During the opening round of the 2020 WorldTour, RIDE Media caught up for an extended interview with Gerry Ryan, the benefactor behind the Mitchelton-Scott teams. This Q&A was uploaded to YouTube in February and here is the verbatim transcript…
– Watch the interview and/or read the transcript below –
Gerry Ryan interview January 2020
RIDE Media: This is an interview that I’ve been wanting to do for a while and it’s with Gerry Ryan, a face and name that many in Australian sport would be familiar with.
We’ve known each other for many years but we’ve never sat in front of each other talking in a quiet room.
So, given that you are essentially the biggest benefactor Australian cycling has ever known, I thought I’d find out if you still loved the sport as much as you did when you started this massive GreenEdge proposition.
Gerry Ryan: “I certainly do. It’s a great sport. And I’m still very proud of the team that we created.”
RIDE Media: I wonder if we could just sort of step all the way back to when you first sort of learned about cycling. Can you explain to me what it is that lured you in in the first place?
Gerry Ryan: “Well, I grew up in Bendigo, which was a big track [town].
“They had the velodrome there. The Sun Tour used to come through and a friend of mine has got brothers who are into cycling. So, he and I used to go cycling around.
“I had lots of ambition but very little ability.
“I always used to follow the Tour de France, or the Sun Tour, and some track.
“But it was 1992 that I got approached by Kathy Watt requiring some funds to go and do some altitude training in the Rockys. So, I wrote a cheque out and she went off and came back with a gold medal [from the Olympic road race at the Barcelona Games].
“I thought, ‘Gee, this is a great return on my investment.’
“I knew a couple of people, so we decided to set up the Jayco Cycling Team with Gary Boylan. We rode here in Australia, and in America in June and July each year.
“And, from there, after two years of dominating, I thought, ‘Well, okay, what we have to do is create events, put money into developing cyclists, and I started investing as a sponsor with the VIS and also I had a few years with the AIS.
“We’ve been involved in the Jayco-Herald Sun Tour now for… 11, 12 years – as major sponsor.
“So, and then I came across Shayne Bannon, got involved with the AIS around 12 years ago, sponsored the program heading to the Olympics for eight years and then we decided to set up the GreenEdge team.
“The rest is history.”
RIDE Media: I was in Corsica [in 2013], which was basically a prelude to a halcyon moment in your GreenEdge experience. When Simon [Gerrans] won the stage, in stage three – beating Peter Sagan – and, the next day, [the team] wins the team time trial, take the yellow jersey, he passes it on to Daryl… I mean, even as I’m speaking that sequence, I’m getting goosebumps remembering it.
It was a fantastic period. For me, that was the highlight of watching your team, because I happened to be on hand.
For you, so far, was it Simon Yates winning the Vuelta? Mathew Hayman winning Paris-Roubaix? Simon Gerrans winning Milan-Sanremo? There’s been conquests, but which one stands out to you?
Gerry Ryan: “Well, they all stand out. But equal first is certainly Nice when the whole team won the time trial, we went into the yellow. And Simon Yates winning the Vuelta.
“I was there, and…
“But each one, each win, equals each other.”
RIDE Media: What about the little conquest in Bastia? When you got so many headlines?
Gerry Ryan: “The bus.”
RIDE Media: The bus.
Gerry Ryan: “Um, yes, well. It was my fault.
“I arrived and said, ‘Where’s the bus?’
“‘Oh, we’re only four Ks… the boys are going to ride back to the hotel.’
“And, ah… I said, ‘Hey, look – we’ve got a day that we potentially could win it. And what happens after each race? The media goes to the bus… you know, we’re not going to be here, you should get the bus here.’
“So, some of the sports directors weren’t too happy that I pulled that pull, but history is that we crashed the bus.
“We were told to come under. It wasn’t the bus driver’s fault.
“But, anyway, we got more publicity out of that than the whole Tour de France.
“We got on the front page of the daily papers – the New York Times had never featured anything about cycling…
“So, it was a great PR stunt.”
RIDE Media: By coincidence. Let’s be clear.
Gerry Ryan: “Well… it was.”
Hopes and aspirations in pro cycling
RIDE Media: So, what’s the motivation?
Gerry Ryan: “Well, the motivation is: this year, we’re working very hard – and we have been for the last six months – but, hopefully this year, we can announce that we’ve got a major sponsor.
“What we need to do is go to that extra level.
“Our budget is around, probably, about the 10th [highest] budget out of the teams and we’re number-one in women’s and… number-five in men’s. So, I think we punch above our weight.
“Hopefully we can therefore go to a bigger budget and some more sponsorship and go that next level.”
RIDE Media: The first year was 2012. We’re closing in on rounding out a decade… it can’t have an unlimited lifespan. Usually sponsors come and they’re gone within five years in pro cycling. There are a few exceptions. But you’re now coming up to one of the ‘stalwarts of the peloton’. It wasn’t that long ago that you were a novelty, new act.
Gerry Ryan: “Well, we were sitting in car 22 in the peloton today [at the Tour Down Under of 2020]. We were sitting up at number three at the Giro.
“At the Tour de France we’ve been at number one. And I got a taste for that. So, hopefully we can maintain that status.”
RIDE Media: To carry on from what you were just talking about, the motivation comes from trying to elevate Australian cycling’s status.
Gerry Ryan: “Well, that’s certainly what’s always been the motivation.
“From sponsoring Kathy to the VIS to the AIS to the AIS Olympic campaign, events – creating competition here… you can’t grow and continue to grow unless the competition grows around you.
“But, you know, if it’s business or if it’s sport, I’ve got a lot of pleasure out of seeing me provide an opportunity for any young person in business or in sport – as I said. And to see the people who have come through the program… we’ve had some young talent, go onto bigger and better things.
“Caleb Ewan, right? [My relationship with him] goes back a long time.
“I could go back further to a young man called Cadel Evans that rode in the Jayco-VIS program… And I sit back and say, ‘Okay, I’ve helped and assisted that journey’.”
RIDE Media: It’s very generous. But we can essentially say that the team is ‘benefactor funded’, couldn’t we?
Gerry Ryan: “It is. And there’s no doubt, as I’ve said before: my kids are concerned about their inheritance. Each year they say, ‘Well, what’s the team costing?’ And I say, ‘Okay, how’s our asset base this year compared to last year?’ ‘Yes, it’s up.’ ‘No more questions.’
“But on a serious note, yes for us to go to the next stage, we need to get some corporate money – or more corporate money – into the team.”
Australia’s richest entertainer
RIDE Media: You don’t do things by halves. And I know that you invested in Walking With Dinosaurs…
Gerry Ryan: “Yes, they have just retired after eight million people around the world have seem ’em. But we currently have Moulin Rouge in New York, which is – I think – the second [best] selling ticket sales show. And we’re just about to put four more shows out around the world, in the next two years. It’s based on the movie, so hopefully we can win a Tony.
“We won a Tony award last year for King Kong, which was in New York for ‘The Creature’ and… yeah, that’s something I’m very proud of.
“Once again, surrounding yourself with good people that can take you on that journey and, more importantly, success and sustainability.”
RIDE Media: What I was trying to get to with that… the position that you hold, based on that gamble with Walking WIth Dinosaurs, is that you’re effectively – for a few years, from my understanding… correct me if I’m wrong – is that you became Australia’s richest entertainer.
So, in other words, it was a roll of the dice and it turned into a little bit of gold dust.
What you like to get involved in is something that you’re passionate about – I know horse racing is key amongst them, and then you go and win the Melbourne Cup with Americain…
Gerry Ryan: “Won a couple.”
RIDE Media: A couple?
Gerry Ryan: “Yes, with Rekindling [too].”
RIDE Media: Well, fill me in because I’m not big on horse racing…
Gerry Ryan: “We’ve had a bit of success in that area, but once again, it’s a hard… if everything was easy everyone would be doing it. So…
“But no, it’s been a great journey and I’m very fortunate that I’ve had more things go right than wrong.”
RIDE Media: But it is a business. And do you see it…
Gerry Ryan: “What? Cycling?”
RIDE Media: Well, I mean: your investment is part of your business empire and cycling falls into that category. Do you see it coming… let’s say you get another title sponsor and a big investment from outside, are you in it for the long game so that eventually it starts to turning into a profitable entity?
Gerry Ryan: “Well, once again, most sporting clubs… what you… your income, you end up spending.
“There are better businesses around, and investments, than a cycling team. But what we’re looking to do is make it sustainable and successful.”
RIDE Media: Sustainability is a big passion of yours or not?
Gerry Ryan: “It is. And the environment. But [also] health, you know: you look at people of all different sizes out on bikes where before they were sitting in a lounge chair.
“You know, cycling – everyone wants to get out there and enjoy the fresh air.
“It’s growing not only as a sport but growing [thanks to] individuals taking it up as a form of fitness.”
RIDE Media: And how supportive has the Australian government been in your initiatives? Let’s just talk about your association with, let’s say, politics… if that’s alright with you.
Gerry Ryan: “That’s fine.”
RIDE Media: You’ve gone through… you’ve had bipartisan support and I’m curious if it has been – if your investments into, let’s say the AIS – have been [appreciated] by the government: if they are [grateful] of the input you’ve offered for cycling and the growth of a sport which offers a benefit to Australians.
Gerry Ryan: “Well, I hope they’ve appreciated it but we’ve never had any grants or government money for any of the businesses… through cycling or theatre.
“We have now, through the Dinosaurs, we have a company called ‘Creature Technology’, which – in the last two years – has grown from 60 people to 120-125, building creatures – animatronic creatures. We’re the best in the world.
“In fact, Universal Studios’ theme park would like us to set up all our work as export.
“We’ve got work for the next three years.
“So… but I’ve never asked the government to support anything that I’ve done. I don’t rely on government support to achieve what I’ve done.”
End of the relationship with Cycling Australia
RIDE Media: That leads me to something that I am curious about – and I’ve heard it as a rumour, so I wonder if I could confirm.
Let’s say, through all the years of Cycling Australia investment – and I don’t even want to try and tally the amount of dollars that you’ve poured into that program – but then it comes to Rio and I heard it said that asked if you could attend the track events after having sponsored the team – the national team – for so many years.
Gerry Ryan: “Eight years.”
RIDE Media: And probably close to 100 million dollars – probably more…
Gerry Ryan: “My accountants can confirm that.”
RIDE Media: A ‘considerable sum’, let’s say.
But then you ask if you could go and attend the track events and watch the Australians go head-to-head with the Brits in the much-anticipated team pursuit which was, of course, a riveting performance. And they said, ‘Hmm, well, you can buy your ticket.’ Is that correct?
Gerry Ryan: “No. Well, what happened was that I got an email saying that ‘You’ve been allocated two tickets for four events but if you want to go to the finals you’ll have to purchase the tickets.’”
RIDE Media: Is that… was that the moment when you said, ‘I’m done. I don’t want to be involved with Cycling Australia any longer’?
Gerry Ryan: “Correct.
“The AIS program – well, it’s Cycling Australia – it was certainly disappointing afterwards… and I can say it: in the lead-up to the Olympic Games I invested four million dollars in trying to get our team up to win a gold medal. And I got offered four tickets – or: two tickets to four events – and had to buy my own finals tickets.”
RIDE Media: It’s kind of shocking. It’s kind of upsetting, in fact, to listen to that.
Gerry Ryan: “Well, you move on. You never look back but I jumped in the chair for a year to try and sort out Cycling Australia but I think they’re on the right path now, hopefully. And I wish them all the best. And we’ll be there, cheering on the Aussies in Tokyo.”
RIDE Media: But watching from afar and probably cheering on GreenEdge, or Mitchelton-Scott athletes rather than…
Gerry Ryan: “No, no: all Australians.
“You know, it’s not about just us – all Australians.
“Today, I bumped into in the lift – to Richie [Porte, who won a stage of the TDU that day] and I said, ‘Richie, well done mate.’ Two days [earlier] I said [to Richie], ‘Listen, if we can’t win today, I hope you do.’
“And the same with Caleb [Ewan]. I always go up to him and give him a big cuddle and wish him all the best. You know, because you want to see not only Australians… because we’re a multinational team now.
“It’s so hard to win, so you just want people to achieve it.
“But, you know, I’ve been around in business and sport for a long time and there’s always going to be the highs, there’s the lows and disappointments, but you move on.
“You never look in the rear vision mirror going forward because you’ll end up hitting something, or running off the track, or off the plan you’ve got. So, you’ve got to pick yourself up and keep going forward.”
“Hopefully I’ve made a difference in people’s lives”
RIDE Media: It’s an impressive attitude to have. And it’s nice to hear you… to see you so relaxed when I would probably see it as setbacks, stumbling blocks.
That’s not a question, it’s just a statement.
Gerry Ryan: “Okay, I treat it as a stumbling block but not a setback. Right…?
“You look at what’s most important: your health, your friendships, and relationships, and the support you get – and you move on.”
RIDE Media: There have been so many highs during this Mitchelton-Scott experiment. Let’s call it an ‘experiment’. But it has prospered. Is there a moment when you think, ‘Okay, we’ve done that. Box ticked. I’ll move on and I’ll take up yachting – or I’ll do something else’?
Gerry Ryan: “No, I’m passionate about cycling. The people are fantastic. It’s a great sport. And I get a lot of satisfaction out of people coming up to me and saying, ‘Hey, well done Gerry. Thanks for giving us a team…’
“And as well, my mother, who was a great role model for me, always said, ‘There’s more out of giving than receiving.’
“I grew up in a very humble family of nine children. She would always have a couple there who were extras at the table during that hardship of the 1950s and so I’m very fortunate that her values have rubbed off on me.”
RIDE Media: If you took all of your experiences in the cycling game and bundled them together and said to someone… ‘This is the inspiration you’ll need that will change your life’, what example would you offer?
Gerry Ryan: “In terms of a young rider coming through or a sports director or as a team, it’s so important that you develop the right culture.
“People say, ‘What’s the definition of culture?’
“To me, culture is about expectation. It’s about where you want to be. And you set your goals or your standards… that you’re going to allow to have an untidy office or an untidy
factory or that when people don’t meet their targets you accept that. Right?
“The same in sport.
“The Melbourne Storm; a great example… when Cameron Smith started [as a coach] 12 years ago…”
RIDE Media: This is a rugby league team [that Gerry is a part owner of], for the international viewers who may be tuning in…
Gerry Ryan: “[The team’s] win ratio was 63 percent. Five years ago it was 72. The last two years, a player coming to the Melbourne Storm, the win ratio is 83 percent!
“So, the expectation – and the discipline – is built around that.
“People say to me, ‘What’s the difference between business and sport?’
“In business, there’s no finish line. Right?
“And one thing that we’ve done at Mitchelton-Scott is that we keep trying new things.
“The world is changing and [Team] Sky has been a leader in cycling. You’ve got to be different.
“You’ve got to have a difference between you and the next team. If it’s sports science, if it’s the equipment… so, that’s always been my motto: be prepared to change and make sure you change and have the right culture.”
RIDE Media: It’s a really interesting line because “in business there’s no finish line” but the finish line offers that carrot of motivation… the carrot before the donkey. It inspires someone to give their all until they reach the end. And, in an ideal scenario – like we saw with Richie Porte at Paracombe Road [on the day of the interview] – once he’s finished… he’s given it his all and he collapses. And he’s exhausted, momentarily, and then he sparks up and he’s got heaps to say and he’s got the energy to continue on and try and win the race [overall].
But in business, if there’s no finish line, don’t you get to a level of fatigue and think, ‘I’m done’?”
Gerry Ryan: “No. Well… mentally or physically you always keep looking for the next project or the next sale or the next build or… whatever.
“So, there’s no… as I said, it might be a week, a month, a quarter – the next quarter – or next year, but you’ve got to keep going.”
RIDE Media: I’m trying to think of the word for it. There’s resilience, ah… dogmatism – if that’s a word… dogmatic.
Gerry Ryan: “Resilience. And resilience in life, that is important.
Resilience from when you’re growing up – in terms of it is too easy to blame someone else.
“When things go wrong in an organisation the owner… well, you’re the bloke [who is] responsible.
“If you hired the wrong CEO… and, let’s say, you allowed that culture to develop in an organisation, at the end of the day I’m the person at the top as chairman of the board.
“So, resilience – and what I project goes down the line – is important.
RIDE Media: I’m trying to put myself in your predicament. But if I had a considerable pool of money and the opportunity to take it easy, I would probably take that.
Do you think that would ever be your predicament?
Gerry Ryan: “No. I’ve been successful in business and that’s allowed me to do the things that I’ve done but I’ve got a saying that there’s no pockets in shrouds. So, you can’t take it with you.
“I’m setting up for my children and the next generation, my grandchildren.
“But it’s different philosophies.
“You look at a great movie I quote is Clint Eastwood’s ‘The Mule’. If you’ve watched it, the song writer says to Clint, ‘You’re 88. Why are you making another movie? What motivates you? What gets you out of bed every morning?’
“And his reply was: ‘Every morning when I wake up I hear that knock on the door – I never let the old man in.’”
RIDE Media: Young forever.
Gerry Ryan: “Well, and in the song there’s a line that goes: ‘If you don’t know the year you were born, how old do you feel?’
“So, that’s my motto. And hopefully I’ve made a difference in people’s lives.
RIDE Media: Well, I’ll be 50 on the day the Tour de France of 2020 starts* and I look forward to celebrating my 21st birthday with you that day.
Gerry Ryan: “Terrific. I look forward to it.”
RIDE Media: Thanks for a great chat Gerry. I could go on, but let’s dong it on the head, eh?
Gerry Ryan: “Yeah, yeah. Anyway, thank you.
“It has been a great journey. And people like yourself that have worked hard to try and get cycling out there… it’s bloody hard.”
– Interview by Rob Arnold
*Note: this was recorded while racing was still taking place, two months before lockdown laws came into effect in Australia, and before the Tour de France of 2020 was postponed by 63 days.