|Cyclingnews TV News Tech Features Road MTB BMX Cyclo-cross Track Photos Fitness Letters Search Forum|
Neil Stephens feature, October 18, 2006.
Stephens: Australian ProTour team is the way forward
The entry of the Kazakh Astana team into the ProTour to rescue the remnants
of the erstwhile Liberty-Seguros team from oblivion has re-ignited the prospect
of national teams in professional cycling. With the sport struggling to win
the support of both sponsors and the public in the present climate of doping
suspicions and investigations, a return to national-based competition may be
in order to win back the trust of both of these necessary ingredients. One country
with ProTour ambitions is Australia, who for several years have flagged a national
professional team to compete in events such as the Tour de France. Cyclingnews'
Shane Stokes recently caught up with Aussie Tour stage winner and current
Astana directeur sportif, Neil Stephens, to discuss just such a project.
"At the moment, I have an existing contract with Active Bay [the owners
of Astana's ProTour licence] and I will honour that contract," he told
Cyclingnews recently. "But I do think that all of this talk of a nation
having a pro team has re-sparked an idea in my mind and a lot of people's minds
that, some day, Australia might itself be able to have a national team in the
"There have been talks in the past and it is something that we have to
go back, reflect upon, and really work on it long-term. There have been several
attempts to try to get an Australian team, but I feel you have to think about
it in the long-term. It is a very, very serious project [to have a ProTour team]
and so if we can take it step by step and do things properly, that is best.
Maybe we take the opportunity to assess the situation now, trying not to make
the mistakes that other people have made. This whole last couple of months has
been really good for me as a director. I have been able to sit back and think,
'wow, here is Kazakhstan trying to build a team,' which is fantastic. It is
the whole Asian part coming to cycling. So why can't Australia do the same as
Stephens has worked with the team's former owner Manolo Saiz for several years,
both as a rider and as a senior team official. Saiz is currently under investigation
due to his role in the Operación Puerto, but Stephens says that if he
is ultimately cleared, he will honour the remaining time left in his contract.
Besides the big names such as McEwen and Evans, Stephens said that the new
squad shows that the development of riders is in a healthy state. "The
SouthAustralia.com [team] has had a great first year as a continental team.
It is a national team which is competing in Europe, but they are now continental
level. Matt Goss is one of the guys doing well there and he is going to go to
Team CSC for next year. Matthew Lloyd is going to go to Davitamon Lotto. So
I see that as a first step, and there could be many more."
Like all of those teams, however, a big Australian player must come on board to be a major sponsor. That, simply put, is a necessity in the big business that is professional sport. If Australia should have a team of its own in the ProTour of the future, you can be sure that they won't, like Stephens had to while racing in the eighties without a sponsor, carry a big, empty zero on their backs that screamed 'this space for rent.'
For a thumbnail gallery of these images, click here
Images by Karen Forman/www.cyclingnews.com
Images by Brian Farrell/www.cyclingnews.com
Images by Unknown/www.cyclingnews.com
Images by Tim Maloney/www.cyclingnews.com
Images by Bikestyle Tours/www.cyclingnews.com