As stacked as fledgling team GreenEDGE is with talent for their maiden season in 2012, Anthony Tan can’t help but feel it could have been even better.
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7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM


The NRS is evolving. But there is still a way to go before it gets up to a level where we can say that riders winning races deserve a spot on the World Tour

I would agree in no small part with this statement from Bannan to Sydney Morning Herald journalist Rupert Guinness, in his article 'Bannan urges caution pushing home talent', published on Monday.

Video: Shayne Bannan interview.
The
standard of the National Road Series (NRS) in Australia is definitely
on the up, but there is still some way to climb before we can call it a
veritable hotbed of WorldTour talent.

The NRS is roughly where
the US domestic scene – monikered NRC, or National Racing Calendar – was
five to 10 years ago. There still needs to be more races and a few more
teams like Genesys and Drapac, so that there is no one dominant team,
but at least five or six teams boasting the same depth of talent and
quality of rider.

To say, however, all riders – regardless
of results or smack-in-your-face-obvious ability – do not deserve the
opportunity to go from Continental to World Tour level is a little
overdoing it, in my opinion.

* * *

From the current NRS
peloton, there may only be one or two who could handle the rigours of
racing in the World Tour – given the right environment and mentorship,
of course – but from what I saw at the Herald Sun Tour just past, it
would be an opportunity – or depending on how you looked at it, risk –
worth taking, should they be given the chance.

I can only go off what I saw at the Sun Tour, and what I saw from Nathan Haas, I liked.

For the domestic teams that showed up, it was their biggest race of the season – their riders were all in top form.

And
for the quartet of ProTeams that came, seven – Jack Bobridge, Heinrich
Haussler, Baden Cooke, Richie Porte, Olivier Kaisen, Vladimir Isiachev,
Alexander Porsev – had ridden either the elite men's time trial or road
race at the world championships in Copenhagen, meaning they too were in
good nick (save for Porte, who had recently undergone nasal surgery and
pulled the plug on the opening road stage).

As for the rest of
the ProTeam and Pro Continental riders – including Cameron Meyer, Brett
Lancaster, David Tanner, Luke Roberts, Jonas Aaen Jørgensen, Adam
Hansen, Egor Silin, Mitch Docker and Marcel Kittel – you could hardly
call them a bunch of deadbeats who came to Victoria for a holiday.

Haas beat 'em all. He also won the sprint and young rider classification, and was part of the winning team.

* * *

On
Sunday in Utsunomiya, Haas beat 'em again in the Japan Cup, which
included teams from Lampre-ISD, Liquigas-Cannondale, Europcar, Saxo
Bank-SunGard, Astana, and Farnese Vini-Neri Sottoli.

"If we look
at the Herald Sun Tour with guys like Haas and [Steele] Von Hoff, it
equates that they are talented young guys. The next step for those guys –
as part of their progression – is to spend a period of time in Europe
in European conditions," Bannan told the SMH, citing the career
path of Richie Porte, who went from the NRS (where he rode for Praties,
the predecessor to Genesys Wealth Advisers) to an Italian amateur team
for one year, before joining Saxo Bank and onto his remarkable neo-pro
year in 2010.

However, once you've beaten some of the best riders
who race in Europe all season round, shouldn't the next step be to
immerse that precocious talent in the environment where he most
naturally belongs, rather than stagnate his progress?

There are always exceptions to the rule – and Haas is one exception.

I'm not saying chuck him into the 2012 Tour de France; that would be just plain stupid.

But
if he were to ride for a ProTeam outfit, let him have a crack at
domestique duties at the Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice or the Tour of
Beijing, and get him exposed to 1.HC and 2.HC races like Het Nieuwsblad,
Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne and the Tour de Langkawi.

And maybe even a week or so at the Giro or Vuelta. After all, plenty have done it before and not being burned.

* * *

Bannan also told the SMH: "For every talented Australian there are 20 talented guys from other countries."

This brings me to my next argument.

Back
in January at the Tour Down Under, at the official launch of the
GreenEDGE cycling team, Bannan told the media throng: "Our aim is to
have up to 75 percent 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 percent [Australian] riders."

Well, as it
stands right now, 12 out of the 27 contracted riders, or 44.4 percent,
are not Australian. That's nearly 20 percent more than what was
originally forecast.

"It's dynamic. We have to look at the riders
that are available at the time, and put together a team that we feel is
going to be competitive in the races we want to be competitive in,"
Bannan told me on the eve of this year's Sun Tour. "And if that means
signing less Australians and more foreigners that we feel can really
foot the bill, then that's the decision we make."

After 1
November, when the UCI make their decision on the first 15 ProTeam
licences to be awarded, Bannan said up to three more riders will be
announced.

Any more big-name European signatures, then?

"Not
big names. I think we've contracted all the big names that we intend
to. The type of riders that we'd be looking at – if we sign any more –
are younger riders that we're going to use as a project for the future."

Is 21-year-old Nathan Haas not a "project for the future"? Surely, he is!

According
to my information, two of the possible three signatures will be
under-23 world TT champ Luke Durbridge and bronze medallist in the same
event, Michael Hepburn.

* * *

It seems there are two
things going on that aren't being talked about, or at least not in
public. One is that with GreenEDGE's inability to find a domestic title
sponsor – and believe me, they did try – the team has decided to broaden
its look, and become more multinational than it originally intended,
hoping to court an overseas title sponsor.

Its primary
benefactor, Gerry Ryan, said at the Sun Tour that "one or two companies
in China" are interested in the project. "Until we get a licence," the
Jayco caravan tycoon told me, "it's a bit difficult to sell something
you haven't got. It's a little bit like insurance."

Bannan also
told me: "We believe we are [in] 12th [position]… or very close to 12th.
But it really is dependent now on the signings of other teams – and
particularly the teams that are behind us. If they come out and buy
riders with more points, then they obviously jump ahead of us."

Regarding
the title sponsor conundrum, Ryan added: "It all hinges around the
first of November – and even then, it's not public till 20th November.
It does leave it pretty tight, to try and snag a sponsor between [the
start of the] Tour Down Under and the 20th November."

Secondly,
it seems that certain riders who one would regard as being an ideal fit
for GreenEDGE were selected as candidates, but for one reason or
another, have not been chosen.

As I wrote in an earlier blog,
Mark Renshaw was engaged in talks with GreenEDGE but is now headed for
Rabobank. I can also reveal Rory Sutherland, one of the best US-based
pros the last four years, was desperately close to being offered a
contract but that too did not eventuate. He will now stay put at
UnitedHealthCare in 2012.

As early as 3 August this year, Bannan
said of Porte, "Potentially, he's someone we'd like to talk to in a
couple of years" – explaining that targeting GC in Grand Tours is not
something GreenEDGE is interested in for at least the next three years.
The 26-year-old Tasmanian will now be working for Bradley Wiggins and
Christopher Froome at Team Sky.

* * *

"What Sky has done
in particular has been quite remarkable," conceded Bannan, when I put
forth the argument that beyond Cadel Evans, we really don't have a
bona-fide GC contender-in-waiting, and have lost our way a little in
this regard, whereas the Brits have two already, and more on the
production line.

"I think our attitude – GreenEDGE's attitude –
towards Grand Tour riders is, we feel we're in a position to be able to
identify two or three young riders, and really develop them as Grand
Tour riders in the future.

"The future is not next year or the
year after – I'm talking about a five- or six-year project. Because we
believe it takes that long to develop a Grand Tour rider. But first of
all, you've got to have a rider that you believe is capable of doing
that.

"And there's not been too many of them that last 20 years –
on an international level, let alone an Australian level," Bannan said.

I'm
all for the likes of Cameron Meyer and Jack Bobridge seeking redemption
on the boards in the team pursuit next September at the London Games.
But I can't help feeling we're not developing the Grand Tour riders that
we should as quickly as we could, or that GreenEDGE's roster could have
been even better than it already is.

10 years from now, I'm sure
Haas will look at his Sun Tour victory as a fillip towards his dream to
one day ride – and later win – some of the world's greatest bike races.

A dream that, with or without GreenEDGE, he's on the precipice of realising.

Follow Anthony on Twitter: @anthony_tan