After several years of attempting to merge with fellow Australian teams, Avanti IsoWhey Sports have succeeded by confirming a merger with SwissWellness from 2017 to create the Continental IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness team.
Avanti IsoWhey Sports have been the top domestic National Road Series (NRS) for the last six years while managing to send several of its riders to the WorldTour, including the likes of Jack Haig, Paddy Bevin and current Australian U23 champion Chris Hamilton.
The announcement of the merger comes just weeks after the news that Avanti was withdrawing as a naming rights sponsor, leaving the team in a precarious position and on the brink of closure. With the team regularly unearthing young Australian and New Zealand talent, the merger with SwissWellness was to strengthen the 'behind the scenes' component of running a team as Avanti IsoWhey Sports co-owner Andrew Christie-Johnston explained to Cyclingnews.
"The main thing for us to be able to merge is not so much looking at their rider talent because ultimately at the end of the year we can contact any rider and have a discussion to get them on-board to our team," Christie-Johnston said. "What attracted us was that on the road before they even started to get the results, I had plenty of discussion with Rick and Melinda and got to know them as team owners and they seemed to share a lot of values that we did and they way they treated and looked after our riders.
"So for us, it was that team management side of things that we have always struggled with and we have been looking to merge for a few years now. This was the third year we were looking to merge but we have never been able to pull it off or never been completely happy with who we've been merging with. It was very evident when myself and Rick met with Melinda at Canberra that it felt right straight away and that potentially it could be a great partnership behind the scenes more than the rider group.
"You always want to get these things out of the picture as soon as you can because at the end of the day, if it's not then you know you still have a lot of headaches trying to resolve everything," he added of the relief that the merger has been confirmed. "It's been a big battle and it is always difficult to replace an outgoing major sponsor and just merging with a new group of people, you have to see what the roles and responsibilities are for both groups and how it will all work."
Part of the merger was deciding on sponsors for next year which including which bikes the team will ride. Christie-Johnston confirmed the team won't be riding Avanti or Focus bikes, who sponsored SwissWellness this year, in 2017 with an announcement expected later this week.
Looking ahead to 2017
With the team merger now official and made public, Christie-Johnston explained that is looking forward to the upcoming 'Australia summer of cycling' and focusing on the racing. With Christie-Johnston holding off on making public the full roster for next season, he did confirm that Chris Harper will be joining the team having initially tried to sign him mid-way through 2016
"A good friend of mine, Damo Harris, was looking after Chris at State of Matter and we always got chatting about who I have on my team and who he has and he said to watch out for Chris, he is a big talent and we he drew my attention to him more than anything," he said of the 22-year-old who was an animator at the Herald Sun Tour in February. "At the Herald Sun Tour, that confirmed what Damo had said and throughout the season I could see that he was a talented athlete and I was keen to get on onboard for 2017."
While the signing of Harper is a boost to the GC stocks of the team, there will be a renewed focus on the sprints in 2017 for IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness. Not since Steele von Hoff in 2011 have the team had an out and out fastman and Christie-Johnston is looking forward to seeing the benefits in bunch sprint finishes.
"We have always been quiet strong on GC and often had three of four good sprinters in the team. I would say in the past that we have had more sprinters that climber sprinters, we call them ‘'splimers' but I think at the end of the day the likes of Anthony Giacoppo always pops up for a couple of results but more on the tougher stages," he said. "We have probably lacked pure speed on the relatively flat days and we've looked to replace that for a few years now and now I believe we have."
The IsoWhey Sports SwissWellness team will start its season on New Years Day at the Mitchelton Bay Cycling Classic with a big month of racing to follow and Christie-Johnston is expecting his troops to come out firing.
"Early on in the season is big opportunity for all our riders in Australia with bay crits, nationals and Herald Sun Tour and all those races are big target races and we have to race aggressive in those races because with the quality and depth there we can't control it," he said. "We can't expect to win, we have to go on the attack and we certainly expect to give it everything and hopefully some of our riders will be recognised by the world tour teams and if they are lucky enough, maybe one or two of them can grab a spot at Tour Down Under."