It's Fly V owner Chris White’s love affair with bikes that has taken him where he is today – and hopefully in the near future, a place in the ProTour, writes Anthony Tan.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

Despite racking up 50 percent more victories than it achieved last season – which already bettered the strike rate of HTC-Columbia, the most successful ProTour team in 2009 – there's probably been more talk about Fly V Australia and its managing director, Chris White, in the past month than the past three years.

White, an accountant and businessman by trade but a cyclist at heart, finds himself in the tantalising position of being the first man to achieve what the Australian cycling public has long believed possible but so far has failed to see materialise: an Aussie-registered ProTour team, and one that competes at the grand-daddy of all cycling races, the Tour de France.

So far, 10 teams (out of a possible 18) already have licenses to compete at ProTour level in 2011: Ag2r-La Mondiale, Garmin-Transitions (to be renamed Garmin-Cervélo), Lampre-Farnese Vini, Omega Pharma-Lotto, Quick Step, Rabobank, Team Sky, Katusha, RadioShack and Saxo Bank (to be called Saxo Bank-Sungard).

On August 17, cycling's governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), released a statement to say a further 14 teams had applied for the remaining eight ProTour places – one of which is Fly V's holding company, Pegasus Racing, owned and managed by White.

"We've got a better chance than the rest, subject to meeting the minimum requirements," White told me. "What that means I'm not really sure, but I think it means four teams going for the last two spots.

"If you look at the UCI ProTour criteria, should we achieve the required sporting objectives – so let's cut that back to UCI points – [and] be ranked in the top 15 teams, we get the [ProTour] licence. If we're ranked between 16 and 21, then it goes to the other criteria."

In short, what White was trying to tell me (I think) is that it's unlikely Pegasus Racing will be ranked in the top 15 teams in the world (based on his envisaged 2011 roster and the UCI points they bring), and that, according to his calculations, six of the 14 teams going for the final eight places will be in the first 15.

However, Pegasus' MD feels he will have a line-up that will rank [as-yet-unnamed-title sponsor from America]-Fly V Australia somewhere between the top 16-21 teams – consequently leaving four teams vying for the final two ProTour placemats.

"So it's critical that we achieve the best roster we possibly can right now. The roster will drive the outcome," said White.

Hearing last week's news that the Cervélo TestTeam will no longer be around, White was prompted into action in an attempt to court some of its star riders that included Thor Hushovd, Heinrich Haussler and Brett Lancaster. But on Monday this week, Garmin released a statement that ended any chance of one of those names coming across, headlined: "Thor Hushovd joins Slipstream Sports for 2011."

Two days later, mid-Wednesday evening, another statement came from Garmin: apart from Hushovd, six more ex-Cervélo riders would join the team in 2011, including Haussler and Lancaster.

By close of business Tuesday, White, as part of the ProTour submission process, had to transfer a non-refundable €15,000 ($21,000) application fee with the UCI.

By October 1, in a lodgement of contracts to the UCI, Pegasus Racing must name at least 10 of the minimum 22 riders required to field a ProTour outfit. Garmin-Transitions' Trent Lowe is the first 'big' name from the ProTour to come across. White told me he has another nine in the bag: "I'm just waiting on a couple of signatures to come back."

Four likely signatures would come from its current crop of riders – Jonathan Cantwell, David Tanner, Bernie Sulzberger, Aaron Kemps and Ben Day – who have shown their worth on the US racing scene this season and whom White put forth as candidates for the upcoming world road championships, though none making the original 15-man long list.

On whether it is a case of ProTour or bust – that is, whether White has planned for a scenario where Pegasus Racing does not receive a ProTour licence – he said: "If we're ranked 19 and we miss out on one of the 18 licences, we're automatically a Pro Continental team. And committed to a European campaign. And committed to being in the ProTour for 2012."

Despite one the title sponsors coming from the US to reach that €14 million ($19.7 million) figure required to fund a ProTour squad, White reassuringly told me, "we'll be registered in Australia, we'll be an Australian team".

Asked if any Australian riders already in ProTour squads had contacted him, White said no, but added, "I'm actively pursuing [those riders]. Mind you, I get 30 to 40 emails a day from riders wanting a place. There's more riders than teams."

At the time of writing, the whereabouts of Robbie McEwen's place in 2011 was unknown, the last big name from Australia without a contract. McEwen told Cyclingnews he and White go back 20 years but qualified the remark by saying "my name has been linked to the new Aussie team whenever it is mentioned." I'll take a punt and say he'll stay with Katusha.

To be registered as an Australian team is one thing, but exactly how many Australians does White want or can handle?

"I think in a best-case scenario, I can achieve 15 Australians – in the best case," he said.

"How we end up at the end of the day, I've got to live that part of my life yet. Really, I don't want any more than 15. For a whole number of really strong commercial reasons, it's important to have an international roster."

On November 1, White expects to see a statement from the UCI detailing the first 15 teams that have a ProTour licence awarded for 2011; the remaining three should be announced by mid-November.

Is Pegasus Racing hoping to be in that first announcement, then?

White answers in atypically laconic fashion. "[I would] like to be... Waiting long enough. Waiting long enough," he repeats.

"Right now, assuming we get our ProTour licence, we'll be the first. They'll never be another first. And that legacy has significance."

White says in this process characterised by much repetition (would we expect anything less from a bureaucracy like the UCI?), there's no killer blow to win over the governing body – "though in saying that, a really strong sporting roster might be that killer blow that we're looking for".

This week, White is at the Vuelta a España, looking for riders searching for a home in 2011 and most importantly, with UCI points to offer.

Here's hoping he secures a few big names to land that knockout punch.