The joke in the UK, of course, is that in Australia everyone lives upside down. It is a bad joke, and Australians don’t, of course, live upside down. But as a cycling nation, while Australia isn’t quite the wrong way up, it could be seen to be a little off kilter. Cycling is, by and large, a summer sport and while Australian cycling is enjoying its scorching hot summer peak, the rest of the world has traditionally just been getting ready.
After a twelve-year on-off relationship with Australia, last December I switched hemispheres to take on a role as Sports Director of Australia’s only Pro Continental team, Drapac Professional Cycling. From the moment that I was given my first set of team car keys I have been working towards the window of opportunity that arises when the European spring and Australian summer overlap at the Tour Down Under.
For bike riders in Europe January can be a lethargic one-eye-open time of year; the new season is close to beginning, but the cold remains. Rides and daylight lengthen, but it is still too far from the races to dig too deep. In Australia however, January couldn’t be more different; the sun is out, the days are long and the racing is plentiful.
The Tour Down Under is the alarm clock of the season. Even though the race has gone from being what older pros describe as a ‘nice’ race (read: an easy race with good weather and no pressure), to a highly competitive event, for a number of European riders, the TDU is far enough away from their major objectives that they can hit snooze for just ten more minutes. At Drapac we have to be ready to leap out of bed as soon as the alarm starts going.
The Tour Down Under is a major opportunity for us, not simply in terms of the media exposure of the event, or the importance of the race for our Australian sponsors, but for the emotional attachment that our riders have with the race. Amongst our line up are former stage winners, race leaders, and in Graeme Brown a man who will equal Stuart O’Grady’s record of 13 appearances.
For our guys these races aren’t there to parade new kit, or to get the feel of racing again, they won’t have the luxury of using the race to get to know their team mates, or stretching their legs before the European season starts. For the seven riders representing DPC it is already game time.
In cycling careers are short and chances are few. The fact that the biggest teams in the world are prepared to come to Australian and the world then duly tunes in, gives us that a window of opportunity, and our riders have to be prepared to make the most of it.
Racing full tilt in January might not be the right thing for a lot of riders, but it is for us. One man’s upside down, you see, is another man’s right side up.