NRS team feature: CharterMason Giant

The CharterMason Giant team had its most successful season to date in 2014 with numerous stage wins and podiums in the National Road Series (NRS) courtesy of several riders. In 2015, the team is looking to build on its success with the aim of becoming the number one team in the NRS and secure invitations to UCI races having announced it will ride under a Continental licence for 2015.

CharterMason Giant made its debut on the national scene in 2012 as a development team for the Pro-Continental Drapac squad with the aim of providing a pathway to the professional ranks for its riders. In 2014, the team added several experienced riders to its roster including ex-Superbike rider Shannon Johnson who was a regular winner in the NRS. Along with Rafael Freinstein, the duo were a consistent feature at the pointy end of the sprints with their results helping CharterMason Giant to finish fourth on the team classification.

Cyclingnews spoke to team manager Leigh Parson about the team's successful season and the changes that have been taking place.

CN: How was your preparation for the 2014 NRS and how has the season gone so far?
Our preparation for 2014 started with the securing of a range of product partners and financial sponsors that would enable us to compete for the entire season. We were fortunate to sign up a number of new sponsorships including BrennanIT, Reynolds, Lazer, Northwave, BBB and Scicon along with a significantly larger investment from our existing sponsors Giant, Champion Systems and of course CharterMason. We felt the level of investment in the team would enable us to compete on a more even playing field than in previous years. Once this baseline had been achieved we could turn our focus to compiling a riding roster.

Our overall strategy has been to build a core group of riders develop and retained over a number of years and to see them ultimately head off to larger international teams. In 2014 we certainly feel like we achieved this.

CN: How has your preparation for the 2015 season?
In 2014 management remained focused on activations and account management of existing sponsors, generating leads and speaking to new prospects.

While the market is always tough, we made significant inroads and have been able to secure addition product and cash sponsors for season 2015. This has allowed CMGRT to not only expand from 12 to 16 riders but also step up to Continental status as well.

Our on road results coupled with our high attention to rider welfare has resulted in a huge number of riders wanting to join our squad.

CN: Looking back, how would judge your 2014 NRS season?
2014 has been a success on a number of levels. Whilst we didn't quite achieve our goal of a top three in the NRS aggregate, we consider fourth to be an outstanding effort for a team in it's third season and first full season racing NRS. Whilst we achieved a range of stage wins, GC podiums and sprint jersey wins, I believe the team's most successful achievement was how they went about the business of being a cycling team. We have a culture of selfless contribution to the team's objectives, which was adhered to consistently.

From a management point of view, the introduction of Damian Harris who joined us from Avanti was a huge step forward. The team certainly benefited from his insight and experience working with Avanti for the last five years, particularly in relation to on road strategy.

Results and on the bike performance for us is only one aspect that we consider when reviewing performance. We set the bar very high for our riders, particularly when it comes to things like cultural fit, involvement in team building activities and activation of sponsorships. For the most part, we have been really great in these areas.

Metrics such as net new sponsorships, retention of existing sponsors directly relate to whether we are returning value on the investment. There is a significant amount of effort that has gone into this side of the team that I believe has been outstanding. Full credit goes to Tom Reynolds, our media and sponsorship activation manager, who has worked tirelessly to set the team up for 2015.

CN: What is your process of recruiting riders?
Our rider selection process started in September 2013 and didn't really finish until early December. Our aim was to put together a team that would be capable of competing directly against the bigger, more experienced and better-funded teams of previous years.

Initially, we assessed the riders from the previous season and selected a subset to retain for 2014. We then collated a long short list of riders and landed on a total squad of 13 for 2014, which was an increase of five riders from 2013. This would be necessary if we were to be competitive in all of the NRS events, taking into account the need for flexibility within the squad to take on the varying terrain at the various NRS events throughout the year.

We retained the development angle to our team from previous years, focusing on youth, with the inclusion of riders such as Daniel Fitter and Keagan Girdlestone whom both are U19, along with a number of U23 riders, such as Conor Murtagh, Scott Ambrose, Sammy Crome and Nick Katsonis.

In addition to the U19 and U23 riders we added a group of strong more mature riders such as Raph Freienstein, Morgan Smith, Shannon Johnson, Jake Magee and Rhys Pollock. Unfortunately, Rhys suffered a back injury that ultimately saw him effectively retire from elite competition before he got a chance to ride with us, which was a shame for everyone.

CN: What are the major differences to this team this year compared to 2013?
Besides a much stronger list of riders, more experienced management and a much larger budget, the major difference from 2013 was a move away from our partnership with Drapac Pro Cycling. This occurred for a range of reasons, but it would be fair to say our strategy to become one of the top cycling teams in Australia and our aspirations to register as a UCI Continental team no longer aligned with their needs. Drapac certainly supported us to establish ourselves, which we thank them for, but now that we are established we much prefer to set our own course and strive to be the best we can be under our own steam.

CN: What are your expectations of the team in 2014? Were they met?
Our expectations for 2014 were to get multiple stage wins, multiple GC podiums and to really be seen by our competitors as a real threat. I think that we achieved all of these objectives. I think that we have established ourselves as a top team, a well run and structured team that commands respect on and off the road.

2014 has provided a great platform for the team to go to the next level in 2015.

CN: What was your racing calendar?
Our strategy for 2014 was to compete in all NRS events with a view of achieving a top three result on the NRS teams aggregate. We have focused our attention on these events as a first priority with state based racing and international events as a secondary objective.

We sent a subset of our roster to Canada in the mid-season break to guest ride with an Institute of Sport style of team NCCH, that is run by an ex-pat Australian, Rick Lee. This provided some valuable opportunities for our riders to find form in the mid-season break from the NRS.

CN: Did you race target any particular races this year in the NRS?
With an objective to achieve a top three result in the NRS aggregate, you kind of need to be able to target most races. Consistent is what is rewarded with the aggregate competition. That said, we did have a red hot go at winning on GC at the Tour of Murray, Great South Coast and Gippsland. We also focused in on winning the white jersey at the Tour of Tasmania.

Outside of the NRS, we also targeted the Noosa Criterium and the Shimano Melbourne Supercrit events, where we came away with a big win for Shannon Johnson and two in the top five respectively.

CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
It is long! 13 events across the country was a big stretch of resources, both in terms of time and money required to compete. Travel and accommodation is by far the largest expense of the team.

To truly compete on the NRS aggregate, you need to have a great management team behind the scenes to ensure the team logistics are in order. It is a huge effort ferrying eight riders and three-to-four staff around the country on a weekly basis. There are lots of ways to waste money during these events if your operation is not dialled in.

It is great to be able to compete all over the country, bringing the sport to the people is the only way for it to grow.

CN: What is the hardest race on the NRS calendar?
Tour of Tasmania is by far the best race and toughest race on the calendar. Just look at the names of the riders who have won either the white or yellow jerseys in the past.

CN: Who did see as the stand-out rider this season?
I think we had a few stand out riders this season. Raph Freienstein had an outstanding secnd half of the season and we look forward to seeing him back in 2015. He has the pedigree and hunger to win the NRS competition and we are aiming to support him to do this.

Shannon Johnson continues to impress. His turn of speed is mind-boggling and with additional support this year, he showed what he is capable of doing. There aren't too many sprinters he couldn't roll if he is there in the finish. It will be interesting to see how we go with the addition of Ryan MacAnally and Paul van der Ploeg to the 2015 roster. That is a serious lead out train.

Nick Katsonis has developed significantly during the season. In two seasons he has risen from good club rider to the winner of the white jersey at the Tour of Tasmania. His dedication and work ethic continue to impress and I see him continuing to improve in 2015.

When he is not off winning world track titles, Dan Fitter is a force to be reckoned with. He can sprint, climb, and TT. We look forward to seeing a lot more of him in 2015!

After joining the team mid season, Keagan Girdlestone continued to impress. His consistency will see him as a big GC threat throughout the 2015 NRS season.

CN: What will your 'off-season' comprise of racing wise?
Our focus during the summer will be to prepare our riders for a serious shot at the national titles in January. We will be focusing in on the U23 road race, time trial and also the elite criterium. As part of our preparation for these events, we will be competing the various criterium events around the country including Noosa criterium, Stan Siejka Cycle Classic, Shimano Melbourne Supercrit, and the Bay Criterium Series. We also hope for a start in both the Jayco Herald Sun Tour and Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race in early February 2015.

During our mid season break from the NRS, we may send some riders to Germany or Belgium but our plans are undecided at this stage.

CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
We've worked pretty hard on getting our infrastructure and processes in place, we've got our cars and vans and all that stuff in place and that differentiates ourselves a lot which is good for our sponsors and that something we've worked hard on.

In reality, the major cost to our team is accommodation, getting them on planes and around the country costs a lot of money and we are probably running a budget that is half of the bigger guys and maybe a third of some of them. That means we have to make every dollar count.

We look at ways to minimise our expenditure in getting to every event with a full list of riders as there is no point in going to these races without taking a full list. In that context, we have to make sure we work hard to activate the dollars of our sponsors to ensure that they get their return and we can continue to do what we do.

CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
Financial partners: CharterMason, Giant, Brennan IT, Elite Roads, Constructive Group, Cycling Tips, Hydroquip Pumps, Cycling Inform, St. Kilda Cycling Club, Footwork, Grapeworks

Product partners: Giant, Champion Systems, Brighton Skoda, Footwork, Kieser Training, Kincrome, Schwalbe, Scratch Labs, Bonk Breaker, Grapeworks, Reynolds, Lazer, BBB, Scicon, Morgan Blue, The Sufferfest, Full Gaz, Think to Act

2014 CharterMason Giant roster: Jacob Restall, Shannon Johnson, Jake Magee, Conor Murtagh, Nick Katsonis, Josh Taylor, Sam Crome, Rhys Pollock, Daniel Fitter, Morgan Smith, Rafael Freinstein, Scott Ambrose and Keagan Girdlestone.

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