Sports funding in the season directly following an Olympic Games is always precarious, but the effect this is set to have on the Australian Institute of Sport cycling program for women is raising eyebrows - and it's not in a good way.
Cyclingnews previously reported in October 2012 that the funding constraints has forced a shift in the men's UCI Continental Jayco-AIS team, which will now exist as a national 'WorldTour Academy' squad which doesn't come with the cost of UCI registration. Now Cyclingnews can reveal that the highly-successful AIS women's program, which has produced the likes of Sara Carrigan, Anna Wilson, Oenone Wood and more recently, Amanda Spratt, is being dissolved in its current form.
The AIS program for women has been in existence since 1992 and has been largely responsible for the development of talent.
"It's more than a funding decision, but it is tied up to it," explained head coach Martin Barras. "We're already halfway there because the program has been merged with the national team program for the last 10 or 12 years but where we used to run an AIS team as the elite international development team, we now run a national team with more flexible selection."
In terms of what funding will be available, Barras said that an announcement was some months away and all decisions, from rider support to rider development, were currently being made with a short-term view.
"It makes it difficult for this year," he told Cyclingnews. "Our projects are very well established, it's just a matter of can we run them, or not? This is my fifth Olympic cycle now and it's the same thing every time."
Barras explained that the move was designed to eradicate what he called the "sense of entitlement" that came with having the support of the AIS.
"There's a level of accountability that we want to bring to the way that we're running things," he said. "The concept of race-proofing [riders] so we do offer selections but we do race-proof them before we take them to Europe to make sure that they're up to scratch.
"I don't want to overstate how much of a problem it was but it's trying to rationalise how we use our resources and make sure that we use them more effectively."
Athletes will be brought into the team for short-term appointments based on need and suitability.
In 2012, the AIS squad was centered on a program of racing in Australia and New Zealand with around 15 starts, while the National team was based out of Europe and its programme was shortened due to the Olympic Games, meaning it ran for around 11 weeks with 35-40 days of racing.
"We're still finalising the program with the national team [for 2013] but at this point in time it looks like we'll be in Europe from late May until the world championships and we're looking at between 40-50 days of racing," explained Barras.
Increasingly, that national program is being tied to women's pro team, Orica-AIS, a move that is far from fool-proof. The AIS program has been the direct pathway into the women’s professional team. As has been the case with Australian men, the AIS program is not the only way to make it to Europe with Mark Renshaw, Richie Porte and Simon Gerrans all good examples of using other pathways to make it to the top. For women, the same has been the case with Rochelle Gilmore, Chloe Hosking and Loren Rowney.
Barras admits that Hosking turned professional before he even "considered" making her an offer to join the AIS. Rowney meanwhile, attended the national selection camp in 2011 only to not be able to complete it due to illness. In the meantime, she received an offer to join Specialized-lululemon.
"When we were doing these selection camps what we were explaining to the bike riders was that what we offer in those days through the AIS and now with the National team, we believe it's the best chance or most direct chance that you have in terms of where it takes you, how you're supported," Barras said. "We've also acknowledged that it's not the only way to do it."
A National team is yet to be selected for 2013 with assessments being made at the Cycling Australia Road National Championships this week with the major emphasis being placed on the road race and the time trial. Another review was set to take place at the New Zealand Women's Tour but due to its cancellation, the next opportunity will be at the Oceania Road Championships in March.
"The next step after that will be the National Road Series starting with the Tour of Mersey Valley in late April," said Barras.
By the time this year's selection camp rolls around in November, Barras said he is hopeful of having more athletes to choose from and therefore, more athletes with support directly from the program.
"That won't be to the extent that the AIS did it, we're going through this business to make sure that the riders earn their start," he admitted. "It puts everyone on the same footing."
As a sports journalist and producer since 1997, Jane has covered Olympic and Commonwealth Games, rugby league, motorsport, cricket, surfing, triathlon, rugby union, and golf for print, radio, television and online. However her enduring passion has been cycling.
Jane is a former Australian Editor of Cyclingnews from 2011 to 2013 and continues to freelance within the cycling industry.
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