It does not matter if Chloe Hosking or Rachel Neylan win, lose or obtain a podium place during the elite women’s road race of the UCI Road World Championships in Bergen, Norway on Saturday. Their performance will be one of the most scrutinised by the world’s cycling media regardless.
Both riders only made the Australian team after an appeal to the independent selection review panel resulted in Cycling Australia reversing its decision to not include the two women.
Cycling Australia only decided to name five riders out of its permitted seven-rider quota for being the world’s third-ranked cycling nation. Therefore, Australia’s top ranked cyclist, Chloe Hosking, and a former silver medalist, Rachel Neylan, were left out of the original female squad.
Simon Jones, Australia’s high performance director and selector, told Cyclingtips.com during an interview that the decision was based on performance and a lack of a potential standout winner.
At the same time, Cycling Australia announced a full team of riders for the elite men’s race to support Michael Matthews.
Hosking and Neylan’s predicament was quickly picked up by the media which immediately drew comparisons with the men’s team with its full complement of nine riders.
Cycling Australia has been dragged kicking and screaming to increase its female representation at the world championships while other national sporting organisations are boosting their efforts to introduce women teams and increased their marketability to fans.
The growing wave of popularity for women’s sport has CEOs of the national sporting organisations, like the AFL, Cricket Australia and Football Federation Australia, cashing in.
You only have to look at last Sunday’s match between the Matildas, the Australian women’s soccer team, and Brazil to see just how popular women’s sport has become. The Matildas match recorded a higher crowd in Penrith than the Wallabies match in Canberra on Saturday night. Likewise, Tuesday’s Matildas match in Newcastle was a sell out.
Not everyone held the same view as Cycling Australia. Velonews include both Gracie Elvin (ninth position) and Chloe Hosking (sixth position) in its Bergen world’s power rankings for the elite women’s race that was published on September 20, 2017.
As the high performance director of Cycling Australia, Simon Jones will be fully accountable of the performance of the Australian team in Bergen. That said, if Jones is correct in his analysis that there is no clear female athlete that Australia can back 100 per cent with a full team, you have to wonder why they sent any women riders.
Why not save the money on accommodation, flight costs and coaching for the week!
However, from a tactical point of view, a full team of seven riders surely has a better chance of supporting the protected rider than a team of five. It allows a rider to get in a breakaway, other riders to collect drink bottles and food and importantly the stronger riders to safeguard the protected rider.
In the interview to Cyclingtips, Simon Jones talked about trying to pace ourselves (the athletes) through the cycle and the need for athletes to peak for the Olympic Games as it is the number one objective.
Road cycling is not like track cycling. For many of these athletes, the world championships are their Olympics and winning the rainbow jersey is just as important as Olympic gold.
But it has not only been the selection policies of Cycling Australia that have been making the news recently.
It has been well reported in the press that Cycling Australia has withdrawn its support of the Orica-Scott women’s team and Mitchelton-Scott development team beyond the 2017 season.
Less reported is the news that Cycling Australia is also withdrawing its support for two women’s road development teams, High5 Dream Team and the High5 Australian Women’s Road Development Team, which race in the domestic National Road Series.
These decisions will have a significant impact on Australia’s road cycling program with women’s cycling bearing the greatest brunt.
It is also interesting that these decisions were made in isolation of Cycling Australia’s review into its high performance strategy. According to Fairfax Media, the review is expected to be finalised by October 14, 2017.
GreenEdge Cycling has indicated that it will continue to fully fund the successful Orica-Scott women’s team on the Women’s WorldTour. However, it is not solely an Australian team. As a for-profit entity, Orica-GreenEDGE Cycling needs to ensure that Orica-Scott women’s team is competitive to guarantee sponsorship incomes.
However, there is no guarantee that Orica-GreenEDGE Cycling will continue selecting the majority of its riders from Australia without Cycling Australia support.
The future of the two women’s development teams is uncertain while the team owner, Rochelle Gilmore, considers her options. It is ironic that the two High5 women’s teams were only established after Rochelle Gilmore stepped in when Cycling Australia’s contentiously cut its women’s road development program.
According to CyclingTips, Cycling Australia will save over a $1 million per year in both financial and in-kind support from its decision to cut its funding to Orica-Scott women’s team and Mitchelton-Scott development team. Its contribution to both High5 Teams is also likely to be in the six figures.
Cycling Australia’s vision is to be the world’s leading cycling nation through performance, participation and advocacy. In its 2016 Annual Report, Cycling Australia indicated that it will focus sharply on women and youth.
Yet all these decisions seem to have Cycling Australia backing away from its key strategic focus. Cutting $1 million from the development program will also impact of future performance.
The lack of high performance development pathways will limit the opportunities of Australia’s young female cyclists. It will reduce the avenues to obtain valuable international experience.
And what does Cycling Australia intend to do with the $1 million plus that it has saved from these recent decisions? Will the review of high performance strategy identify how those savings will be used?
The Australian track cycling program performed extremely poorly at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Cycling Australia needs to confirm that it is not redirecting its road cycling funding to its Olympic track program became it has a responsibility for all cycling disciplines. Not just track Olympic medals.
It has been amazing watching the surge in popularity of women’s sport in Australia over the last 18 months. Sold out signs are being hung out at more and more female sporting venues. While there is this strong wave of public support for women’s sport, the administrators at Cycling Australia are making decisions that, at first glance, will have negative implications for women’s cycling.
It is time for Cycling Australia to re-assess these decisions and make women’s cycling a key priority again or risk losing the next generation of female cyclists to other sports.