• Avanti IsoWhey Sports have been the strongest team on the local scene (Cycling Australia/Con Chronis) (Cycling Australia)Source: Cycling Australia
Seven time National Road Series champions Avanti IsoWhey Sports are the strongest domestic squad in Australia, but that hasn’t translated into sponsors fighting to fund them.
Jamie Finch-Penninger

28 Oct 2016 - 5:21 PM 

Forced recently to abandon plans to race the Tour of Southland, citing budget restrictions, it has become apparent that even with the wins this year domestically and abroad sponsorship money is hard to come by. Speaking with Cycling Central, team co-owner and manager Andrew Christie-Johnston opened up on the subject.

“With any team you have a plan of where you like to get it, but like every other team in Australia, we’ve struggled with our own sponsorship. We find it difficult from year to year to find enough people to support us.“

Avanti will continue as the bike supplier for the squad, but without the added expense of being the title sponsor as well.

Many consider that the Avanti IsoWhey Sports team are almost too good for local racing. The team is coming off their seventh straight win in the team’s classification of the NRS, where they won all the rounds bar the final two events.

There is always the speculation that the team will make the jump to Pro-Continental level, as they have a talented roster and consistently mix it up with much bigger teams during the Australian summer races.

“We would like to be able to find a budget to go Pro-Conti, but at the moment we’re just trying to sign up for 2017 and make sure we’re still around. It’s an ongoing thing, sometimes we’ve been lucky enough to sign a sponsor for a few years, but it’s mostly a year to year proposition and it’s always a battle.“ 

“There’s no real difference between what we and some of the smaller teams have to do and we have to fight really hard.”

Trying to convince sponsors to invest in cycling can be a tricky sell with the sport locally not generating the same attention as the football codes and the normal metrics that advertisers look for aren’t present. Even agents who specialise in looking for sponsors aren’t much help as Christie-Johnston explains.

“You have to do it all yourself in Australia, the sport isn’t popular or mainstream enough. There’s people you can employ, but when you speak to them, they know very little about the industry and they don’t know how to pitch it to sponsors. So it’s about speaking to industry sponsors, people we’ve made contact with before and just following up leads where we can.”

“It can be difficult to go into these corporate businesses and compare to what other sports give in this country. We have to sell a different story.”

“Our biggest story is the development of riders into the World Tour and a number of our sponsors have been passionate about cycling and they like playing a role in developing these athletes to the highest level.” 

The team has been very successful in that regard, developing 10 riders into the World Tour ranks over the years, most notably Richie Porte. This year has seen another two riders continue that tradition with Chris Hamilton off to Sunweb-Giant and Ben O’Connor, who will be riding at least at Pro-Continental level with Dimension Data.

“Ultimately, if teams like ours aren’t around then you go back to justh having the Cycling Australia-funded system that allows riders to progress.”

The team has come a long way from it’s humble beginnings as Praties, with Christie-Johnston and Price essentially sponsoring themselves from the food business that they run in Tasmania. Rising through the ranks of the domestic scene rapidly, the team attracted riders with bigger reputations to the point where most domestic riders see it as the best pathway to a professional contract.

“We have grown, but we’re still way behind professional teams. That was clear when we went to Europe this year, people were whinging about small budgets over there and not being able to survive but when we actually heard how much money they work off… most of the Continental teams we were competing against have three to four times our budget.”

“So for non-traditional cycling nations like Australia and New Zealand, we’re doing it a lot tougher than the Europeans… I’d love to have their budget.”

The haves and the have-nots of cycling always throws up interesting dichotomies, perhaps one the starkest representations was at the Bay Criteriums with most teams showing up in rented vans or squashed between two cars. Drapac arrived with a bus that would have accounted for the budgets of most of the teams for the year combined.

“You always feel envious of teams that have more than you… it doesn’t change what you do or the desire. It’s nice to get a result and look over at your little car, van or whatever and realise that you’ve just given a cycling lesson to some big teams.” 

“I went to the Tour de France for the first time this year and was just wandering down along the team buses looking at the equipment. It would make life so much easier, but you have deal in realities and it doesn’t change what we’re trying to do, developing these riders into the best they can be.”

Nonetheless, on the Australian scene, Avanti IsoWhey Sports are regarded as the ‘big boys’ of the peloton, with all the expectation and pressure that comes with that.

“I think a lot of teams think that we have all these riders that are paid and look at us to do the hard work. We’ve seen both sides of it, from being the lowest funded team in Australia and now we’re at the top it’s important that we don’t get a big head about it.” 

“For us the NRS is important and we have been dominant, but it’s not easy and the other teams out there are strong. We’re very harsh on poor performances because we are good enough that every time we don’t win is a failure. We concentrate on gelling 100 per cent as a team and it really doesn’t matter who wins on the team.”

Sometimes winning isn’t enough however and the battle on the road isn’t reflected in the fight for sponsorship dollars to continue the impressive history of the team.