Formed in 2012, the Sydney-based National Road Series (NRS) team St. George Merida has developed with the help and support of both staff and members of the St. George Cycling Club. With a strong emphasis on the importance of the club, the team's racing program includes Asian, national, state and local races to provide numerous avenues for its riders to pursue the opportunity of racing at the highest level of the sport.
The team recently competed at the UCI 2.2 Jelajah Malaysia where Angus Morton finished third on general classification to cap off the season which also saw the team enjoy a stint in the king of the mountain jersey at the Tour of Tasmania
Cyclingnews spoke to team manager Brett Dutton about the year and what's ahead for 2015
CN: Looking back, how would judge your 2014 NRS season?
We were quite happy with the 2014 season. We had the opportunity to blood a few new riders and we saw improvement in some of a core group which is our goal as a club.
CN: What was different about the team this year, compared to last?
The biggest difference was the addition of Merida bikes and Flight Centre as our major sponsors. This in turn encouraged us to get a new jersey design and we moved away from the traditional St. George colour of red and white which has been the club colours since 1920. This [new pink] jersey enabled us to stand out a little bit better as the NRS appears to have an abundance of red and white jerseys in the peloton.
CN: What processes do you go through in recruiting riders?
We do not chase riders. We are part of St. George Cycling Club, one of the country's most successful sporting organisations. Our goal when starting the NRS programme was to strengthen our club structure and this has been most successful. All of our riders are members of our club. We do not encourage riders to join St. George, we let them do it of their own free will. But joining the club does not guarantee anybody a ride in an NRS event. You must be a good club member first and foremost, attending club functions, club racing and club teams' events throughout the season.
CN: What were the expectations of the team for the 2014 season and were they met?
As I mentioned earlier, our goal as a club is to give members an opportunity to experience the premier road events throughout the country and this was well and truly met. This year we attended eight races on the NRS calendar.
CN: What is your team philosophy?
We do not take riders to NRS events until they are ready. All of the riders in our structure have to progress through club racing and State events before moving on to the NRS series. Riders need to attend club racing and be good club members. We encourage our athletes to either work or study and empower them to be actively involved with their training programmes. We do not just give a rider a program and send them away, we encourage the riders to understand why they are actually doing something and the reasons behind it. We can then have these riders mentor younger riders within the club.
CN: Did you target any particular races this year in the NRS?
The Grafton-Inverell is the event that seems to interest our guys the most. We only took three riders this year as the rest were either too young or just not ready for an event of this distance and difficulty. We were pleased with the results having two riders finish in the first 15.
Our guys also enjoy the Tour of Tasmania where this year we held the KOM jersey for a couple of days and enjoyed one day in the aggressive rider jersey.
CN: What is the most challenging race on the NRS calendar?
To be honest, the most challenging event in the NRS for us was the Tour of the Murray. Our guys coming from NSW do not get all that many opportunities to compete in scratch races as most of our events are handicaps. Handicap events are structured and organised unlike scratch races especially in windy conditions. Riding in the wind is a whole different ball game with echelons and small roads and it is something our guys really struggled with. This is a skill that needs to be worked on if anybody has aspirations of heading off to Europe.
CN: Who did see as the stand-out rider this season?
The season was definitely split down the middle with Joe Cooper being the most impressive rider by a long shot for the first part of the season. His injury at Tour of Toowoomba allowed Patrick Bevin the opportunity to impress in the second half of the year. So I would say these two guys were equal and both have huge futures ahead of them.
CN: What are your thoughts on the NRS calendar in terms of length and location?
In terms of length, it is a long season, especially when we run with volunteers to accompany us to the races. I don't think running races on consecutive weeks was a good idea as it meant people needing two weeks off work. This applies to riders and helpers. Having one week off work or Uni at a time is a lot easier than two weeks. The mid-year break I thought was a good idea as it allowed riders to either go overseas or attend local State races during this time.
The Victorian run races are easy for us to get to and generally the best organised. Tasmania is quite expensive, but is necessary to make a 'National' series.
CN: Financially, what are the major challenges in racing the NRS?
NRS events are extremely expensive. Entries alone are around $2000 per team. We are not one of the bigger budget teams in the NRS and we budget on $1000 per day for NRS events. We are lucky on the other hand to have club members willing to give up their time to help and support the NRS program by coming along and acting as chef, mechanic or driver. Our club has a long and distinguished history so the people we bring along to races contribute in a big way with their previous experiences.
CN: Are there any major changes to the team in 2015?
We have a couple of new members who have come on board. We are looking at putting some Asian races into our programme as we believe that it will be cheaper to attend these races than some of the NRS events. That and the added benefit of longer stages and new cultures that should be a great experience for our riders and help on the next step in their development.
Only last week we raced in Jelajah Malaysia 800km in five days in extremely hot conditions - the riders need to learn to adapt to local conditions and food, etc
CN: Who are your main financial and equipment sponsors?
Our major contributors are St. George Cycling Club and its associated sponsors - Klapp Brothers Transport, BCA Logic, Mantova Shelving and Classic Coachworks, along with Merida Bicycles, Flight Centre, Shimano Australia, Rudy Project, Champion Systems clothing, Gu Energy Products and Defeet socks and accessories.
2014 St. George Merida team roster: Jordan Davies, Jay Dutton, Lachlan Edwards, Ben Harvey, Nick Yallouris, Jack McCulloch, Sam Nelson and Harrison Wiles.