Academy to help budding professionals

ACKNOWLEDGING it has not always supported its youngest stars adequately, Cycling Australia is creating a new academy to prepare budding road professionals for the less glamorous sides of the sport.

Stuart O'Grady, Australia's most experienced member of the professional peloton at the age of 39, remembers feeling lost and alone in Paris when he joined the big league in Europe as a teenager.

Relocating from Adelaide, he did not have family around him and could not speak French. While he survived and flourished, other Australian road cyclists have struggled to cope or found the foreign experience too challenging and wasted their sporting gifts.

With the number of Australians in the elite road ranks booming - 36 Australian men will be on World Tour teams next year - much of businessman Gerry Ryan's most recent multimillion-dollar pledge to Cycling Australia will go to the new World Tour academy.

Ryan is the owner of Australia's trailblazing World Tour team Orica-GreenEDGE, which has 15 Australians on its men's team.

''You've got young kids on the other side of the planet and, sure, they might be world junior champions but when you get over to Europe it's a whole different ball game,'' said O'Grady, who plans to mentor Orica-GreenEDGE's young team on the road for another two seasons.

''I asked myself many times when I was in a small hotel room in Paris, 'What the hell am I doing here'?''

Cycling Australia has already held camps to select young men for the academy that will replace the old Jayco-AIS continental team next year. ''This is something that we've been talking about for the last 18 months to two years; Australian men are turning professional a lot sooner now,'' Cycling Australia's high-performance boss Kevin Tabotta said.

''They are far more attractive to professional teams than they've ever been before and we're seeing guys sometimes just after they've turned 20 going into a professional team in Europe. There's life skill education, there's education about what it means to turn professional and the challenges that come with that; the distractions that come with that.

''Because most of the time these guys turn professional it's not about the bike - that's not what is holding them back; it's the challenges that come with living in Europe on your own, unsupervised at 20 years of age.''

Former national road champion Matthew Lloyd is one talented Australian who has battled in the overseas environment. Lloyd was the best climber at the 2010 Giro d'Italia - the first Australian to win the honour in that grand tour event - but was subsequently sacked from the old Omega Pharma-Lotto team for what it termed ''behavioural reasons''. Lloyd, who later explained he was disillusioned with the sport and its demands, now rides for Italian team Lampre-ISD.

On the eve of the London Olympics, 23-year-old triple world track champion Jack Bobridge was disciplined by Cycling Australia and a Spanish court after a drink-driving incident. Fellow Olympian Michael Hepburn, 21, was a passenger in the car and also affected by alcohol.

He received a suspended $1000 fine and was put on a 12-month good behaviour bond. After winning a road contract with Garmin-Slipstream in 2010, Bobridge was considered a prize recruit when he joined Orica-GreenEDGE for its debut season this year. But he has since joined the Dutch team formerly known as Rabobank.

This story Academy to help budding professionals first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.