Olympic track cycling champion Dean Woods was also a disrupter of bicycle retail in Australia and is about to fire off some posthumous shots about the controversy that surrounded his time in the industry.
Australian cycling and the broader sporting community last month celebrated the life of the former Victorian, who died on 3rd March from lung cancer, aged 55.
While much of the reminiscing focussed on his gold medal-winning ride as part of Australia’s legendary team pursuit victory at the Los Angeles Olympics, members of the bike industry will also remember Dean as a pioneer in online sales.
His Dean Woods Direct mail-order business in the 1990s broke new ground in what has since become the goliath that is internet bike sales.
The scepticism and, in some cases, antagonism it attracted – and his response to that criticism – are among the issues raised in an autobiography produced by Dean in his final months.
The book, reportedly set for release in the coming months, also covers the issue of parallel importing, another area where Dean was an early mover and a practice which he says is now standard.
Dean foreshadowed the book and some of its topics, when he delivered his own eulogy through a video recorded days earlier.
He was living on the Gold Coast when he succumbed to a two-year battle with cancer but many dignitaries of the cycling world gathered in his former home town, Wangaratta, for a large funeral service on 15th March.
For many people, Dean will be immortalised as the 18-year-old who rode in Australia’s giant-killing track pursuit team at the LA Games in 1984. The foursome won the finale against a highly favoured US team, to break a gold medal drought for Australia in cycling.
A year earlier, he rose from relative obscurity to win the individual pursuit at the Junior World Championships in NZ, a title he successfully defended in 1984 in France.
He went on to consider international success, including several world championship medals, two 6-Day victories and three Commonwealth Games gold medals.
He claimed several national titles and holds the record for the fastest time at the Melbourne to Warrnambool, covering the 266 kilometres in five hours in 12 minutes. The 1990 win was the first of his two victories at the prestigious event.
His on-track achievements earned Dean a place in the Sport Australia Hall of Fame, to complement the Order of Australia medal he received in 1985.
He remains one of only 20 cyclists inducted to the hall of fame.
In his eulogy, Dean said he was financially spent and physically spent in 1996.
He rounded out his final year of competition by winning the national madison championship and finishing second in the national individual pursuit championship.
In the meantime, he had an opportunity to start a small wholesaling business with his father-in-law.
Dean said while the business was bolstered by the numerous overseas contacts he’d established during his racing career, he received considerable push back from other Australian wholesalers.
Ray Turner, who raced with Dean as a junior in regional Victoria and remained in contact with him until Dean’s death, described him as one of the first grey importers, bringing in products that “established importers would have thought of as their own”.
In the eulogy, Dean says: “There’s always a supplier in Belgium who would order half a million units, knowing they would only sell half that; so they spent half their business saying ‘do you want some?’”
He said that parallel importing is now second nature in the industry.
“With the wholesaling, we found we were being used as a credit facility, so we had to change that, so we started a website,” he said, describing the genesis of Dean Woods Direct in 1998.
“Only about five percent of the population had an email address but we were working through it. We could see what was happening in America and this was a new way, a convenient way to get products to people.
“It took off exponentially. Then we had people saying ‘you don’t have a shopfront, so we won’t give you the product’. That was easy, we just dealt with people who wanted to deal with us.”
He said that was generally operators who had come from outside the bicycle industry, such as motorcycle dealers.
“We ended up opening a retail shop and then in 2009, we realised something was going wrong with the GFC (global financial crisis),” he explained.
“We decided to get up and get out of there, which was the best thing we ever did.”
The store was purchased by the owner of the Bicycle Superstore franchise but couldn’t retain market share in a parochial Wangaratta market and ultimately closed. The autobiography is reportedly scheduled to be released in July.