By Paul Verkuylen
Roamfree.com has shed some light on its ProTour intensions, after announcing earlier this week it would throw $20 million dollars behind an Australian ProTour team. The Australian company, owned by former Australian Rules footballer turned businessmen Tony Smith, has revealed its eight figure pledge will be made over a period of five years, meaning another estimated $15 million in additional funding is required to make the plan viable.
"The main focus at the moment is to increase awareness of the project and to hopefully attract another major sponsor to jump onboard," explained Pro Cycling Australia CEO Dr Paul Varcoe to Cylingnews.com. PCA is currently chasing another major corporate backer in addition to Australian government and Tourism Australia support in order to make the plan a reality.
PCA has no plans of forming a squad for 2008 to form the base of its ambitious ProTour entry the following year, instead Varcoe envisages the ProTour squad would have some form of alliance with the Australian Institute of Sport-SouthAustralia.com Oceania Continental squad.
"We have contacted prospective directors and riders who are interested in working with us, we have spoken to the Minister of Tourism, the Minister of Sport as well as the Prime Minister's office in regard to an official government fund, which is under consideration," said Varcoe when asked what further steps had been taken to make the project a reality.
To become a ProTour team the squad would need to acquire a much sought-after ProTour licence, and Varcoe says he has already held discussion with the UCI's ProTour director Alain Rumpf. "Having an Australian ProTour makes sense, along with the Tour Down Under; it all fits in with the global thinking of the UCI ProTour," he said
With the ProTour licences coming up for renewal in 2009 and most high profile riders contracts ending around that time, it makes sense for the team to begin preparations now. "We hope to have the project finalised by the middle of 2008, any later will be too late," Varcoe concluded.
Cycling Australia has said PCA has its support to make the idea happen. "We certainly endorse the project and are working with them in whatever ways we can be useful," CA president Graham Fredericks told the Herald Sun.
Smith, who has spoken to some of Australia's top cyclists about his plans, isn't deterred by the current situation at the sport's top level - where doping controversy has overshadowed the world's biggest races for the past 18 months. Instead, the businessman believes that now is the right time to buy into the sport.
"I see it as an opportunity because when other people get scared, it's normally a great buying opportunity - you buy on the down and sell on the up," Smith told The Age. "For the educated, what's happened with these people being kicked out for drug cheating is actually the best thing that could possibly happen for the sport.
"So, if that's the case, it's the best thing that could happen for sponsors, but some of the sponsors are big banks and all the rest of it - they're people who make decisions from an ivory tower," he added. "Unless you get up and close and comfortable with it, you could have a knee-jerk reaction."