How do you ensure an athlete can cope with the demands of both World Tour racing and a life abroad? More importantly, how can you prepare an athlete to be equally successful on and off the bike? While their World Tour partners may steal most of the spotlight, it’s the development team from Australia that deserves a closer look.
Drapac-Pat’s Veg exists with a unique philosophy, one which empowers each rider by supporting both academic and cycling ambitions. The riders, most of whom are under 20 years of age, receive scholarships to pursue their studies while they race around the world
“The metrics of success for athlete development programs are expanding. It is vital that developing cyclists also reach their potential off the bike to grow the foundations for success away from sport.”
Michael Drapac, the team’s founder and director has continued to expand this vision since launching the inaugural development team in 2004. The program continued to evolve and just a decade later the team graduated to UCI professional continental level, competing in events across the world. Now, with the partnership of Cannondale-Drapac Pro Cycling, Drapac-Pat’s Veg continues the legacy of holistic development.
As World Tour riders descended on the Australian “Summer of Cycling,” Drapac Pat’s-Veg began the season in form and eager to impress. Lining up alongside Classics and Grand Tour winners in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, the team relished the opportunity to be able to learn from such experience. But learning was not the only objective as youthful exuberance and a bit of local knowledge propelled the team to several top 10’s over the 5 stages.
Heading into the Tour of Thaliand, a UCI 2.1 race, the team was hungry for a big result amongst UCI competition. Sprinter Theo Yates delivered a stage win on the back end of some incredible team work to drop him in prime position with 200 meters to go.
“It was a well-deserved reward for the team, who had been working hard together all week”, said Sport Director Mark O’Brien of the win, “with 3 kilometres to go, the boys drilled their lead out, with final lead out man Brad Evans taking Theo to nail the final 200 metres. Top result for us and some of the best teamwork I’ve ever seen in a race. The boys should be really proud of themselves.”
As Drapac-Pat’s Veg turns its attention to the second key racing block, the team reflects on what they’ve learned so far this season. A long racing break has allowed the riders to concentrate on their studies and refresh mentally ahead of a 5-week racing program in Europe. The focus on academia from March to June is a welcome time to rejuvenate, but as young athletes the desire to race is hard to shake.
Racing in Europe presents new challenges to the riders, staff and support team as the races come thick and fast in just a few weeks. Looking at his time in Europe, rider Ollie Kent-Spark reflected, “We came over with conservative optimism, but since the first race we’ve actually exceeded the expectations of what we initially thought. We wish we could stay for longer to continue this positive trajectory of improvement, as all of us have progressed significantly over the last four weeks. The team environment and comradery and family feel that the team has developed has been a major positive for me.”
With a packed racing schedule and plenty of café recovery rides, the riders develop a camaraderie hard to match in most professional teams. In racing, the companionship among the riders translates to a plethora of results. In the Melle Pro Kermesse, three riders finished in the top ten, with Brad Evans 5th, Cyrus Monk 6th and Mat Ross 10th. While at the Ronde van Philipine Theo Yates narrowly missed out on the win and Brad Evans finished 4th.
A feeling of personal and professional growth echoed throughout the team as they reflected on their time in Europe. Living together for several weeks, in a foreign country, has given the younger riders a dose of the professional cycling lifestyle. Equally important, the large, competitive fields have challenged the team to work together and race as a unit to achieve success. It has certainly paid dividends.
“The team has exceeded expectations both in terms of results and the ability to race competitively in high quality fields in Europe. It’ been great to see us take our skills gained from domestic racing and put them to the test in high quality racing in Europe. Personally, it’s been valuable for me getting further racing experience outside Australia, which will hopefully help me later in the year with my stagiaire role with Cannondale-Drapac,” said Cyrus Monk, who joins World Tour team Cannondale-Drapac for the next month of racing.
Returning to Australia with some final racing objectives before resuming their studies, Drapac Pat’s Veg stormed to the lead of the Subaru National Road series of Australia. An overall victory at the five-day Tour of the Great South Coast for Brad Evans confirmed his form after a successful European campaign. While Liam White sprinted to a challenging win in wet and windy conditions on stage 2.
The core philosophy of holistic development at Drapac-Pat’s Veg certainly seems to be working.
As each rider focuses on personal growth alongside their development as cyclists, the achievements build. With the 2017 season well into the final half, the team can take pride in its accomplishments. But Drapac-Pat’s Veg isn’t a group to rest on their laurels, they’ll be riding at the pointy end of affairs in search of new successes.