There was no greater affirmation of the growth of the Australian domestic scene than what transpired last week at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, writes Anthony Tan.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

It was a tough ask for Jayco Herald Sun Tour race director Michael
Hands, who, after pushing for a February calendar slot in 2010 due the
staging of worlds in Geelong and its wont to collaborate with the Tour
Down Under, was denied the opportunity by the UCI.

Said its
president, Pat McQuaid, before the start of the 2010 TDU: "The UCI would
not be very keen on moving another race closer to this race in order
that the two races end up competing with each other, which is what would
happen.

"That doesn't serve world cycling any good; it doesn't serve Australian cycling any good."

McQuaid added: "At the end of the day, it's up to every race organiser to make his race attractive."

With
the move vetoed, Hands found himself isolated and was forced to sit out
his race – that until then had run for 58 straight years and was, by
some margin, Australia's oldest stage race – in 2010, hoping – perhaps
even praying – it would make a speedy return.

"Look, there's no
doubt that with a year off, things disappear from consciousness a bit,"
Hands told me in Sorrento last Saturday, before the start of the queen
stage to Arthurs Seat, "so in some ways, we're reintroducing the race,
if you like, to the public eye this year, and just reminding them of 59
years of history."

The agreeable, good-natured former public
servant with the Victorian Major Events Company said that while he feels
"the logic's still there" to work with the TDU, he's basically given up
trying.

"The other thing that has happened in the world of
cycling is the Tour of Beijing. So from our perspective, it is what it
is, and with the Tour of Beijing," Hands said, "going forward, [there]
will be an opportunity for us to build a package with them. And we've
also had some good conversations with the Japan Cup, which is about a
week later [after the finish of the Sun Tour].

"So… you just move forward," he said.

* * *

This
time of year is difficult to stage a world-class event. Riders from
ProTeams are tired and many want to go home to their families and wind
down, not up; there's also the tyranny of distance, coming all the way
to Oz for a five-day bike race, only to catch a 24-hour flight back home
again, should one live in Europe.

Not to mention the fact that
the Continental calendar begins on 1 October: even after Sun Tour race
revelation and its 59th winner, Nathan Haas, had partied well into the
Melbourne night with his Genesys Wealth Advisers coterie, Hands still
hadn't received official confirmation of the race date!

"Our race
doesn't get looked at and decided on and the date confirmed by the UCI
till the 30th of September. So, the actual way the calendar is set up
means that races that are very early on in the new calendar, from
October 1, are in a really odd position.

"It probably needs to be
revisited. It means that races that are early on at the start of the
season fall in a crack," he said, adding that he's taken up the issue
with the UCI and Cycling Australia mandarins.

* * *

Unlike
its South Australian cousin, the Herald Sun Tour does not operate on
the same financial model – the TDU is a government-owned and operated
tourism event – meaning not only did Hands have to tell prospective
commercial partners the race was back on, but that the race was worth
backing, and it was worth a lot.

And while the TDU derives more
than half its funds from the taxpayer, the Sun Tour does not. "Private
sector funding is a little more than government funding, so we are
heavily driven by commercial sponsorship," said Hands, who ostensibly
told me this year's race would not turn a profit.

From an organiser's point of view, however, the race went down a treat this year.

Besides
Haas' overall victory and the sprint and young rider classifications to
boot (he was also part of the winning team), there was a stage win from
a ProTeam rider (Katusha's Igor Silin); two stages by a Pro Continental
rider (Skil-Shimano's Marcel Kittel); a stage win from an Australian
Continental team (Drapac's Rhys Pollock); and a stage from an overseas
Continental team (MTN-Qhubeka's Reinardt Janse Van Rensburg).

The
decisive stage to Arthurs Seat was a ripper – as good as any high
mountain finish and for the spectator, far more accessible. (The only
inaccessible part came when the car I was travelling in broke down; I
found myself stuck on 'Bay 13' with Cycling Tips' Wade Wallace, a
pair of fluoro-green 'mankini'-clad men and assorted other 'specimens'.
At least I had an excuse for filing late...)

"Mount Buller is
lovely, Falls Creek is lovely. But they're a long, long way away, and
not many people are up there," said Hands. "And Australian cycling is
not quite at the point yet where people hop in their cars to drive five
hours to see it. Arthurs Seat is within an hour's drive of four million
people."

* * *

Hands also told me he's recently signed a
deal with the UCI's commercial arm, Global Cycling Promotion (GCP), to
create a package of three races – the Tour of Beijing, Herald Sun Tour,
and Japan Cup – that will feed off each other. "We'll have a long-term
relationship with those two [other] races. And I'm really happy to
engage with Asia, just because I think it's a really exciting market."

Does he accept, though, that governance and race promotion should be separated?

"There's
no doubt that if governing bodies want to be commercial bodies as well,
they need really strong governance processes; really strong
demarcations. Because, if they want to keep the integrity being the
umpire, then [the UCI] need to make sure their commercial venture is a
really separate thing.

"They're not mutually exclusive but if you
do it, you've got to have really clear processes, really clear rules –
[including] examples of where conflicts of interest might arise and
[where] people can withdraw themselves from the vote [if required]."

At
the 2010 Tour Down Under, McQuaid also said only one race in Australia
will ever be a WorldTour event. Is Hands comfortable with such a hard
and fast rule?

"We've never wanted to be on the WorldTour. I say
it emphatically: I do not want to be on the WorldTour. Because, if we do
that, then we can't support the Australian teams. So, my model is races
like the Tour of California, where you have 4, 5, 6, 7 ProTeams, and
then support your local teams as well.

"And I actually think
that's the model we will stick with always. Supporting Australian teams
is part of developing Australian cycling. And, if it's good enough for
the Tour de France to give the French teams outside ProTeams a ride,
then it's good enough for me.

"So, never wanted to be WorldTour, and will not want to be WorldTour."

What
about on a strategic level, though, for ProTeams whose sponsors demand a
global presence? (GCP director, Alain Rumpf, cited a lack of exposure
outside Europe and the US as an extenuating factor in the demise of
HTC-High Road.)

"Strategically, the WorldTour doesn't mean much
to us," Hands said, "because there are five or six ProTeams that have a
real merit in Australia; like Sky and Saxo Bank, teams with a strong
Australian presence. But the others don't really make much of a
difference.

"So, if we can have a mix of these great teams and
then put them with the Australian Conti teams and teams from interesting
places like Japan and China and South Africa this year and so forth,
then I think that's a really good strategic decision."

If, like
Mitchell Docker and Richie Porte a few years ago, William Clarke last
year, and Nathan Haas this year, one or two gems come out of the
Australian domestic woodwork annually – rather than through the more
selective channel that is the Australian Institute of Sport – then who's
to argue with him?


Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan