RENOWNED international cycling commentator Matt Keenan says if the road nationals were to ever leave Ballarat, it would have to take an impressive bid.
Cycling Australia has released its nationals program for January but is unlikely to confirm whether Ballarat will keep the championships beyond 2017 before the elites battle for the green-and-gold jerseys.
Ballarat, and the notorious Buninyong climb, has been home to to the Cycling Australia Road National Championships since 2002, other than an early two-year stint in Adelaide.
There has been talk of strong interest from other cities to bid for the national stage, but Cycling Australia and Visit Ballarat declare they are very much in contract extension negotiations with all stakeholders. The existing contract expires in January.
Mr Keenan said it would be healthy for cycling if other cities made their case but it would take a lot to move the nationals from Ballarat roads.
“Ballarat has done a lot for cycling in the past 10-plus years,” Mr Keenan said. “The amount it has grown is largely attributed to the people of Ballarat getting behind it.
“A lot of riders want it to move – sprinters don’t like it, but we’ve seen from the diversity of the riders who have won it, that the course delivers a lot: Robbie McEwan, Caleb Ewan who is traditionally a sprinter, Jack Bobridge winning solo and even Simon Gerrans over Richie Porte. And the women’s race is great as well.”
Mr Keenan said Ballarat was a great fit as a large regional town, with close proximity to a major airport and it was on the eastern seaboard for easier team travel. From the commentary position, Mr Keenan has noticed a growing cycling festival vibe, particularly in Buninyong where cafes were getting into the spirit more each year.
More than 30,000 spectators attended this year’s five-day festival, showcasing Ballarat’s eateries and attractions to domestic and international visitors. Visit Ballarat chief executive officer Noel Dempsey said the city remained committed to a proactive events strategy with a focus on sport.
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