After a long interruption by lockdowns and border closures, the 2021 National Road Series will finally resume – and conclude – in Queensland next month.
The USC – Cycle Sunshine Coast cycling festival from 17–19 December will bring down the curtain on an abbreviated season that’s been on hold since May.
The COVID-19 pandemic shaped the NRS from the very beginning when the Santos Festival of Cycling replaced the Tour Down Under.
That race provided no shortage of memorable moments: from Luke Durbridge’s and Sarah Gigante’s solo breakaways, to Richie Porte’s seventh win on Willunga Hill and Luke Plapp’s rise to world prominence.
In those early months, the NRS leapt from strength to strength with a live-streamed Melbourne to Warrnambool for men, followed by a new women’s race at the Grafton to Inverell, won by series leader Ruby Roseman-Gannon (who’s now on her way to the WorldTour with Team BikeExchange).
But the journey stopped when the eastern seaboard experienced one lockdown after another.
First, the Tour de Brisbane was delayed and ultimately run without NRS points.
Next, the mid-season stage races were taken off the calendar: the Tour of the Tropics, Battle on the Border, Tour of the Great South Coast and Tour of Gippsland all fell victim to the inevitable.
By the time Melbourne and Sydney emerged from their record lockdowns, the Tour of Tasmania had been frustrated for another year while a new one-day race, L’Etape Australia by Tour de France, was scratched after a local council withdrew support.
To race-starved Australian cyclists, the promise of a full 2022 national calendar is a beacon of hope. But before then, Cycle Sunshine Coast will light the way towards the return to normality.
The event starts on the last possible date that Queensland is scheduled to restart quarantine-free travel (although the government has hinted it may reopen sooner). While the timing makes for tricky logistics, it’ll symbolise a turning point from the age of lockdowns to a new, vaccinated era.
Featuring four stages – a criterium, two road races and a time trial – Cycle Sunshine Coast will be an optimistic full stop at the end of a difficult year.
“Six events were postponed or cancelled this year and the riders missed a lot of racing, but 2022 is looking like a huge year for the National Road Series,” said Adam Power, Event Operations Manager at AusCycling.
“Not only does Cycle Sunshine Coast give riders a final event to finish 2021, it also provides high-level racing prior to the Road National Championships in January.
“I’m looking forward to the fast racing and new courses, including the crit in Maroochydore’s CBD on the Friday night – and all that the event will bring to town – as well as the technical time trial through the University of Sunshine Coast.”
Photo: Con Chronis