ADELAIDE, Australia (AFP) — The man spearheading a new Australian elite cycling project insisted Monday he would not resort to poaching riders illegally from other teams.
Shayne Bannan, the former head of Australia’s high performance cycling program, unveiled plans for the first ever Australian-financed and registered team among Europe’s elite echelon in 2012.
But he was immediately forced to defend reports he had infringed UCI rules by negotiating with Australian riders who under already under contract with other top level teams.
“Obviously it’s in our best interests to target the best Australians who are out of contract at the end of 2011,” said Bannan.
“At the appropriate time we will be in more formal negotiations,” with the riders.
While Bannan is confident the project will meet strict criteria set out by the UCI once their application for a ProTeam licence is officially lodged in August, controversy has already surfaced.
Reports earlier this week claimed the team project, called GreenEDGE, was already linked to a number of top emerging Australians, including recently-crowned Australian champion Jack Bobridge, Cameron Meyer and sports director Matt White — all of whom are under contract at Garmin-Cervelo.
The contracts of all three expire on December 31 and UCI rules say official contract talks can only take place after August 1.
Garmin-Cervelo team boss Jonathan Vaughters hit out: “While I understand the strong national pride of Australians and understand the desire to have a team of their own, if any employment discussions of any sort occur with any of our riders outside of the mandated transfer time then we will pursue the appropriate legal action.”
In reality, contract talks often take place informally before, during and after races — a fact Bannan confirmed by claiming he had already been approached by several Australians keen to come on board.
But he said: “I’d have the same response (to Vaughters). He’s got some fantastic Aussies in his team but he would be aware that some of them are out of contract at the end of the year.”
If granted a UCI Pro Tour licence for 2012, GreenEDGE would become the first Australian-backed and registered team in cycling’s elite.
The team aims to have 75 percent of its roster composed of Australian riders, the remainder coming from countries where future title sponsors have business interests.