Cadel Evans’s historic Tour de France victory has, temporarily, pushed cycling into the mainstream and imbued the public consciousness. But on a corporate level, writes Anthony Tan, the situation is still grim, with the sport still relying on wealthy benefactors.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

So I take a week off work after the Tour and not much happens, right?

Alberto Contador's hearing, which should have reached its final day of session today, gets postponed till November, for a reason as daft as the last time it got pushed back. Cadel Evans decides to spend another three years with his incumbent team, BMC Racing. HTC-High Road boss, Bob Stapleton, after feverish speculation that he would find an eleventh-hour solution, comes up short, and calls an end to the world's most successful team of the past four years, in terms of wins accumulated. The Tour of Beijing gets a four-year World Tour race licence and looks set to go ahead, apparently.

And GreenEDGE announce their first three signings Рbrothers Cameron and Travis Meyer, and Jack Bobridge, who currently ride for Garmin-Cerv̩lo Рwith the prized signature of one Stuart O'Grady added today.

This time last week, I already knew Shayne Bannan, GreenEDGE general manager, had five signatures in the bag.
In fact, when I spoke to him from his Rome base, he said: "As far as what we currently have confirmed or close to it, I'd say we're probably getting close to around 60 per cent – but still a bit to do.

"There's still a bit to do because," he said, chuckling before adding, "until you get the contracts signed, that's another story. But we've been really happy with discussions so far, and I can comfortably say that we're close to around 60 per cent."

Bannan also said that with their budget and what they strive for with that budget – which is of course one of 18 ProTeam licences in 2012, though should they see fit, the UCI may award up to 20 ProTeam licences – they're aiming for a roster of 27 or 28 riders. So, working backwards, aside from those five signed contracts, they have another 11 riders who have assented to being both green and edgy next year.

Regarding the composition of those 27 or 28 riders, it's worth remembering what Bannan told the press at the Tour Down Under back in January, the scene of their team unveiling: "Our aim is to have up to 75 per cent Australian riders, not just in the first year but the second year. It's certainly one of the aims over the next four to six years to have 75 per cent [Australian] riders."

'Why not 100 per cent?' he was asked.

"Realistically, we certainly have the depth to have not just one team but two [Australian-registered] teams on the World Tour. Seventy-five per cent is a really good number; various partners that we partner with in the future could have interests in America or China or Germany, so we very much want to make it a global team, an international team, as well.

"And also, I don't think it's 100 per cent healthy to want to be 100 per cent Australian," he said.

"I think it may cause a little bit of complacency, [with the riders thinking]: 'Okay, they've got to sign me up, I'm Australian, I'm good … and not only do they have to sign me up, they have to pay double the money.'

"So, from that point of view, competition is really what it's all about, from riders entering teams and, of course, competition between the other teams in the World Tour."

* * *

Last week, I asked Bannan if that figure of 75 per cent was still the case.

"I think the way we're tracking it will put us between 60 and 70 per cent. We'll hopefully be an Australian team, but it's also got to have a real global flavour as well, because that's really important for our sustainability in the future, from a commercial point-of-view."

The irony is, despite Bannan's insistence on commercial viability, GreenEDGE will likely be known as just that in 2012. Not GreenEDGE presented by BHP or Qantas or whatever Australian corporate you can think of that has around 10 million dollars to become a co-title sponsor. Most probably, it will simply be GreenEDGE, backed by Jayco caravan and horse-racing magnate, Gerry Ryan, who has agreed to underwrite the team to the tune of some $60 million dollars over the next three years.

Deep pockets, indeed.

Cadel's historic Tour de France victory has certainly helped, interest-wise, said Bannan. But to date, no corporate – Australian or otherwise – has come forth and handed him or Ryan or his son Andrew, the team's chief marketing and sponsorship officer, a blank cheque, demanding their logo be on the shoulders of our next Tour winner-in-waiting.

Bannan has given interested parties till the end of August to front up the requisite moolah.
If not, as the ebullient game show host, Andrew O'Keefe, would say: 'No deal!'

* * *

The demise of HTC-High Road and a lack of a co-title sponsor for GreenEDGE is indicative of just how tough a market it is to seek corporate sponsors prepared to front up for the medium-to-long term.

Unless you're talking the Olympics or the football World Cup, many sponsors want two, perhaps three or four, years' exposure, before moving on. But it generally takes two to three years before a nascent team establishes itself and can become successful. So, just when a team nears or reaches its peak performance – as HTC-High Road did at the Tour this year – and exposure is maximised, marketing bigwigs like those at HTC consider it time to pull the plug and move onto something else.

One could also argue the HTC story has something to do with the lack of a Tour de France contender, particularly one from America.

If that is true, then if it was not for Gerry Ryan, Evans's decision to stick with BMC till 2014 – which Bannan said he completely understands, telling me "he's far better off where he's staying" – would place GreenEDGE's future commercial viability in a similar predicament.

For it will be at three, though more likely four years or more, before Cameron Meyer is ready to take on a bona-fide GC role at a Grand Tour. As for Richie Porte, Bannan has already said he most likely won't be riding for GreenEDGE in 2012: "Potentially, he's someone we'd like to talk to in a couple of years," he said.

While he didn't name names, Stapleton lamented "the rise of the super teams […] with a budget in excess of 20 million Euros," saying cashed-up benefactors are in part responsible for disturbing the business equilibrium within cycling.

"It's the squeeze between keeping the team at a leadership level of the sport and the need to bring on substantial more funds," said the Californian entrepreneur, in a phone conference with selected journalists last Wednesday.

"If you look at the super teams, there are wealthy individuals behind each one and you've got a sport that's been destabilised by events. For example, the points structure where teams are desperate to make sure they're in the top 16, and these are the sorts of things that are not helpful to creating a structure for the sport. I don't want to blame anyone or suggest anything but there are some destabilising factors in the sport."

Rightly or wrongly, however, with the economy the way it is, it is people like BMC Racing team owner, Andy Rihs, and the Ryan family that is keeping professional cycling afloat.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan