The Cellarbrations Racing Team is by affiliation one of the oldest teams in Australia due to its relationship with the Lidcombe-Auburn Cycling Club, which was founded in 1920, although it only made its National Road Series (NRS) début in 2013. This year, the team upped its focus on competing in the NRS after the learning experience of 2013 and was rewarded for doing so with several top ten overall results on general classification across the year.
Impressive results in the Tour of Tasmania saw one of the team's brightest stars, Josh Berry, earn himself a ride with BudgetForklifts for 2015. It wasn't a complete loss for the team though as Berry's performances drew attention to the Sydney-based squad with many riders inquiring about a place in the squad for the upcoming season.
With the addition of several new U23s in 2015, the development of young talented riders looks set to continue while the signing of a new naming rights sponsor in AMR Renault has provided the financial stability needed to carry out long term ambitions.
Cyclingnews spoke to team manager Russell Menzies about the 2014 season and what's in store for 2015.
CN: Looking back, how would judge your 2014 NRS season?
I think it was an outstanding season for us as a developing team. We produced very good results at a number of local NSW Open races. Our U19 riders basically cleaned up at all the NSW State Championship events and we won the overall King of the Mountains jersey at the Tour of Tasmania.
Even though we didn't win outright stages in any of the NRS races, or stand on any podiums, we exceeded expectations and mixed it with the bigger teams so overall we had some very good highlights and results.
CN: What was different about the team this year, compared to last?
The difference was that we moved into the NRS completely. We targeted seven of the NRS races, which we didn't do the year before when we were very ad hoc. This year we targeted the races and part of that was choosing the riders according to form and availability and where we were up to.
There was a far more professional approach to the team, there was far more structure, we had a lot of input from supporters and staff who helped out along the way and at races. We really stepped it up a notch in terms of professionalism and team unity. That was a big difference from first year to second year. Part of the season was including the U19 development riders in various NRS races where we felt that they could achieve results for themselves and that was very successful. Dylan Sunderland finished in the top ten young riders down at Tour of Tasmania and was close to a top ten stage placing and was also just outside of the top 30 overall.
CN: What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
We do a couple of things. We have a bit of a word by mouth approach and for this upcoming season, we also put out a more formal expression of interest for riders. Once we get those in, the team's brains trust, including senior rider Kris Johnston, have a conversation about riders and their potential and we take it from there. One thing we found throughout the 2014 season, once we were producing reasonably high results, Josh Berry was consistently finishing inside the top ten on GC, riders were sending us their CVs in interest of joining the team.
CN: What were the expectations of the team for the 2014 season and were they met?
The expectations at the beginning of the season were to develop our riders through the state-based races across Australia and then we looked at targeting those seven NRS races. Our expectations were to gain a better understanding of how the NRS was raced as a team and get a better sense for ourselves of what was actually required.
We hadn't done this before so it was a huge stepping stone and learning curve to go from open races to the NRS with a full squad and support staff and actually race at a level that we thought we could be competitive at. Have a bit of go, learn the ropes and get a greater understanding to build on, was what we were all about at the beginning of the season.
CN: What is your team philosophy?
Racing as a team and as a collective, helping each out on the road and being good sports about it. I think we have a very good culture within our team, it's something I really try to drive about good sportsmen and doing your best. It's not always about winning. The overall culture of the team is to look after one another and that seems to work very well out on the road.
CN: Did you target any particular races this year in the NRS?
We had a couple in mind and certainly the Tour of Tasmania was always one we looked at targeting because we had a team essentially made up of climbers and not sprinters, so that was our main target of the season. We achieved the king of the mountains jersey and a top ten placing overall on GC so that was really pleasing. Plus we were fifth on the overall team classification. Particularly after the first part of the season where we started to get an understanding of what we were capable of, and as the year progressed, Tasmania became a main target and I think we achieved what we were capable of there.
CN: What is the most challenging race on the NRS calendar?
Certainly Tasmania. Looking at the races we did this season that would be the most challenging. The terrain is either uphill or lumpy with just one flat criterium at the end. The weather conditions were always different. We went from sunny weather at the base of Mt Wellington to blizzard sleet, almost sub-zero conditions at the top. Overall, the Tour of Tasmania was one of the most challenging events of the whole season.
Another event which was challenging and a good stage race was the National Capital Tour. It was raced very fast from the outset and finished with a very fast criterium around Parliament House.
CN: Who did you see as the stand-out rider this season?
The stand out rider for us this season was certainly Josh Berry. He's now moved from our development team to one of the top three teams in the country in BudgetForklifts.
Declan Baker also had a great season. He's moving on next year, but was one rider who also had a stand out season. Another rider to have a great year, and who we are retaining, is Dylan Sunderland. He's proved himself beyond his years. He certainly doesn't ride like an 18-year-old, he rides far more maturely and he's a good keep.
Another young bloke is Matt Slee who came in as a guest rider and all but rode every race for us. He has a big future. He's been the epitome of the team philosophy of riding for the team over the whole year and we look forward to having him back next year.
I think from an overall NRS perspective, the standout rider this season has been Pat Bevin from search2retain. He's been a rider who produces results at every race he turns up to, and for a rider who isn't considered a climber, winning the Tour of Tasmania was an absolutely outstanding result.
CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
The location of races is pretty good. There is certainly a wide cross-section of races and climates that the riders are racing in with the Tour of Toowoomba and Battle on the Border races, to going over to Perth while the Melbourne to Warrnambool wasn't too bad this year in terms of weather conditions. But any of those south-west Victorian races can be quite challenging.
In terms of the length of the season, it's very long and I think it's potentially a good starting point to have a big break in the middle of the year and have the colder months off, allowing the riders to engage themselves in overseas riding, state-based races or build up and put in some base miles for the second half of the season.
The length of the races can certainly be looked at. The stage races are relatively short in the overall scheme of things and can probably be increased. I think that can potentially bring the better riders closer to the front and increase the standard of racing. But it may also polarise riding at the same time as there is potentially a group of riders in the NRS at the moment who are good, but I am not sure that increasing the length of stage races would be good for them in the longer term.
CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
I guess the biggest financial challenge for us as a small team is travelling expenses and race entry. It's an expensive exercise to get the riders accommodated and looked after for an event so that's challenging for us and it's something we've been working on to become more efficient in how we manage our travel and expenses.
This season there was quiet a discrepancy in race entry fees overall from one race to another. From my point of view as a team director and manager, I'd like them to be more standardised so we can financially plan ourselves for a season as opposed to how it is at the moment.
For the upcoming 2015 season our new naming sponsor is providing team vehicles so hopefully that will reduce some of the overall travel costs. Again, travelling to races such as Tour of Tasmania, unless you've taken your own vehicles, you are required to travel with the team so you need to hire cars and vans. Overall, for a six-day tour and being away for potentially nine days, it is quite a big expense and it's something I am very mindful of when planning an upcoming season.
CN: Are there any major changes to the team in 2015?
One of the most obvious changes is a new name for the team as we welcome a new naming sponsor and vehicle supplier, AMR Renault. We're super excited they've come on board, particularly because several of their senior people have a direct connection to our affiliate club in Sydney, Lidcombe-Auburn CC, which is great. The team roster will also be a little bit different with several new additions, including a couple of very talented guys who've ridden at Pro-Continental level in Asia plus some gun U23s. We'll also continue to have our marketing and communications person, Peter Maniaty, looking after social media, promotions and press releases and the like.
CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
On top of our new 2015 naming sponsor, AMR Renault, I'd really like to acknowledge the contributions of two of our current sponsors from this season, McGrath VW and Cellarbrations.
In 2015, we'll once again have BikeBug as our major equipment sponsor, they've been long-term sponsors who have been very generous. Another returning 2014 sponsor is Piazza D'Oro, the coffee company, who will be moving to another level with us in 2015, helping to get the team name and their brand out there even more.
Other contributors for the 2015 season will be Cellarbrations once again, in a slightly smaller capacity. Tineli will make our team kit. SignWave has just come on board and will provide all of our vehicle signage. Lidcombe Auburn Cycle Club have again confirmed their support in 2015 and certainly help us enormously with the development side of things. Active Supps, a supplements company from Queensland, is also on board.
All these companies are very generous in terms of what they are putting in with equipment and products and we certainly couldn't do it without them.
2015 AMR Renault Racing Team roster: Kris Johnston (ACT), Dylan Sunderland (NSW), Matt Slee (NSW), Aaron Watts (NSW), Toby Orchard (NSW), Cameron Fraser (NSW), Laurie Groom (NSW), Joshua Aldridge (NZ), Callan Douglas (VIC), Joshua Smith (QLD).