Financial security is increasingly hard to come by in professional cycling and it took one of Australia's wealthiest men, Gerry Ryan, to bankroll the GreenEdge project which will find out in November if it will be a part of the ProTour in 2012.
Ryan is the man behind Jayco Caravans, Global Creatures which is the production company of Walking With Dinosaurs, and part-owner of 2010 Melbourne Cup winner Americain and is reported to be worth A$180 million. He spoke to Cyclingnews about his involvement with GreenEdge.
Cyclingnews: Are you happy with how everything has so far unfolded with the GreenEdge bid?
Ryan: I am. In terms of when we set out and sat down and looked at the vision for the team and put a business plan into place. First of all we had to get the right management team to run it. Shayne has been going along and recruiting Neil Stephens and others along the way, there's more to be announced in the next month. The team's in place, some of them are still employed with other organisations and are required to complete their time there. So we've got management in place, all of our riders are signed up – we're just allowing others to finish their races with their teams and we're due to head into a training camp in October.
Cyclingnews: What are your motivations for getting involved in the sport at this level of investment given your past backing of races and teams in Australia?
Ryan: I've been involved in cycling for 20 years and in terms of sponsorship, it's a natural progression for Australia to have an Australian team – which has probably been a dream for a lot of Australians including Shayne Bannan and Charlie Walsh and I could rattle off another half a dozen or at least 100 names. It's just circumstances and time that Shayne and I came together and we thought that it was right that we took that opportunity.
Cyclingnews: Who approached whom?
Ryan: I approached Shayne. I had worked with Shayne through the Jayco-AIS sponsorship program and I knew of his ambitions along with a couple of other people that were trying to put some teams together and I looked at the best option and that was starting from scratch.
Cyclingnews: It's an interesting time within the ProTour given the demise of HTC-Highroad and the Leopard Trek, RadioShack merger where both entities have had big investors on board – does the current climate make you nervous given you're bankrolling GreenEdge?
Ryan: I'm underwriting the project. We have got [technical] sponsors already on board and a couple of potential major sponsors that we are working with. But I didn't go into this not knowing about the substantial financial involvement if we didn't bring some sponsors in. We've got the bank guarantees put in place for the UCI so I'm reasonably confident that we can get a major or a couple of good supporting sponsors to cover the differences.
Cyclingnews: Has the urgency to go and find a naming-rights sponsor increased over the past few months?
Ryan: No. It certainly has been on our agenda. GreenEdge is the brand. We want a major sponsor to come in and partner us in joint-naming so there's a process because how can you say to a sponsor 'we want X amount' when we don't have a ProTour licence? So, it is a difficult one, but one that we know we can get through without having that major sponsor sewn up.
Cyclingnews: So are you saying that you won't be announcing any naming rights sponsors until it is confirmed that GreenEdge has secured a ProTour licence?
Ryan: We're talking to one major sponsor now, if they do go ahead, it won't be subject to the ProTour licence. If we don't get the ProTour licence, our points are such that we should be sitting around about 12th so I'm confident that we would be asked to some of the major cycling events next year.
Cyclingnews: Is it a priority for that Australian branding to carry through to the naming rights sponsor?
Ryan: No. In fact we're talking to a couple of international companies. We're an Australian team, based in Italy with probably international sponsors. Because at the end of the day, we're talking about being global and that's the way we've got to think.
Cyclingnews: Will the GreenEdge model that we see heading into 2012, with that Australian backbone and identity be the same GreenEdge that will exist five years from now, or will it need to evolve beyond that to stay both relevant and competitive?
Ryan: We've got to be competitive – that's number one. But this is never going to be an Australian team 100 per cent. We're saying 70 per cent Australians but we need to have a balanced team, we need to have riders from different countries, part of the world where we have the interest and can create the interest.
Cyclingnews: But obviously the Australian backbone is a very important part of the GreenEdge make up, right?
Ryan: It is in terms of the culture. From the management, we're certainly not 100 per cent Australian in the management, but what we will do is try and get the best people which fit into the culture of the organisation and the vision that we have for it.
Cyclingnews: Are you able to confirm the consistent reports that Brian Nygaard is joining GreenEdge?
Ryan: I can't say. That's not my field. If anyone can, it's Shayne because that's his field. I'm looking after the commercial side. I don't get involved in riders and the appointment of staff. The cycling side is his. The commercial side in terms of sponsors, merchandise is mine and [son] Andrew's.
[Ed - Cyclingnews put this question to Shayne Bannan one week prior to this conversation, but he categorically denied it.]
Cyclingnews: Are wealthy solo investors getting a bad or unfair rap in cycling at the moment with the collapse of Leopard Trek?
Ryan: I don't concern myself with what people think. I'll just go on my track record on where I'm at. People go into these things for different reasons and different motivations. I've been involved in a lot of sports and business ventures and I put people into management positions and allow them to run the businesses. So I don't think I'm having a dabble. I'm not running the team – Shayne is running the cycling team, my son Andrew is running the commercial side and I just sit in the background and let them get on with what they've got to do... and give them some advice every now and then.
Cyclingnews: Everyone needs that.
Ryan: They do. I call myself the helicopter. I just hover around above and when I need to land I'll land and say my piece.
Cyclingnews: As a co-creator of this venture, is there a business model for you in terms of teams that you think have gone about things in the right way?
Ryan: You look at every team. I travel the world benchmarking ourselves in different industries that I'm involved in. In the shows that I produce, we look to Hollywood, we look to what other shows are around. If it's caravans, we were in Germany recently. When you come to teams, we look at trying to benchmark ourselves on their structures. I've read the book on Sky, we've spent a lot of time in the last year with Shane Sutton, getting the pros and cons. We've looked at the Garmin model – we've looked everywhere. I've also looked at the Melbourne Storm in terms of the culture, their winning culture.
Cyclingnews: Do you think there is a need for a salary cap in cycling?
Ryan: If you look at football teams, the clubs with the most money have won the most premierships – that's a fact of life. The lower clubs might snag one every now and then but it's a free market and you can't restrict people from earning what's rightfully theirs.
Cyclingnews: Given that is the case, how do you see GreenEdge performing, particularly in its first year?
Ryan: What we want to do is be competitive. If you look at the list, and the ages of some of our riders we're looking two, three, four years out. If we can be competitive, do the Classics, hopefully snag a stage win in the Giro or the Tour de France if we get there but there are no high expectations. What we want to do is make sure we develop the culture number one. Number two develop the riders and thirdly, be competitive.
Cyclingnews: As someone who has been very closely involved with cycling for a long time in this country, is there a recruitment that you're particularly pleased with?
Ryan: I'm so pleased with all of them. We've really only missed out on one rider that we didn't get, but we ended up picking up Stuey O'Grady which we didn't think we'd get. Robbie, Simon Gerrans – quality people to have in an organisation when you're starting to develop a culture is critical.
Cyclingnews: Was Richie Porte that rider you missed out on?
Ryan: Richie already had prior commitments elsewhere.
Cyclingnews: Just taking a look at some of your other big investments, is cycling more akin to horse racing or Walking with Dinosaurs?
Ryan: Put it this way. We're not out to try and make money. We're out to be a sustainable financial model.