Plans for an all-Australian WorldTour* cycling team have been revealed, boosting the country's hopes of securing a maiden Tour de France triumph.
"I believe we have the backing and the right people supporting us, from a sporting and commercial point of view, to achieve this goal," said team manager Shayne Bannan, as he unveiled the proposals in Adelaide today. "The critical point is that we already have committed funding in place."
Dubbed GreenEDGE – the name combines the green of Australia with the concept of securing the edge over rivals – the team will be coached by former Tour de France stage winner Neil Stephens, who has been at the helm of Australia's national teams for the past 12 years.
Riders from Down Under have begun to forge a winning reputation among Europe's top riders this past decade, with the likes of Robbie McEwen (winner of 12 stages of the Tour de France), Stuart O'Grady (winner of the 2007 Paris-Roubaix classic) and Cadel Evans (two-time runner-up in the Tour de France and 2009 world champion) paving the way for a promising younger generation.
The aim now is to build on their success with a fully-sponsored trade team – the composition of which will be at least "75 percent Australian" – that can sit comfortably among the top 10 teams in the world.
"Realistically, we have the depth to have 100 percent [Australian riders] –- not just for one team, but maybe two teams on the WorldTour," said Bannan, the former director of Cycling Australia's High Performance Program, who has overseen the country's successful track cycling programme since 2000.
"But 75 percent is a really good number, not forgeting that cycling is a very global sport and the various partners we have in the future could have interests in America, or China, or Germany... So we very much want to make it a global team and an international team as well.
"This isn't about a short-term bid to get a team into the Tour de France," he added. "We're aiming to create a team that will stay at the top end of world cycling for a long time to come."
Bannan said that, with the funding already in place – the team's operating budget will be in the vicinity of €10-16 million – he now needs to convince the International Cycling Union (UCI) they can meet the financial, ethical, administrative and sporting criteria needed for a ProTeam licence.
"Discussions (with the UCI) have already taken place regarding our application," said Bannan, who is positive the project will be given the go-ahead. "If you're satisfying all the criteria, it puts you in a really good position to get a licence, irrespective of whether you're from Afghanistan, Tasmania or Australia."
The team will spend the rest of 2011 making roster preparations with riders out of contract at the end of the season ahead of their licence application later in the year.
Bannan insisted he would not resort to illegally poaching riders from other teams, following reports claiming GreenEDGE were already being linked to a number of top emerging Australians under contract at the Garmin-Cervelo team.
* The UCI's replacement for the old ProTour series.