The curious Mitchelton-Scott / Manuela Fundación episode developed a little further at the end June with the co-founder of the Australian WorldTour team, Shayne Bannan, being replaced by Brent Copeland as GM.

 

Shayne Bannan’s history in Australian cycling is a long one. He was a key member of the national team’s coaching staff in the lead-up to the Sydney Olympics in 2000 when Charlie Walsh was in charge. Once the Games were finished, Walsh stepped aside and Bannan took over.

At the conclusion of the Olympics at ‘home’, the expectation was that funding for cycling – and sport as a whole in Australia – would drop. But Bannan began his tenure as Cycling Australia’s head coach aware that healthy financial backing was crucial if his sport was to earn a legacy from Sydney 2000 and prosper.

“We can expect to see a cut in funding,” Bannan told RIDE Media in September 2000. “We might not be able to afford some of the bigger luxuries – like altitude training camps in Mexico – but we can afford to have camps in Italy for a longer period.

“And,” he continued, “in Italy we can go straight from training to high-quality racing.”

Bannan’s arrival as head coach for cycling in Australia meant a dramatic shift in focus; from track to road, from the Olympic obsession to a more rounded approach that recognised the significance of other disciplines and bike races.

Still reliant on the government coffers to support the team, he knew he needed to kowtow to the Australian Sports Commission’s constant desire for Olympic gold. He played along, maintained a focus on track racing, but dared to dream about increasing Australia’s presence in road racing.

Twenty years ago, it was Bannan and his cohort who began to pave the way for what would become known as “GreenEdge Cycling”. He may have taken on the role of national coach, but he was thinking about a trade team.

In our interview after the Sydney Olympics, I asked Bannan about his objectives for road racing. Is it possible for Australian cycling to have a team in the Tour de France or races at that level? Is that something you’re aiming to do?

“The first objective,” he replied, “is to develop the program in Italy to the point where it’s one of the better developmental programs in the world. I think we’re still a few years away from that. If it takes three or four years, then that’s what it’ll have to take.

“But,” Bannan said, “I feel that the next step is to have a full-on professional team – that is certainly one of my goals.”

And so, together with an international cast, he set off on a course that would ultimately lead to the establishment of GreenEdge.

Before that eventuated, however, there was the coup of Athens 2004 when Australia won more Olympic gold in cycling than any other country. This was a major accomplishment, even if the legacy of it is negligible.

For 10 years, the Australian cycling presence in Italy grew significantly and much of this was courtesy of Bannan and his relationship with the likes of Aldo Sassi, Alvaro Crespi and others from the Mapei Training Centre in Varese.

Another person who joined Bannan on the journey to establish an Australian cycling team was Marilisa Pappalardi. Based near Rome, she was on the organising committee for the GP della Liberazione one-day race that was considered one of the most prestigious events for amateurs.

Pappalardi and Bannan collaborated on numerous projects that benefitted the broader Australian cycling community, especially young racers who had dreams of competing in Europe. Without their influence, the likes of Allan Davis, Michael Rogers, and even Cadel Evans would have had a much more difficult time in their formative years in pro cycling.

The Australian and Italian became a couple, had a child together and they continued to collaborate on cycling projects until they separated early in 2019.

Pappalardi continues to have strong links with Australian cycling; she is, for example, still the voice of Radio Tour at the Tour Down Under, a role she’s had since the race’s inception in 1999.

Throughout his tenure in charge of Cycling Australia’s high-performance program, Bannan continued to develop his idea of creating an Australian-registered pro team. The Italian links remained strong, and with assistance from Giorgio Squinzi from Mapei – one of the largest corporate supporters of cycling – the Australian base in Varese was expanded.

Squinzi, Sassi, Crespi and others associated with the legendary Mapei team effectively adopted Australian riders, welcoming them to Italy and providing a base and training facilities that allowed them to pursue their goals of becoming pro cyclists.

While Davis, Rogers, Evans and others were developing as riders Mapei was the dominant team of the time. The demise, however, would come and interestingly it was none other than Stefano Garzelli who ultimately became the catalyst for the end of Squinzi’s lavish Mapei team.

Garzelli had won the Giro d’Italia in 2000 as part of the Mercatone Uno team. The next year he joined what was then called Mapei-Quickstep and, by 2002, he was established as the Grand Tour leader for the team that also included a couple of young Aussies: Rogers and Evans.

At the Giro of 2002, Garzelli was to be the protected leader at Mapei and the team launched a bid to win the Italian Grand Tour for a second time (following Toni Rominger’s ‘conquest’ from 1995).

When Garzelli failed a test for Probenecid during the Giro d’Italia of 2002, Squinzi was driven to despair and the sponsor/benefactor announced he’d pull his funding from the pro cycling team. It was one positive test too many.

(Australian cycling enthusiasts would know the story of what unfolded after Garzelli’s Giro eviction in 2002. Mapei’s leadership for the remainder of the race would be determined by the best result in a TT around the midway mark – either Andrea Noé or Cadel Evans would take over from where Garzelli left off, chasing the maglia rosa. Evans got the nod. He would claim the leader’s jersey in the final week, becoming the first Australian to do so at the Giro, but then spectacularly collapse on the final major mountain of the race and eventually finish 14th overall.)

 

Australian cycling retained its strong links with the Mapei training centre in Varese, even after the Mapei pro team was folded. Shayne Bannan would oversee the operation, Crespi would serve as local consultant, Pappalardi was also regularly on the scene to assist… and eventually all the stars aligned, and the coach got his wish.

A benefactor in the form of Gerry Ryan came along, listened to Bannan’s pitch about the need for an Australian team, and ultimately the businessman agreed that the time was right. GreenEdge Cycling was registered as a holding company in late-2010, riders were contracted throughout the 2011 season, and by 2012 the Australian pro team had become a reality.

Shane Bannan was the GM. Alvaro Crespi was on staff. Allan Davis would be one of the 31 riders on the roster… along with a host of other prominent Australians. And the rest, as they say, is history.

GreenEdge became Orica-GreenEdge, then Orica-Scott, then Mitchelton-Scott… and, in theory – for a few short days in June 2020 – it was due to become the Manuela Fundación, thanks to a Heads of Agreement signed by Bannan and Garzelli.

That dalliance with Garzelli, and a botched accord that was struck without proper consultation with Gerry Ryan, would ultimately cost Bannan his position with the team.

The co-founder is now gone, unceremoniously dumped from the Mitchelton-Scott payroll, and, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport, replaced overnight by Brent Copeland, a South African who has worked in pro cycling for years, most recently as operations director at Bahrain-McLaren.

We’ll learn more about the dramatic changes to the management of Mitchelton-Scott in the coming days, weeks and months. For now, it remains Australian registered with Gerry Ryan still the main benefactor.

There is talk about other potential sponsors and an ongoing commitment from Ryan and, although the businessman has suffered significant setbacks to his sporting and entertainment portfolios in 2020, he says he remains committed to the team because he is “passionate about cycling”.

If he were to lose any of his passion, it could be because of the absurdity of arrangements like the one that Bannan believed he’d brokered with Garzelli. It was, after all, the 2000 Giro d’Italia champion who was acting on behalf of the so-called Manuela Fundación. And it’s also been Garzelli who has taken exception to comments from Ryan about ownership of the team, turning a curious arrangement – one Ryan insists was announced prematurely – into something of a soap opera that ended almost as quickly as it began.

It was a murky deal that didn’t have the full backing of the man who has financed the Australian team since its inception. And that is why this chapter of the Mitchelton-Scott team has come to a close… why Copeland now finds himself as GM of a team, and why Bannan no longer has a job in a team he helped establish.

 

– By Rob Arnold

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