David McKenzie back in the saddle

By Karen Forman in Warragul

Less than a month after a training accident that threatened to wipe out his season, iteamNova.com captain David McKenzie is back in the saddle and looking ahead to the World Championships.

Doctors had feared the worst for the 27 year old Australian, who suffered a deep gash to his thigh requiring four layers of sutures after he came into contact with a parked truck during an early morning team ride in Melbourne in January - the week before the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, which he had intended to ride as part of the Australian Institute of Sport team.

After his release from hospital, the devastated rider, who the previous week had won a stage in the 2002 Skilled Geelong Bay Classic, was told he could probably get back onto the bike in four weeks...albeit slowly and carefully...with a return to racing mid-season.

That meant he was not only out of the Tour Down Under, but also the Tour of Langkawi in Malaysia, where iteamNova.com was to have its international debut following its launch in Melbourne in December.

But the Cycling Gods were on his side, it seemed. Macca, no stranger to adversity having been left without a team when Linda McCartney folded at the start of the previous season, was riding again within weeks. And now, on the eve of his departure for Europe, he says the leg is as good as it ever was, with none of the feared residual loss of strength to speak of.

"I am ready to race," he told an iteamNova.com membership drive in the Victorian country town of Warragul, which hosted the Victorian madison championships on Saturday night.

"The doctors have told me I healed quick because I am fit. I am feeling great."

McKenzie looked fit, lean and relaxed, despite the pressures he has been facing in recent months. He and the team's director sportif, Sean Yates, will spend the next week speaking at functions in Victoria and New South Wales in a bid to increase public conscriptions to the team, which is the world's first internet-based, publicly funded professional cycling team and is relying on memberships to survive.

It was formed by McKenzie's wife Susan Stewart, a former CycleSport Victoria employee, who, in the tragic wake of the Linda McCartney debacle, was looking at innovative new ways to set up cycling teams which did not rely solely on funding from a single major sponsor.

Stewart left Australia with the couple's year-old daughter Lulu for Belgium yesterday, where she will set up team headquarters in a town about 20km from the French border. McKenzie has been left to pack up the house, do some PR stints for the team...and have regular leg massages to ensure he arrives in the peloton in the best possible shape early next month.

"I still have to be very cautious," he said. "But I am so happy to be riding again. I think sometimes, when you are training so much; when cycling is your job, you tend to have some days where you just don't feel like training. But when I first got back onto the bike after the accident, it was a novelty."

"I could only do 10km along a bike track in Melbourne, but it was good. Now I am really enjoying it."

McKenzie isn't sure what his program for the season will be...Yates is still working on getting iteamNova into various events...but he plans to be in Europe until the end of October.

"I've got a bit of a goal in the back of my head to do the world championships in Belgium," he said. "It is a flat course and they are in Belgium and Belgium is my second home..."

Although the team is only in its infancy, McKenzie, like team promoter John Trevorrow and Yates, says he is feeling positive about its future on the international scene. Trevorrow told the gathering that he couldn't see why, if a Melbourne football club could get 20,000 members, iteamNova.com couldn't do the same.

"I really do believe as the team gets out there, puts itself on the marketplace, it will do well," said Trevorrow. "Obviously with a limited budget we couldn't get riders who want $AUS 200,000-300,000 a year...But we're looking at the full spectrum."

Asked what the team needed to do to get into the Tour de France - which it has announced is its goal within four years - McKenzie said: "we need some great cyclists...but have an advantage because we are a young, Australian team racing in Europe and people there love Australia and Australians. Promoters love having an Australian team in their race...which is one of the reasons we got into Langkawi."

Trevorrow says a team aspiring to ride in Le Tour also requires a big budget.

"I believe if we did get to $5 million, there would be a lot of Australian guys who would join the team. Cadel Evans has a huge future...he will be the next guy since Phil Anderson to be a great Tour challenger. Well, he has said if we have the budget he would love to join iteamNova.com."

"He's got two years with Mapei then...maybe we can snare him for the Tour."

But for now the team is in its infancy and Yates is taking it day by day. "Every race is an important race for us now," he said in response to a question. "There are more and more teams riding and the competition to get into racers is tougher. But once you are established, the doors start opening."


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