• Dark clouds hang over the future of the Cannondale-Drapac pro cycling team. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
If we're serious about caring for our athletes beyond retirement, then the future of the Cannondale-Drapac pro cycling team must be secured, writes Anthony Tan.
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Cycling Central
27 Aug 2017 - 9:28 PM 

Seeing professional athletes like Jack Bobridge fall through the cracks post-retirement, or, worse still, take the decision to end their lives as Stephen Wooldridge did only a fortnight ago, is the very reason why we desperately need teams like Cannondale-Drapac to stick around.

For the time being, ignore the injustice of the team that, after a few years in the wilderness has rediscovered their mojo and came runner-up at the most recent Tour de France, may not be around next year. The business model of professional cycling, as I've said ad nauseam, is a dog's breakfast.

"We need to understand that the human cost of professional sport is just horrific. That's why I created the holistic development team."

Via his eponymous real estate company, Drapac Capital Partners, ever since Victorian businessman Michael Drapac made the decision to sponsor the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team from the 2016 Tour de France onwards, then merge with the organisation as of this year, he made it clear that he wanted his ethos of providing a platform for athletes after their sporting careers ended to continue.

"We need to teach our athletes to be whole," Drapac said in a team release issued on July 1 last year. "When the door of being an athlete closes, you would hope that they have the resources — financial and emotional — to transition to another phase of their lives. We need to understand that the human cost of professional sport is just horrific. That's why I created the holistic development team."

"What piqued my interest in partnering with Michael is his passion for helping athletes find their way through life in a healthier way," Slipstream Sports CEO Jonathan Vaughters said of the partnership.

"Although it's seldom acknowledged, most professional cyclists have given up everything in order to pursue excellence in their sport. While commendable, this leaves them very vulnerable to an ever more complex world."

In life, there's a certain power in exposing one's vulnerability. "Admitting vulnerability is not weak but brave," wrote Weekend Australian columnist Nikki Gemmell. "It demonstrates enormous nerve and strength and can tip you into heroism; just look at the likes of Ian Thorpe or Adam Goodes. It's about cathartically owning up to who you really are, which can trigger an empathetic murmur of recognition or a hand reached out in support, or at least it should. We are all fragile in some respects. Everyone has their battles."

Yet professional sportspeople, and men in particular, are lauded for doing the exact opposite. Thorpe only opened up about his inner demons and sexuality after he retired from competition; when he described how hurtful the racial taunts had been, Goodes copped further abuse from his imbecilic detractors, which in large part precipitated his exit from AFL. In cycling, we often refer to our heroes and idols as "hard men", though if you've read David Millar's brilliant warts-and-all autobiography Racing Through The Dark, or Domestique by Charly Wegelius, you will realise that many of those who project the greatest air of invulnerability are often our most vulnerable.

Speaking of the alpha-male's relationship with vulnerability, Gemmell writes: "They find it hard to be truthful with it; cannot bear to publicly brush up close. Yet an authentic moment of vulnerability is when the wider world connects because it is the truth unvarnished."

But if we do not have talismanic figures like Drapac and Vaughters who encourage individualism (though not at the expense of teamwork) and allow their athletes to not just be hard as nails but articulate their fragilities and foibles and thus go some way to prepare themselves for 'life in the real world', for want of a better phrase, hopefully inspiring other teams to do similar, then recent events like those involving Bobridge and Wooldridge will, I suspect, become a disturbingly familiar occurrence.

After watching All For One last week, the documentary of the first five years of Orica-Scott, it became apparent to me that what has made the team so likeable, loveable even, is their openness. Co-producer Dan Jones' Backstage Pass videos on YouTube provided a window into a world we would not have otherwise have seen, and it was that fragility we saw allowed us to connect and understand; to show compassion.

If only for the future of the 27 individuals who now call themselves riders of the Cannondale–Drapac pro cycling team, I hope against hope we continue to see them around not just in 2018, but for many more years to come.