cycling is a boom sport. Each Australian summer the sport’s presence is stronger, the names fighting on the roads are bigger and the push to lure the national championships from Ballarat is more fierce.

Other cities want what we have. And we need to appreciate and capitalise on this more.

LEADERS:  Cyclist-turned-commentator Pat Shaw and Cycling Australia chairman Steve Bracks are keen to evolve their hometown's cycling culture and build on road nationals.

LEADERS: Cyclist-turned-commentator Pat Shaw and Cycling Australia chairman Steve Bracks are keen to evolve their hometown's cycling culture and build on road nationals.

Ballarat professional cyclist Pat Shaw soaked up the road-side vibe a part of the commentary team this summer and felt the buzz about town from a fresh perspective. Shaw said more homegrown business getting on board made a big difference in the race’s identity and really cementing the nationals as Ballarat’s own.

There is so much opportunity for business to tap into the cultural shift.

Road nationals have been in Ballarat for 14 of the past 16 years. Closing major roads and seemingly disrupting local business is hardly popular but gradually Ballarat and Buninyong have adapted and each year the festival-like atmosphere becomes part of the fabric of our summer.

It is time to take that up a level so Ballarat becomes synonymous as a cycling lifestyle destination worldwide – and not just when nationals return on January 3.