NO MORE WIN­TERS OF DIS­CON­TENT?

Australian Mountain Bike - - Between The Tape - WORDS: SE­BAS­TIAN JAYNE IM­AGE: KAREN JAYNE

The sum­mer fun of XCO rac­ing in Aus­tralia can come and go in a flash. One sec­ond you’re on the first start line of the sea­son with a ner­vous stom­ach and a hunger to go full gas! Then in a blink, you’re cross­ing the line at the Na­tional Cham­pi­onships, which usu­ally means it’s sea­son over. Then you’re left with feel­ings of ei­ther eu­pho­ria from your tri­umphs or re­gret over your losses, which, un­like ear­lier in the sea­son, now don’t come with a ‘bet­ter luck next week’ tag line.

In pre­vi­ous col­umns, I spoke about over­seas ad­ven­tures and fol­low­ing the World Cup cir­cuit around Europe and the rest of the globe. This is the yearly re­al­ity for only a few Aussie rid­ers who can man­age to fund such an ex­pen­sive trip - since for many the trip over­seas can be a bit too much to ask in terms of time away from work and fam­ily, and of course money. For rid­ers stay­ing at home, the XC sea­son from roughly De­cem­ber to March is their only real chance for the en­tire year to race bar to bar against a qual­ity field in the 1.5 hour XCO for­mat. This is also their only chance to achieve those highly-cov­eted UCI points.

Through­out the rest of the year, though, there is some rac­ing to be done, with the Na­tional Marathon se­ries be­ing held in the win­ter months

as well as lo­cal club XCO races. The Marathon se­ries can pro­duce some great rac­ing with strong fields, al­though at four hours long (or even a half marathon at two hours), it is not ex­actly a full gas XCO race. The lo­cal XCO club rounds are a lit­tle closer to the mark, but with lim­ited in­cen­tive in the form of prize money or UCI points, they can lack the depth of field that pro­duces the fierce rac­ing that pushes rid­ers to the next level.

This close rac­ing is an im­por­tant rea­son to have a qual­ity na­tional se­ries for ju­nior rid­ers who are still at school, as well as for other rid­ers who don’t spend three to six months of the year over­seas rac­ing. Those four or five race week­ends are their best and only chance to gain the ex­pe­ri­ence of full gas rac­ing that can hit the jets on their de­vel­op­ment. With such a value placed on time be­tween the tape, a large por­tion of the year can be seen as ‘wasted’ in terms of XCO de­vel­op­ment. Hope­fully, this is set to change with some new events and ini­tia­tives on the hori­zon that could give top level rid­ers a plat­form to bat­tle against each other on a more reg­u­lar ba­sis through the win­ter months.

One event that will be tri­alled this year is the Elite Sprint Cup run by Rocky Trail En­ter­tain­ment.

Stand­ing along­side their suc­cess­ful GP 4hr and 8hr se­ries, the Sprint Cup will be a short XC event that Rocky Trail hope will turn into a full se­ries in 2018. It will run the day af­ter their en­durance races and there is a po­ten­tially large prize pool up for grabs that could en­tice a large field of XC rid­ers to make the trip to each event. On top of that, the ex­po­sure from such a large se­ries could be great for the rid­ers’ spon­sors while also cre­at­ing tough rac­ing and a good de­vel­op­ment op­por­tu­nity through­out the mid­dle of the year.

An ini­tia­tive be­ing run by the sport’s govern­ing body, MTBA, could also see a boost to XC rac­ing in Aus­tralia. For 2017, MTBA has be­gun to recog­nise events as state se­ries and cham­pi­onships for or­gan­is­ers who ap­ply. Cur­rently Queens­land leads the way with both a se­ries and a cham­pi­onship while NSW has a cham­pi­onship event. Hope­fully, more or­gan­is­ers and states can fol­low, as large re­gional se­ries are a great way to get rid­ers be­tween the tape while cut­ting the cost of in­ter­state travel. Af­ter trav­el­ling around the coun­try dur­ing the na­tional se­ries, this can bring back bal­ance to both fam­ily time and the bank ac­count..

The depth of tal­ent is still a prob­lem with re­gards pos­si­ble state se­ries, though, as the pool of XC rid­ers in Aus­tralia isn’t large and they are spread far and wide across the coun­try. Get­ting these rid­ers to­gether can prove tricky, but with the right in­cen­tive it can be done. Hope­fully, the fu­ture holds more op­por­tu­ni­ties for home-based XC rid­ers to get their rac­ing fix through­out the mid­dle of the year with events that can draw elite rid­ers to­gether for the bet­ter­ment of the rid­ers and the sport in Aus­tralia. As it stands, the most en­tic­ing form of rac­ing over the win­ter months ap­pears to be road rac­ing. And we know what hap­pens when moun­tain bik­ers go road rac­ing!

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