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Conquering Australia on two wheels

Team Abana has completed its latest long-distance charity cycling challenge to raise money for Chance for Childhood. We spoke to three of its members before they left to explain what’s involved.

When asked what creatures the members of Team Abana are most worried about encountering on their next challenge, they are unanimous: kangaroos.

“You can go on YouTube and see lots of videos of kangaroos jumping on the road and knocking cyclists off,” says Lee Downham (a current EY Strategy and Transactions Partner). “That worries me.”

If you haven’t guessed yet, this challenge involves cycling in Australia – or, to be more precise, across it. Starting at Fremantle on the west coast, four cyclists will cross the Nullarbor Plain into South Australia and then ride past Adelaide, through Melbourne, up through the Snowy Mountains and over to Canberra, finishing in Sydney. Riding in relays, they will be on the road 24 hours a day, covering 5,500km in just a week.

This is the second of three planned challenges for Team Abana, who completed the ultra-cycling challenge Race Across America in June 2016 and raised US$250,000 for Chance for Childhood, a charity that supports vulnerable children in Africa. But whereas that was an organised event, this time the team has had to make their own arrangements. Crew chief Michael Lynch-Bell (a former EY Partner) explains that this involves dealing with a huge amount of red tape. “We have to get at least three approvals for each state,” he says. “For instance, you need to have approval just to be able to have a hazard light flashing on a vehicle.”

The importance of teamwork

As crew chief, Michael has drawn on skills he honed during his career. “Risk management was important for almost everything we did at EY,” he says. “That experience has been helpful in terms of trying to identify the risks and then work out how we’re going to deal with them.”

One of the riders, Mick Bardella (a former EY Partner who retired in June 2019 after 34 years at the firm), draws another parallel. “When we used to work together, it was about getting big, cross-border teams all pointing in the same direction, making something happen collectively, with the right culture – and, hopefully, being successful,” he says.

The importance of teamwork

As crew chief, Michael has drawn on skills he honed during his career. “Risk management was important for almost everything we did at EY,” he says. “That experience has been helpful in terms of trying to identify the risks and then work out how we’re going to deal with them.”

One of the riders, Mick Bardella (a former EY Partner who retired in June 2019 after 34 years at the firm), draws another parallel. “When we used to work together, it was about getting big, cross-border teams all pointing in the same direction, making something happen collectively, with the right culture – and, hopefully, being successful,” he says.

Achieving something like that, you realise that, as daunting as any challenge is, if you’ve got a good team around you and the right attitude, these things are all manageable.
Lee Downham
Partner, Global Mining and Metals Leader, Strategy and Transactions

Michael heads up a support crew of 16: a mixture of EY people (some of them recruited from EY offices in Australia), relatives and friends. They will be supporting the riders throughout, ensuring they have the food, drink and equipment they need at all hours of the day and night, and anticipating and dealing with potential hazards along the route.

“The important thing is to get everyone across Australia safely; that is our biggest concern,” Michael says. He adds: “As a crew member, you learn all sorts of different skills which you never knew you either had, or needed. What you get out of the experience is great teamwork and friendship.”

The mental challenge

The four riders face a daunting task, cycling for eight hours at a time and expecting to burn through about 6,000 calories a day. But Lee says it’s not the physical challenge that worries him.

We thought the fitness was going to be the key thing that would make or break us, but actually it’s the repetition and the mental attrition that gets to you
Michael Lynch-Bell
former EY Partner and crew chief

Looking back at the Race Across America, he says: “We thought the fitness was going to be the key thing that would make or break us, but actually it’s the repetition and the mental attrition that gets to you; being able to keep getting up, getting back on the bike, eating more food, having more physio. It was really tough.”

But, as with any challenge that is successfully completed, it was also rewarding. “Being part of Team Abana has given me a broader perspective on life,” says Lee. “Achieving something like that, you realise that, as daunting as any challenge is, if you’ve got a good team around you and the right attitude, these things are all manageable. There are highs and lows, but you get through it, and that’s something I’ve taken back to work with me.”

For his part, Mick says that “being part of Team Abana has helped me stay connected to EY, because so many people within the team are still part of the organisation.”

Just to watch those children and their parents at the opening of their new school – there’s nothing more rewarding than that.
Mick Bardella
former EY Partner

The Chance for Childhood charity has already benefited from the proceeds of the Ride Across America, which went towards the building of a new school for deaf children in Rwanda. “The three of us were at the opening in November last year,” says Mick. “Just to watch those children and their parents at the opening of their new school – there’s nothing more rewarding than that.”

And after Australia, what next for Team Abana? Fittingly, the answer is Africa. “It’s a difficult ride – and a different ride, because we don’t believe we can ride through Africa at night,” says Michael. “Also, the roads are not as good quality as they are in the US and Australia. The idea is to go from Namibia across to Mozambique – and we’ll try to find the biggest hills we can for the riders to go across!”.  You can find out more and sponsor the team at TeamAbana.com

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