Foal Play Down Under?

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

Pegasus, the team named after a mythical horse, believed it secured a last minute reprise and sent new documentation to Switzerland. This turned out to be unsatisfactory and the UCI sent the team to the knacker’s yard. I could write plenty about this process being unsatisfactory, it should not be the case that a team is genuinely surprised if the rules are objective.

This could have been the most exciting venture in Australian cycling since The Melbourne Herald and The Sporting Globe in Australia started a fund in late 1927 to pay for an Australasia team, with Hubert Opperman, to go the Tour de France.

But instead Pegasus has faced headwinds in Australia. What could have been a unifying national project for Aussie cyclists has prompted a minor turf war with some allegations of dirty tricks.



Two horse race?
First up, it seems Pegasus has been a private project and not part the plans of Cycling Australia, the national governing body. Instead Cycling Australia had asked its head coach Shayne Bannan (pictured) to team up with the seemingly-cursed Neil Stephens with a view to getting an Aussie pro team on the road. Pegasus was thus a rival outfit instead of a project to nurture. Perhaps some defensiveness from Cycling Australia is normal. But it’s interesting to see a national governing body actively back one team and appear reasonably indifferent to another one. Surely two teams is even better?

High hurdles?
Another observation is the way the team has struggled to find friends in other sections of the sport, especially at home. Pegasus had convinced European race organisers, including ASO, to grant invites to several races. Yet a ride in the Tour Down Under was proving very elusive. Can you imagine the French excluding their top team from the Tour de France? To me it simply seemed extraordinary that this team couldn’t get an invite to its home event. Something wasn’t right.

Ryan likes to back the winning horse

If they lacked friends on the road, they also lacked key financial supporters too. The absence of Jayco was a biggie. The caravan manufacturer is a big backer of Australian cycling but wasn’t part of the Pegasus stable. Rather it seems it was playing the longer game with Bannan and Stephens. Indeed Jayco owner Gerry Ryan is personally involved with this project. Ryan is a big figure in Australia, generously backing many sports and appropriately even owning a share of Americain, the winner of the Melbourne Cup horse race last race.

After the 2010 Worlds finished, UCI President Pat McQuaid stayed on to enjoy a vacation in Australia… allegedly funded by none other than Jayco. I’m struggling to believe this, it would be beyond idiocy to accept a big gift from a financial backer. Mind you, this is pro cycling…

Summary
I’m not alone in picking up the vibes that some are enjoying the demise of Pegasus in private. Yet there’s a big difference between Schadenfreude and actually thwarting someone. Even so, surely every sports fan in Australia had an interest in seeing Pegasus fly?

It is worth asking precisely what Cycling Australia was up to. Surely two teams are better than one? It’s wishful thinking but additional help with the admin and politics might have helped Pegasus, This should have been an exciting team employing many top Aussie cyclists. Alas.

CristiRuhlman December 21, 2010 at 10:14 pm

Great article. It is such a shame to see this happen to Pegasus Racing. It is a team, that in my opinion, would have been an outstanding European cycling team, and a great showcase for its mostly Australian talent base.

I also think Pegasus Racing would have become a unique and driving force in the sport of Cycling itself. In the form of the 2010 team of FlyV Australia, Pegasus Racing had a "corporate culture" of mateship and teamwork that was a model for the modern team-based cycling sport itself. There was a lot to be gained through its inclusion in the Pro-Peleton, even on the Pro-Conti level.

More and more, cycling has lost a lot of its "shine" through scandals and the handling of sporting violations. With this opportunity for the selection of a new and exciting team, whose reach and impact spans the globe in location, financially and market-wise, the inclusion of Pegasus
Racing could only have helped to promote the sport of cycling.

Unfortunately, it seems that these days in Sport–of all kinds from cycling to football to motorsports–the "higher powers" are at cross purposes with the long term success of their sport. There is a lot of competition in every sport among teams, riders and organizations for a limited amount of funding. But growing your demographic fan and sponsorship base is as fundamental a concept in sport as it gets. Including a funded, Australian team with known, and upcoming stars, in its roster helps promote just that–the sport of cycling!

Cycling seems to be most open to derision because of the many, many well-publicized "discretionary and arbitrary" preferences by organizers.
Unfortunately they all generally hurt the sport rather than help it. This is another in a long line of short-sighted decisions that make us as fans of cycling, wonder time and again……Why?

TheInnerRing December 21, 2010 at 10:34 pm

Cristi, I know what you mean. But of course there might be some who say "sour grapes", that Pegasus could not get a proper sponsor and that's the end of the story. Nice guys count for plenty but pro cycling is relentlessly commercial and if the money isn't there then the team is going to fold.

But I do wonder about a governing body becoming linked to the set up of a particular team. Imagine a second team in Britain, it just wouldn't have the open doors that Sky has discovered. A governing body needs to promote cycling… but openly.

As for Why? Well maybe that is partly why The Inner Ring keeps scratching around various corners of the sport. If the sport is at times very commercial the all the more reason to have professional administration and high standards of governance etc.

Pedalingtheroad December 21, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Firstly, thanks for a great article.

I am also surprised to hear that the decision today and the circumstances in general came as a complete surprise to the team management. People have been talking about Pegasus quite some time now, many good riders on Pegasus too, strange if Cycling Australia look the other way from a project "everyone" in the industry welcomed.

Are there any more information regarding the other team's riders and management?

British Cycling has been criticised for mixing themselves too much with Team Sky, or perhaps the correct fact is that Brailsford has been criticised. Therefore I find it so strange CA "goes all in" on one team. There are no reason, in my opinion, that CA couldn't either a) support both teams or b) taken a step back and let the free market decide the outcome.

Still a very sad day for the riders and staff involved, proves what Vaughters has been saying lately that some predictability in the sport is needed, both financially and management-wise.

Anonymous December 22, 2010 at 4:31 am

Surely the question should be asked.. why is the Australian taxpayer paying Bannan's wages whilst he sets up a private team for Jerry Ryan et al?

Conflict of interest seems to run pretty deep with the UCI and this Pegasus fiasco is a great example of what they are capable of. I feel for Chris White and his team as they faced many hurdles to get a team registered but they truely had no idea how many people within Cycling Australia were working against them.

Dave Marsdin December 22, 2010 at 1:43 pm

It could well be that Cycling Australia just thought as a lot of us did. That Chris White was a bit of a wide boy, making all sorts of promises he couldnt keep, making all sorts of far fetched statements regarding race invites, saying they were almost certain of a pro tour slot etc.
If Pegasus as many people thought it would, went tits up three months into the season that could reflect badly on Cycling Australia.

Conspiring against chris white? Or merely distancing themselves from a badly laid out plan. I would say the latter.

TheInnerRing December 22, 2010 at 1:47 pm

Quite true Dave. I've written other things on here asking what White was up to. I just wanted to shine a light on the way some seemed a little too happy with the end of this team.

Maybe it was asking too much but if White was a dreamer then someone should have reigned him in a bit or perhaps channelled him in the right direction rather than letting things go so far and then blow up?

Profisc December 22, 2010 at 6:30 pm

You could call White a dreamer- but going about raising the funds for a Protour team does take a fair amount of forward vision as well as track record. People are quick to dismiss the fact that White's team won the NRC in the US this season, with a major Australian backer in V australia. Sure if White was sitting in a coffee shop somewhere spewing press releases about going Protour he would be a madman, but he has slowly and credibly built up an Aussie team to be the best in the USA (you can say that is nothing special- but the logistics and money invested by some teams in trying to be competitive in the NRC makes it a solid and complete affair), travelled countless times to Europe to meet with the UCI to reaffirm the correct procedures, and during that time forged strong relationships with global players in the US sporting industry.
Lets just say (but not confirm) george gillet Jnr was to be the backer- you only have to read the BBC or various Nascar sites (Richard Petty Motorsport, which Gillett owned until 1 month ago, laid off 60 staff in Nov- in parallels eerily similar to what would occur with Pegasus 4 weeks later) to see how much trouble this global conglomerate was in between September- December this year. Perhaps it is not the fault of White, Cycling Australia, just a billionairre's fall from the top.

MartinH December 22, 2010 at 11:04 pm

Hmmm, drawing a long bow there in places I feel. True CA didn't have much to do with the Pegasus bid – but if you read some of the press quotes in the month leading up to the application, CA hadn't heard from Chris White at all. Hardly seems fair to then suggest that it is CA actively ignoring the attempt at a new team.

Most people that knew the situation felt that Chris White was the wrong person to spear-head this team. He was making promises he couldn't deliver – he stated outright that although he had fixed the finances for the application, the team couldn't survive long term on that money.

Its interesting that ASO was willing to offer places at races (if they actually DID do that) but the reality is that most of thos races were months away. However the TDU is in a matter of weeks. Why would Turtur lock in a place for a team that doesn't exist? If the team failed to get its license (which not surprisingly is exactly what happened) then he would have to scratch around for a team to replace them. Unlike a Euro promoter, he would have to get the team from OS, most likely. Last minute and at big cost.

How can you blame Jayco for not being involved? That is just plain odd. They have their budget already set out and they have big plans on the table already – that they are paying for. Why are THEY obligated to take on this new team? What about all the other Australian companies that don't even have a minor presence in cycling?

At the end of the day the team didn't make it to the start line. Its very clear that they shouldn't have in their current form anyway. The only sad thing in all this is the status of the riders. I just hope that they all find teams for the new year.

TheInnerRing December 23, 2010 at 1:53 am

Hi Martin, I've been careful not to blame anyone here. I'm cautioning people not to blame cycling Australia but am saying some around there are happy to see the project collapse. But as I say above, and have said on here before, Pegasus has been chaotic and yes, Chris White has made a lot of mistakes.

As for Jayco, no blame intended. I'm just saying the big backer of the sport was conspicuously absent, that Ryan has alternative plans.

Like you I feel sorry for the riders, and the staff too. But I also think it's sad that a team got this far before people realised the money wasn't there. Someone should have closed the stable door a long time ago, no?

Anonymous December 23, 2010 at 4:32 pm

Finally the chickens are coming home to roost in Whites stable. He has a history of using people and then throwing them under the bus when he no longer has further use for them. Karma is a bitch….

MartinH December 25, 2010 at 12:49 am

[quote]Someone should have closed the stable door a long time ago, no? [/quote]

And if they HAD done that then even MORE people would be mistakenly supporting Chris White during his 'poor little me, the UCI is biased and blocking my team…'

To steal a quote from the forums at cyclingNews.com – the UCI gave Chris White all the rope they possibly could and instead pf using it for good, he used it to hang the riders and staff out to dry'

The statement from the UCI regarding the complete absence of Bank guarantee and the lack of funds to survive the year tell you everything you need to know

Anonymous December 28, 2010 at 11:26 am

Maybe a question could be asked of White, did he actually have a contract with the Gillett Family in writing prior to signing riders. I am sure plenty had other offers that would now have them in a solid financial position for at least 2011. To read that all other Pegasus programs are going to operate in 2011 as they are in a different structure – begs the question why have they not announced their sponsors for 2011 as yet.

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