Bennelong-SwissWellness: ambassadors for Australian cycling
The moment of a triumph flashes by quickly. The elation lasts a little longer. And the combination of things that need to align for it to happen are considerable. At the end of a big bout of racing, we consider a rider, a team, and some of those associated with a win.
There was a victory salute on Sunday that made many people smile. Sam Crome got to the end of the final stage of the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour ahead of the rest. The winner in Kinglake paid tribute to his mate, Jason Lowndes, shortly after crossing the line; it was an emotional end to what’s been called the ‘Summer of Cycling’.
For a little over a month, there was a glut of races contested in South Australia and Victoria; five successive weekends of live cycling coverage on TV (and online) and a hint that there’s life in the Australian road racing scene yet.
Crome’s team, Bennelong-SwissWellness, is one that has long been a supporter of domestic racing. “We’re probably the longest serving team now in the NRS,” said one of the team’s founders, Steve Price, about Cycling Australia’s national road series. “We’ve won it eight years in a row, so we’ve seen a lot of different initiatives come and go and we’ve got some pretty fair ideas on where we’d like to see the it go and how to evolve domestic cycling in a modern landscape.
“It’s a work in progress but we’re pretty confident that it’s going to go the right way.”
There’s history for the team managed by Price and Andrew Christie-Johnston, and there are strong links with the Australian racing scene (and local cycling industry). But don’t be fooled into thinking that domestic racing is the Bennelong-SwissWellness team’s exclusive domain.
“A lot of people think that we’re just an NRS team,” said Price early in 2018, “but these days our program is pretty big.
“We spend three months of the year in Europe and a lot of time in Asia; [the NRS] is not something that’s our primary objective anymore but it’s something that we think is important to support.”
Sam Crome gets the final stage win of the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour (above).
Photos: Jean-Pierre Ronco
In November last year, Cycling Australia announced a new structure for the NRS which is now being managed by Kip Kauffman, CA’s ‘general manager of sports’. He has consulted with numerous stakeholders in an attempt to refine the series and turn it back into something that is not only viable financially but also provides a credible sporting pathway for riders who want to race.
“We want to see it get bigger and bigger,” said Price about the NRS in 2018, adding: “If we didn’t have to go outside of Australia to race then we wouldn’t do it.”
Kauffman is relatively new to the job and he is generally well regarded in the cycling community with few having a harsh word to say about his vision, work ethic and the way in which he is trying to implement much needed changes in the racing environment.
“I hope it’s heading in the right direction,” said Price, who certainly realises the value of having a successful series, one that provides competition for his riders and exposure for his sponsors. “It’ll no doubt have a few hiccups along the way but we’re pretty happy with the direction it seems to be going now.”
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Bennelong-SwissWellness rider, Chris Harper, joined Alex Edmondson and Jay McCarthy on the podium after the national championship road race.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
Don’t bother doing a search for the calendar of events for the NRS, not quite yet. It is indeed a “work in progress” and although many of the events and dates that had been pencilled in by Kauffman towards the end of 2017 are likely to happen, the formalised event program hasn’t yet been published.
Changes to the administration at Cycling Australia that were announced yesterday would suggest that the days of stalling – or “reviewing the NRS” – are over and we can expect a little bit of prompt action from administrators who have dived into the deep end. They know it won’t be an easy job to resuscitate the series, or many elements of cycling governance, but the new management has to be positive about the possibilities.
Former CEO, Nick Green, has left the building and Steve Drake hit the ground running on Monday. The 1993 national road race champion is the ‘care taker’ CEO but it’s little surprise that he’s the man selected for a challenging job.
Drake has a history in cycling but he also studied while he raced and has spent some time abroad conducting business before returning to Melbourne where he is currently based.
There’s reason to be encouraged about the direction CA is taking even if it’s also easy to be critical of how things have been managed in recent years.
Drake is in Sydney today for a meeting with members of the CA board. He wasted no time in making sure there was a gathering to outline ideas and initiatives for the future of the federation. It remains to be seen if Green will be the only departure early in 2018 or if others who had been aligned with him will also opt to exit now that the former Olympic rower has moved on.
For guys like Price, however, it’s business as usual: back to helping riders race their bikes and, hopefully, conjuring a little publicity along the way.
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The new-season colours first appeared in the criterium of the national championships (above).
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
Bennelong, as cycling fans in Australia have probably learned in January, is a funds management company. One of the power brokers of the brand is Craig Bingham who has had a long history with investment in cycling that dates back well over a decade. (RIDE Media published an interview with him back in 2007 as part of our ‘Why ride’ series of columns about people who are attracted to cycling.)
Bingham has put the Bennelong name on a cycling jersey and Price, Christie-Johnston et al are trying to give it some publicity. Some podium time at the national championships, and again over the weekend at the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour, has helped highlight the brand to fans of the sport who follow these races. There’s value for other sponsors too.
Cervélo is the bike supplier for Bennelong-SwissWellness and Price is grateful for the support of a company that not only invests in the sport but also listens to the feedback given about products. “The whole interaction with Cervélo since they came on board at the beginning of last year, has been fantastic,” said Price about the collaboration with the brand that’s part of the PON Bikes group of companies.
The benefits of having good, reliable product – and sponsorship – helps enormously and whittles down some of the chores associated with running a team like this. It’s all helpful, says Price, “right down from their supply of the bikes to support that we receive after the bikes have been delivered – it’s all been brilliant”.
Graeme Moffett is the MD of PON Bike in Australia. He backed RIDE Media’s last-minute galleries of the national championships and his only request was for us to “please push the fact that we’ve got a test ride program as part of our stand at the Tour Down Under”.
People came, they kicked tyres, talked bikes, and had the chance to meet some company executives like Mike Kluge, the founder of Focus (another brand in the PON catalogue). Once they had cooled down a little inside the tent Moffett and his crew built, they could saddle up, clip in, and ride off on any one of a range of bikes from Cervélo or Focus.
Cervélo supplies Bennelong-SwissWellness with road and TT bikes in 2018, the second season of the sponsorship association with the Australian team.
Photo: Jean-Pierre Ronco
“It’s a hectic time,” said Moffett about the Tour Down Under, “but it’s good for business.
“The best thing about it is that we can showcase our product to a receptive audience… and although they are savvy customers it’s been refreshing to see some surprised expressions.”
He was talking about some qualities of the bikes: the ride characteristics, fresh colour schemes… and prices. (You get a lot of bang for your buck in 2018 compared with only a couple of years ago.)
Eventually a handful of riders from Price’s roster got to ride the Tour Down Under. Scott Bowden, Alex Porter, Tim Roe and Steele von Hoff were all part of the UniSA team in January. (There were meant to be five but that’s another story, one that was told in detail as it unfolded during the week between the nationals and the TDU.)
Meanwhile, a host of others from Bennelong-SwissWellness visited Adelaide while the TDU was on. They joined sponsors at functions, did some training, and generally behaved as the troops from Christie-Johnston’s squads do. They are amiable and engaged with sponsors, product suppliers and the public alike.
It’s a team built with a foundation on the NRS that is now taking on a more international program of races. It has world-class product suppliers that are interested in the feedback offered, and it’s helping make cycling appear as professional as possible on the domestic scene.
(For more from the ‘Summer of Cycling’ 2018, look through RIDE’s archives… you’ll find galleries, race overviews, interviews and more.)
There’s a reason why Crome’s victory was so well received on Sunday. It’s not like the he or his team are new to winning; over the years they have become quite accustomed to doing that – quite often, in fact – but, as he pointed out to Jamie Finch-Penninger on the day of his victory, “That’s the one to win because it’s live on TV.”
The summer of cycling ended as it began, with a rider from an Australian-registered team attending the podium ceremony after getting some exposure for himself, and his team, on national television. “I suppose it’s true,” said Crome, concluding: “I’m just stoked with that.”
So too are the team’s managers and sponsors.
“We back the team because they are professional,” said Moffett about the support given by Cervélo. “They have an interest in our product. They showcase it well. And everyone involved is a pleasure to work with. The best thing about it is that I think it actually helps us sell a few bikes – that’s good for business… and,” he adds with a laugh, “cycling.”
Having someone with Moffett’s passion support the team means a lot to Price. “He does know his way around a bike,” said the team founder of the sponsor/bike supplier.
“He knows the bike industry very well. And he knows racing very well so it’s really easy for us to work with him.
“The difference between dealing with Graeme and dealing with a suit who is concerned about facts and figures is that Graeme has already considered a lot of the things that we have to consider before he speaks to us. So, he normally has answers for every question before we ask them.”
“He does have some special requests once in a while,” concludes Price about Moffett, “and he’s been encouraging us to consider racing with disc brakes.
“Clearly the industry is building and moving towards disc brakes. That’s something that we’re going to have to take on sooner or later, but he’s been pretty good in the way he’s gone about it. He lets us decide when we want to do it. He knows that there’s going to be a transition period.
“We’ve been talking about it… and have arranged to get in a few disc-equipped bikes in to use and come to grips with them, just learning about them and working on them.
“He’s a great bloke to work with. He’s still a businessman, at the end of the day, and he wants to make sure he gets maximum value but that’s what our job is – and we’re more than happy to work with him.”
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They come and they race and, once in a while, you’ll see a victory salute thrown while you nestle back into the lounge chair, a cold beer in hand and the TV switched on. It’s good that we get to know some of the names and become familiar with their outfits and faces early in the season.
In time we’ll find out what the official NRS calendar looks like and if Drake is able to improve the local racing scene early in his tenure. We’ll learn a little more about Bennelong, SwissWellness, Cervélo, and other companies that invest in a sport that they are passionate about, one that they believe has a positive image, and solid core of followers.
We’ll watch when the opportunity presents. We’ll cheer when we’ve seen some good racing. We’ll visit the stand and test ride bikes. We’ll kick a few tyres, talk some talk, laugh a little, grumble out of habit… and we’ll keep coming back for more because this is cycling.
There’s only one rider who wins the race but there’s a big community who appreciates the effort that goes into that one moment of jubilation. Congrats Sam Crome, yours was a fine win and it prompted a commentary that extends beyond the typical race report, one that considers the work of those who are plying away behind the scenes. I look forward to seeing what comes next from you, your team, and your sponsors.
– By Rob Arnold