Plans take shape for second Aussie attempt to break into cycling's elite teams
Cycling Australia performance director quits to head project, Jayco tycoon set to provide backing
Plans for a second Australia-based cycling team to attempt to secure a place among the sport’s elite following the recent Pegasus Sports debacle are gathering pace with the news earlier today that Cycling Australia performance chief Shayne Bannan is leaving his position to direct the project, which appears likely to be backed by a tycoon already involved in sponsoring the sport.
A formal announcement regarding the project, which would be aimed at getting a team to compete in the top tier of international cycling starting in 2012, is expected ahead of the Tour Down Under, which starts in Adelaide on 18 January. However, Bannan has already resigned his post at Cycling Australia.
Unlike Dave Brailsford, who has sought to combine his role as performance director of British Cycling with his more recent position as team principal of Team Sky, raising questions of conflict of interest between the two organisations which are currently the subject of an independent review by auditors Deloitte, Bannan has largely made a clean break with Cycling Australia.
It is understood that he will retain close links with the national body, including acting as its European consultant, but with the London 2012 Olympics in which Australia will pose one of the strongest challenges to Great Britain on the track just 18 months away, the new project must be a serious, viable and, to Bannan at least, attractive enough proposition to tempt him away from full-time involvement with the national team.
While his work with Cycling Australia and the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) has seen him head up the country’s programme across all disciplines, this won’t be the first time that Bannan has helped establish a road racing team, having led the setting-up of the AIS outfit in 2006.
Speaking to the Sydney Morning Herald, Bannan said: “There's still a fair amount of discussion to take place and all will be revealed in mid-January," adding that he had found his resignation letter “bloody hard” to write.
"There's no way I would step out of my current role if I didn't think it was going to be beneficial for Australian cycling," he added, an apparent reference to the fact that the new team should provide a natural progression for graduates of the AIS instead of joining European or US-based pro teams as currently happens.
Subsequently, the same newspaper has revealed that businessman Gerry Ryan, owner of the Jayco caravans business and reported to be worth some A$180 million (£118.3 million), is likely to be among the backers of the new team.
Ryan’s company currently sponsors the Jayco Bay criterium series, which has its season premiere this weekend in Melbourne, and the entrepreneur also helps fund Cycling Australia.
There’s an obvious parallel to be drawn between Ryan and a even more successful Australia-born tycoon, Rupert Murdoch, with Sky not only sponsoring the team that bears its name, but also British Cycling, and Ryan says that the media company’s tie-up with the UK’s national body is a template that he wishes to follow.
“That’s leaving us behind in terms of development of Australian riders,” he explained. “That’s a model you try and benchmark yourself on. It’s no different to [Aussie Rules Football club] Collingwood, the guns in nurturing bloods. Look at some of the sports science they are doing to get that edge.”
Although he is the first to declare his hand, Ryan, who also owns racehorses – one, Americain, won last month’s Melbourne Cup – and has interests in sports including cricket, basketball and rugby league, insists that he won’t be the only investor in the new venture.
“It’s not only me,” he reveals. “There are several high-profile businessmen that have been talking to each other. To be sitting in Paris and have that Australian flag on a team car [in the Tour de France] would be an ideal situation.”
Ryan maintains that he has drawn lessons from Pegasus Sports failed attempt to secure first a ProTeam, then a Professional Continental licence from world cycling’s governing body, as reported here on road.cc earlier this month.
Referring to Pegasus Sports’ chief executive Chris White, he explained: “I admire what he has done. Unfortunately he was let down at the 11th hour. Hopefully he can regroup and get back up and get a licence. He’s broken a lot of ground, worked very hard. I have a lot of respect for what he’s tried to achieve.”
While Ryan told the Sydney Morning Herald that he had spoken to a Melbourne-based group, Australia Road Racing, about launching a high-profile pro team, it appears that he is throwing his weight behind Bannan’s project, whose efforts at Cycling Australia helped persuade the businessman to invest in the sport.
“I have always been impressed by Shayne Bannan,” he disclosed. “You have passion but you also have to have a plan. I was impressed with where he wanted to take cycling. He had us convinced that what he needed was extra funds, so we got involved.”