As origin stories go, it is elegant for its simplicity. In July 2010, Gerry Ryan was at the Tour de France. A cycling fan since childhood, the wealthy businessman had a long history of supporting the sport – at the time he sponsored Australia’s Olympic cyclists. But as Ryan watched team cars pass him bearing flags from around the world, he had a realisation: his own nation’s symbol was absent. “We had 12 Australians riding the Tour that year,” Ryan says. “I thought, surely we should be able to put our own team together.”
He did. In the subsequent decade, Ryan, general manager Shayne Bannan and chief sports director Matt White would build one of the best cycling teams in the world. From an Australian-dominated starting point when Mitchelton-Scott debuted in Geelong in January 2012, the team has globalised, adding international riders, staff and wins. But the Australian flag remains etched on team cars. “We are a global team, with Australian DNA,” is a common Mitchelton-Scott mantra.
“I could never have imagined where we would be today,” Ryan tells Guardian Australia ahead of the team’s ninth World Tour season, which begins in Adelaide with the Tour Down Under. “I am very fortunate to have experienced this. It has been a lot of hard work from a lot of people – and we are still moving forward.”
Mitchelton-Scott has won from the beginning, with Simon Gerrans claiming the Tour Down Under in the team’s maiden World Tour appearance. They have gone on to win stages at the three biggest races on the calendar – the Giro d’Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España – and triumphed in four of the five Monuments. In 2018, they secured their first Grand Tour overall victory, with Simon Yates taking the Vuelta’s iconic red jersey. “Our worst year was 28 wins; our best year was 38 wins,” says White. “And we have done it with a lot of different riders. We have not just relied on two or three guys.”
A decade since the idea for Mitchelton-Scott first emerged in Ryan’s head, 2020 shapes up as a big year for the team on and off the road. “We want to start off the season with a bang,” says White. “That means winning the Tour Down Under. It is our race – the only World Tour stage race at home.”
After coming agonisingly close to the Giro d’Italia pink jersey two years ago, Simon Yates will lead another assault on the Italian epic in May. “We know Simon can win a Grand Tour,” says White. “I think we made a couple of mistakes in the run-in last season, but we know he has the ability and we certainly have the team to help him through.”
Up next will be the Tour de France, beginning in late June. In 2019 Mitchelton-Scott sent Adam Yates as their yellow jersey contender, but he faltered and ultimately finished 29th. This only marginally detracted from the team’s broader success in France, where they collected four stunning stage wins. “Adam will lead us again in 2020, but we will run a pretty similar template to 2019 – including going on the hunt for stages,” White says.
Helping the British Yates brothers in 2020 will be two young Australians, Jack Haig and Lucas Hamilton, each seen as future general classification contenders in their own right. “They are becoming crucial members of our team,” White says. “Not only backing up the Yates, but winning stage races on their own. Come Vuelta time in August, one of those two might be leading the team.”
Behind the scenes, Mitchelton-Scott continue to search for a naming right sponsor to replace Orica, who left at the end of 2017 (Mitchelton is a winery owned by Ryan). The Melbourne-based businessman is confident this will happen “within the next 12 months”.
Ryan seems content to bankroll the team for now. When asked how much he has spent, he laughs. “You would have to ask my accountant. I don’t focus on what I have put in – I just know I have got a lot of joy out of it.” But making the team financially sustainable in the long-term is a priority. Mitchelton-Scott’s focus on China, where they have a development team, is one part of this. “China is the future,” he says.
Ryan certainly isn’t going anywhere. He is heavily involved in the team – speaking with general manager Bannan at least twice weekly, and travelling with them at big races. While Ryan concedes that his business commitments have distracted him lately, he hopes that will soon change. “I am going to wind back and have more time to enjoy it,” he says.
As Mitchelton-Scott’s decade anniversary approaches, both Ryan and White have their eyes firmly on the future. “We plan on being around in 10 years’ time, that’s for sure,” says the sports director. “We want to be financially sustainable and successful,” Ryan adds.
If Adam Yates wins the yellow jersey at the 2020 Tour de France, it would represent a fitting note to mark the occasion. But expect Mitchelton-Scott to enjoy it regardless. “We take our job seriously but we don’t take ourselves seriously,” says Ryan. “I am known to throw some good parties. I’m sure we will do something special to celebrate.”