The Road Less Travelled
Australia to Europe is a long way. Chasing the lifestyle of a professional cyclist is difficult for those lucky enough to live in Europe; those from down under however must grapple an entire new layer of complexity. There are varying levels of ambiguity that fuel the anxiousness of younger riders seeking to make a living on two wheels. Everyone says I must get to Europe, preferable sooner rather that later. But how do I get there? What do I do when I get there? It’s a pressure cauldron of 3rd hand advice that plagues young riders, there is no Lonely Planet guide on how to become a professional cyclist.
For those who have gone through the AIS system, the pathway is clearer and the explosion of Australians in the pro ranks certainly reflects great success on their behalf. However, there are many ways to skin a cat and riders continue the tradition of making their own way to Europe and are still finding great success.
Drapac Professional Cycling have riders based in Belgium for roughly 6 weeks each year and have done a fantastic job at providing a pathway to the big league. They’ve produced two national champions in recent years and have provided stepping stone for many others. Mitch Docker, now ready for the spring classics with Skil-Shimano, can pay homage to the Drapac pathway. Not only do they provide a healthy approach to developing riders, they’ve also helped revive other cyclist’s careers which helps mentor their younger riders (Rob McLachlan, Tom Southam, Gene Bates, and recently Darren Lapthorne).
Lappers winning the 2007 National Road Champs in one of the most exciting races I can remember
Other young Australians such as Tim Roe and Ben King have made their way to European roads thanks to the Trek Livestrong U23 team. Joe Lewis just joined Trek Livestrong this year after a couple successful seasons with Drapac and is well on his way to a promising career if he chooses.
One team that has flown under the radar is the Genesys Wealth Advisors Pro Cycling Team (previously known as Praties Cycling Team). The team that calls Tasmania home is helping fuel the growing number of Tasmanian cyclists around the world. Richie Porte of Saxobank and Will Clarke of Leopard Trek both have come through this fostering an environment whereby riders contribute back into the team when they are able to do so.
The story began in Italy in 2006 when a talented Tasmanian climber in Josh Wilson joined the Gruppo Lupi team and built not just a solid year of results but a solid relationship with the team director Daniele. In 2007 Josh joined Praties and opened the door for Tim Walker (Praties rider) to come over and race with Gruppo Lupi. Mid year Josh convinced Daniele to take on another two Tasmanians: fellow Praties rider Ritchie Porte and then promising ex rower Cam Wurf. Gruppo Lupi now found itself bursting at the seams with Tasmanian talent and as Josh put it; “it was a really cool year!”
Cameron Wurf now with Liquigas – Photo courtesy Leigh Schilling
The scenes had changed in 2008 with Wurf moving onwards and upwards along the path to eventually ride for Liquigas this year. Wilson moved across to the Maltinti Lampardi team but faced a much larger challenge in a heart tumour. He had to forget about climbing hills and face open heart surgery instead. Never one to back down Josh overcame that stumbling block but nonetheless faced a long break from the bike to ensure he returned to 100% health. A few years later in early 2011 Josh is able to train properly again and is building back a desire to train and race whilst studying in Launceston.
For the 2008 year Richie stayed with the Gruppo Lupi team only to have Daniele, the man who made it all possible, pass away with throat cancer in March of the same year. Richie, having shown his ability, quickly found a new home with the Mastromarco Sensi Grassi team under the guidance of Andrea Tafi. From there he rode his way onto the Saxobank team and blew the world away with his outstanding performance at last years Giro D’Italia.
It was in 2010 where Richie had the chance give back to the team that had put a lot into him by doing everything possible to set up another Genesys rider in Europe – Will Clarke. Through a year of living with Richie in Monaco, cleaning up kermesse races in Belgium and scoring a stagiare ride with AG2R, Will cracked the big league and now calls team Leopard-Trek home. Only a few months earlier Will had been racing the local scene back in Australia. Look at the big stud now:
Will Clarke now with Leopard-Trek
Josh Wilson has remained the Italian connection for Tasmanian riders to this day, and in working in tandem with Genesys team manager Andrew Christie-Johnson they continue to send riders to Europe when they deem them to be ready. Josh remains in contact with Daniele’s family who continue to run Gruppo Lupi; so it is no coincidence that Nathan Earle from Genesys finds himself with a ticket to Italy for a season of racing. After taking a hat trick of stages at the Tour of Wellington just recently, Nathan is definitely hitting some great form and should be one to watch for the coming season.
Meanwhile Joel Pearson, a veteran of the French racing scene and Genesys sprinter (albeit not Tasmanian!), has taken fellow Genesys rider Tom Robinson with him for half a season of racing with the French division one team UC Nantes Atlantique. Tom faced turmoil of his own when his brother Will tragically crashed and passed away whilst out training in early 2010. Months passed and Tom found that riding his bike provided the best respite from the drama in his life. Tom returned to racing and by the end of the year Andrew Christie-Johnson thought him to be ready for a season of French racing. The pair in Joel and Tom have experienced success already with Joel winning his first race for the season a fortnight ago at the Plages Vendéennes à Luçon, and Tom finished 4th in a recent 136km circuit race and 2nd in the Circuit Mediterranean a few weeks back. These two will also be ones to keep an eye out for in 2011.
Joel Pearson takes his first win in France – Photo source
As a rider in the Genesys team I really thought these were the kinds of stories you don’t usually hear about and I wanted to share them with you. The path to the top can certainly be an odd one, but in my short time with Genesys I can tell you one thing; these Tassie boys are tough, so it’s good to have them on your team!