By now most of you will be back at work after an all to short holiday (I don't want to know about it if you aren't). I hope everyone had a good Xmas and spent New Years partying like Edita Rumsas' mother. 2003 promises to be yet another year full of cycling. Can Lance win five in a row? Can more kiwi rider's foot it in Europe? Will Bruce Stokell (CNZ's new CEO) be able to stop the ship from sinking?
Not a lot has been heard from the new CEO , Bruce Stokell, yet. He replaces Mark Harris, whose sudden departure in the middle of last year has still to be explained by the CNZ board. (If you've got a CNZ license these people are accountable to you). Stokell, who has been appointed by SPARC - the government's new sport wonder-ministry, comes with a reputation as a Mr Fixit. So somebody thinks something must be broken.
The biggest challenges ahead concern the unification of all cycling related sports (even kick bikes) and the allocation of resources, not only amongst them but within them. For now I'll concentrate on road cycling and in particular women's road cycling. Our women are rated amongst the best in the world. We have turned out women capable of holding their own on the world stage – Sarah Ulmer, Susy Pryde, Melissa Holt and Roz Reekie-May to name a few of the recent stand-outs.
However, I feel that they are given a rough deal. The itinerary and support provided for them travelling to world cup events in Aussie last year can only be described as shoddy. And as for being an on-going priority, by my calculations we only sent away one other women's team (outside of the Commonwealth games) and that was to the HP Tour in Idaho. Not a huge preparation for a major target in events where we had our best medal chances.
Now some of this is clearly due to professional commitments of the top riders themselves. A larger pool of women cyclists to draw from when selecting teams will overcome this and create greater competition. This means we need to put on more events. At the start of last year CNZ created the well intended points series. This was largely driven by Mark Harris and with his sudden demise so too went the points series. It still kept running, kind of. And there were still winners but there was a lot of confusion and a number of comments made by both riders and organisers alike. That's not to say that we shouldn't keep the points series. We need something like this to help riders develop and to gauge themselves against others. We just need to learn from the mistakes made and go forward.
In the case of the women's points series I can only hope that it does not affect the upcoming team selection's given the tortured nature of the points system and the evident mistakes made in recording those. It appears that if you race in a higher grade as a women, rather than riding in the grade where the rest of the women are riding, you will qualify for points ahead of the other women (can't see this mentioned anywhere). This means you could be the only women in B-Grade and get dead last by many hours and still get more points than the top women in C-grade, who may in fact have ridden better – how is this useful. You may even get points for events that you never attended (four women got points for Taupo to Napier, only one rode it). Given that, I'm not sure what the series counts for. As selection policy around women's cycling is notoriously vague this could all be a storm in a tea cup.
One disturbing trend that has already occurred to me with the limited racing witnessed since Xmas, is the degree to which top women riders either do not turn up to events especially made for them or prefer to ride in the men's field of another race instead. The Nelson Tour de Femme, whilst being a great success attracting a field of 50 women cyclist's, contained just 4 of the top 20 riders on points. I appreciate that the timing isn't always good, that the pro riders have long season's so it doesn't suit them and so on. But come on all you female cyclists, you are been given a chance to help yourselves. It is beyond me how the selectors will actually pick a team when only once a year do all our women riders come together to race one another – at the nationals. This means selections are made on one result a year. I suspect given the limited opportunities for women's events that riders are concerned about their relative results and may eschew races if not confident of a top placing. The simple way to solve this is to put on more women's events.
Let's hope that CNZ, as the body responsible for our racing diets, can take the points series to the next level and provide a better platform for our women cyclists to become world-beaters. We only need to look at our near neighbours for both inspiration and competition.