Two weeks ago, the V Australia team and staff descended on Boulder for its first training camp of the year. And while the weather was anything but “spring” for the team, the spirits were, nonetheless, very high. I sat down with Chris White and some team members to talk about the past, present and future of the team.
As someone who has undergone an intensely difficult year, White remains staunchly upbeat about the future. In the face of the setbacks of the Pegasus deal, White did what he could to salvage the V Australia team and to keep morale high. “The fact that I went under the bus a few times and kept getting knocked down meant that we started the year off behind the eight-ball. My objective was to save the 25 guys that signed.” He has managed to save a squad of 15 solid riders and several staff members from the fallout.
They’re ready to race.
The squad has had some early successes this year, beginning with Jonathan Cantwell’s victory at Sunny King criterium in Anniston, Alabama; Michael Freiberg’s win in the Omnium at the UCI world track championships in the Netherlands, and Cameron Peterson’s final stage victory at the Joe Martin Stage Race. These wins on the heels of such adversity and uncertainty on the team “speak volumes about their character” said White.
The sponsorship game
One of the big challenges for White this year was finding sponsors for the team. He went knocking on doors after the Pegasus deal fell through with very little positive reception. “You go from being the best team in America, with 90-plus wins to being on your hands and knees, trying to talk to the industry when they don’t want to know you — you have to try and rebuild,” White said.
He noted that this is not a problem unique to himself, nor to Australian teams. “Things are really tight in the sport right now. If you look at a team like Leopard-Trek; they’ve got all that massive talent and can’t find a title sponsor — what’s is going on with this sport? You’ve got Bob Stapleton, who’s got the winningest team in the pro peloton and he’s putting in his own money for the team.”
Eventually White scored sponsorship deals with Lazer Helmets, Fuji bikes, Fast Forward wheels and Champion Systems.
Team morale looking forward
When asked about the general morale on the team, White was unapologetically upbeat. “You know it’s interesting, Bjarne Riis takes his team out and does his ‘commando’ training with the guys. Well, we’ve just had the real-life team building experience. We had to stick together; it’s the only way you come out of something like this. It’s been team building 101 in real-time. It’s tested everyone.”
As we sat in a Boulder coffee shop, I asked White how it felt to be watching the Giro d’Italia and the Amgen Tour of California on television instead of racing in them. He acknowledged the frustration and disappointment. “Oh, yeah, absolutely we would have been in the Tour of Italy; and the Amgen Tour. We’re not there now; but every cloud’s got a silver lining — we’re just looking for it.”
As for the team members themselves, I spent the day riding with the team around Boulder and had a chance to chat with many of them. There was a very highly positive attitude about the team. Not a single rider gave any impression that he was nervous about the future — to the contrary, all seemed to feel very secure in their place. World omnium champion Michale Frieberg noted “everyone’s got such an optimistic attitude — there’s a real Aussie spirit on the team.”
For the remainder of the season, White remains focused on winning races. “Success heals a lot of things. We’ve always said that the most important ingredient in success is success itself. We talk about the momentum we need and the Sunny King win was one of them for sure. We just need to deliver at the biggest and best races we have access to. Delivering in those big moments will define success for us.”
The team hopes to have some of that success at the Tour of China, the Tour of Qinghai Lake, the Tour of Langkawi, the Philadelphia International Cycling Championship and the Tour of Utah.