- by Cam Whiting
- Published: 10 December 2011
Following a novel training session with the Melbourne Storm rugby league team yesterday, cyclists from the Australian GreenEDGE professional cycling team were today presented to a small crowd outside Melbourne’s Town Hall by Lord Mayor, Robert Doyle.
Looking on was team owner Gerry Ryan, founder of caravan manufacturer Jayco and long-time backer of cycling events in Australia. Today’s presentation was another small step towards Ryan’s long-term ambition for GreenEDGE to one day win the world’s biggest cycling race, the Tour de France.
That ambition was significantly aided earlier this week when cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), granted GreenEDGE a WorldTour license. This gives GreenEDGE, and 17 other global cycling teams at this highest level of the sport, guaranteed participation in all WorldTour events; an almost year-long series of races which includes the Tour de France in July.
While the team and its management, headed up by former AIS cycling head coach Shayne Bannan, is predominantly Australian, the 30-strong roster spans 10 nationalities, with riders from New Zealand, Japan, Eritrea, South Africa, Lithuania, Switzerland, Belgium, Netherlands and Canada.
Anointed as team “elder statesman”, veteran cyclist Stuart O’Grady, 38, is possibly the most well-known of the team’s 17 Australian riders, informing the audience his enthusiasm for cycling was as fresh as ever.
“I wouldn’t be up here now if I didn’t still get goosebumps at the start of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France’ enthused O’Grady “I’m going to attack the classics with the vigour of a 21yr old and the head of a 38yr old.”
Fittingly, the team’s first major race in 2012 will be at home. The Tour Down Under, held in Adelaide from 15-22 January, will host the world’s top cycling teams as the opening race of the WorldTour calendar. This may also be the only opportunity for Australian cycling fans to gain close access to GreenEDGE, given the team will be based in the Italian province of Varese for the remainder of the season.
Earlier this week, the GreenEDGE team joined Federal Minister for Sport Mark Arbib and ACT Sports Minister Andrew Barr on a ride from the Australian Institute of Sport to Parliament House in Canberra. Whilst Senator Arbib spoke of Australian cycling’s outstanding year – capped with Cadel Evan’s Tour de France win – the Australian government’s AUD7.3 million of funding to cycling sport annually is substantially less than the reported AUD10 million of annual funding that Ryan has personally committed to GreenEDGE.
Across the WorldTour spectrum, it is not uncommon for annual team budgets of between AUD15-20 million to be significantly funded by private owners, as is the case with Cadel Evan’s BMC team, which is fifty-percent owned by wealthy Swiss entrepreneur, Andy Rihs. However, Ryan hopes GreenEDGE will attract commercial sponsors, especially from the Asia-Pacific region, looking to capitalize on cycling’s popularity. Subaru became the most recent commercial partner earlier this week, though no financial aspects were disclosed.
The team’s communications manager, Brian Nygaard, would not comment on prospective commercial partners, but emphasized his belief that the timing was right for Australia to have its own global cycling team.
“Our approach is not only to put as much as we can into the athlete’s careers” said Nygaard, “we also want to give back to the fans and the sport of cycling. Cycling has always been huge in Australia, but a lot of new people are coming onboard to cycling and it’s our responsibility not to disappoint them.”
Asked about how GreenEDGE will activate cycling’s apparent increased popularity in Australia, Nygaard pointed to the team’s relaxed and open Australian culture and uptake by mainstream media.
“Cycling’s coverage is increasing all the time. There is still very specific coverage where you have to know a certain amount about cycling beforehand, but there’s a growing amount of broader coverage. Social media has brought teams and riders closer to the fans. We should utilize that to make cycling more accessible. It’s getting harder and harder in Europe for media to access cyclists and cycling should be the opposite of that. We should be approachable. You’re standing here with world champions and Olympic medalists, whilst people are just strolling by on a Saturday afternoon. That’s really how it should be.”
About the Author
Cam Whiting, previously with BMC Racing, is a consultant for cycling brands and regularly reports as an industry insider on Cycling IQ