For years Michael Drapac has been one of Australian cycling’s most generous benefactors. He has invested millions of dollars into the sport and now many of his initiatives are being adopted… we talk to him again as part of the ‘Talking Cycling’ series of interviews.
“Sure, they want to win every bike race but not at the expense of fundamental principles,” said Michael Drapac about his new partners as title sponsor of a WorldTour team.
The businessman is talking about EF Education First, a company that has come to cycling in 2018 which takes over primary naming rights to what is now known as EF Education First-Drapac powered by Cannondale.
– Click the link below to watch our interview with Michael Drapac from January 2018. –
You can either watch or listen to Michael Drapac on our YouTube channel or SoundCloud station.
(See the links above.)
It is essentially the Slipstream team as we’ve known it for over 10 years but it has evolved into something new for this season.
The fact that the title sponsors share a common vision is serendipitous but also beneficial for all involved. Drapac is excited about the prospect of what the company run by the Hult brothers, Eddie and Philip, brings to a sport that he is passionate about.
In the coming weeks (and months… and years) you’ll likely read more about the Hult family as, through EF, it has invested heavily in cycling. There’s a lot to learn but they aren’t approaching it as ‘just another sponsor’. There is a long list of to-do items that they’d like to tick off as they enter the realm of pro cycling. It’s early days but Drapac is one person who is excited about the prospect of what’s to come.
“Their primary objective is about education, that’s their business,” says Drapac of EF. “You could think of that in a broader sense [and ask] what does that mean? Educating people to have a more fulfilling life.”
One of the principles that Drapac has long spoken about in relation to his sponsorship of cycling teams is that the riders who he backs for their racing careers should also be considering education – and have an eye on a future beyond their competitive days.
When he joined Slipstream as a sponsor mid-season in 2016, he was tempted to withdraw his funding of a locally-backed Australian development team – largely because he has long been ostracised by Cycling Australia (but that’s another story)… but he remains involved in the Australian scene. And, by default, the Hult brothers now also have an association over here.
There is a feeder team, of sorts, called the Drapac-EF Holistic Development team; it is registered as Australian and it has Australian riders. It’s essentially what was Drapac-Pat’s Veg in 2017 and it remains active in the NRS as well as races on the international calendar.
“My barometer for their belief in our philosophy is how much interest Eddie Hult and Philip Hult have taken in our development team,” says Drapac.
“It’s a little development team based in Melbourne. There’s numerous email exchanges about their point of view about the team jersey and what we’re doing… and, prima facie, that in itself, is just so demonstrative of that they believe that the development team is fundamental to the overall picture.
“Okay, the development team is not going to win the Tour de France… but they see the integration, they see the holistic picture. And they see that responsible and sustainable development of young athletes must have a holistic foundation; that provides a more sound athlete.”
Cyrus Monk wins the under-23 road race at the national championships (above).
Drapac and Mitch Docker… before the start of stage five of the TDU (below).
Drapac talks about a lot more in our second ‘Talking Cycling’ interview with him. He recognises that, although Cycling Australia could vastly improve how it is managing the sport, that there is reason to be optimistic.
“I do see a significant improvement in where the sport is going,” he says. “That doesn’t mean I’m still not dissatisfied with certain elements and aspects, but I do see the sport is changing. And I think, culturally, it’s going to change.
“I want to continue to support grassroots development and, particularly, holistic development… and I do believe that we’re going to give rise to some very good bike riders.”
He outlines the strengths of two riders in particular during our discussion: Brendan Canty of the WorldTour team and Cyrus Monk of the development team. But that’s only because we didn’t opt to focus on everyone on the respective rosters. Still, it’s obvious that Drapac understands the sport, his riders, and his teams more than some other sponsors of cycling may. He also cares about them; it’s not just a financial investment, it’s an emotional one as well.
His views of CA remain critical but his commentary is now targeted more sternly at the Australian Sports Commission and the Australian government for how it is managing funding for sports like cycling.
“My thinking has changed in the sense that they are the instruments – or servants – of Australian government policy and the Australian Sports Commission,” says Drapac of CA. “And I think all criticism should be levelled at them because if you instruct the head of Cycling Australia to win gold medals, and the funding is contingent or predicated on that objective, that’s what the servants do. That’s what these wonderful leaders in Cycling Australia and [the AIS] do.”
Change is still required but from the top down. “They,” he said of the ASC and the Australian government, “are the ones that need to open their eyes and start to expand the metrics of what does success look like in Australian sport?
“What is success in Australian cycling? Let’s have that discussion…”
– By Rob Arnold
– Hear more of what Michael Drapac has to say by watching the interview on YouTube. –