Behind the Subaru National Road Series (NRS) headline acts of Drapac Cycling, Huon-Genesys and Budget Forklifts come a raft of developing teams that are constantly augmenting the depth of the Australian domestic scene. African Wildlife Safaris is one of these teams and after just two years they have already secured a maiden NRS victory with Rhys Gillett's hill-top win at the Tour of Tasmania in October. Now with Nathan Elliott coming across after the folding of Target-Trek, and Jason and Trevor Spencer transferring from the Charter Mason Drapac Development Team, African Wildlife Safaris are set for an exciting 2014.
"We've signed three new riders so far for next year, and they're three pretty quality bike riders," said African Wildlife Safaris director Joel Pearson to Cyclingnews. "One's Nathan Elliot and the other two are the Spencer brothers. We're bolstering our GC riders to give Rhys [Gillett] some support."
The team's headline sponsor does exactly as one would think, they run wildlife safaris -in Africa- and it's this sense of adventure that has lead the company's CEO Steve Cameron to devote time to sponsoring a cycling team. Not just the casual enthusiast, Cameron has begun to take his cycling seriously enough to compete himself at the UCI Amateur World Championships in Trento, Italy, earlier in the year. His passion is palpable, but the team is chasing co-sponsors -on top of current arrangements with Giant and Mavic- so it can provide more opportunities to developing riders.
"African Wildlife Safaris CEO Steve Cameron has committed to the same budget as last year but our external sponsors are committing a little bit more," said Pearson. "In terms of sponsorship we are actively seeking a co-sponsor and we still have about six weeks to finalise that. We're not asking for heaps of money from a potential sponsor, we just need to make things more comfortable. What would be really great would be a car sponsor, that would just save such a heap of money that we had to spend this year on car rentals."
The three new signings have not completed the team's 2014 roster, and Pearson has in mind a sort of 'try-out' training camp where they can flesh out potential applicants.
"We've got one or two more spots to fill, we have a couple of solid riders in mind but we're still open to new applications," he said. "Next year we're going to race the entire NRS, we're not sure about the Herald Sun Tour yet but that is always in consideration."
But to commit to the increased schedule, Pearson wants the most dedicated riders for the cause, and this is the genesis for the team's camp at Bright, Victoria.
"Anyone who would like to come along and show us that they have a bit of talent and they want to get their foot in the door, then that's what we open that week up for," he said. "It's also to see that everyone fits in and have a bit of team bonding before we dive into the nationals. And if someone really stands out, and they might not even be on our radar, then that would be a step in the right direction for them."
Having ridden with the Huon-Genesys team under the tutelage of Andrew Christie-Johnston, Pearson reveals he has picked up a few pointers from the man who has helped send five riders from the NRS to the WorldTour.
"I've taken a fair few pages out of Andrew's book, and no one will go into any race as the sole leader." Pearson explained. "If there's another rider there who has the capabilities of winning the race himself they'll get the backing. It's all about who shows up with their 'A game' on and who makes the race their own."
And with this being the first year the NRS has done away with double stages, Pearson is complementary of the work Cycling Australia has done, and is looking forward to 2014.
"On a management side of things it's just a lot easier,” he said. “From the ground up, the logistics, the costs and the rider welfare are a lot better. I'm all for it"