Cycling Australia yesterday announced a change in date for the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. The 58-year-old race will now take place in early February, rather than October, just after the Tour Down Under.
It’s not a story to set the pulse racing, but the decision could turn out to be hugely significant as the balance of power continues to ebb away from the organisers of the traditional European season openers.
The Tours of Qatar and Oman kept half of the pro peloton away from the races like the Tour of the Mediterranean and Haut Var this month, and an extended program of races down under could take yet more riders away from cycling’s heartland.
The ProTour status of the Tour Down Under has improved its field, and those that rode this year were grateful for getting away from the European winter. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the field improved again next year, and, if the riders were given the chance to stay on during the Antipodean summer, the chances are they would.
With a peloton down under, and another one in the Middle East, Europe could be left with pretty slim pickings during February, threatening the Challenge Majorca races, Tour of the Algarve and the Tour of Andalusia.
The Sun Tour’s change in date was a hot topic at the TDU as the idea has been mooted about for a while now.
But when the date change was put to UCI President Pat McQuaid during a press conference in Australia this January, the Irishman was surprisingly quick to dismiss it. He said the Herald Sun Tour should stay in its current position and concentrate on making itself attractive to the teams as it is, rather than move.
But was there more to this answer than meets the eye? HTC-Columbia boss Bob Stapleton believes that having the Sun Tour straight after the Tour Down Under would be a good move, both for the riders who get a longer period in a temperate climate and the race that would get many of the riders who had travelled to Australia for the TDU.
But, he thought that the UCI would not allow it in fear of a backlash from established organisers back in Europe who know their races are under threat.
And there’s a further twist in the tale. TDU organiser Mike Turtur is rumoured to be fervently against the Sun Tour’s date change, and the inter-race rivalry that was talked up during the TDU is now set to intensify.
Turtur (along with South Australia who back the TDU with several million dollars in funding) is apparently worried that the Sun Tour would apply for a ProTour licence if it had a better date on the calendar. The race, based in the Australian state of Victoria, is better established than the TDU and could arguably come up with a better route.
With the UCI admitting that Australia is never likely to be awarded more than one ProTour race, Turtur is perhaps worried that the event he has built up could lose its stature.
The date change is still to be endorsed by the UCI, but is expected to see the Sun Tour, won by Bradley Wiggins last year in his last race for Garmin, move to the week after the Australian national track championships that run from February 1 – 6. The TDU is expected to be scheduled for January 18 – 23.
Boss of Cycling Australia, Graham Fredericks said; “In arriving at this decision the Board addressed three key objectives, firstly to protect the achievements of the Santos Tour Down Under; secondly to protect the integrity of the Australian track cycling, and thirdly to retain the Jayco Herald Sun Tour on the UCI calendar and restore the event to its previous stature and profile.”
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