GreenEDGE dig deep with new sponsor
Stuart O'Grady, centre, says GreenEDGE is crucial for Australian cycling. (AAP Image/Benjamin Macmahon)
So, we finally know the identity of GreenEdge’s new sponsor: Orica. Orica is an Australian-based multi-national company that provides chemicals and explosives for the mining industry.
They will lend their name (and provide ample funds) to the team for the next three seasons.
In what must be a first for a sport often riddled in bad PR, the in-coming sponsor is motivated by a desire to clean up its own image.
You see, Orica has been under fire of late following several chemical leaks at their Newcastle, Port Kembla and Botany plants in New South Wales. Only last week, the company was also criticised for storing ammonium nitrate in a “dangerously sub-standard” ship anchored off the coast of Newcastle.
Some might say, then, that it’s a bold decision for GreenEDGE to get into bed with Orica – much like the British cycling team that decided to unveil BP as a new sponsor a couple of years back.
Although GreenEDGE’s main backer Gerry Ryan has been quick to dispel any fears over these lingering environmental concerns.
Ryan dismissed Orica’s recent bad press as “a little blip” and stressed the stability and longevity of a company that has been around for 145 years. The recent occurrences have been “blown out of proportion” and the company is now “under new management”, he said.
Orica’s new CEO, Ian Smith, in turn underlined the common ground shared by his company and GreenEDGE: “both multi-national organisations with an Australian DNA, [sharing] mutual aspirations driven by a focus on innovation and team-work”.
Both Smith and Ryan will be hoping the riders can adopt the explosive qualities of Orica – minus the chemicals.
But seriously, should Australian cycling fans be too bothered about Orica’s track-record or should they simply be pleased with the investment (thought to be to the tune of $60m) regardless?
Look, it’s my job as a journalist to highlight these widely reported issues (as I have done above) – but it’s not up to me to tell you what to think. And I’m not here – as a Brit – to try and tarnish GreenEdge’s image, spit in the soup or create a story out of nothing.
Besides, I could have a field day writing about the ethics of the Sky News Corporation that funds the likes of British hopes Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins (in fact, I already have).
Cycling fans should, however, be made aware of the ins-and-outs so they can come to a decision themselves. But let’s be perfectly honest, for the vast majority of people, Orica will just be a name on a shirt.
Die-hard cycling fans will be more concerned with the need to go out and buy a new replica jersey than the ethics of their team’s main sponsor. GreenEdge will sport a makeshift jersey design featuring the Orica logo for the Giro d’Italia, which starts this weekend. A different kit will be worn from the Tour de France onwards – which means the team will have three kits for their inaugural season.
The truth is, for most cycling fans the sponsor matters very little. Does an Italian fan care – or even know – who Orica are when Simon Gerrans crosses the line in San Remo with the name emblazoned across his shirt? Of course not. In the same way, most fans probably have no idea what Lampre or ISG do (pre-coated steel and Ukrainian steel manufacturers, since you ask).
The important thing is that GreenEdge now has the funds that will see it grow during its first three years on the World Tour.
And there’s no denying, it’s been a pretty successful start for Shayne Bannan’s men. In their debut season, GreenEdge – or Orica GreenEdge, as we should now say – have four race wins under their belt: two for Simon Gerrans and one apiece for Michael Albasini and Luke Durbridge.
But the honeymoon is over. This inaugural GreenEDGE squad was always created with a view to impressing in the spring classics and early season one-day races; replicating that form on the forthcoming Grand Tours will present a whole new challenge.
You see, as we all know, GreenEDGE have no men capable of putting in a strong GC ride for the Giro, Tour or Vuelta. The focus will now be on stage wins.
That said, with a new sponsor and a fresh injection of cash over three years, the team can start to look to the future and identify the names that it feels can deliver them glory on the main stage.
Rome wasn’t built in a day. Look at Team Sky: Dave Brailsford always said that there was a five-year plan and he hoped that by the end of that, the team would have a rider ready to compete for major honours on a Grand Tour.
With Chris Froome’s unexpected performance in last year’s Vuelta, and Wiggins’ continued progression, Sky are now in that position a year or so earlier than expected. Wiggins is, clearly, the biggest threat at this stage to Cadel Evans’ Tour de France crown.
For Orica GreenEdge, the initial aim will not be to mix it up with the likes of Evans and Wiggins – but stage wins will be a priority. And with sprinter Matt Goss lacking the form of last year, they may have to reply on breakaways.
As such, Orica GreenEDGE’s three-year plan must be to bring in one or two top notch sprinters into the team – especially with Robbie McEwen confirming his retirement. Also, a GT contender wouldn’t go amiss – unless the team are happy to wait on the development of Cameron Meyer.
Back to the question of sponsorship, GreenEDGE fans should perhaps not be too concerned with the environmental issues surrounding Orica. The plan for GreenEdge was always to have an Australian main sponsor – and as such it comes as no surprise that the company in question is from the mining industry.
GreenEdge, however, has nothing to do with Orica the company – it is merely taking their money and name. The fact that major cycling teams and races are sponsored by pharmaceutical companies (Omega Pharma-Quick Step and the Amgen Tour of California, for instance) shows that even the daftest of sponsorships can work.
And it’s not as if GreenEDGE have no green credentials: instead of taking on a new team bus, they simply bought Rabobank’s old one. Rumour has it that they have not even painted the top of their bus, which still bears the colours and logo of Rabobank.
Of course, the devil’s advocate would say this decision was more to do with finances rather than any ostensible green credentials. In which case, then it’s all good: with $60m of Orica cash in the coffers, GreenEdge could now buy more than one new team bus – or at least afford a new coat of paint.
Felix Lowe is an English photographer, writer and Arsenal fan with a penchant for pro-cycling. Eurosport writer and blogger, Felix has covered the major cycling races in the pro calendar for the past decade and is now taking up the sport himself, at the ripe age of 31.