Australian team for 2009 attack?
The prospect of an Australian team competing in the 2009 Tour de France has moved closer to reality, according to local media reports.
Top Australian riders including Robbie McEwen, Cadel Evans (pictured), Stuart O'Grady and Michael Rogers could join forces in the sport's most prestigious race for a team financed by a company owned by internet entrepreneur Tony Smith.
A company called Pro Cycling Australia has been set up to oversee the project and Smith has pledged AU$20 million (£8.3m) over four years to help establish the team.
"It's a major piece of the jigsaw," chief executive Paul Varcoe told Sydney's Daily Telegraph.
"The pieces are falling into place. We always believed it would happen and this is a significant step in proving it will."
The project still needs an additional sponsor and the backing of the Federal Government, and Smith hopes Evans's second-place finish in this year's Tour will help.
"Cadel Evans' effort in the recent Tour de France has been an inspiration to us all and put this great sport on the radar in Australia," Smith added.
"The cycling world has been talking about this for years and now it's finally about to happen."
Varcoe said Australia's top riders were keen to join the team.
"This is something that Australian cyclists have wanted for a long time," he added. "We will be talking to all professional cyclists including Cadel Evans, Robbie McEwen and Michael Rogers -- they want to be on this team."
The prospect of a new Australian team will be welcome news for the sport following the doping controversies that marred this year's Tour, and Varcoe said cycling's ruling body the UCI supported the concept of a new team.
"They are very keen to globalise the sport," he added.