Once upon a time, way back in 1992, Australian recreational vehicle manufacturer Jayco financed an unknown female cyclist to go the Barcelona Olympics.
That rider went on to win Australia’s first gold medal in the women’s road race. Her name was Kathy Watt and the diminutive `pocket rocket’ became a household name.
Later that year, Jayco – best known for its affordable range of caravans – formed Australia’s first professional cycling team, and included riders such as Olympic gold medallist Dean Woods and Scott McGrory.
And so began one of the great partnerships of Australian cycling . . . between the caravan maker and the Victorian Institute of Sport (VIS), which had formed in 1990 to develop Victorian athletes across a vast range of sports.
Known as the Jayco VIS Cycling Team, the new team set out to support the best young riders in the state of Victoria – and to say it succeeded would be an understatement.
As manager Dave Sanders says, almost all of Australian’s top riders have ridden for `Jayco’ at some point.
“Jayco is credited for having helped the sport of cycling grow in Australia during the past two decades and has supported numerous races throughout the country,” he said, speaking down the line from Italy, where the team was racing at the time of our interview.
“That included both men and women in the Elite and junior categories. We are extremely grateful for what the company has done for our team and our sport.”
Currently, the JAYCO/John WEST/VIS team is contesting – among other events around the state, country and world – the Subaru Cycling Australia National Road Series (NRS) with riders drawn from the VIS cycling program.
The team was sitting ninth out of 32 on the overall ladder after the Tour of Gippsland, as Bicycling Australia headed for the printer.
As well as training and competition support, the program provides athletes with medical, sport science, physiotherapy, psychology, nutritional and Athlete Career and Education (ACE) services.
The team’s earliest National road champions included Robert Crowe (Road and ITT), Steven Drake, Alan Lacuone, Jamie Drew, David McKenzie and Will Walker.
The 2010/11 period saw particularly outstanding results at State, National and international level, with the greatest cycling export of the VIS, Cadel Evans, finally achieving the ultimate success in international road cycling – overall victory in the 2011 Tour De France, to add to his already illustrious career.
At the UCI Track World Championships in the Netherlands that year, Shane Perkins and Leigh Howard shone the brightest, with Shane winning his maiden World Championship title in the men’s keirin and Leigh taking his second consecutive Madison title (and third senior World Championship overall).
The Jayco VIS team and its riders have gone on to win almost every major classic event in Australia including Melbourne to Warrnambool, Grafton to Inverell, Tour of Tasmania, Sunraysia Tour (now Murray Tour) the Bay Crits, Canberra Tour, Midlands Tour and the Herald Sun Tour in 2012 with Calvin Watson.
“Our team/ program has produced many Junior National and World Junior Champions on both track and road,” Sanders said.
“Lucas Hamilton recently won both the 2014 Oceania and National Junior Road Championships and was selected for the Australian team at the Junior Road World Championships in September.”
Hamilton, from Ararat, has been using the NRS events to prepare for his debut for Australia at the Junior Road World Championships in Spain on September 20.
The 18 year old received his maiden Australian selection following a stellar 2014 season including claiming the under 19 national and Oceania road race crowns.
“It’s really exciting to go overseas and fly the colours of Australia, I’ve never worn an Aussie kit so I’m looking forward to it,” he said.
“I might be a bit green to the National Series, but that’s the aim, to get back to racing in those bigger bunches where you’re fighting for position all the time.”
Hamilton took a step back from elite racing while completing year 12 studies.
He said he was looking forward to spending four weeks racing and training with the Australian junior road team ahead of the world titles in Spain in late September.
While the focus is often on the men, the Jayco VIS Women’s team has produced many world class female athletes as well, including world number one Anna Wilson, world number three Tracey Gaudry, world women’s road Silver medallist Liz Tadich and recently Kendelle Hodges who won the 2014 Tour of the Murray.
These days, the Jayco/John West/VIS team caters predominantly for young riders developing into national team and international riders.
“We have a philosophy that if you have been with us too long then we have failed in your development,” Sanders said.
“But with that said, we respect the national and state events as a vital part of a young rider’s education and development.
“Also, some of our former young champions re-visit and do some events with the team when home from their European adventures.”
The riders are offered assistance with coaching plus the other vitals including strength training, nutritional advice, sports psychology, and physiotherapy and so on.
“Plus we have our ACE program to assist in furthering the young athletes life outside of cycling,” said Sanders.
“We have recently taken on a new group of young under 17 riders who we hope/ believe will be the new Evans/ Gerrans names of the future.
“We have a dedicated group of coaches and mechanics who put in as much commitment as the athletes and that is very important to the continuity of the program and the team.”
Today the team races most of the NRS and VRS events around the country.
“We would like to express our ongoing gratitude to our cherished sponsors Jayco, John West, Apollo, Lazer, and Santini. And of course the VIS,” Sanders said. “All of them combine to make up this dynamic and successful cycling family.”
At a glance:
Jayco, John West, Apollo Bikes, Lazer Helmets, Santini race clothing.
Team win highlights:
- Melbourne to Warrnambool, Grafton to Inverell, Tour of Tasmania, Sunraysia Tour (now Murray Tour) the Bay Crits, Canberra Tour, Midlands Tour and the Herald Sun Tour
- 2011 Women’s National Road Series overall winner
Cadel Evans. Winner 2011 Tour de France
Other great names:
Simon Gerrans, Simon Clarke, Brett Lancaster, Alex Morgan, Leigh Howard, Glen O’Shea, Matt Lloyd.
The NRS 2014:
March 26 – 29 Woodside Tour de Perth WA
April 3- 6 Jarvis Subaru Adelaide Tour SA
May 15 – 18 Battle on the Border NSW
May 22 – 25 FKG Tour of Toowoomba QLD
July 29 – August 3 Tour of the Murray River VIC
August 13 – 17 Tour of the Great South Coast VIC
September 3- 7 Lakes Oil Tour of Gippsland VIC
September 19 – 21 National Capital Tour ACT
September 30 – 5 October Tour of Tasmania TAS
October 11 Melbourne to Warrnambool VIC
October 25 Grafton to Inverell NSW
Alex Morgan VIC Blackburn Team Pursuit World Champion
Thomas Hamilton VIC Ararat
Oscar Stevenson VIC Hawthorn
Lucas Hamilton VIC Ararat
Jordan Stannus VIC Caulfield Carnegie
Freddy Ovett VIC Caulfield Carnegie
Matthew Ross VIC Caulfield Carnegie
Lachlan Holliday VIC Caulfield Carnegie
Ryan Cavanagh QLD Sunshine Coast
Michael Gallagher VIC Caulfield Carnegie