Make no mistake, the rise of Drapac Cycling is by no means an overnight success story. Just ask team owner and namesake Michael Drapac. While the Australian cycling media may have spent the past two months abuzz since Drapac's step up to a Pro Continental licence for 2014, few fans of the sport may be aware that this is actually Drapac's second stint at Pro Continental level, with the first run taking place nearly ten years ago.
"Few people realise we have been around for so long," said Drapac, who initially started in 2001-2002 by supporting a mini-team of Daniel Thorsen, Mitch Docker and Bradley Norton before becoming an official team in 2004. "By July 2006, we were ranked number 19 in the world, and that included the ProTour teams, as we had won fifteen or so UCI races."
Then called Drapac-Porsche, the squad featured an solid line-up with Docker, Rob McLachlan, Stuart Shaw, Dean Windsor, and eventual 2007 Australian men's National Road Race Champion and current team leader Darren Lapthorne.
"They were an exceptional team," Drapac said. "I think we are perhaps half a grade better than that team and our profile may be a bit higher now, but I don't want to take anything away from that squad as they were outstanding and helped start it all."
With Lapthorne and company fresh off a solid effort at the 2014 Australian Road Nationals in Ballarat on Sunday, which included a sixth-place finish for Lapthorne just behind a resurgent Jack Bobridge and the promising Cameron Meyer in a race won by Simon Gerrans, Drapac is eager to go one better by picking up some hardware at this year’s Tour Down Under in Adelaide.
“When we were Pro Continental in 2007 it was because we wanted a spot in the Tour Down Under, which never eventuated,” said the 30-year-old Lapthorne, who returned to the squad in 2011. “The team has been waiting to start the TDU for ten years now. It is such a huge honour to be selected to ride and help fulfil Michael’s dream of us one day racing the world’s best at the biggest cycling race in Australia.”
According to directeur sportif Agostino Giramondo, Drapac has been personally “fighting tooth and nail” to see his Drapac Cycling squad represented on Australian cycling’s grandest stage. The team has spent the better part of a decade being continually knocked back before finally receiving an invitation to field an all-Australian, seven-man squad to take on many of the UCI’s biggest and best, including Australia’s first – and only – WorldTour team, Orica-GreenEdge.
“For me ‘success’ is perhaps different to what it means to Gerry Ryan,” said Drapac of Orica’s team owner and current Cycling Australia president. “You can have a certain set of values, ethics and objectives but you still have to win races, but to me they are not worthy wins unless my other metrics and objectives are satisfied.”
The multi-millionaire, who has reportedly invested more than $10 million of his personal funds into Drapac, told Cyclingnews that success for the team at the Tour Down Under is much more than just a tally of stage wins.
“Success for us will be for our riders to come home healthy with all their skin intact,” said Drapac. “I want the team and the staff to be proud of themselves and for each of them to behave professionally. But do not think for one minute that this team will not be ultra-competitive. We have certain ethics and values and we are not going to compromise them, but at the end of the day everyone is going to know we were there.”