Contributed by Dylan Todd
Next to the merger of Team Radioshack with Leopard-Trek and the worst kept secret of where newly crowned World Champion Mark Cavendish would ride in 2012, news of Australia’s second attempt at a Pro Tour team has garnered front page attention in the media. From its selection of riders to its choice of SCOTT Bicycles and achievement of a World Tour license, GreenEdge Cycling appears poised to succeed where its predecessor Pegasus Racing did not.
GreenEDGE’s Simon Gerrans celebrates overall victory at the Tour Down Under on Sunday.
Like its predecessor however, GreenEdge encountered its share of controversy along the way to its first win. Last January Garmin boss Jonathan Vaughters stated publicly to Cyclingnews that he would consider legal action if GreenEdge targeted any Garmin riders or staff before August 1, the compulsory date that all teams are required to respect under UCI ProTeam rules. Vaughters’ comments were in response to rampant speculation that Shayne Bannan, GreenEdge’s general manager, was targeting Garmin-Cervelo riders Cameron Meyer and Jack Bobridge as well as then-directeur sportif Matt White. Although Bannon denied that he would ever engage in negotiations with riders currently under contract, both Meyer and Bobridge were among the very first signings to GreenEdge that occurred a mere 4 days after the August 1 open market date.
It was widely anticipated that White would also join GreenEdge following his dismissal from Garmin-Cervelo for sending former rider Trent Lowe, a fellow Australian, to a non-approved doctor in contravention of the team’s strict internal medical and anti-doping policies. The timing of the dismissal was more than a little curious as it coincided very closely with Vaughters’ public comments on possible rider tampering by the would-be Australian outfit. White took a position with Cycling Australia and eventually joined GreenEdge as directeur sportif.
Next, GreenEdge had to endure continued scrutiny by the UCI for its World Tour License Application. Although the UCI confirmed 16 teams’ World Tour licenses for 2012, GreenEdge, along with merged superpower Radioshack-Nissan-Trek were forced to provide extra paperwork and present itself before the Licensing Commission on November 21st. Official word that its Pro Tour license received approval did not come until early December.
GreenEdge has also been linked to other somewhat suspicious moves involving Australian Cycling in general. In what appeared to be a colossal oversight by even the most casual professional cycling fan, Mark Renshaw was conspicuously left off the Australian team for the World Championships. Renshaw, who is universally considered to be the best lead out man in the business was expected to play a pivotal role on the sprinter’s friendly course held in Copenhagen, Denmark.
Mark Renshaw and Matt Goss celebrate a double victory. It could have been the perfect set-up for World Championship glory in Copenhagen.
White, following his termination from Garmin-Cervelo had taken an advisory role with Cycling Australia where he was in charge of selecting the country’s Worlds’ team. White stated at the time that he was concerned that Renshaw would likely have the fitness to perform well and be strong enough for the end of a one day race of over 260km, since he mainly excelled in multi-day races like the Tour de France. Renshaw’s then-teammate Mark Cavendish expressed his own shock at the decision stating that Renshaw’s omission hurt Australia’s changes and greatly improved his own. Consequently, Cavendish (who is routinely brought to the finish line by Renshaw in multi-day races like the Tour de France) won the rainbow jersey while Australia’s captain Matthew Goss had to settle for silver.
Robbie McEwen’s vast experience will be a boon for GreenEDGE.
Somewhat lost in the affair was the fact that just prior to Worlds’ selection Renshaw had accepted an offer to be the lead sprinter for Dutch squad Rabobank starting in 2012. With the exception of certain riders like Heinrich Haussler, the majority of the Australian team was comprised of soon-to-be GreenEdge riders. White officially accepted his directeur sportif position with GreenEdge a short time after Worlds. There was constant speculation that Renshaw’s omission was politically motivated and meant to ensure that if any Australian wore the rainbow jersey, they would do so under the GreenEdge banner and nowhere else.
This wasn’t the first time White’s motives have been questioned. Recall, it was a White-led Garmin squad that pushed the pace on stage 14 of the 2009 Tour de France that ultimately denied George Hincapie the yellow jersey. Hincapie at the time rode with Cavendish for HTC-Columbia, a team that had consistently vested Garmin’s Tyler Ferrar on sprint stages. Although White denied there was any bad blood at the time between the two squads, White’s directives that day provided no tactical advantage to the argyle squad other that to ensure that its rival did not hold the yellow jersey.
Another incident occurred just prior to the Tour Down Under at the Australian National Championships. Cyclingnews reported that GreenEdge put pressure on Cycling Australia for a last minute inclusion of race radios just prior to the men’s individual time trial. Under the rules, race radios are banned for national championships. Chief Commissaire for Cycling Australia Pete Tomlinson explained, “it [race radios] was opened up for the elite men after some pressure from a particular World Tour Team.” Tomlinson confirmed that GreenEdge was the World Tour Team in question. The decision to permit race radios was made only 1 hour prior to the event start and did not afford smaller teams and individual riders who did not bring race radios an opportunity to benefit from the ruling. Tomlinson admitted this was an issue, “because then people probably didn’t have the equipment with them and things like that.” Consequently, Australia’s national men’s time trial championship was won by GreenEdge rider Luke Durbridge.
Luke Durbridge added an Elite Australian TT Championship to his U23 World TT Championship from the end of last season.
While these instances individually might to some represent a foreshadowing of the GreenEdge competitive ethos we might expect to see as the season progresses, taken as a whole they appear to represent something more intrinsic, the fight for survival. Like the failed Pegasus project, GreenEdge is built upon the national platform of Australian cycling. National riders bringing national acceptance to an international sport that has drastically increased in popularity since Lance Armstrong’s wholesale endorsement of the Tour Down Under and Cadel Evan’s Tour de France victory. Nevertheless, neither Evans’s yellow jersey nor the increases in cycling viewership have resulted in most important victory for a fledgling cycling team, that being title sponsorship. GreenEdge backer Gerry Ryan admitted that the increase in cycling’s popularity in Australia has not generated the sponsorship dollars originally contemplated. Ryan explained, “We haven’t had a great deal of support from Australia but we are very close to a couple of Chinese companies.” It has been reported that Ryan is currently backing the team in the amount of $60 million, although Ryan has denied the figure without offering a specific number.
GreenEdge is built upon a similar platform as World Tour alumnus Leopard-Trek. Like GreenEdge, Leopard-Trek was built by an individual financier whose passion for cycling carried him to the lofty goal of establishing a highly successful trade team at the World Tour level. GreenEdge also appear to be following a similar model to Team Sky of Great Britain in that it is a predominantly national team using the World Tour as preparation for strong showing at the 2012 Olympic Games. With similarities to Leopard-Trek and Team Sky, it’s possible that GreenEdge’s actions have simply been to avoid the pitfalls and setbacks these teams encountered in their infancies. When Team Sky entered the World Tour [the named Pro Tour] in 2010, it had lofty expectations with its caliber of national talent. Its main hopes for success rested on the shoulders of Bradley Wiggins, who was wrestled away from Garmin-Slipstream following his fourth place finish at the 2009 Tour de France.
GreenEDGE roared into the new season with a brilliant Tour Down Under performance.
Leopard-Trek had the highest expectations of any first year pro team with Fabian Cancellara as the reigning Worlds time trial and defending champion of Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. Andy Schleck was coming off yet another 2nd place finish in Paris and the team entered the rankings in first place. Both of these teams faltered in their first year on the World Tour despite the immense hype that accompanied them. While Team Sky’s setbacks caused a re-evaluation in goals and expectations, Leopard-Trek’s inability to repeat and expand on their riders’ 2010 successes resulted in financier Flavio Becca jettisoning nearly half the team and orchestrating a covert merger with Team Radioshack that cost Brian Nygaard his job in order to bring in Grand Tour guru Johan Bruyneel to take over the reigns. Riders and staffs at Leopard-Trek were unaware the merger was taking place and first learned of it through cycling news media outlets.
The pressure to succeed in professional cycling is extremely high, especially when placed against the backdrop of lofty expectations and the need to secure title sponsorship. Taking steps to guarantee that the Australian riders that are having success do so under the GreenEdge banner may very well be a calculated attempt to demonstrate the value of Australian cycling to Australian businesses that have the resources to invest upwards of 10 million euros per year in a sports team. If that’s the case then GreenEdge has certainly succeeded in phase one with Gerrans’ overall victory this past weekend. Gerrans’ recruitment from Team Sky has already scored a crucial return on its investment by winning Australia’s only World Tour race. The question is whether Goss, Meyer and the rest can carry that momentum over and deliver enough successes on the road to ensure that GreenEdge finds success where it matters most these days, in the wallet.