The health.com.au/Search2Retain has been competing in the National Road Series (NRS) since 2009, making it one of the more well-established teams on the Australian racing circuit. In the 2014 the the secondary naming sponsor from last year, health.com.au, has stepped up to be the first naming sponsor and guaranteed its support to the team for the next few seasons to come as well.
The team nabbed its first NRS win of 2014 at the Tour of Toowoomba as Oliver Kent-Spark out-sprinted his breakaway companions. Kent-Spark is one of the riders that team manager Mark Isaacs wanted to see the best out of in 2014 and the Victorian is rewarding his manager's belief. Brendan Canty was another rider that Isaacs expected to shine this year and the 22-year-old's form in the NRS has seen him earn a spot on Drapac's roster for the remainder of the year as a stagiaire.
Cyclingnews caught up with Issacs earlier in the season to find out a little bit more about the team, how he expects the 2014 season to play out and the benefits of team's relationship with OCBC Singapore Continental team.
Cyclingnews: How was your preparation for the start of the 2014 NRS series and how are you finding the season?
Our preparation started with a combined training camp back in December with OCBC, we are I guess a feeder team for those guys. We provide a few Australian riders to them and we take on some of their junior riders to give them a bit of exposure to racing here in Australia and raise their level a little bit.
Our training camp was in Chiang Mai, Thailand for two weeks which the whole squad attended and it was good for the boys. A few of them got a bit sick and were forced to miss nationals but it probably set them off on the right path and lifted the level a little bit as they got in some really, really good base kilometres at that point.
We've started out really well. Perth was little bit slow, being the first race of the year, guys were still finding their place in the team and getting to know each other. Olivier Kent-Spark rode really well in the Kalamunda stage in a select group so we were quiet happy with his results. I think young Michael Rice took out the young rider jersey so we came out of the tour in the right direction, probably where we expected I guess.
A lot of the squad went on to the Adelaide Tour but we were undermanned as we lost a couple of guys to illness so we only started with six and I think Brendan Canty crashed out on stage 2 so we were down to five riders for the rest of the race. We ended up winning the KOM jersey and podium on three on the four stages so we came away from that race really buoyant.
CN: How do you decide on your team rosters? What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
We take a little bit of a different tact when looking at riders for the coming year. Obviously with search2retain being one of our principal backers, we rely on recruitment techniques such as personality profiling and how all the guys all sit within the team. So it's not all just based on results and performances, it has got a lot to do with off the bike and what sort of person you are.
That had a massive impact on how we structure the team and we've never had any bickering behind the scenes or anything like that. The team has always had a cohesion to it which is mainly because of the way we do our recruitment with the personality profiling and that sort of information we fall back on when we're selecting someone.
Last year we exposed our team to a lot of potential riders and we had a huge amount of interest from new riders and NRS riders wanting to come across to the team. That, I guess, really put us in a position to pick and choose and build a structured team rather than grabbing guys that we sort of knew. We were able to identity gaps in our roster and then go and get guys to fill those gaps.
I feel this year that we have a more structured team then in the past, just with guys that are able to fulfil specific roles and different roles that we just haven't been able to do in the past. It's a really exciting year for us and obviously, any of our rides that pop their heads up and show that they are excelling and have results and the personality, we forward onto OCBC the following year and then they generally move into a paid Continental ride.
CN: What is different about the team this year, compared to last?
Health.com.au have increased its backing of the team and have taken first naming rights of the squad this year which is a pretty big deal. we are pretty happy with the deal and it has given us a really good platform from which to go and recruit riders.
Guys like Oliver Kent-Spark and Brendan Canty, those kind of riders have got the talent to ride a high GC position, so we'll be looking at those guys and a few others as well who are coming through.
We've also got guys like Michael Rice, the current U19 national champion, Angus Tobin who has a really good turn of pace and can challenge the fastest guys in the bunch, so we're looking forward [to seeing] these guys with the support of the whole team to back up and improve upon what we did last year.
CN: What is your racing calendar?
We'll participate in a number of the Victorian Racing Series events which we use, as I guess a training ground, for some of the young Singaporean riders that we have on exchange. We ride them in the VRS and once they prove themselves at that level they have the opportunity to step up into the NRS roster as well.
It's all about growth and learning for those guys and living away from home, so it provides them with a great racing environment to try a few different things.
And obviously we aim to do every NRS race on the calendar this year to really build on what we set in concreate last year.
CN: Is there a particular race the team is targeting this year?
We do target particular races. Obviously we had a really good result at Gippsland last year and it's a favourite for a lot of boys and it's been around for a long time. It's a really well run race so we're looking forward to that.
Tour of Tasmania is the queen of stage races here in Australia and every team wants to do well there and we're certainly not any different to that. We want a good result, not only on GC, but also on stages in Tasmania. We are also looking towards the Melbourne to Warrnambool and Graton to Inverell this year for some stand out results.
We've had some really good results in Melbourne to Warrnambool in the last couple years with a seventh and a fourth so we're looking to build on that and get onto the podium. [sic] (Cameron Bayly was eight in 2013 and Neil Van Der Ploeg was fourth in 2012, ed.)
CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
It's one of those things, it's not getting any easier to run a race, and I think all team managers are aware of that, but it's the number of races on the calendar. I think there are 14, but my personal view is that I don't think we need that many. I would prefer to see fewer races run to a higher standard rather than try to increase the number of NRS races, that just increases the pressure put on teams to compete in all the races.
The length of the stages? Personally, I would like to see longer stages. It provides our riders here in Australia better grounding to move into Asia, America, and Europe, with longer stages in their legs. A lot of guys will find that moving over to Asian and European races, that it is a big shock going from 130km races up to 160, 180km stage which is a fair jump when you're backing up day-after-day.
With the location, I think that it is great that we have a national road series which covers basically every state in Australia and I am pretty comfortable with where a lot of the races are held and the terrain is often challenging.
There is always the concern with road safety, and each state has their issues with that, but I think that as long as we work together as a cohesive unit and communicate with race organisers and Sean Muir at Cycling Australia, then the NRS is only going to grow and grow.
CN: What is the hardest race on the NRS calendar?
Long ones like Melbourne to Warrnambool and Grafton to Inverell, they are hard races and it doesn't only take preparation but a lot of luck as well to win those ones. You can be as fit as anyone in the bunch and be in perfect condition but if you puncture at the wrong time, your race is out the window. Those ones are always little bit more nervous as well.
CN: Do you expect there to be a stand-out rider this season?
Jack Haig had a great year last year and I expect to see some pretty good results out of him. Guys from my point of view? I am looking towards Brendan Canty and Oliver Kent-Spark to really step up and get a few results and probably raise a few eyebrows from other team directors. We have some talent in our squad that we know is probably top tier in Australia but don't have the exposure that some of the other riders have, but that will come. Within the next few years you'll see a few good riders come out of our squad.
CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
You talk to any team manager and they'll say the finance side of things probably is the major challenge. Just the uncertainly of the whole structure of cycling in general and it's not only the NRS, it's the WorldTour as well. We are so reliant on outside sponsors that at the flick of a switch, a team can fold and we've seen that in the past. There are a few teams that have dropped out of the NRS roster for example.
One of our major concerns as managers is our rider safety and want to make sure that our riders are competing in safe races and that they start a race in a healthy condition and finish that way.
No team manager wants to have the confronting phone call with a parent that their son or daughter has been injured in a racing incident that could have been avoided. I think that safety and finance are the two biggest challenges facing the management of a NRS team.
CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
Search2retain have been a long term backer of the squad and we welcomed on health.com.au last year and they obviously see the value of being part of the NRS and they have signed a further two-year agreement with the squad.
Wilier are a new sponsor to the team who provide all our team bikes. Champions Systems provide the team with all our apparel so we have access to their full range of products which we are extremely grateful for. Scott provide all our helmets and luggage to the team. Schnell provide all the carbon wheels and have been a great supporter of ours and are back on board in 2014 with racing and training wheels for the boys.
Next Level Nutrition, Alan McCubbin, has been a long-time supporter of the squad and provides all the nutritional advice to the squad and has regular catch up's with all guys to check their nutritional plans are in place. He comes up with some quirky ideas for race nutrition so the guys aren't just stuck eating gels and bars but they work and are really well received by the guys.
Adidas Eyewear have been supporting the team for a number of years and we are extremely grateful for those guys
2014 health.com.au/search2retain roster: Alistair Donohoe, Angus Tobin, Brendan Canty, James Hepburn, Michael Rice, Oliver Kent-Spark, Patrick Bevin, Stuart Smith, Stuart Shaw, Tim Guy, Tom Donald, Calvin Sim and Lemuel Lee.