With six National Road Series overall wins under its belt, there is no question on anybody’s lips that the Avanti Racing Team is currently Australia’s number one NRS and Continental team. Similarly, there is no question for team owners Andrew Christie Johnson and Steve Price and high performance director Mark Fenner that it shouldn’t aspire to stay that way.
Whether it can, however, is not something the trio is willing to be over confident about. As one half of the team’s foundation duo, Andrew, told Bicycling Australia, the quality of Australia cycling is increasing and teams like Budget Forklifts are growing in size and talent every year.
“The competition in Australia gets stronger and stronger every year, so we can’t expect to always win. It can’t go on forever,” he said.
“As well, as our team grows stronger we spend more time overseas racing; our top guys end up racing overseas and sometimes we are not with our best squad for the Australian events.
“So the team faces 2015 wanting to keep an eye on the prize, but acknowledging that it’s getting harder out there.”
This year represents a massive change for Avanti because it has more New Zealand riders on its roster than ever before – the number has gone from two to nine.
“That means half the team (of 20) is from New Zealand,” Christie Johnson said. “They have some great talent over there and the New Zealand guys have won all the early races. So far so good.”
As it became an NZ licenced team this year, the main percentage of riders had to be from NZ.
The management team spent a lot of time liaising with Cycling NZ and the specific coaches of the NZ riders last year to ensure it all happened smoothly.
Looking ahead, he says the team, which currently has NRS and Continental registration, would like to take the step to gaining a Pro Continental licence.
“Unfortunately that is out of our hands,” he says. “We would need a lot of commitment from sponsors. It is hard to say if it will ever happen, or when. But I would suggest we would need close to two million dollars behind us. Pro Continental means all riders and staff are paid and that alone takes in excess of a million dollars. Then there are all the other costs.
“It is a bit hard for us … we have a small budget but been so successful so Pro Continental is the obvious direction. But we are in a difficult market with a lot of people looking for investment in sport. So we will just wait and see what eventuates.”
Even with NRS and Continental registration, Avanti has still come a very long way from the small team Christie-Johnson and Price decided to form when they were both riders, wanting to get a team together to do some team racing.
“We were living in Tasmania which was a pretty small scene with not a lot of team racing, so we decided to get a bunch of mates together and started doing some team racing,” he says.
“I think it was in 2000 we were officially recognized as a team, but we probably started a few years before that, doing just the local Tasmanian events.
“After a couple of years we decided to head to the mainland and do the original NRS one day races. We encountered pretty lean pickings early on. We were new to the game, a small team, starting with not exactly the best riders, but as you develop, you often end up with better riders and that’s what happened.”
The team was originally called Praties after the fast food company Price and Christie-Johnson own in Tasmania.
But it seems the team was destined to grow.
“I only rode 12 months and got injured and took over more managing the team and never returned back on the bike,” Christie Johnson says. “Steve rode three years on the team then stopped. Today’s lineup is chalk and cheese from where we were back then.
“We had no intentions when we started to run a team of this size. I guess I am pretty proud to see how the team has gone, performing on the international stage and winning the NRS six times.
“There have been quite a few changes over the years. The team got bigger and bigger for a start. But perhaps the biggest change was five
or six years ago when we went to Genesys Wealth Advisors, and started getting a lot
“We originally had Malvern Star as bike sponsors; the Avanti took over both Malvern Star and our bikes and our team naming rights a couple of years ago. Avanti Racing Team was born.”
Today’s Avanti management team includes High Performance Director Mark Fenner from the hamlet of Nowra, two hours south of Sydney.
He got involved through his involvement with mountain biking.
“I was looking after and training Jack Haig, with the Torq MTB team.
“From a perspective of athlete growth I have always believed that it is difficult to make a living out of MTB,” Fenner said.
“I’ve always thought the combination of being able to ride MTB and the road helps each other, with the ability to learn about tactics on the road and get the load on the road an important consideration for MTBers.
“Torq Nutrition was a sponsor of Dan McConnell, Brenton Jones and others, and had aligned with Avanti. When Jack went to Tasmania to do a training camp with Richie Porte, we got him there in pretty good condition. While riding up one of the major climbs Andrew decided to test the boys out and couldn’t get rid of Jack, so Richie suggested Andrew sign him up, which led him to ride with Avanti on the road.”
From there, Fenner as Haig’s coach started to deal with Christie-Johnson, attending a lot of his race meets.
“I looked at everything, how it performed as a team, with a small budget and everyone having to wear so many hats,” he says.
“I saw I could be of use and assistance.”
So he chatted with Christie-Johnson and when Haig won the national road series in a fantastic time, Fenner started looking after most of the riders on the team.
“We were running training camps and overseeing everything the team did and going away with the guys on tour,” he says.
“It was being involved with that side of things that led me and some partners towards the development of Today’s Plan, our training software, which is now a sponsor of team Avanti.
As performance director, Fenner oversees everything the riders are doing.
He is first port of call for problems and issues and he compiles any information they might need to pass out to the team doctor. He looks after the files of all athletes.
“Our idea is to be a transitional team to the World Tour and that is always in our minds when we work with the athletes,” he says. “We are a completely open transparent team, keeping all the riders’ data on file, with blood test results, numbers in testing, and so on. That way, if an opportunity arises for them to go to World Tour, we can pass their file on to the team manager and he knows the rider is as well prepped for the World Tour as possible.”
And those files are fat files.
“We bring the riders regularly to our training base for testing and bike fits, which are all digitised,” he says. “While they are here, the team doctor carries out full physicals, pre season blood testing, finds out if there are any health issues, conducts mid or post season blood tests, for example to make sure the riders are not becoming anaemic or need a break; checks hormonal levels are okay and that the riders are not under too much stress.
“We try to look at it from multiple angles; we are just like a World Tour team, but with a little budget.”
Fenner’s job sounds like a dream, but it’s not always easy, he says.
“Sometimes an athlete’s desires and dreams do not necessarily align with the teams, so it’s managing that,” he says.
“Most riders know if they want to come to Avanti they will get the opportunity if they are good enough.
“There is always the opportunity for riders to come in and show their skill and get opportunities to win races.”
Team Avanti 2015 has 20 riders on its roster.
At a Glance
Owners: Andrew Christie Johnson and Steve Price
Licensed to ride: NRS, Continental
High Performance Director: Mark Fenner
Team members: Luke Fetch, Pat Shaw, Fraser Gough, Matthew Clark, Mark Tupulski, Chris Hamilton, Taylor Gunman, Jason Christie, Regan Gough, Luke Mudgeway, Aaron Donnelly, Cameron Karwowski, Scott Law, Tom Davison, Ben Dyball, Anthony Giacoppo, Neil van Der Ploeg, Joe Cooper, Patrick Bevin, Mitchell Lovelock-Fay, Mark O’Brien
Sponsors: Avanti, Shimano, Champion Systems, Torq, Motion, Adidas, Giro, Parktook, Rock Tape, The Watts Factory, Bioceuticals, PreMax
Bikes: CORSA DR TEAM DI2 (road), CHRONO TEAM EVO DI2 (time trial), CORSA SL
Gear: Shimano Dura Ace DI2
Product: Torq Energy, Torq Gel, Champion Systems, Giro helmets, gloves, shoes, Adidas eyewear