A versatile multi-sport venue, Penrith’s Regatta Centre hosts cycling races around its Olympic rowing lake. Here’s our guide to the home of the “bike path world championships”.
- Flat, straight and often narrow
- Wind can wreak havoc
- Otherwise, one for the sprinters
The race circuit is just under 5 kilometres long and runs clockwise around the Regatta Centre. (Outside of race conditions, the usual direction of travel is anti-clockwise).
Sign-on and the race start are located near a picnic area on the southern bank, about a quarter of the way along from the western end.
The finish line is located on the opposite side of the lake. This is for safety reasons as the start area is far too narrow for a bunch finish. After finishing, you have to ride around the lake back to the start area for presentations.
The circuit, which is roughly rectangular, includes two long, pancake-flat straights. The northern straight is comfortably wide, except for a slight narrowing at a bridge. The southern straight is much narrower; basically a bicycle path. It’s hard to move up without wandering onto the grass—but watch out for signposts and metal rails along the edge.
At the far end, the short edge of the rectangle is wide and easily navigated. The corners are gradual, allowing the bunch to keep the speed high and smooth behind the rowers’ starting blocks until merging onto the narrower bike path.
The fourth side of the rectangle, at the western end of the Regatta Centre, is a little bit more complex, but still fairly safe and straightforward. After passing the start line, you turn right onto a road—using the “wrong” side of the road—and ascend the Olympic bridge, which is virtually the only climbing you’ll encounter on the course.
After going down the other side of the bridge and dipping past the carpark, you’ll turn right into a series of chicanes—the “esses”. It’s the most interesting part of the course as you flick this way, then that, before being spat out along the northern edge of the lake. As long as you follow the wheel and hold your line through the corners, you should be safe.
The “esses” are a key part of the course because it strings out the bunch. Afterwards, there are just 250 metres to the finish line. On a still day, on any lap other than the finale, there’s no need to panic if you’re towards the back; you’ll easily be able to catch onto the peloton as it compresses down the straight. On the final lap, it’s all-in for the sprint, and you’ll want to be among the first ten riders going through the last corner.
Being so flat and fast, it’s hard to escape if enough riders in the bunch want a sprint. On a still day, it’s easy to sit in the bunch and get sucked along. Any breakaway will always be within sight.
On a windy day, however, there’s little shelter. I’m told that winds up and down the lake can wreak havoc and split the bunch, so positioning becomes much more important as you turn from a downwind or headwind section into a crosswind. With the pace so high (especially with a tailwind), you do not want to get dropped.
Penrith Cycling Club runs cycling races at the Regatta Centre throughout the year.
In winter, it hosts a road race series on Saturday afternoons. Each race is over 90 minutes in length, so at $15 it’s good value if you’re looking to rack up kilometres. They also hold individual time trials there, as well as the annual NSW Metropolitan and Country Road Championships (previously known as the Sydney Road Titles, and facetiously the “Sydney bike path championships”).
In summer, Penrith CC hosts a criterium series on Monday evenings with shorter race duration. Strictly speaking, these are kermesses rather than criteriums given the longer circuit length.
Depending on the time of year, you’ll see such decorated local riders as Ben Dyball, Peter Milostic and the club’s favourite daughter Amanda Spratt out on course.
Penrith is fair distance away for many Sydneysiders, so driving is common. Enter through Gate A. The marshalls will tell you where to park for bike racing, since there are usually multiple events running in the Regatta Centre at once.
Those who live closer will find it easy to ride there. Again, enter through Gate A.
It’s possible to catch a train to Penrith and ride from the station, enjoying an easy 6 kilometre warm-up.
For footage of a cycling race at Penrith’s Regatta Centre, watch this onboard video of a full lap.