Anthony Tan finds it difficult to forget the words of TDU organiser concerning the Drapac cycling team, but upon reflection, believes he was right.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:36 PM

With just nine Australians and one Australian team among a 137-man, 23-team field, it wasn't hard to keep track of our riders at the Tour de Langkawi just past.


But I was interested in Drapac not so much because they were the only Aussie team, but because certain parts of a conversation I had last November with Tour Down Under organiser Mike Turtur still stuck with me and would not lose their way into the vortex where most of my usually important information resides, such as the PIN to my bank account or where I last put my passport.


In case you'd forgotten, Turtur was responding to comments made by the eponymous owner of the team, Michael Drapac, who said the progression of the TDU and its elevation to World Tour status had come at a cost: its development, argued Drapac, had stymied the growth of our local, or Continental, teams and denied locally-based riders an opportunity to race the TDU because UCI rules do not allow Continental teams to participate.


In 2008, the year Drapac was registered as a Pro Continental team – which made them eligible for an invite to the TDU – Turtur told me "they were given a licence when they really should not have been given a licence; I believe it was a sweetheart deal done to develop the sport here – it was the wrong decision.


"And they didn't have the roster nor the finances," he said. "We chose not to invite them that year because simply, in my eyes, they weren't good enough. Now you can argue and toss about all you like, but at the end of the day, the [race] organiser has that choice and no-one else."


In his argument, Mr. Drapac also made comparisons with the Tour of California, a privately funded event that made its debut in 2006, and an event that has chosen to not to go down the World Tour (previously ProTour) path, in part to allow US-based Continental teams to compete.


Turtur addressed this issue by saying: "The domestic scene, as you know, and also he [Drapac] knows, in America, is substantially stronger than in Australia – substantially stronger. But having said all that, our objective, for this race, was to create a significant tourism event and achieve the highest status possible – that's the business plan, that's what it's all about. Now, whether he agrees with it or not, that's his problem. The fact of life is, when he had an opportunity with his team to participate in this race, in our view they weren't good enough, and didn't offer anything to the race in terms of interest or any other aspect."


You can see why his words stuck with me – and many of you, too, I'm sure.


All of you who saw this year's TDU witnessed the calibre of riders and teams present. We already had our best non-World Tour riders there under the guise of the UniSA-Australia mob; any more would have been superfluous, and our best Continental team would most likely be making up numbers than having any real impact, I'd argue.


If Mr. Drapac truly believes his team warrants a start and would be a player at races like the TDU, you'd expect them to feature at a hors-catégorie race like the Tour de Langkawi, right?


So the Sunday after Cameron Meyer won the TDU and Matt White was subsequently fired (thankfully I'd left the hotel by then and was en route to Malaysia, excusing me from keeping company with the horde of angry hacks in the press centre who thought they'd filed their last story of the day, only to begrudgingly restart their laptops), I flew north to the tropics, expecting big things from Drapac.


As you may have heard in the video interview I did with their sports director at the race, Agostino Giramondo, Drapac team management decided to send a team solely focused on the eight possible sprint stages because "this year we didn't have any designated climbers on the team that we think could go with the big ProTeam climbers. We decided to bring more strong men and sprinters to hopefully try and win a stage," Giramondo said.

But they never came close.


The best result from their six-man line-up was Dutchman Floris Goesinnen's fourteenth place on stage eight. Other than that, last year's final stage winner, Stuart Shaw, finished fifteenth on the stage into Kuala Lumpur and Thomas Palmer, the other sprinter Drapac had pinned their hopes on before the start, managed his best result on stage two, when he ran sixteenth to the Italian Andrea Guardini, who equalled the Graeme Brown's record with five stages to his credit.


Sure, they experienced their share of pile-ups but none were so seriously hurt they couldn't continue – all six finished.


If anything, they looked deflated more than dismembered.


But this blog is not about bagging out their riders. It's about realising Turtur, as harsh as his words were, was right.


Because until you see teams like Drapac punching above their weight in races like the Tour de Langkawi, even they were to compete, save for one or two riders who invariably find a spot on the UniSA-Australia team, they don't belong in races like the TDU.