The announcement by Cycling Australia of the 2014 National Cross Country (XCO) and Cross Country Marathon (XCM) earlier this week came a little later than expected, but timely enough for racers to start planning their 2014 season.
After the success of the Real Insurance XCM Series in both 2011 an 2012, Australia’s elite racers and masses of age group racers were astounded when it was announced that the races would still run as before, but not the series. With the ownership of the series being handed to Cycling Australia, opinions were mixed. Would it be lumped in with the National Cross Country series, or would a standalone series continue to develop, with a broader reach than the East Coast bias that the Real Insurance XCM Series had?
With Cycling Australia securing two World Cup races in Cairns, and the World Championships, it appeared that good things could happen. The announcement of the 2014 Subaru Australian Mountain Bike Season has drawn some comment from some of Australia’s elite.
The dates and venues so far announced for XCM races in 2014 include the following:
- 21-23rd February (in conjunction with XCO, XCE, DHI)
- 6-9th March (in conjunction with XCO Champs)
- 30th March (Venue TBD)
- 6th April (Mt Joyce, QLD)
- 13th April (Wombat 100, Woodend, Victoria)
- 25-27th April (Cairns, QLD)
The main points that are drawing criticism is the compact nature of the events, the combined XCO and XCM season, let alone race weekends, and having destinations that are not yet known. In Australia, to race at a National level you need to travel – a lot. Tying races together to reduce that travel makes sense, but racing XCO and XCM in the one weekend isn’t possible unless one event is purely for training. Fitting so many events into a short time period also makes the series exclusive. Being able to afford the travel, accommodation, equipment and race entry in that time is not only financially demanding, but more than likely would involve putting your career on hold. Our country is too vast, and our racers too few to support such a series setup. Calls to Cycling Australia were not immediately responded to, but racers have put their views forward.
James Downing – Cannondale-Sugoi
“I’m sure that CA have good intentions, but did they actually have a look at their schedule? That is 3 months for a whole series, with XCM racing over the hotter months. There are three weekends back to back, and they have joined XCO champs with an XCM round.” With time limitations, Downing is realistic about his approach for 2014.
“I’ll probably once again pick and choose my racing for 2014 to choose from the following —- these will be races that I actually like doing, plus ones that I personally feel are ‘the prestigious ones’ from a racer’s point of view.” Downing went on to list races like the Convict 100, Capital Punishment, Flight Centre Epic, Highland Fling, Kona Odyssey and Marathon Champs. Prestigious races that he calls ‘classics’. Funnily enough, most of these featured in the original XCM Series. Racers target these events because they are well established, run well, and have their own event legacy. Performing well at one of these races is very well regarded.
“I still think March to November is the best time to race XCM though. That might just be me, but when you look at the road classics that are all 250km – they are all in Spring – because it is cooler.” This is a very important point, especially when you consider racing in bushfire season, where a course may be closed due to climatic conditions. This is a major factor for the move of the Kona Odyssey from February until April, and why the Wombat 100 is in April and not November. The summer months are unpredictable for heat and bush fires. Having a 1.5hr XCO race in hot conditions on a short course is one thing. Sending out potentially over a thousand riders into bushland in the heat of summer, over a long course, could very well be disastrous.
Andrew Blair – Swell-Specialized
“Although this announcement is disappointing to many, the good news is that the 2014 dates gave finally been released. However with date clashes, some overseas ambitions and a physically impossibility to perform well in XCO and XCM over the course of one weekend, settling on a personal race calendar will not be easy and there could be some tough decisions. I don’t like being made to choose between XCO and XCM but sacrificing one for success in the other is probably a reality at this point. My concern here is that this could dilute the competition at these events as the pool of riders in Australia is fairly limited and each rider will have to make a decision that works for them.
“At least we now know the dates of the national championship events so we can lock those in and start planning training, annual leave and budgets around that. As for the series there are still a lot of questions to be answered around how the race weekends will be structured (will anything link the disciplines like the AMC stage race format), the venues, how the points and prize money will work and where the media focus will be. Such details will make a big difference to athletes decisions.”
Blair strikes a very important point here about it splitting the riders. Some racers will choose an XCO focus, others XCM. Doing both, well, is not the reality. With a XCM season previously running from March, after the National XCO Series, it was proven that there could be enough prestige to build that discipline up on its own, while a select few World Cup level races chased their goals overseas in our cooler months.
“Broadly speaking though, mountain bikers will race the events that inspire them, that they can get to, fit in with their development goals, provide the best competition, the best courses and give value to their sponsors. Unlike road cycling the national body do not have a monopoly on mountain bike races so CA are going up against some very popular & established events run by private promoters. This means there is a lot of competition for the participants dollar, I hope CA can make this season work and give some structure to a currently very disjointed and uncoordinated calendar, but ultimately it will be the market that will decide what events survive in a very busy calendar.”
Jodie Willett – Liv/Giant
“This is kind of an idea I floated a while ago to give the average Jo who isn’t going to compete in XC a reason to come and watch anyway, and then compete in a Marathon on the same weekend. It’s not meant to only target the best riders, it’s meant to get max entries and make money. Riders have to choose what they are going to focus on – the XCO series or the XCM series. It’s a bit silly if to have scheduled one the same weekend as Otway as that is a seriously popular event, although the draw of the World Cup might just set the Otway back some participants this year.”
This combined season forces choice, but the question remains, will ‘the masses’ of riders who normally enter the popular XCM events flock to new races in untested locations? This is where the revenue needs to come from, mass participation. The 2013 National XCM Championship would suggest large numbers of riders will avoid new events, and go with what they know.
“It’s watering down the most successful aspect of the sport in the past years and adding to the crumbling, least successful – the XCO series to provide a series that serves neither the weekend warrior, nor the elite athlete.”
Peta Mullens – Target-Trek
“I think the format is a great idea in the way that it injects the XCM atmosphere into the dying hype of XCO, however it would seem quite demanding from an elite point of view to expect my body to back up a hard XC race with a marathon the next day. But if it’s better for the sport and spectators, and the sponsors are all on board then I am all for it!”
“It looks like they’ve put in a lot of effort but I couldn’t help but notice a minor error. The press release announces that riders are ‘able to choose between the full range of World Championship formats’. Surely it should read ‘forced to choose’.”
Smith added that if the seasons had stayed separate, she would have raced some National XCO, then the XCM Series. But as it is, she would only bother with the XCM races, and even that depends on her Stage Race plans. March, April, May hold a lot of options for Marathon and XC Stage races too.
Andrew Hall – Cannondale-Sugoi
“It is completely impractical to think that any of the top 10 XCM riders in the country will be able to make all those dates. We all have day jobs! I think I would be lucky to get to 3 or 4 of those national XCM rounds. Is it really worth blowing a whole years race travel budget in just 3 months?” Beyond this series, there are countless other great events on the calendar, including more stage races than Australia has had previously. These offer better value for the time spent on transport, and even days off, for many racers.
“There also so many conflicts with other well established races. Personally, I’ll give my time and dollars to those event organisers who have built up great and iconic races over a number of years, and who have repeatedly looked after their riders.”
“Why squeeze 6 races into 3 months? Australia has a climate which easily allows for racing across the whole year – why not take advantage of this and space it out.”
Jenny Fay – Swell-Specialized
“I’ll start by saying there are more questions than answers in relation to this announcement – and imagine the questions when we get these events going on what we are confronted with on a regular National Series run event! Australia isn’t big enough in terms of participants to allow for this to happen – it doesn’t even happen in Europe and they have races on every week of the year!”
“The good XC riders across the world are also good marathon riders, because the XCM events don’t run the day after National Series events….a separate calendar allow for the mass participation numbers, star studded line ups and sponsors input as a result making for great racing and media coverage. I can see that Cycling Australia want to consolidate the two series so they can pool all the resources over the weekend, but the series wont exist without participation and sponsors and they will actually lose money as a result.”
“The XCM series is big enough to be run separately, as we proved in 2012. Why reinvent the wheel? I want to be positive about the XCM Series and all the promoters in MTB in Australia as they have been very good to me and my sponsors, allowing me to be a better rider, but I believe that its not credible to be just one kind of rider in Australia, so I want to be good at both XC and XCM events (especially for European racing) but this announcement hinders that development in a rider.”
Wayne Dickinson – 2013 Masters XCM Champion
“Based on the 2011 and 2012 XCM series 80% of the annual 8000+ participants were 30 – 50 years of age – that is approximately 6500 participants. This demographic all have one thing in common – they are time poor. With families, work, social and training commitments, this doesn’t leave much time left for actual event participation. An event calendar spread across Australia compressed into 9 weeks is going to struggle to capture the interest and participation of the masses, just on schedule alone, but once you take into consideration cost of entry, travel and accommodation all condensed into a two month period – you have to wonder what business and participation model were the promoters thinking of?”
“The success of the prior XCM series generated participation and coverage throughout the year, across a large demographic generating promotional and advertising exposure to a wide variety of supporters. The key to any marketing opportunity is to generate a broad exposure across a large base. Again contrary to these principles, the new series has been condensed into a short sharp period, limiting exposure to short window at the beginning of the year.”
“Maybe its just me, but imagine an XCM series was made up of 6 2000+ competitor events, that culminated with the Australian Championships with the largest XCM race on the calendar 2014 Highland Fling – now that would be something.”
So we are left to see how the market reacts. As riders and racers, we are all the market. The racers above have noted the strains that the series will make on their budgeting, training, and leave fro work that they have available. While at a glance it seems like the Series is setup for full time professional athletes (that we just don’t have), it may be the first step in forcing a separation of the disciplines for athletes. The unfortunate reality is that this isn’t something that has been required. It’s not the model in the largest racing scenes overseas, so pushing it on Australia doesn’t seem to make sense.
That’s what some of Australia’s elite XCM riders think, what’s your take on CA’s plans for mountain biking in Australia? Let us know in the comment section below.