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Here in Melbourne we’re very fortunate that we have some strong clubs who have secured weekly criterium circuits for us to enjoy over the summers. However, existing circuits are under pressure from local government, residents, traders, etc, and the weekly races that we take for granted are far from being secure. Clubs who have failed to keep their crit courses struggle to thrive or even vanish. If criteriums are the foundation of many metropolitan clubs, how can this issue be solved?
One thing that may solve some of these problems is to build and inner-urban criterium race circuit for all clubs to access. No cars or pedestrians allowed, only bike racing and training. Criterium racing currently occurs on closed public roads. This inherently limits what clubs can offer. Managing closed roads involves increasing costs, risks, logistical and safety issues, which cycling clubs are finding harder and harder to mange.
Footscray CC have lost access to their VUT course, there are residential developments proposed for Port Melbourne (SKCC’s crit course), Hawthorne’s Kew Boulevard circuit is in the middle of parklands which could be threatened. Permits are getting harder to secure rather than easier. In a few short years it’s inevitable that many will be refused. CCCC and the SMCC run twilight criteriums on Sandown Park which are spectacular but also have limited times that clubs can use it. We’re experiencing a golden ara of cycling and our current situation does not accommodate for further growth and demand for racing and training.
The only purpose built courses close to Melbourne are Belmont in Geelong (which is far too narrow from what I understand) and Casey Fields (which is in a far away desolate windy field). Neither of these courses are feasible nor desirable for Melbourne riders to use on a regular basis.
Sporting facilities play an massive role in bringing communities closer together which is why a permanent criterium circuit could be so important. Many years ago Velodromes would serve this purpose, but track racing is past its heyday and criteriums have never seen such popularity. Criterium racing is the first step many riders take from riding for leisure to racing (and who knows…maybe becoming a state, national or world champion).
Melbourne prides itself on being bike friendly, but still lags behind other major cities. Every morning thousands of riders use Beach Road as an informal race course amongst semi-trailers and commuting traffic. It’s a massive problem for motorists and cyclists alike and I’m surprised that nobody has lost their life yet. An inner urban crit course could provide an outlet for riders to do their mid-week training on without the worry of being mixed in with rush hour traffic. The problem of obtaining permits and traffic management would be greatly reduced and therefore more events could be held by more clubs. It’s even likely that new clubs would arise if they had easy access to a crit circuit.
Something I enjoy about having various clubs having their own criterium circuit is having the choice to race on a different course against different people. Each race has its own character and vibe which is part of what makes Melbourne’s cycling culture so incredible. If there were a purpose-built crit course in Melbourne, would clubs be in danger of being denied permits on current circuits? Would we lose the diversity we currently enjoy? Would one club end up dominating the administration of the circuit? Would too many chefs in the kitchen spoil the broth?
Next Steps (now and future)
Fortunately Cycling Victoria has identified this as their number one facility priority. A feasibility study will be required as a first step but this is extremely expensive and too costly for one club to evaluate and develop. Money is being requested from state government for a feasibility study. One area that’s been identified as a potential location is the Westgate precinct. Ideally, the facility itself would be a 900 to 1800 metre bitumen circuit, 12-15 metres wide and including facilities such as toilets, car parking, services and support buildings.
In the face of declining trends in physical activity and sporting participation, Australian cycling is experiencing a boom. Unprecedented increases in participation at a recreational, commuting and competitive level are being recorded across the country. Voluntary mainstream sporting clubs throughout Australia exist largely because they have predictable and long term access to a wealth of public facilities, grounds, and clubhouses. This is not the case for cycling clubs in Melbourne and in order to accommodate further growth for racing and training a purpose built crit course could be a big step forward in the growth and sustainability for cycling in Australia.
What are your thoughts? I’d be interested in comments and discussion by people or clubs who have experience with their own purpose built criterium course and how it’s working for you.