Pure Black Racing: A slice of heaven?

There may seem to be a world of difference between an America's Cup yachting team and a cycling squad but Pure Black Racing's Carl Williams is aiming to use the successful Team New Zealand model to help the country build its first ProTour team.

With a decade's experience sailing at the highest level, including the America's Cup and Olympic competition, it was his participation in the Beijing Olympics two years ago that eventually led to the formation of Pure Black Racing, the team that boasts former Navigators, Team Type 1 and Rock Racing stalwart Glen Chadwick.

He was introduced to Chadwick at the Beijing Games and admits it was his own love of cycling, in addition to meeting the experienced kiwi rider, that planted the seed for Pure Black Racing. "Cycling's obviously a huge part of my cross-training and I developed a massive respect for the sport," begins Williams.

"I came back from my stint at the America's Cup in late 2008 and realised that sailing's obviously a massive sport in New Zealand - it's got great professional depth and a lot of structural and corporate support - and cycling was quite far behind the pace.

"I was looking at models like Fly V and Garmin-Transitions and realised that there was a real opportuntity to establish a professional organisation with cycling here in New Zealand, tapping into the massive amount of talent we have coming through."

Valuable experience on the water

In sporting terms New Zealand is probably best known for the world famous All Blacks rugby union team and the nation's exploits in winning the prestigious America's Cup in 1995 before defending the crown in 2000, becoming the first country outside the US to do so.

With highly-esteemed companies such as Louis Vuitton, Rolex and Oracle supporting sailing, Williams' background in the sport gave him the grounding to seek and develop a commercial model for a cycling team that could succeed in the long-term.

He's aiming to open "a new, iconic sports brand in New Zealand" and using the combined resources of several sponsorship partners - rather than one major, headline sponsor - to create the budget to be sustainable as the team strives to achieve ProTour status in five years' time. In response to the difficult economic environment teams face in gaining sponsorship, Williams is bringing the lessons learnt in sailing to the cycling sphere.

"I come from the professional sailing world, where the big budgets of the America's Cup teams are seen on the level of Formula One and the like, so while we're at a lower scale the principles are still pretty much the same - providing return for your partners.

"We know that we're not going to nail one naming sponsor like Sky, or RadioShack, so I've tried to bring as much of the intellectual property from the America's Cup around this sort of thing.

"With Team New Zealand we ran on an iconic brand and then they created a 'Family of Five' sponsorship structure; rather than one sponsor bearing the load of the corporate budget we spread that out over four or five companies where the synergies and relationships they gained through that were an added advantage, let alone the exposure and marketing platforms they got.

"In Europe, [sponsors are] cement and flooring companies... in New Zealand we have to target the big wigs of corporate Australasia and that's a big challenge for us. We've got to convert them and show them that there's a load of exposure that they can gain from a sport like this. To be honest, it's been really, really positive.

Williams adds that transport company PBT founder Peter Baker (not coincidentally a former New Zealand cycling representative) and decorated New Zealand sailor Russell Coutts have been integral to guiding the progress of the project and helped "put the right people in the right places".

The team's business manager Greg Cross is a "serial entrepreneur" and has a wealth of experience establishing New Zealand companies off-shore and has a passion for cycling.

Bicycle manufacturer Avanti has expressed its interest in moving forward with the team as part of its plans to branch out of the core New Zealand/Australia market. It's providing bikes for Chadwick and co in addition to significant financial input that includes buying 30 percent of the team's management company.

The 'men in black' on the road

"In eight months we've gone from having this whole thing be an idea on a whiteboard to custom-built team bikes and Glen Chadwick on our roster. It's been nothing short of mayhem but it's been good mayhem," says Williams, who explains that the aim of the team in the short-term is providing a suitable platform to develop the likes of Mike Northey and Roman Van Uden - both of whom raced for the Rubicon-Orbea team in America's National Racing Calendar (NRC) this year - plus Tour of Wellington winner Michael Torkler, who has been competing in Spain this season.

The team started life last year as a small squad called Bicivida that raced at the Tour of Southland, the same event that Pure Black Racing made its debut earlier this week. In 2011, spearheaded by Chadwick, who has many years of experience racing in the US, the outfit will compete in the NRC - focusing on stage races - use it as a launching pad to establish its credentials with a big objective in mind.

"The ultimate goal of Pure Black is to reach the ProTour in five years - the initial steps we wanted to take would have us follow in the footsteps of Pegasus Racing, whereby we use a Continental licence to race in the NRC," explains Williams.

And in a small country such as New Zealand, where the national population is smaller than Australia's biggest city, the need for various cycling groups to work together is paramount to the viability of the Pure Black project in the long term.

With the likes of Jack Bauer, Northey and Van Uden shaping up to take over the mantle of experienced New Zealanders Julian Dean, Greg Henderson and Hayden Roulston in the future, providing a team to harness that talent through co-operation is vital.

Williams says that New Zealand's main cycling body, BikeNZ, has been "very supportive of the idea. It fills a gap for them - which is road cycling - because they're so focused on track [cycling]," says Williams. "We also provide a brand for the sport, for cycling to leverage. We've been working with them more and more and I think there's going to be quite a cool relationship there in the next few years."

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