"If you've got your race tactics right that's pretty hard to beat …. and you get good quality riders, national medal holders, you're not going to ride away from us .. that's the whole plan, to dominate the racing, win as much as we can, as many races as we can."
Over the past couple of years I've been fortunate to photograph the 2010, 2011 and 2012 Mainline Racing Team launches. The first time Chris Millen asked me to follow the amateur masters cycling team up O'reilleys to photograph the launch, I was in for a shock. The climb they chose consists of a series of false flats so it's easy to get on the big ring and hammer. These "old blokes" raced up O'reilleys like it was mortal combat 'till the last man standing wins. It was hard to get ahead of them every few corners to get the shots on the narrow twisty road. (Yes it would have helped to have a second camera person along for the ride!) These guys are dedicated, train hard all year and race hard with the mindset of Elite racers, not bad for a bunch of old blokes, they showed me something new.
Speaking to Chris Millen, manager, and principle sponsor of the Mainline Racing Team, based out of south east Queensland Australia, a picture begins to emerge of one man who's passion for cycle racing spurs him on to achieve greater things than most could dream of in a lifetime. Get this, Millen's daily schedule includes managing the team, running a successful business, add in his family life then training and a full road racing programme, yes he races as well. Additional help comes from rider Bruce Snell co-managing the team, another rider David Crosswell takes care of IT. For Millen this means some late nights and plenty of early starts training. Time management is the key.
The popularity of cycling in south east Queensland has exponentially increased, Millen remembers, "Twenty years ago you'd be lucky to find one group of cyclists out on a Saturday, now bunches are everywhere, there are multiple rides - some with up to a hundred riders in one group obviously the popularity of the sport has grown." The racing scene had changed to reflect the new found enthusiasm for cycle sport. In 2008 Millen made some observations which lead to the formation of Mainline Racing, "I thought there's no really structured teams, what there was was the elite teams and they had a few masters riders that would try and organise their own group within the elite teams, but there were no dedicated Masters teams that would compete solely as a masters team. So I had a bit of an idea of what I wanted to do, and decided for '08 I'd bite the bullet and put a bit of cash into it through my business, Mainline Waterproofing, and then I'd market my company through that."
Mainline Australian Masters Cycling Team was launched in 2008. A lot had changed since the early nineties, the last time Millen turned the pedals in anger. Recently back to racing and now a first year masters rider, Millen's ideas were founded on his observations of the racing scene for masters, "I thought it's good and really competitive, and the masters racing over the years has increased with the popularity of the sport, a lot of guys have raced in their earlier days and have come back to racing. Then when I started racing again in the masters I thought well the competitive spirit amongst these guys is just as fierce as in elite - we can't ride as fast as the elite riders - yet in Masters A our average speed is up there near them. Obviously our recovery isa lot slower, the drive and the ambition and the competitiveness is all there. "
Drive and ambition translated into the will to form the strongest Masters A team in Queensland, in '08 there were four or five riders. Immediate reactions to the formation of the new masters team were sometimes scathing, Millen remembers the comments - "You'll get the haters and it's like that to this day. 'why waste your money on a bunch of masters a bunch of has been's - wasted effort.' The first year it was like anything almost like starting a new business, the whole year was spent as a learning curve."
The idea was just to have a group of mates that had the same drive, the same ambition, and along the way enjoy it. "It just snow balled from there by '09 I started to recruit riders I had the ambition to sign up the best masters riders that were available." In2010 more new riders were involved. The team is affiliated with Hamilton cycling club and had an obligation to help foster the juniors but the split was too vast and it didn't work. The concept was based on mentoring the juniors yet the Mainline team was about racing as a Masters team, poles apart. The year 2011 even more new riders were introduced, the evolution had progressed, that year at all races they either won or had riders on the podium.
A spin off of the effectiveness of the Mainline racing team's successes is that other riders, racing as individuals, and managers were inspired to start up teams and compete head to head with Mainline. Indirectly setting the precedent for master's team racing. Other masters teams now racing against Mainline are B3 from the Gold Coast and QSM in Brisbane.
According to Millen, the Mainline team are "a bunch of Masters who are past their use by date, but the competitive spirit us up there", now when they turn up to races, there's about four or five teams and a small contingent of individual riders. Mainline sometimes put eight or nine riders on the start line, with the calibre of riders contracted, plus emphasis on race strategy, Mainline possess a winning formula, "If you've got your race tactics right that's pretty hard to beat …. and you get good quality riders, national medal holders, you're not going to ride away from us .. that's the whole plan, to dominate the racing, win as much as we can, as many races as we can." That gets the brand name out there, Mainline have become well known in south east Queensland.
Camaraderie is one of the strengths of Mainline, based on strong friendships around a core group of four or five riders. The effectiveness of this is evident from outside the team, people want to be part of a winning structure of a team like Mainline. What Millen initially set out to do was create a dominant force in racing, his aims fulfilled and expressed in this - "it's given me a lot back, I enjoy it" Mainline finding a certain joy in putting fear into their competitors at the start line. Gone are the days of turning up at races and doing it all on your own.
Mainline are not an NRS registered team, but they will race in selected events like the Grafton to Inverell and Goulburn to Sydney, also competing in the Queensland Team Race Series racing against elite A riders, this includes all Queensland races. In 2012 there are two elite A riders in the mainline team, Oliver Bodak and Chris Williams who's come across from racing in Asia and Europe. Some of the top Masters A riders can swap back and forth between Elite A and Masters - holding a license for both. In the future there will be more Elite A riders contracted. The initial aim of creating a Masters team may soon achieve the ultimate evolution of incorporating an Elite team as well. Some Mainline riders also focus on Masters track racing and are successful there too.
Traveling to races for the season plus equipment comes out of the budget which sits in a range of thirty to about forty thousand dollars. Clothing includes full sets of kit, including winter gear, all race entries, whatever money is left covers accommodation and travel to certain races including all the teams series races plus races like Kingaroy, also flights to Cairns for the Tour of the Tablelands.
For the riders it's not about what they get with their sponsorship, all riders are well established in their careers and businesses, it's more about an enhanced experience sharing the fun of racing. The idea is that people who are over thirty five can still enjoy racing, not have to hang up the bike just because they are - 'past their use by date.' "We can experience the winning joys together .. " said Millen who's objectives include trying to market the concept that taps into the sheer numbers of older people getting into cycle sport, based on the premise that they can still race and have fun. Chris says "just because we are older we are not that much slower."
This year other sponsors came on board, Planet Cycles in conjunction with Specialized Bikes, plus Motorama, with Mainline Waterproofing remaining principle sponsor. Looking forward another principal sponsor would help secure the future of the team, there are thirteen riders in 2012 and to keep the team running the cost is considerable. Despite the popularity of cycling, attracting sponsors is not an easy task. Chris put together a business proposal, had meetings, at the end of it the money went elsewhere or simply wasn't available, feedback included - "we are not doing anything at the moment or tightening our budgets with the GFC." A couple of companies decided that the demographic of cycling wasn't desirable, one opting for moto cross instead.
Chis Millen and the Mainline racing team have made a huge impression in a short period of time. It's all about passionate people expressing themselves in a more sophisticated way, rather than going it alone. Showing us all that just because the years are passing by and the mileage is adding up, doesn't mean you should be left on the sidelines, the racing action is there if you want to be part of it.
To follow the Mainline team for race updates, racing schedule, team info - click this link Mainline Racing Team