WorldTour races still on schedule despite raging fires in parts of Australia

Though conditions could change, officials from Tour Down Under, Great Ocean RR confirm their events will be held as scheduled as riders, teams start to arrive

Pro cycling’s WorldTour 2020 season debut in Australia remains on track later this month despite raging wildfires burning in parts of the nation.

Officials from both the Santos Tour Down Under and the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race confirmed to VeloNews that elite men’s and women’s road races, along with other events associated with the WorldTour dates, are being planned as scheduled.

Officials from both races also confirmed they are working closely with local, regional and national authorities to monitor fire danger, air quality, and other safety issues. Right now, the worst of the fire danger is far enough away from routes on both events that officials insist their races can be held as scheduled.

“We are in discussions with the Adelaide Hills Council, who are committed to seeing the Santos Tour Down Under running through the region,” Town Down Under officials said in a statement. “The Council and DPTI [South Australia planning department] are working hard to ensure the routes are safe so both the men’s and women’s races can go ahead as planned.”

From afar, it might appear as if all of Australia is in flames. Harrowing images of burning forests, koalas and kangaroos escaping raging flames, and residents taking refuge on beaches as they watch in horror as their homes burn have been broadcast across the world. Flames have engulfed huge swaths of terrain in Australia’s southeastern mountain and coastal areas, and there are evacuation orders for several areas in Victoria and New South Wales as high temperatures and winds ferment raging firestorms.

Yet Australia is a nation of continental scale, and the raging bush fires — horrific as they are — are several hundred miles away from race routes in the Adelaide and Geelong regions. Race officials there say conditions do not warrant a change, at least not right now.

Geelong — site of the Cadel Evans and Torquay races January 30 to February 2 — is at least 400km to the west of the worst-hit areas in eastern Victoria and southern New South Wales. Adelaide — which hosts the women’s WorldTour opener January 16-19 and the men’s WorldTour opener January 21-26 in South Australia — is another 700km further northwest of Geelong.

Prevailing west to east winds have pushed smoke from the most destructive fires along Australia’s southeastern coast further away from where races are being scheduled, meaning that officials are hopeful that air quality is not a major concern. And with the respective events still weeks away, any decision to alter or change race dates or routes would likely not be made until a few days or even hours before the start time.

Despite the regional bush fires, major cricket, rugby and sailing events have recently unfolded as scheduled, though some events have been canceled. The Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, the season’s first grand slam, is also expected to be held without disruption January 20 to February 2, though officials there are also monitoring the fire emergency.

Other cycling events in Australia are also currently being run. The Bay Crit Series, three days of criterium racing in Geelong, is unfolding this weekend as scheduled. The Australian national championship races, scheduled for January 8-12 in Buninyong about an hour or so northwest of Geelong, are expected to be held as scheduled, with officials meeting Monday to make a final call.

Insiders say if conditions allow organizers to hold the WorldTour races, proper respect will be paid to what’s unfolding across other parts of the nation. Fundraisers and other acts of solidarity for firefighters and victims are expected to be incorporated into all events.

Riders for the upcoming Tour Down Under are already arriving in Adelaide. Romain Bardet (Ag2r-La Mondiale), the French star who will race in Australia for the first time, arrived this week.

While other parts of Australia burn, light showers and cooler temperatures were forecasted overnight Saturday into Sunday for Adelaide and Geelong to give at least a temporary reprieve to the soaring summer temperatures. Long-range forecasts through the month of January, however, call for no significant rainfall and continued high temperatures across much of Australia.

Here is the complete statement from Tour Down Under organizers released Saturday:

“Our thoughts are with those people and communities affected by the bushfires, and certainly with the CFS and others who continue to work so hard to keep people in South Australia and properties protected.

“We are in discussions with the Adelaide Hills Council, who are committed to seeing the Santos Tour Down Under running through the region. The Council and DPTI are working hard to ensure the routes are safe so both the men’s and women’s races can go ahead as planned.

“In talking with the Adelaide Hills Council, the most significant thing we as a race can do at this time, is to promote that the Adelaide Hills are open for business, to promote the region and encourage people to travel into and support the region. We are working closely with Council, emergency services and the local communities and will continue to monitor the situation.

“As always, the safety and wellbeing of South Australian communities is paramount and everyone involved with the Santos Tour Down Under.”