As the 2017 season draws to a close, final preparations are being made by teams for the 2018 season. The Australian scene looks set for a shake-up with eight teams having applied to Cycling Australia for a continental licence.
The advantages of ‘going conti’, as most call, it are numerous. You can get invites to bigger races around the world, the continental badge is useful in applying to races where the organiser doesn’t know who you are and it does establish a team as one that riders will want to go to with improved racing opportunities and paths for development.
The biggest carrot for most Australian teams is the Herald Sun Tour, it used to be the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, but with the bump up to World Tour status for the race, local teams have been left out in the cold during the summer event.
The Sun Tour has been consistently one of the best opportunities for local teams to showcase themselves against some of the world’s best and get a bit of TV time, invaluable for convincing a sponsor of the attraction of supporting a cycling team.
The big question is whether all eight teams will fit into the event?
Race director John Trevorrow is the ultimate arbiter in deciding which teams get into the race and spoke on the issue of more teams competing to be on the start line for the now-traditional prologue in Melbourne.
“The culture and history of the Herald Sun Tour is about giving young Australians a chance to race against some of the world’s best,” said Trevorrow. “That’s the DNA of the event, I don’t think we’ll become a World Tour event, there’s enough of those races around in Australia at the moment.”
“The chance for an Australian team to race against some of the top World Tour teams is pretty special and I’ll find it hard to leave anyone out, that’s all I’ll say. If it got to ten (Australian Continental Teams) then that wouldn’t work and it’s probably line-ball now. It’s a tough thing to have to do, but also fantastic at the same time, because to have so many teams of that high standard is a great problem to have.”
“We want a handful of World Tour teams, a handful of Pro Continental teams with names that make them pretty much World Tour level, but after that the Australian Continental teams are really key.”
IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness, St George Continental and Drapac-Pat’s Veg are the existing continental teams and all are understood to be continuing into next season. The trio have achieved strong results overseas and domestically, IsoWhey Sports-SwissWellness have been the dominant team of the National Road Series in recent years.
Drapac-Pat’s Veg have been a force to be reckoned with this season and have developed some very good riders, with Cyrus Monk being selected for a stagiare stint with Cannondale-Drapac.
St George Continental concentrate most of their efforts on riding well in Asia, where they’ve taken a number of UCI wins, with a particularly strong sequence of results in September.
They’re going to have some more competition next year if the persistent rumours in the Australian peloton are true, with existing teams Cobra9 Intebuild Racing Team, Oliver’s Real Food Racing, Mobius Future Racing, Attaque Team Gusto and the new Australian Cycling Academy setup all seeking a Continental licence for next season.
Of these names, Brisbane-based Cobra9 Intebuild have already confirmed their intentions to make the jump to the next level and team director Josh Prete is building the squad to compete. They’ll start with a solid budget in the region of $400,000 and a strong squad of Queenslanders including current individual pursuit world champion Jordan Kerby.
Their racing calendar is unconfirmed currently, but Prete confirmed that they’re looking to be competitive in the NRS, seek out racing opportunities in Asia, with a few races in the Czech Republic also on the cards.
A few hurdles are still to be surmounted before they line-up next season, equipment sponsors and filling out the roster with a few more riders to supplement the core that has already been announced.
Oliver’s Real Food Racing looks the next most likely to attain Continental status for next season, after celebrating their maiden National Road Series victory with a stunning overall win from South African import Brendon Davids at the Battle Recharge, before backing that up with a UCI 2.2 Tour win at Jegagah Malaysia. Theirs is probably the most organic growth out of the teams mentioned, they have a main sponsor that is a growing business in Australia, the Oliver’s brand fits well with cycling, it recently went public on the stock exchange and is looking for increased exposure.
The team has been able to obtain a number of Asian race invites in the past without a Continental licence, but it’s understood that Cycling Australia has been asked by the current Continental teams to ask race organisers to prioritise giving invites to team that have the extra level of accreditation.
Oliver’s Real Food Racing appears to have most of the pieces set in place to register for their licence, the required bank guarantee was the last hurdle, but it appears that links with the Commonwealth Bank are set to make the former state level’s rise to the Continental ranks a reality.
Mobius Future Racing are a team that has been rising steadily through the ranks of Australian cycling, building upon a strategy of smart talent recruitment and aggressive racing. Team director Tom Petty has been keen to build upon early success with the squad and craft a sustained rise through the ranks, rather than go too fast, too early and fizzle out.
The team is looking to take the step up to Continental level, but consistent to Petty’s desire for sustainable progress, they were unwilling to confirm that they’ll definitely be taking the step up before everything is set in stone.
Attaque Team Gusto is currently a Slovenian registered Continental team, born out of an amalgamation of the old Australia Search2retain squad, with Chinese bike sponsor Gusto and a strong Slovenian presence in team staff and riders. Rumoured financial difficulties for 2018 may see them take a different route from the racing program that has seen them ride predominantly in Asia and Europe the last few seasons and instead opt to fly the Australian flag.
A number of Australian riders currently ply their trade with the squad, most notably Ben Hill has lit up Australian racing consistently in recent years with his attacking style, which has netted his team the sprint jersey and mountains jersey at the past two Herald Sun Tours.
Perhaps the boldest addition to the new line-up of teams will be the Australian Cycling Academy, the brainchild of former Commonwealth Games gold medallist Ben Kersten, who formerly ran NSWIS’s road cycling program, and Orica-Scott sports director Matt Wilson.
With whispers of a large budget sponsor lined up (at least in terms of Australian Continental teams), a number of well-credentialed luminaries within Australian cycling being sized up as selectors and high-quality races being mooted as part of their calendar, the ACA is the talk of domestic cycling circles at the moment.
There’s a lot happening beneath the surface in the Australian domestic cycling scene at the moment and whilst it won’t command the attention of the masses the way World Tour action does, the level of racing and riders is important, as it forms the breeding ground for those top Aussie talents plying their trade in the World Tour.