By Paul Verkuylen
Drapac Porsche will reach a significant milestone today when the Australian pro continental squad contests its first UCI sanctioned race in Europe - the 60th edition of Halle-Ingooigem in Belgium. The UCI 1.1 race, which was won last year by Australia's Baden Cooke, is being used by many ProTour riders as preparation for this weekend's national titles as well as July's Tour de France.
Drapac Porsche has only been in Belgium for a few days, arriving last Friday, but has already shown that its not there to make up the numbers. Competing in a 170 km non-UCI race on Sunday, Rob McLachlan, who represented Australia in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, spent most of the day off the front before going on to finish fourth.
The Melbourne-based squad, which includes current Australian champion Darren Lapthorne, is looking forward to lining up against some of the world's best riders, including 2005 world champion Tom Boonen and Tour de France green jersey winner, Robbie McEwen.
Team manager Scott McGrory, an Olympic gold medalist from Sydney 2000 in the Madison and experienced campaigner in Europe, has organised a Belgian-based European program for the team which includes the upcoming Tour of Austria and the Brixia Tour.
McGrory believes that this is a very exciting time for Australian cycling in general, with the development of the team's format for the first time in Australia leading to more young Australian riders being nurtured by the increasing number of Australian based teams.
The Oceania team's race program has been somewhat subdued over the past few weeks, due to end of semester exams. The squad emphasises on a balanced approach to its riders' lives, with each rider required to either work part-time or study, so as to prepare them for a life after cycling, as well as make them more rounded riders, both on and off the bike.
Drapac Porsche Halle-Ingooigem roster: Darren Lapthorne, Mitchell Docker, Casey Munro, Robbie Williams, Robert McLachlan, Stuart Shaw and Dean Windsor