Despite a welcome injection of funds from new Cycling Australia sponsor Subaru, Al Hinds questions just what impact that sponsorship has had on the grass roots of cycling after round one of the National Road Series; the Mersey Valley Tour in Tasmania.
7 Apr 2015 - 11:32 PM  UPDATED 13 Apr 2015 - 3:37 PM

If there has been any change [in the stature of the NRS], I don't see it.
From a personal perspective it was a shame to hear the above comments over the phone in a candid conversation with the Genesys Wealth Advisers team boss on Friday afternoon, as he scouted some of the time trial course with his riders.

At the time he'd yet to see the NRS's new website launched the same day, which I'll credit Sean Muir and the Cycling Australia team as a step in the right direction, but his comments were a reflection of a greater frustration at the lack of promotion of both the race and the NRS in the lead-up.

If ever there had been a tide going in the NRS's favour the success of Steele Von Hoff and Nathan Haas last year must certainly have been it.

Having dominated last year's series, Haas made the rare leap of jumping directly from the domestic level in Australia to a berth with American WorldTour outfit Garmin-Barracuda.

Granted, Haas was (and is) a uniquely talented athlete; that the NRS was garnering serious attention from the likes of Allan Peiper and Jonathan Vaughters last year shows just how much value onlookers do place on the budding series.

That said, there was very little trickle down for that series exposure. The lion's share of publicity unsurprisingly focused on one team in Genesys Wealth Advisers, and two riders in Von Hoff and Haas.

I'm sure Vaughters would hardly be aware of the team that came second in last year's series (, let alone the team that was third (Budget Forklifts).

The lesson thus heeded by the top teams last season was that winning the National Road Series (far from a simple task), guaranteed a certain level of domestic and international exposure, and for that several sponsors (ironically not Genesys) have bolstered their teams' war chests.

"We had to step back up and we've done that, in budget, in roster size, in equipment," said Cameron Watt whose Budget Forklifts team won the Mersey Valley Tour with Mark O'Brien. "We started to put together plans to really target this year from the middle of last. We put together a lot of racing in the summer months to be as prepared as possible for the opening round of the National Road Series, which we're taking very seriously."

And added Christie-Johnston:

"Winning the National Road Series; saying that you're the 'best team in Australia', that has a lot of appeal to sponsors. I know that Genesys (the company) used that fact a lot in its own marketing last year."

But while both Genesys and Budget Forklifts may have the funds thanks to generous sponsor support to sign riders capable of getting them wins and vying for the overall series title, not every team has the same luxury, and not every team can win.

It's the smaller teams and the Series as a whole that is desperately reliant on the publicity and exposure from broader news coverage, event reporting and advertising.

The thing is, outside of the events run by John Craven's Caribou Publications, no event in the NRS has the ability to adequately promote itself, and certainly no team has that ability.

Genesys and Drapac have strong promotion campaigns in place, with good engagement on social media and a reliable flow of team news and information, but even they are stretched.

That makes it incredibly hard for sponsors to get any reasonable value out of their support.

"You can't exactly go to potential financial backer and say 'hey we're riding in this series which gets very little publicity, can we have some money' - nobody is going to sign up to that," says Drapac's Jonathan Breekveldt. "There is very little return on investment in that environment."

The tragedy is that from a sporting perspective, the NRS has all the ingredients of an attractive product for sponsors to get involved in. As it stands however, the glue holding that valuable asset together is incredibly fragile.

A new website for the NRS is welcome progress, but when people with long associations with the sport like Christie-Johnston say they feel things seem to be almost the status quo, the question remains - just how much progress has been made.