Subaru-Giant evolving into a top-tier NRS team

Subaru-Giant, National Road Series

Credit: Rod de Guzman

The surprise packet of the limited 2020 season of racing has been the Subaru-Giant squad, far from a new team, but one making a larger impact with a new kit, mindset and willingness to push the rest of the National Road Series (NRS) peloton.

You would have to be a keen observer of Australian cycling to be familiar with the small Victorian South Coast team, chugging along over the years in navy/white kits and best-known as Anchor Point. A small, combative team that did its best work in the Victorian Racing Series and the Melbourne to Warrnambool, it has undergone a significant change in the 2020 season, with Nick Locandro putting his own spin on the new-look team.

Australian Cycling Insider talked to team manager and sports director Nick Locandro about the shifts that have taken place within the squad and what the vision is for Subaru-Giant.

“Thanks, for the interest, we’ve been really chuffed with the comments we’ve been getting,” said Locandro. “We haven’t got a podium before, I think our best was fifth in the Melbourne to Warrnambool with Nick Leonard a few years ago.

“I feel like we’re getting feedback now internally and within the peloton noticing the team’s progression. Even just small things like our social media, people are following and noticing a bit more now, we have a good following. We feel like we’re becoming a bit more of a player now.”

That is certainly being borne out on the results sheets as well as well as anecdotally, with Subaru-Giant riders major players in the e-racing NRS series on Zwift and showing that they were there to compete at nationals, with Emily Watts’ bronze in the Under 23 time trial an impressive return.

Subaru-Giant entered created 2020 with a more dynamic kit, with the yellow and green design making riders hard to miss while racing or by drivers when out training. While the team still contains a lot of names from the past few years of operation, there have been marked changes since Locandro has been involved with the management of the team, more than lycra-deep.  

“This is now my third season with the team,” said Locandro. “Towards the end of my first year with the team as a rider (2018), Andrew Lindsey’s wife Vicky had some illness and I offered to help out with the team and get some sponsors on board, Kask, Giant bikes… more just helping us out with equipment.

“I managed the team last year in an unofficial role behind the scenes with Andrew the main man, and the reins were handed over at the back-end of last year (2019). That’s when we got the women’s team as well. With the sponsors we’ve had on for a few years now, we’ve talked about it being a journey and mutual partnership that I wanted to grow over time. They’ve been true to their word and increasing their level of support to get to where we are now.”

Locandros’s background in team sports to a high-level – playing for Swan Districts in the Wafl – has led him to value a team-first approach that while not alien to cycling, is at times odds with leaders within teams dominating the spotlight. Coming to cycling via ironman has seen the Ballarat local observe a lot of different ways of competing and what makes for a successful attitude in sports and life.

“We’ve been a team that’s made up numbers really, not really a big player,” said Locandro. “I knew the first thing I wanted to do when I was given the team was that it would be all about the team, not one individual.

“I wasn’t looking for riders that were the best in the NRS, but ones that were good people and would buy into the team culture. You look at our team and we have some great riders absolutely, but if you ask any of them, they’ll tell you that it’s the team culture that’s special. We’re not even a men’s and women’s team, it’s just one team.

“I didn’t want to create a team that’s just good cyclists, I think that it’s important that whether they go on to the workforce or a WorldTour team that they are a good person and not just a good cyclist.”

Credit: Rod de Guzman

You’ll often see teams in a variety of sports within Australia adopting ‘no dickheads’ policies when recruiting players, but it’s rare to see an affirmative recruitment policy in the other direction, aiming at exclusively people of good character. The focus on personality ties into the squad’s ties to charity, with Locandro’s commitment to dementia awareness through This is Dementia, a foundation started by Locandro after his father’s death from early-onset dementia, that raises awareness and knowledge of issues surrounding dementia.

The foundation creates programs and events that keep individuals with dementia and their carers connected, creating dementia friendly communities. That community focus extends to the Subaru-Giant squad.

“Having a community mindset and getting back to community grassroots is a great way to keep people grounded.,” said Locandro. “Bringing in the dementia side of it keeps people grounded, realising that it’s just a bike race and marries in well with what I’m trying to achieve with the cycling team and as a dementia advocate.”

“I think the common perception – one that I shared before my dad got it – is that dementia is a disease that just affects the elderly. My Dad was 54 and people are diagnosed as young as their 30s.

“The team could have just had a logo on their sleeve and that be the end of it, but they really buy in and believe in it. It speaks to the kind of people they are and it means a lot to me that their respect is there.”

The biggest change from 2019 to 2020 is the addition of a women’s squad alongside the long-running men’s team, with a squad full of young riders with the potential to compete immediately.

“Particularly in the women, it’s important for us to also be a pathway to that top level. On the men’s side there are teams like Bridgelane that do that well, but it’s probably not the same situation for the women.

“It’s something Shannon (Malseed) talked about, the importance of the women’s development team (Editor: run by Cycling Australia/High5 in the past, now in much more of a user pays role) in getting women to Europe and the biggest races.”

Malseed now forms a key brain trust for the women’s team, with the current Tibco-Silicon Valley Bank rider talking with the riders once every two weeks. NRS stalwarts Damian Harris (former Charter Mason team director and current Bundaberg Cyclefest organizer) and Pat Shaw (former rider, current commentator and coach) are also on hand in an advisory role for the squad that appears keen to be around for the long-term.

With that growth in mind, Locandro has ambitions to expand further, answering the question of what would happen if one of the larger NRS squads offered one of his riders a spot on their higher-profile squads.

“It’s a hard one,” said Locandro, “if you asked me last year I would have said that I’d done my job if a Bridgelane comes knocking for one of our riders. I think what we’re creating as a team means that riders won’t necessarily leave just because they’re being offered more. I’ve played in a lot of teams, whether it be football or cricket, and this team has a really special feeling in it that is building towards some special success.”

The other expansion point common to Australian teams is racing overseas, with the budget, organizational and time commitments going along with international stints.

“It’s also important that we grow in a sustainable way,” said Locandro. “I wouldn’t be doing justice to Andrew Lindsey if he’d managed to have one of the longest running NRS teams around on one of the smallest budgets and then I ran it into the ground.

“I think we’re looking at getting to a point where we can get consistent results this year, not necessarily wins but good results and performing well. I think that means that we can race a few races overseas next year with both the men and the women and then if we keep progressing we can be a Continental team down the track, one of the teams that provides younger riders that pathway to the top level.”

With that blueprint in mind and a strong culture in place, the Subaru-Giant squad is one to watch with interest well into the future.

By Jamie Finch-Penninger