Search2retain, sixth for the second year running in the Australian National Road Series has announced that they will continue their steady growth with a new sponsor on board for 2013. The Melbourne-based outfit will be known as search2retain powered by health.com.au.
The news could have been better for the team which was set to join the UCI Continental ranks for next season. However the doping-related turmoil currently enveloping Cycling Australia which runs the NRS, forced another sponsor to withdraw from their deal despite having a signed contract in place. With less funding, the team's plans came to an abrupt halt but for now, it's time to continue to build over the coming season.
As a starting point, search2retain powered by health.com.au has announced the signing of Jayco-VIS graduate Stuart Smith, along with 2011 Tour of Indonesia winner Eric Sheppard, who has spent most of this year racing in Italy with a top 10-placing at the Memorial Davide Fardelli.
In 2012, the team reached an all-new level of recognition in the peloton via the performances of Neil Van Der Ploeg and Luke Fetch, two riders whose increased concentration on road cycling from mountain biking has paid dividends.
Health.com.au, the first new health insurance company in Australia since the 1970s, was on board with search2retain for 2013 before the bid to become a Continental team was scrapped and according to the company's CEO Andy Sheats, pulling the pin was never an option.
"It didn't really make that much of a difference to us because most of our, all of our core market is here in Australia," he told Cyclingnews. "So most of the benefit in the team being Continental was to attract better riders and to build the team. At some point they have to do that anyway. The fact that it's not happening this year, I'm not that fussed about."
Sheats, along with many of his employees, is a cycling fanatic and health.com.au's product targets cyclists as a core market.
"How else do you better show a commitment to the sport by stepping in when other people are stepping out?" he says.
The company's investment will contribute around 30 per cent of search2retain's running costs. Cash investment into NRS teams is hard to come by, with product sponsors far outweighing any other.
"To some extent it doesn't surprise me although we're an unusual business in that we all love cycling," explained Sheats. "A lot of these types of decisions are run through a board or at least a management group deep with people who are just looking at return on investment this year. For us, we've been willing and happy to take a longer term view because I think we just have a better sense of what we're getting in to."
The new sponsorship agreement will cover 2013 but Sheats is confident that it will actually run beyond the coming year and health.com.au's investment continue to grow. The team is expected to make more announcements over coming days in the build up to a busy Australian summer calendar.
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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.