NO MORE WINTERS OF DISCONTENT?
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!