Australian online tourism company, Roamfree.com, backed by former Australian Rules footballer turned businessmen Tony Smith, has announced that it will commit $20 million into setting up an Australian team, with the aim of obtaining a ProTour licence for 2009 in order to compete in the Tour de France. The ambitious plan, originally put forward earlier this year, is dependant on additional support from another corporate back and Australian Tourism or government support.
Australia has long been seen as one of the most dominant cycling nations in the world, currently ranked third in the world as a nation, out ranking the more traditional cycling nations of the Netherlands and Belgium, but never before has Australia had a ProTour or category one trade team, as they were previously known.
Smith, who moved to Queensland in the late '80s and acquired his wealth via strategic investments in the tourism industry, believes that there has never been a better time to enter the sport. "Cadel Evans' efforts in the recent Tour de France has been an inspiration to us all and put this great sport on the radar in Australia," he said.
"The cycling world has been talking about this for years and now it's finally about to happen," he added.
Roamfree.com has established a company called Pro Cycling Australia, which is expected to form the backbone of the cycling team, providing the organisation can acquire the level of corporate and government support its seeking to make the project a reality.
According to Dr Paul Varco, CEO of Pro Cycling Australia, riders such as Cadel Evans, Robbie McEwen, Michael Rogers and Stuart O'Grady have all expressed interest in the project.
"This is something that Australian cyclists have wanted to see for a long time," Dr Varcoe says. "We will be talking to all professional cyclists including Cadel Evans, Robbie McEwen and Michael Rodgers who all want to be on the team."
The project is still in its infancy, and in order for it to go ahead Pro Cycling Australia is looking for another major sponsor to jump on board as well as support from the government. "For a sponsor, this is the most watched annual sporting event in the world, beamed to a television audience of more than four billion people," said Dr Varcoe. "It is a great opportunity for companies to get maximum coverage. There is no other event in the world that can compare to the coverage that the Tour de France gets every year."