On the eve of Australia Day, our first professional cycling team GreenEDGE has had its maiden ProTour victory in our national cycling road race, the Tour Down Under, with the general classification being taken out by talented young rider Simon Gerrans.
On the back of Cadel Evans’ inspiring win in the Tour de France last year, you would have to say that cycling in this country has never been stronger.
The evidence goes further than the professional results – drive past any café at 7am on a Saturday morning and you will see expensive Italian road bikes piled outside as their recently departed owners sip lattes in their brand new lycra bibs. Cycling is the sport du jour!
In Europe, Cycling is a very popular sport. It is now on the precipice of becoming one here too, although there are still some mountains for the sport to climb.
Just like football, it will be hard for a sport with no history in this country to get the requisite media attention and sponsorship dollars.
The success or otherwise of GreenEDGE will have a lot to do with the next phase of growth for the sport in Australia. We are used to taking on the world and winning.
But this team will take years before it can compete for the General Classification (GC) in a Grand Tour, if ever.
Like football, Europe always has been and always will be the heartbeat for professional cycling, and even with the advent of an Australian owned professional team, we can expect that our best and brightest will still be lured by the big dollars offered by the European teams.
You can already see it in the current GreenEDGE line-up – we have some great young riders (Goss, Gerrans and Durbridge) and some of the old hard heads like O’Grady and McEwen have joined, but those in their prime – like Cadel – will be much harder to snag.
It’s a bit like the A-League, where we might get a young player for a few years before they are discovered, they then go to Europe and might return to take their pension in the A-League, ala Harry Kewell.
Simon Gerrans is GreenEDGE’s number one man, having just won our national title and the Tour Down Under in the last month.
However, in an interview this morning he was blunt about the fact that the GC in a Grand Tour is not even part of GreenEDGE’s plans for this year. They will be looking for good results in the Spring Classics and stage wins in the Tours – at best.
Given that many cycling fans in Australia are relatively new to the sport and not seasoned experts – there is a danger that GreenEDGE will fail to capture the national attention if they are uncompetitive in the Tour de France.
We have seen it all before in football where bandwagon jumpers get on board for the World Cup Qualifiers and first few rounds of the World Cup Finals, but go missing as soon as we have a bad result.
We need to be patient with this team and cognizant of the fact that the teams they are competing against have had their structures in place for years and have big corporate dollars backing them.
Think of new NRL and AFL teams who join the competiton and how long it takes them to become competitive. We need to stick with them even though we are used to seeing the green and gold on top.
But so close to our national day – you will allow me to dream – Cadel has another couple of cracks at the Tour in his legs. How good would it be to see him do it in the Green and Gold of GreenEDGE!
Johan Bruyneel was able to build a US-based cycling team around Lance Armstrong that conquered the world, it may just be possible that GreenEDGE could do the same with Cadel!