African Wildlife Safaris have only been around since the 2012 season but in its short existence, the Melbourne-based team have consistently shown it belongs at the top end of the National Road Series (NRS). 2014 saw the team race under a Continental licence allowing them to enter the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, finishing eight on the team classification.
The team were often seen animating races and posting podium results across the NRS season although the biggest result of 2014 for African Wildlife Safaris was victory by Sean Lake in arguably the hardest race on the NRS calendar, the Grafton to Inverell, in just his second race with the team.
Cyclingnews caught up with team manager Steve Waite to look back over the 2014 season.
CN: Looking back, how would judge your 2014 NRS season?
Up and downs. We certainly had monumental highs and we had periods were we achieved what we were capable of.
CN: What was different about the team this year, compared to last?
Being Continental and focusing on the first half of the year with racing nationals and the Jayco Herald Sun Tour made for an amazing high. Our focus changed from there and the second half of the season was very different.
CN: What were the expectations of the team for the 2014 season and were they met?
The expectations were to be competitive in the NRS and we proved that a few times but not consistently. It's nice to up on the top step a few times but we thought that we could have been more competitive than what we were, so yes and no…
CN: Did you target any particular races this year in the NRS?
Yeah for sure. At times situations went away from results happening but the Tour of Murray was one we targeted and we got a stage win and other results there. Other races we targeted and didn't go as a well as we hoped we would. It's a little bit of luck and a little bit of bad luck as well.
CN: What was your season highlight?
Sun Tour was an absolute high just to be mixing with those crowds and give the kids exposure to that level of racing and organisation and the quality of event. Being an underdog was nice as was having a respectable outcome out of that race.
Certainly podiums throughout the NRS and Grafton to Inverell was a huge highlight with a new unknown signing winning was fantastic and a good way to cap off the year.
CN: Who did see as the stand-out rider this season?
Patrick Bevin was a masterstroke and very focused on a few events and the health.com.au-search2retain team knew what it was capable of. They pulled off a few coups like that with Ollie Kent-Spark as well and for what he focused on, he met his exact targets.
CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
The length of races is nowhere near enough volume. We are trying to produce international quality riders off 80-90km races and travelling all over the country to do two hours races is catering to the minority and trying to cater for the U19 so they can race. I think that's a big flaw in the strategy from the top.
Being a development based team, we have to be fairly happy that most the racing is fairly easy accessible for us. Races being spread across the country is a challenge for all the teams. I know that the West Australian teams need far more budget for travel with races mostly here in Victoria. It's a fairly big spread from Western Australia, to Adelaide to Melbourne, all across Victoria and Queensland. It's a very difficult thing to get the location of bike races right.
CN: What is the hardest race on the NRS calendar?
Grafton to Inverell and stage race wise, the Tour of Tasmania
CN: What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
We look at the racing on offer in Australia and try to find the talent that matches what is now a pretty even spread of sprint and climbing based tours.
We're getting applications from all over the world. You name it and we've got an application from that country this year. We have applications from all levels across Australia as well. We've predominately been a Melbourne-based squad but we're looking to be competitive by recruiting in a different manner to what we have in the past.
CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
It's an expensive sport. The challenge of financially travelling and accommodating people properly is right up there. The Western Australian teams are disadvantaged with the cost of transport which is phenomenal. If you can drive to a race with team cars, it's a lot easier. It's a very expensive sport and to be changing accommodation each night for the all the set races we have, it's very hard to find someone to supplement that for you.
Obviously the bike trade is easy. Bike brands get a massive benefit being involved directly in their own industry but it's hard to get other industries, like travel, to get on-board and cover you for all the amazingly unique places you get to go to in Australia.
CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
African Wildlife Safaris have been with us from day one and are still a number one supporter of our project. Off the bike, Cannondale, SRAM, fizik, Sportful, Amy Gillett Foundation and our industry sponsors are really closely aligned as well. It wouldn't happen without either the cash or the product to make this team competitive.
We have a lot of industry support and that's what sets us apart in a lot of ways from another squads.
2014 African Wildlife Safaris roster: Jeremy Cameron, Nathan Elliott, Rhys Gillett,Sean Lake, Shaun O'Callaghan, Zachary Quinn, James Rendall, Jason Spencer, Trevor Spencer and Tyler Spurrell.