With an extended racing program and the Cycling Australia Road National Championships locked in for another three years, major cycling identities say Ballarat is now the home of cycling in Australia.
The five-day event commenced yesterday, with the criterium section showcasing the best of elite men’s and women’s sprint cycling.
In a first for the event, riders under 19 years of age were also on the Road Nationals line-up, with para-cycling to take the stage for the first time today.
Cycling doyen Phil Liggett said the road races on the weekend were always great spectator races.
“The main complaint against the event being in Ballarat and Buninyong is that it never changes, and that’s very rare in the world of cycling,” he said.
“Everywhere in world they have a different course and a different town, but this has become the national centre of road cycling, really.”
Sports commentator Matthew Keenan said the Road Nationals in Ballarat was moving towards the feel of a European cycling festival.
“These are the races in Europe that they really create festivals around,” he said.
“In places like Belgium and Holland, they’ll have the race that goes into twilight, and then a big festival afterwards with music. Hopefully we continue to get that type of atmosphere here.”
“Caleb Ewan is going to be riding in the Tour de France this year. You can’t go and watch Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for free, but you can watch the world’s best cyclists for free.”
Mr Keenan said one of the major coups of this year’s event was the fact the program had been extended to include the Under 19 National Championships, as well as para-cycling.
“We’ve seen a lot of progress over the last couple of years with equality within the sports between the genders, and I think it’s just as important that we get the para-cyclists here as well.
“Anybody that gets to see the para-cyclists, they find them just as inspiring as someone like Simon Gerrans, when you look at the hurdles they overcome.”
Ballarat mayor Samantha McIntosh said the presence of the Road Nationals event had a year-round impact.
“Even though we’re looking talking about elite cycling over the five days, it has a greater benefit to Ballarat every other day of the year in providing a healthy message for our community and our visitors,” she said.