According to one of Australian cycling’s biggest benefactors, the appointment of high-performance director Simon Jones in 2017 will “arguably prove to be the greatest mistake Cycling Australia has ever made”.
On the Tuesday after the 2020 track cycling world championships, RIDE Media published a comment piece about Cycling Australia’s campaign in Berlin and how it was managed by the high-performance director of the Australian Cycling Team, Simon Jones.
Within minutes comments started to land on our FB page, while other messages were issued via text and email, as someone told me, “as fodder for future articles”. There were also exchanges with readers who had feedback to offer but wanted to explain it off-the-record.
Most of the correspondence, however, offered commentary that suggested my appraisal of Simon Jones yesterday deserves further examination. He is, after all, the leader of a team that is predominantly backed by the Australian taxpayer.
One call is a stand-out. Michael Drapac phoned at 7.19pm and was clear about the purpose of the contact. “I want to endorse what you have said.”
Drapac has had a lot to do with cycling over the years, mainly as a benefactor who has poured in millions of dollars to the sport he loves, in the hope that bike riders can progress in their racing careers, but also in life. He backed teams and had a unique, holistic vision for the sport and what benefits it offers. He is no longer ‘in the game’ as a sponsor but his views remain relevant.
“I’ve read your comments about Jones,” Drapac told me, “and I don’t want to be silent about this. I want to show you my support. I believe it’s important that people stand up and express themselves when it comes to this kind of thing; staying silent will only allow the status quo to continue.”
Drapac wanted to offer a few salient points outlining his views on Simon Jones.
“Being purely objective,” said Drapac, “history will show that the appointment of Simon Jones in 2017 will arguably prove to be the greatest mistake Cycling Australia has ever made.”
He wasn’t being flippant. He insisted it was an on-the-record quote and he repeated it, several times.
He wasn’t furious. His tone was considered. And he spoke slowly to emphasise the key words.
“When I look at the state of grassroots cycling in Australia, and the NRS (national road series), and even the high-performance program, I can only conclude that the rate of the decline of cycle sport we are currently experiencing is unprecedented.
“And,” he added, “this decline largely rests on the shoulders of one person: Simon Jones.”
Drapac was open and honest with his personal appraisal of the decline in cycling under the Jones stewardship, but also adamant about other aspects of the equation. “I want to be clear that Steve Drake and Duncan Murray have my respect and my support,” he said about Cycling Australia’s CEO and chairman*. “That should not be in question.”
Furthermore, he reiterated that his sentiment for the high-performance director of the Australian Cycling Team wasn’t born out of a petty personality conflict.
“I’m not saying this as a witch-hunt for Simon Jones,” Drapac told me last night. “I say it to show my support for you and what you have written.”
Drapac concluded our discussion by stating: “Let’s be clear, this is not a personal attack but the future prospects of cycling in Australia – as a sport – are currently severely hampered by one man.”
Jones believes he is on the right trajectory with the Australian Cycling Team but his manner with Drapac when the pair first met in 2017 would suggest that his people skills are lacking.
“Of all the meetings I’ve had about cycling, this was surely the most absurd,” said Drapac.
It’s encounters like this that prompted Drapac to respond to my Berlin commentary and offer support.
I can also recall a bizarre scene in the foyer of the Adelaide Hilton in January 2018 when Jones sighted Drapac and made a beeline in his direction. Drapac hadn’t noticed and, as he walked from one acquaintance to another shaking hands and exchanging small-talk, Jones hovered in pursuit… always in the background. Clearly he wanted to catch the attention of the man who was, at the time, a co-title sponsor of a WorldTour team. The pair didn’t speak and the vision of this near encounter replays in my mind when pondering what could have been.
Drapac concluded his quick overview (of a story with many more unwritten chapters – some surprising and upsetting, others utterly predictable because of themes including power and money) with the following statement: “Simon Jones has been given too much power, and whoever was responsible for appointing him should be named and made to explain the decision.”
Cycling in Australia was on the rise when Simon Jones arrived but according to one of Australia’s most generous benefactors, he is a blight on a system that Drapac believes is experiencing an unprecedented decline.
– By Rob Arnold