Home Cyclingnews TV   News  Tech   Features   Road   MTB   BMX   Cyclo-cross   Track    Photos    Fitness    Letters   Search   Forum  

Recently on Cyclingnews.com

Mt Hood Classic
Photo ©: Swift

Tales from the Peloton

NSWIS-FDJeux.com: an Aussie-French development team

In a country that places various football codes, swimming and cricket on a pedestal, nurturing young talent within the sport of cycling would generally take second fiddle. Not so in Australia. The New South Wales Institute of Sport-la Francaise des Jeux.com (NSWIS-FDJeux.com) squad is the is the brainchild of Tour de France stage winner Bradley McGee, and is Australia's second cycling development team that has links with Europe. Anthony Tan speaks with the men behind this success story.

Dynamic duo
Photo ©: CN
Click for larger image

Buried beneath the Sydney International Athletic Centre in Homebush Bay, the site of the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, lies the headquarters of the New South Wales Institute of Sport.

As I wait patiently in the foyer for FDJeux.com star Bradley McGee, his brother Rodney and NSWIS head cycling coach Gary Sutton to make their appearance, I notice that two of the six pictures of championship-winning athletes that adorn the walls of NSWIS are of cyclists - despite 26 different sports programs on offer. Not really surprising given Australia's performance on the road and track in the last five years.

The NSWIS-FDJeux.com squad is an all-Australian junior development team, fully funded by Division 1 French professional outfit, FDJeux.com. Promising riders can earn a ride as a stagiaire (a short term pro license), generally at the end of the season, with a view to earning a professional contract.


"Development" is a word used often this afternoon, because as manager and captain Rodney McGee explains, "there's a big difference between teams that want results and teams that want to develop riders".

Click for larger image

Mark Renshaw

A graudate of NSWIS-FDJeux.com

Date of birth: October 22, 1982
From: Bathurst, NSW, Australia
2003 team: Velo Club Dijon

2002 career highlights

Silver medal, Points race, Commonwealth Games, Manchester, England
Gold medal, Teams Pursuit, Commonwealth Games, Manchester, England
Gold medal, Teams Pursuit, World Track Championships, Copenhagen, Denmark
2nd, stage 4, Herald Sun Tour, Australia
42nd overall, Herald Sun Tour, Australia

About the move

"I was pretty happy. I spent this year based in Italy with the AIS U23 team learning the ropes about living and racing in Europe, so to have an opening with the NSWIS-FDJeux.com connection is great, and will hopefully provide another door to the FDJeux.com pro team.

"One of the guys [Fabrice Vanoli] from FDJeux.com has come out to Australia to speak with Brad McGee in the last couple of weeks, so I'll be catching up with both of them over the next couple of weeks to speak more about next year. It looks like there might be another Australian rider there with me, Ben Johnson from Queensland, as VC Dijon are looking at taking on two Australians."

About cycling

"A friend introduced it to me at first when I was ten years old, and once I got into it I haven't really got out of it!

"I always knew I wanted to go to the road after spending a couple of years on the track. It's hard swapping over, but hopefully it will get easier.

"I hope to develop into a rider along the lines of Baden Cooke - not a pure sprinter as such, but enough to be able to win stages as well as lower-ranked tours like Baden."

Best moment in cycling

"After the gold and breaking the world record at the Commonwealth Games, I thought nothing could be huger, but then to win another gold at the World Championships was both fantastic and unbelievable."

Personal stuff

Hobbies: "Actually, I don't have any hobbies - I just have about one month off every year and relax with friends.
Music: "Anything really... so long as it's dance!
Food: "I like all types of food and adapt pretty easily, so I don't think I'll have any trouble in France. But you can't go past a home feed that Mum's cooked up - a nice, big steak with veggies and bangers!"

The idea for another development squad that would possess similar ideologies to that of its big brother, the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) national development team, was initially conceived by two people: Bradley McGee and Fabrice Vanoli, FDJeux.com's logistics officer.

The plan was simple. Work with the State institute of sport that McGee once belonged to, along with two people he knew and trusted, and provide the funding to support promising riders that aspired to become professional road cyclists. The "only" hurdle was to get the idea past FDJeux.com directeur-sportif Marc Madiot, and at the same time, negotiate his own contract for the 2002 road season.

McGee's 2001 TdF performance sealed the deal
Photo ©: CN
Click for larger image

Ten offers, all from Division One road teams soon after McGee's performance in the 2001 Tour de France, cemented both McGee's contract and his dream of a development squad funded by FDJeux.com. The name: NSWIS-FDJeux.com; the budget: A$60,000 (around 33,500 Euro) per year; the manager and coach: Bradley's elder brother and former world champion, Rodney McGee. Start date: early 2002.

Team set-up

The five-man squad for 2002 - Brendan Cato, Matthew Farmer, Ashley Humbert, Mark Renshaw and Christopher Sutton - were already scholarship holders with the NSW Institute of Sport, entitling them to use of all the facilities offered by the existing program, including acesss to top physiotherapists, sports scientists, the gymnasium and a small allowance. The sixty grand would cover everything else; namely equipment, clothing and travel and accommodation - the latter by far the largest expense item in any team budget, amateur or professional.

"That little bit extra from what the normal institute program offered will hopefully supply them with the tools, equipment and knowledge to make that step into the pro ranks," Bradley McGee says.

The main difference between the AIS program run by Bannan and the NSWIS-FDJeux.com squad lies in age and location. The AIS riders (mostly all U23) are based in Italy for up to six months a year, racing with the cream of European cycling, while the NSWIS-FDJeux.com team (a mixture of both U19 and U23 riders) concentrate on the domestic road calendar in Australia.

Asked if it would be sensible to have both programs based overseas, captain Rod McGee refutes the idea. "Most of my riders are very young, so over a two to three year period, we'll slowly expose them to racing in Europe," says McGee.

"If you spend eight months the first year you go [to Europe], it's questionable whether you'd go back the next year. My idea is that for the first couple of years as an under 23, to spend two to three months at a time, and slowly building on that," he says.

Cato (L) urged on by his manager (R)
Photo ©: Tom Balks
Click for larger image

Success stories

Which is exactly what has been happening. 19 year-old Brendan Cato spent three months this year learning the ropes with Bannan's under 23 road squad in Tuscany, returning to Australia in September hungry for more. Cato is now a likely candidate to become a full scholarship holder with the national team in 2003.

And Ashley Humbert, an incredibly talented 20 year old from Wagga Wagga, was all set to join Bradley McGee and Baden Cooke at FDJeux.com as a stagiaire this year. "We knew he was at the calibre to go to the next step and come across," Brad McGee says, "because he was already at that level after racing with him in the Sun Tour in 2001." However, Humbert's plans were placed on hold after contracting viral meningitis, and only now is he beginning the slow road the recovery.

"He's still young, so maybe next year," says McGee optimistically.

Another stepping stone

I propose to Bradley McGee that while Australians are renowned for their toughness and ability to adapt, the gap between the Australian domestic scene and the environs of the European professional peloton is significant. Possibly a little too wide?

The TdF stage winner concurs, and mentions his brother approached both himself and Fabrice Vanoli midway through this year, and indicated that for most riders, another step was required. Says McGee, "the best option was to form a base and a relationship with a big amateur team in France." Vanoli is a well connected man, and soon afterwards, struck a deal with Velo Club Dijon, a team also sponsored by FDJeux.com's bike sponsor, Lapierre.

Kicking back at the Sun Tour
Photo ©: Tom Balks
Click for larger image

NSWIS-FDJeux.com member and Commonwealth and World Teams Pursuit champion, Mark Renshaw, will be the first to graduate to VC Dijon [see breakout box]. Renshaw had the option to go with the Australian under 23 team or race with Dijon, "but because he's a sprinter with a fairly heavy build, he'll develop much better in France," says Rodney McGee.

On track

Interesting is both Bradley McGee and Mark Renshaw have a track cycling pedigree - yet are now pursuing promising careers on the road. Gary Sutton, coach and mentor to numerous state, national and world track cycling champions explains:

"At early ages, you don't ever get the same development from the road compared to the track," he says. "That's the big advantage Australia's got compared to the Europeans, because they hardly ever race the track."

"McEwen, Vogels, O'Grady, McGee - they've all come through that track system. They don't have to be good track riders - even those athletes were outstanding on the track - but they need to ride the track to become much more comfortable when riding in the big European scene," says Sutton. Rodney McGee, a former pupil of Sutton, agrees, and says, "the track gives the riders exposure to a massive volume of work in the red [anaerobic] zone."

Planning for 2003 and beyond

With two out of five athletes from the NSWIS-FDJeux.com program graduating and moving onto bigger and better things in 2003, there won't be any drastic changes in the next 12 months. The priority, according to the gospel of McGee, is to have the squad turn up as a team and race as a team in as many events as possible. For this reason, the NSWIS-FDJeux.com squad will have "associate members", who will come in and out of the team for certain races when team members are overseas or ill.

This year's Herald Sun Tour was evidence of the well-drilled unit at work. "It shows that if you race as a team, it really does work," says Rodney McGee with a grin, still beaming after the FDJeux.com men stole the show in Victoria just a few weeks ago, with Baden Cooke becoming the first Australian to win the race in sixteen years.

Planning is another word that springs up almost as often as that other word, development, and McGee strives to make the 20,000 kilometre transition from Australia to Europe as seamless as possible for his young crew. "We'll make sure that Mark [Renshaw] concentrates on his French before he goes," he says, aware that there are other lessons that need to be learned along with cycling.

Rod McGee: rider, manager & captain
Photo ©: Tom Balks
Click for larger image

The responsibility of being coach, captain and mentor to five riders - along with racing in many of the events himself - would be too much for anyone. Which is why McGee plays the role of coach only to Chris Sutton (son of Gary), and works in with the coaches of the other riders on his team. McGee says he tries very hard to tailor-make a program for each individual, so it becomes more a decision on where that rider will go in Europe, rather than if they'll go.

"The number one objective is to get as many guys to Europe, not just to cover a lifestyle, but to become top professionals so they can have a future from cycling - and to develop as people, not just as bike riders," says McGee.

Keepin' it real

Despite the apparent optimism, both the McGees and Sutton stay realistic. With less than two months before the start of the 2003 road season, the European market is characterised by an oversupply of quality riders without a contract. Sutton is the first to admit the numbers are definitely against any young cyclist earning a top pro contract, but says contract or no contract, the riders must still think about life after cycling.

"Their priority is always their family life and the work situation after cycling," says Sutton. "Not everyone can get a pro contract, so we need to make sure the athletes that come through this system have something to back them up."

Sounds like a winning formula.

Tell us what you think about the NSWIS-FDJeux.com development team

Click here to read about cycling scholarships at the NSW Institute of Sport
Click here to read about a Belgian-American development squad, The Cycling Center
To visit Bradley McGee's website, click here
To visit FDJeux.com's website, click here

More Cylingnews features