July 1, 2012 - Orica-GreenEdge team chief Shayne Bannan admits it may take several years for his new team to start the Tour de France with overall victory ambitions. But that won't stop Australia's first elite level team from building on the momentum created by Cadel Evans' historic triumph in 2011 and showing there is more than just yellow at stake.
"There's 22 teams in the Tour de France and there's maybe only four or five going for the overall win," Bannan told AFP prior to the start of the opening stage Sunday. "So what do the other 17, 18 teams do? Do they fight for number five to tenth position on GC (general classification), or do they try to make their name in other areas such as winning stages and fighting for the green jersey? We've decided to go in that (latter) direction, and I think it will be like that for the next three or four years until we feel that we have a team that can really support a GC rider."
Since an impressive eighth place overall finish on his debut in 2005, Evans' bid to win cycling's holy grail has been followed almost religiously by fans in Australia. But while the likes of Stuart O'Grady, Brad McGee, Robbie McEwen and Baden Cooke have enjoyed varied success over the years, Evans' campaign was the real catalyst for the race being beamed live into Australian homes.
Bannan acknowledges Evans' feat last year gave a huge boost to the popularity of the sport Down Under. But he believes that winning stages and chasing objectives like the sprinters' green jersey are feats the Australian public are now learning to appreciate and value.
"With the exposure that Cadel's given the Tour de France in the past six or seven years, a lot more people are watching the Tour live on the television," added Bannan. "And the commentators are going through a real education process with the Australian public. Five or six years ago, the yellow jersey in the Tour was probably the only important aspect of the Tour for the Australian public. Now, they have been educated well and they actually know that winning a stage is pretty important."
After starting life as GreenEdge thanks to the financial clout of Australian businessman Gerry Ryan, Bannan's team now boast a title sponsor in Orica - an Australian-owned global company with interests in chemicals and mining. And despite waiting to unearth or groom their own yellow jersey star, Bannan is happy to chase glory elsewhere on the professional circuit.
"Having a yellow jersey contender is a completely different ball game, and if you're going to do it you do it correctly," he said. "You have your GC rider and you support him 100 percent. And that takes away your ability to be successful during the race. So our plan is to be successful during the race and build into a GC team. That might take three, four or five years, I'm not too sure. At the moment we know we've got a team that can be successful in stages, and that's what we're going to focus on."
In the coming days Matt Goss, the former Milan-San Remo winner who last month added a Giro d'Italia stage win to his first Grand Tour victory in last year's Tour of Spain, will be looking for his maiden win on the Tour. Winning a Tour de France stage, for some, can be a life-changing experience. For Goss, it would also create the platform for the Tasmanian to have a go at succeeding Mark Cavendish as green jersey champion.
"Gossy won a stage in the Giro d'Italia not that long ago and that received great publicity in Australia," added Bannan. "So I expect that if he wins a stage on the Tour, if we get an opportunity to do so, it would create a good stimulus in Australia."