Ever dreamed of racing inside the professional peloton? Handlebar-to-handlebar with Luke Durbridge and Nathan Haas, raucous crowds going ballistic around you, a convoy of bike-laden vehicles behind as you surf a star-studded field of international athletes.
It may surprise you to learn that until this year, you could do just that. Previous editions of the Road National Championships were open to all Australian residents who held a racing licence. As long as you’d paid your $350 membership and $110 race entry fee, you could line up against WorldTour riders in Ballarat. No cycling ability required.
Granted, you wouldn’t have survived one ascent of Mount Buninyong, but the option was there. Racing the RoadNats could have been a bucket list item, especially since you’d record the same result as 70 percent of the field: a DNF.
That changed in 2020, when Cycling Australia introduced a rule to restrict entry to riders of a certain calibre.
The new rule requires entrants to have met one of the following:
- Be a current (or have been within the last year a) member of a National Road Series team or UCI-registered team;
- Have finished in the top 20 in the previous three years in an Elite Road National Championships;
- Have finished the U23 men or U19 women road race in the past two years;
- Have finished in the top 20 in a National Road Series event in the past two years.
Riders who don’t meet any of the above requirements can apply for a wildcard entry at the discretion of Cycling Australia.
The rule makes perfect sense. The swooping, surging elite peloton is no place for a wobbly weekend warrior to live out his fantasy of turning pro for a day. It’s not so much a problem if you end up at Ballarat Base Hospital—the bigger concern is how many pros you’ll take with you.
Imaging wiping out Cameron Meyer in an Olympic year, or Richie Porte one week before the Tour Down Under. It’s not worth the risk for the sake of letting punters play “Pro Cycling Simulator” for a few minutes.
Even with this new rule, riders were being dropped on the first climb of this year’s Elite Men Road Race. Soon after, an avoidable high-speed crash on the first descent into Federation University eliminated several innocent victims.
So, Cycling Australia’s new screening process was not foolproof. But the new rule is a sensible one. The national road race championship is not a participation ride: there’s the gran fondo for that.
Before the rule change, some readers suggested that I enter the race as a gag, to create some entertaining content. Although this ruling means I won’t be rubbing elbows with Durbo any time soon, I’m happy to stay in my lane as a B-grade cyclist watching from the roadside.