Inform look to reform Aussie cycling development with Gerrans addition

Inform TM Insight MAKE are a team that has always prided itself on the development of its young riders, and now they are looking to make that track more concrete with the addition of Simon Gerrans as the Pathway Coordinator for the squad.

The Australian domestic team isn’t even a Continental squad, but regularly outshines the squads that do have that status on the domestic scene. They have won the past two individual National Road Series standings with Raphael Freienstein and Jarrad Drizners. The team has regularly been the leading squad in the juniors and under-23s at the road national championships as well.

Today’s announcement attracts a sort of star power unmatched by local rivals, with few with the WorldTour cachet that Gerrans brings to the table.

Australian Cycling Insider talked to Inform’s head sports director Pat Lane about the appointment of Gerrans to the role and where it fits into the team’s philosophy.

“The team’s always been about the best young riders we could get onboard but the difficult part we were finding about that was once you get them going, what they need to show they’re good enough to get to Europe gets harder,” said Lane.

“It’s to provide a pathway to Europe. Any of our riders that show that they’re of an ability to go to Europe or are putting their hand up to go there results-wise, it’s then Simon’s job to make that possible. He’s pretty well connected in Europe, obviously well respected with links with teams.”

The development of the riders has been a vexed issue in Australian men’s cycling in recent years. The women’s scene is worse. The Jayco-AIS academy used to be the main development stream for riders, with a base in Italy and ready support from the AIS, Gerry Ryan and then-Cycling Australia. It produced sprinters like Caleb Ewan and Michael Matthews to climbers like Jai Hindley and Lucas Hamilton.

That connection ended as the squad was converted into a Chinese-registered feeder team for Mitchelton-Scott and now it doesn’t exist at all. It has meant that Australian Continental teams now have to take up the slack and help propel riders to that next level.

“When I was coming through, there was a pretty clear pathway to Europe with the AIS Under-23 Academy to race the Under-23 races there,” said Lane. “I think it’s a real pity that those races aren’t there anymore. If we can build a genuine pathway like what I was lucky to have, then that’s something I’d be really proud.

“It can be a bit fluffy with these agreements with teams and individuals, people are just looking to get whatever they can. If we can get Simon working on these relationships and building a genuine pathway that will be very exciting.”

Inform TM Insight MAKE have a cadre of youngsters that have been with the squad for years developing and they are now at the stage where they can look to push for more responsibility and race with confidence among the best in Australia. Carter Turnbull and Rudy Porter were the pick of the Inform bunch during the Australian summer of cycling and could the first beneficiaries of the opportunity.

Turnbull took third in a stellar field at the Under-23 nationals time trial, while Porter impressed mightily with his ninth overall at a mountainous edition of the Herald Sun Tour. Lane agreed that the pair would be good candidates, with a bit of competition within the squad for other potential spots.

“We’ll put it back on the riders a bit to have that competition there to see the riders who put their hands up and are also doing the right thing by the team,” said Lane. “Carter and Rudy are the two young guys that have led the charge in terms of our road riders on the team and I think they’ll be getting more experience under their belts and I expect them to have the front row seats.”

2020 was a rough year for Australian domestic teams, GPM-Stulz folded, others with overseas race plans dashed and sponsors wondering if there was any return on investment with no racing on. Inform weren’t immune, with their planned European summer trip cancelled, and with no intention of returning next year with COVID uncertainty.

“We’re not (going to Europe) next year,” said Lane. “We were for 2020 but obviously that didn’t happen. We’re putting our efforts behind national racing, we might do one or two overseas races and then we’ll be looking to give the guys exposure to European if they’re up to it. Maybe that’s one or two guys, maybe it’s four or five.”

While not the splashy headline of the Gerrans’ move, Inform have signed up their sponsors until the end of 2022, a multi-year deal that is near unprecedented for a full board of sponsors on the domestic scene. That fact alone will give the team, staff and riders significantly more leeway when making long-term plans for the development of riders.

“For myself personally,” said Lane, “and I know this goes for the owners as well, they just want to help nice, young guys get that opportunity. Obviously, we like to win races along the way, but just helping them develop and seeing what they can do is a great reward.”

By Jamie Finch-Penninger