UniSA’s Tour Down Under selection drama: What happened behind the scenes

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After a challenging week behind the scenes, Cycling Australia has revealed the list of riders that will race for the UniSA-Australia National team at next week’s Santos Tour Down Under. It’s a solid team with a mix of young talent and experienced riders, but one that’s notable in its omission of two star performers at last week’s Road National Championships.

Both Cyrus Monk, who won the U23 men’s race, and Chris Harper, who was third in the elite men’s road race, have missed out on selection. Additionally, Bennelong-SwissWellness, which was entitled to five places on the team, ended up with just four.

Today, team selector Brad McGee confirmed to CyclingTips that Monk and Harper missed out on selection as a result of changes to the UCI’s rules regarding participation in WorldTour races, and more specifically because they weren’t part of the sport’s so-called “Registered Testing Pool” for anti-doping.

A recent update to the UCI’s regulations (see 2.1.005 here) means that, in order to take part in a WorldTour race, “riders must have submitted accurate and up-to-date whereabouts information to an anti-doping organisation for a minimum period of 6 weeks”. Both Monk and Harper are not part of the Registered Testing Pool, meaning they don’t fulfil the UCI’s requirement and aren’t eligible to take part in the Tour Down Under. With just four Bennelong-SwissWellness riders in the Registered Testing Pool, the team wasn’t able to fill the five spots it had earned by winning last year’s National Road Series.

There have been rumours swirling around in recent days that Cycling Australia was informed of the UCI’s rule change in early 2017 but that it didn’t inform riders until recently (i.e. after the six-week deadline had closed). CyclingTips caught up with UniSA-Australia selector Brad McGee to get his take on the make-up of this year’s UniSA team and to find out what happened behind the scenes that led to the selection headaches.

You’ve just announced the UniSA-Australia team for Tour Down Under. It looks like a pretty good mix of young and experienced riders. Are you happy with the mix you’ve got?

Yeah. In that regard it’s not that different from last year. Obviously different athletes but once again we’ve been able to put together a good mix with some old hands and then some new kids willing and ready to show their stuff, no doubt.

What are you guys hoping to get out of the race? I know in the press release Tim Roe was talking about targeting top 10 on GC …

The actual strategy … we’ll rely heavily on Andrew Christie-Johnston, as the sports director, to pull that together. You’ve got to appreciate we’re bringing athletes in from different teams, different stages in their development and it’s always a late call up for Down Under. We don’t make the final decision till after Nationals.

Andrew’s challenge now is to call the boys in and work out who’s keen to do what and then come up with a strategy that’s aligned across the whole team’s benefit.

There have obviously been a few challenges in the last week or so with the selection process. How different does this team look to the one that you would have taken to the race if you could have?

Difficult to say. Obviously there has been some challenges, there always is though. In previous editions we’ve had challenges — which still exist — between athletes riding for feeder teams, the WorldTour teams. Of course all our WorldTour guys are ineligible as well because their teams are racing here.

And then what recently came to fruition was this challenge with the Registered Testing Pool and the anti-doping eligibility. So that threw another spin in and we’ve rallied, we’ve worked really hard. At the end of the day we had quite a substantial talent pool to choose from but notably, if we want to get to names, guys like Cyrus Monk and Chris Harper unfortunately weren’t on the Registered Testing Pool and weren’t up for selection.

At the end of the day, it’s probably those two blokes who missed out most here, which is unfortunate. We’re not sure how we could have changed things. We’ve just got to pick that one up at a later date to try to get on top of [it] before next year.

There’s been a lot of talk about what happened with the selection challenges but to my knowledge there hasn’t been an official comment. Are you able to explain what happened behind the scenes there?

Sure. There’s definitely a gap in communication that needs to be filled. I think if you appreciate changes in personnel at the UCI [and] a lot of change here at Cycling Australia and at the end of the day … the people that exist now at Cycling Australia, in my world, were only made aware of this in December — way, way inside the minimum time needed [to be in the Registered Testing Pool, which] was six weeks.

So from that point on it was really just rallying to try to get some clarity about exactly who could be available. The gap was there, we know it’s been fixed now — there’s clear lines of communication. But unfortunately for Cyrus and Chris that gap existed and we’re in the situation we are today.

Was that gap in communication between the UCI and Cycling Australia or internally at CA?

No, we take full responsibility. At the end of the day it’s up to us to scan through the UCI rules and regulations. There was a change to the rules, this particular rule in February last year. Unfortunately though such substantial rules are always … well, in my experience they’re also expressed internally and directly, not just left to people to scan through a fairly extensive set of rules.

My mistake, I take personally that you sort of rely a little bit on the updates. This one we definitely didn’t receive an update. Or like I said, no one existing in the organisation today, and that’s the situation we’re in today.

But as you say, you’ve rallied well and you’ve come up with what is a pretty good result given the circumstances.

Absolutely. The team’s strong and, just as important, we’ve upheld the integrity … these rules were made for good reason to make sure that riders selected in the biggest races in the world are legit and on board with anti-doping measures.

Fortunately in Australia we’ve got quite a substantial stock of athletes in that testing pool for good reason because they’re good bike riders.

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