Pro Team Sponsors: What Do They Do?

Monday, 27 January 2014

There are 18 World Tour teams and 17 Pro Continental teams. One difference from most other sports is that cycling teams come with naming rights meaning the squad is named after its sponsors. But who are these backers and what do they do?

You might know about Garmin or Cannondale but do you know what Belisol, Lampre or Quick-Step are about? Do you know your Drapac from your NetApp and what links Johnny Hoogerland to Hello Kitty?

Ag2r La Mondiale: an insurance and savings company. Note the team name is not two sponsors but Ag2r La Mondiale is the name of one company. The firm offers retirement savings, healthcare insurance and other forms of social insurance. And why are the shorts brown? Well the corporate logo is blue and brown but note the company’s Parisian headquarters are located at 35 boulevard Brune. Brown Boulevard.

Astana: not a company but a city and a nation. Astana is the capital city of Kazakhstan and the team is funded by the state to promote the country, a bid to counter the “Borat” image. They also fund motorsport and more. The jersey features the names of various state-owned companies. Note team manager Vinokourov was on a winning list in the last parliamentary elections, showing the close links between the team and the state.

Chet Pipkin BelkinBelkin: a US consumer electronics and accessory company that owns router company Linksys. Company founder Chet Pipkin, the -kin in Belkin, owns the company outright and has visited the team to see it in action.

Cannondale: the bike brand has had its ups and downs. In the 1990s it supplied bikes to the Saeco team in Italy and was famous for its oversized alu tubing. The company moved into motorcycles, offering innovative lightweight offroad bikes but this was a commercial disaster. The brand was bought by Dorel, a Canadian conglomerate that also owns Sugoi, Schwinn and GT as well as a range of brands supplying infant products like Bébéconfort. Another sponsor is Sho Air – which isn’t what Peter Sagan does in a stunt – instead the firm handles logistics for trade shows including air freighting materials to events.

BMC Racing: a brand of Swiss bicycles. The team is registered in the US but funded by the Swiss francs of Andy Rihs, a billionaire cycling enthusiast who owns BMC and other bike brands. Registering the team in the US helps the team to tap this giant, lucrative market whilst trading on the image of Swiss quality. Some of Rihs’s other assets feature on the jersey like his La Coquillade hotel.

FDJ.fr: is short for La Française des Jeux or “French Games” and is the French state lottery with regular draws, scratchcards and more. The sponsor has backed a team since 1997 but almost quit in the wake of doping scandals but courageously decided to stay in the sport on the condition the team rode clean. This meant lean years. The Fondation FDJ also supports other sport, a funding scheme to help Olympic athletes. The team features the bleuet de France cornflower war memorial this year as commemoration of the First World War.

Europcar: is a privately-owned vehicle rental company with operations around the world. The green brand is a common sight at airports and beyond. In France you can spot the likes of Thomas Voeckler painted on the side of rental vans. Other sponsors include worldwide hotel giant Accor and Harmonie Mutuelle, a health insurance provider.

Hello Strava!

Garmin – Sharp: Garmin is a US satellite navigation company, although if it is from Kansas its corporate HQ is in Switzerland. It was founded by Gary Burrell and Min Kao which explains the Gar-Min name. Some have questioned the company’s future in a world where smartphones replace many GPS devices but the cycling and sports equipment is proving to be a big new area. Sharp are a Japanese electronics company but the sponsorship is with the European subsidiary as the firm wants to promote its brand in Europe. The team cleverly has a team bus decked with Sharp solar panels and a flatscreen TV on the side.

Giant- Shimano: Giant is appropriately named, it is the world’s largest manufacturer of bicycles. Shimano is obvious but note their European base in the Netherlands which part-explain the Dutch direction.

Katusha: is the abbreviated version of Ekaterina or Catherine in English. It’s the name of a famous Soviet wartime folk song in Russia which still gets patriotic hearts stirring today. In English you’d call them Team Kathy but there’s nothing diminutive about the sponsors: Gazprom and Itera are rival energy giants and Rostec is a Russian state agency designed to fund and control various technology and defence companies making this a team funded from the heart of the Kremlin. Curiously the list of co-sponsors includes an Italian cheesemaker and a French winegrower, suggesting gourmet tastes in the team management.

Lampre – Merida: a fixture in the peloton but many still have no idea what Lampre is about. They make rolled pre-coated steel. The name itself derives from the abbreviation of lamiere meaning a sheet of steel and pre-coated, Lam- and -pre. If you’re still unsure what this is take a look at your washing machine or refrigerator and the laminated steel encasing it. Also check your filing cabinet, garage door or the steel shelving in a shop. Owned by the Galbusera family Lampre have been in the sport since 1991 with Colnago-Lampre and then in 1992 the Lampre team was born with the blue and fuchsia jersey that lives on today. Merida is a Taiwanese bike manufacturer linked to Specialized that’s keen to make a name for itself in the pro peloton.

Belisol in action

Lotto – Belisol: Lotto is the Belgian state lottery and like FDJ in France, has the monopoly in Belgium. Founded in 1934 to raise funds for the sick in the Belgian Congo, the company has continuously sponsored a pro team since 1985 although at times it has been the number two name, for example Omega Pharma-Lotto. It also sponsors the Standard Liège football team. Belisol make aluminium and wooden windows and doors and the firm has branched out into domestic renewable energy products like solar energy panels.

Movistar: Movistar is a mobile telecoms operator owned by Spanish national telecoms firm Telefonica with operations in Spain and Latin America and also in several European countries under the 02 brand. It’s Spanish and can trace its heritage back through several sponsors like Caisse d’Epargne, Banesto and Reynolds to the 1980s but I understand the team is, for tax purposes, run out of Luxembourg for now. Be sure to pronounce the team name right, it is not “movie star”:

Omega Pharma – Quick-Step: contrary to the name Omega Pharma is not a pharmaceuticals company. Instead it sells para-pharmaceutical products like wound dressings, vitamin supplements and other products sold over-the-counter in pharmacies. Its best selling product in France is “La Jouvence de l’Abbé Soury” a plant-based liquid claimed to help “heavy legs”, a very French complaint and nothing to do with cycling. Quick-Step is a brand of laminated flooring that might seem indissociable from Belgian cycling but it’s an American business and part of Mohawk Industries. Each sponsor is particular about hiring riders to suit key markets, for example Mark Cavendish in the UK and Tony Martin for Germany.

Orica – Greenedge: Orica is an Australian company that makes explosives and other speciality chemicals for the mining industry. It bought Nobel, the Norwegian dynamite firm several years ago. Australia has been a big part of the global mining boom and the company does not have a great reputation with explosive disasters as well as several fines for environmental damage but sponsoring a cycling team is seen as a way to put something back. Greenedge meanwhile is a holding name as the team searches for a co-sponsor, green as in the Australia but also the environment and edge as cutting edge.

Trek Factory Racing: US bike brand Trek is behind this team but note the wider sphere of Trek Factory racers with triathletes and mountain biker riders all in the same livery even if their not registered to the World Tour squad.

Team Sky: Sky is a satellite television channel with operations in Britain, Germany and Italy. The brand is ultimately controlled by Newscorp and the cosmopolitan Murdoch family. The team is partly owned by British and Italian Sky which helps to explain the presence of several Italian riders. 2014 brings extra visibility for 21st Century Fox, another company within the Murdoch media empire as well as Jaguar, a car brand belonging to India’s Tata Motors.

Tinkoff – Saxo: Tinkoff is a Russian bank and credit card issuer that operates online, copying the model of Capital One in the US. Saxo is a currency brokerage from Denmark that offers software platforms to the banking industry.

Pro Continental teams
Androni Giocattoli – Venezuela: giocattoli is Italian for toys and Androni makes a range of plastic toys under licence including a range Hello Kitty toys. Venezuela is of course the South American nation and the team has recruited several riders from here. As the jersey shows, if the jersey is real estate then team manager Gianni Savio goes for the Hong Kong approach of crowding as much in as possible.

Bardiani Valvole – CSF Inox: two names but the same company, Bardiani makes steel valves for the food industry and CSF produces steel products for food hygiene use. The next time you see video of a food factory with liquids being pumped and poured as products move along conveyor belts it might feature Bardiani’s valves or CSF’s steel piping.

Bretagne – Séché Environnement: Bretagne is the cycling-mad region of north-west France that juts out into the Atlantic and its regional government is funding the team. The region is home to France’s favourite psychopath Bernard Hinault was well as the promising Warren Barguil. Séché is a recycling company that manages waste and other products. They’re an outsider for a Tour de France wildcard.

Caja Rural – Seguros RGA: Caja Rural is a Spanish banking brand, it covers over 70 different small banks run on a cooperative basis. Seguros RGA, “RGA Securities”, is a financial services brand belonging to Caja Rural. It’s Spain’s number two squad and guaranteed of an invite to all the big races in Spain. Like Bardiani-CSF it’s a sneaky example of including extra sponsors in the team name because all squads are allowed to have two sponsor names.

CCC Polsat Polkowice: CCC is a chain of shoe shops in Poland and Polsat is satellite TV channel. Now you might have just read that a team can only have two sponsor names so what are CCC, Polsat and Polkowice doing together. I wonder too but Polkowice is the name of the town where the team is from.

Cofidis with Sylvain Chavanel and Bradley Wiggins, each in a leader’s jersey

Cofidis: is a French consumer credit company offering loans in France, Belgium and Spain. It concentrates on the sub-prime segment and has drawn criticism for aggressive tactics. The team was once one of the world’s top squads but simultaneously a doping madhouse as its riders won classics and stood on to the podium of the Tour de France. It cleaned up its act long ago but results have gradually become more modest with the team leaving the World Tour at the end of 2009.

Colombia: is a quasi-national Colombian team but the funding is diverse with the national government making a contribution via the Coldesportes (Colombia Sports) agency and then a range of co-sponsors chipping in funding and equipment. A lively team but they suffer from seeing the best national riders poached for other teams.

Drapac Professional Cycling: Drapac Group is a specialist property investment and development company that has surfed the rising tide of real estate prices in Australia. But team founder Michael Drapac is more than a sponsor, the squad is keen to help riders develop with studies and learning other skills, a mission a few other teams might support but few shout about in public.

IAM Cycling: Independent Asset Management is a Swiss fund management company that has focussed on private funds but is moving to sell its funds to the general public. One of the largest and strongest Pro Continental teams.


NetApp – Endura: NetApp is a Californian company offering data storage and other IT services. Endura is a Scottish cycle clothing manufacturer who also supply Movistar. The team was formed from the merger of two eponymous sponsors and looks a good bet to ride the Tour de France.

Rusvelo: is essentially the Russian track cycling program with a road team to allow the endurance athletes to race on the road and is funded by the Russian government.

Team MTN Qhubeka: MTN is a mobile phone operator from South Africa with operations across Africa and beyond. The continent often lacks the infrastructure of traditional telecoms companies and MTN has grabbed a big share of the mobile market. Qhubeka is a charity project in South Africa to get people cycling. It helps rural communities by giving bicycles to children in return for work done to improve their environment and their community, this way the kids can get to school or provide improved access to healthcare.

Team Novo Nordisk: Novo Nordisk is a Danish pharmaceutical company with a range of insulin products and it is funding a pro team comprised only of diabetic athletes as a way to show the condition need not prevent an active life.

Topsport Vlaanderen – Baloise: Topsport is a Flemish sports foundation funded by the regional government and is helping younger riders in the pro careers. Baloise is a Swiss insurance and savings company.

United Healthcare: a US healthcare insurance provider. The team is looking to grow and will be riding in Europe this year.

Yellow Fluo: a bright jersey with darker past. The team is a survivor and should be changing its name to Neri as Italian firm Neri Sottoli is the prime sponsor. It’s a food supplier. Sottoli is derived from “under oil” and means food preserved in olive oil, think antipasti like olives or mushrooms in oil.

Wanty-Gobert: Wanty is a mini-conglomerate with activities ranging from quarrying to civil engineering and roadsurfacing, all united by large public works and the raw materials needed for these. Groupe Gobert supplies building materials like insulation or paving stones.

Alex222 January 27, 2014 at 6:27 pm

Love the Bernaud Hinault comment.

Salsiccia January 28, 2014 at 10:12 am

It’s a beauty, isn’t it

channel_zero January 27, 2014 at 6:38 pm

Androni Giocattoli – Venezuela jersey seems like an old-fashioned composite team where multiple riders bring their own sponsors and race together. My recollection is composite teams were more common many years ago when the UCI was okay with assembling temporary teams for events outside European core.

Qhubeka is a strange hybrid of which you only described half. The other half is a for-profit venture that sells a standardized bicycle in Africa. This organization seems as convoluted as Livestrong.com/.org

The objective seems to be to secure public/NGO poverty-reduction funding for buying their bikes and perhaps service(??) under the premise that the mobility will reduce poverty in African governments that buy into the scheme. Hopefully, it does what it claims without leaving abandoned equipment behind after funding ends like so many anti-poverty projects.

Where does the non-profit get the funds to support pro riders? Perhaps from the Canadian millionaire++ hobbyist funding Qhubeka.

channel_zero January 27, 2014 at 6:45 pm

Regarding Garmin’s prospects, their product is not actually the GPS radio, but applications built using gps radios.

Americans at least like having dedicated gadgets, so runners will like their watches, cyclists will like their on-board computers, drivers will still buy car GPS. As long as they stay creative in regards to adding software features on top of the now-comoditized GPS radio, then they have many more lucrative years ahead.

Anonymous January 27, 2014 at 8:23 pm

Darren January 27, 2014 at 9:36 pm

A question, if I may!

I was looking to buy a bike computer with GPS last year. The available options were Garmin, Bryton and Mio. The Garmin was much more expensive than the other two, with the top model being almost twice the price of the Bryton. Furthermore, the Bryton came pre-loaded with country street maps, while I would have to pay extra to get maps for the Garmin device.

Garmin have tried to block Bryton in a number of markets, claiming that the Bryton devices are too much of a rip-off (copy) of the Garmin devices. Is this true? Don’t know! The German courts were convinced! Bryton is an Asian company, and it is common for Asian companies to allow others to spend all the R&D money in developing new products, then they study and ‘copy’, or should I say ‘be inspired’!

Bryton are sponsoring AG2R Mondiale since 2013. Guess they were inspired by Garmin-Sharp!

Still, the Bryton being roughly half the price of the Garmin! Makes you (me) think…
How much of what we pay for products is paying for the sponsorship of sports teams?

channel_zero January 28, 2014 at 2:41 am

So much of intellectual property battles are a matter of personal perception and opinion. Most of the price difference is advertising budget. Part of that supports cycling. Seems to me that supporting cycling is worth a few quid.

If money is a problem, GPSLogger works great on either android or now-aged blackberry devices. You don’t even need a SIM chip. Just turn the GSM radio off and upload it over wifi/bluetooth when you get home.

Darren January 28, 2014 at 9:56 pm

Yeah, it’s just that a lot of people I know are convinced that the higher price for the Garmin is due to the costs of sponsoring! Then again, a lot of people once believed the Earth was flat!

I decided to buy the Bryton unit (Rider 50). Quite happy with it too!

Chris E Dub January 27, 2014 at 11:29 pm

In the UK we had (and still have, with a slightly different name) the Rapha-Condor-Sharp team. They got around the two name limit for sponsors by setting up a company called ‘Rapha-Condor’, still two firms, but technically and legally a single entity.

Vitus January 28, 2014 at 4:09 am

“Greenedge meanwhile is a holding name as the team searches for a co-sponsor”
No coincidence the only way to connect the name Orica with something that sounds like environment friendly.

Just waiting for teams named TarSandOil-Healthcare and BP-Dolphinpower. ;-)

The scoop January 28, 2014 at 4:40 am

The plot thickens with Gerry Ryan being part of a consortium to buy Melbourne Storm, a national rugby league franchise.

Part of that consortium took up 20%, alongside the Abu Dhabi United Group (owners of Manchester City) who bought the other 80%, to buy Melbourne Heart, a struggling football (s0ccer club) for $11.5m, being roughly 5% of City’s player transfer fees annually. They also own New York FC in the US’ soccer league. Heart is a great buy in that they are all upside, a rubbish team with rubbish players, their playbook centred around not passing to Harry Kewell too hard in case his Zimmer frame falls over.

Eithad Airlines is the sovereign fund’s airline, who may step forward to sponsor Melbourne City (they have already registered the name and will dump their previous name Heart at the end of the season), or even a cycling team…? It makes sense for Etihad to link itself into Australia via an international sport. Gerry is a good operator, I wouldn’t put it past him to put that together.

Any ‘greenwashing’ by Orica pales against the horrendous human rights record of the ruling Abu Dhabi royal family and Abu Dhabi being branded a ‘black hole for human rights’. Amnesty International and the Guardian Newspaper have long reported on Sheik Mansour’s revolting treatment of his subjects, most recently the arrest and torture of 94 people for political reasons.

Man City fans don’t care and neither will Aussie cycling fans either.

BenW January 31, 2014 at 3:24 pm

“Any ‘greenwashing’ by Orica pales against the horrendous human rights record of the ruling Abu Dhabi royal family and Abu Dhabi being branded a ‘black hole for human rights’. Amnesty International and the Guardian Newspaper have long reported on Sheik Mansour’s revolting treatment of his subjects, most recently the arrest and torture of 94 people for political reasons. Man City fans don’t care and neither will Aussie cycling fans either.”

Indeed they do not. Guardian Newspaper’s coverage is always amusing – The News section makes a big deal about ADU Group bu of course City Fan David Conn, their best sports journalist, forever soft-shoes the whole human rights thing in the sports pages. The bias is hilarious.

The scoop January 28, 2014 at 5:04 am

PS. off tangent but Brisbane Roar, another Australian football/soccer team, is owned by an Indonesian mining company, the Bakrie Group. They are a family who became billionaires through the old corrupt ruling family of Indonesia Suharto, as opposed to the new corrupt politicians ones who they also support. FYI, Indo is a web of political corruption and favour not unlike the former Soviet countries.

Bakrie Group caused what may be the worst environmental disaster in the world, many times worse than BP’s Deepwater Horizon in Mexico. Because they caused it in Java though, no one knows about it or gives a rats ass. People in towns there can’t smoke because the air is so dangerously full of fumes, that is if they aren’t dead already – the Bakrie Group’s mining disaster caused a 25 square kilometre pool of toxic mud, that will not be contained until around 2037 by scientific accounts.

They sound ideal to sponsor a cycling team, here he is on a bike:
http://www.voanews.com/content/reu-major-indonesia-golkar-party-clings-to-umpopular-presidential-candidate/1797053.html

Larry T. January 28, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Back-in-the-day DuPont tried a little “greenwashing” of their own by sponsoring Donnie Trumps tour once he got bored with it. A big bike race, despite 200+ guys pedaling the route, is probably not the most environmentally sound thing with all the cars, trucks, motos, helicopters involved.

Joe K. January 28, 2014 at 7:50 am

Qhubeka are sponsored (or, “presented by”) in part by Samsung, the Korean electronics conglomerate that makes smartphones, PCs, HDTVs and other home appliances–though it’s likely that Samsung Europe or Africa, rather than HQ, is the sponsor. With so many super rich companies and billionaires in Asia, especially China, I always wondered why there are so few Asian sponsors in pro cycling. Cycling in Korea, along the banks of the Han River in Seoul, with newly paved bike paths, is unbelievably popular, yet, as a sport, it hardly registers; even with a national Tour de Korea, which gets less and less media attention year by year.

Steven L January 28, 2014 at 12:53 pm

Repeated sentence:
“CCC Polsat Polkowice: CCC is a chain of shoe shops in Poland and Polsat is satellite TV channel. Polkowice is the town where the team is from. Now you might have just read that a team can only have two sponsor names so what is CCC, Polsat and Polkowice doing together. I wonder too but Polkowice is the name of the town where the team is from.”

The Inner Ring January 28, 2014 at 12:54 pm

Thanks, fixed it for the next reader.

Ryan January 28, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Zipper fail with Greipel’s jersey, Belisol says “Bel sol”

jaas January 29, 2014 at 12:08 am

Belisol in action….lulz

KubaWinter January 30, 2014 at 11:32 am

CCC Polsat Polkowice is very old polish cycling brand. Maybe some of you remember them riding Giro d’Italia at the beginning of the 21st century? They were riding for Tonkov, but finally it was Baranowski who finished just outside first 10 of GC.

CCC is a shoe brand and its founder is a huge cycling, and sport, fan. For few years they were also partner of Polish Cycling Federation. Former XC World Champion Maja Włoszczowska was racing for CCC Polsat women team.

Polsat is very big polish television, with its founder, owning few other huge companies.

Polkowice is very reach city in Poland, who money earn from industry (mainly copper) invests in different sports. By popularizing its name they want to get more investors.

However, in the last few years team does not have a good publicity within fans for bad racing in international races and focusing for small local polish ones. Polish cycling forums have a huge hopes for them, but also make a lot of fun and complaints about their riding.

P.S. Their polish nickname is “cycki” from CCC (tse-tse-tse in polish), which means “tits” ;)

The Inner Ring January 30, 2014 at 2:13 pm

Good info, thanks.

xip January 30, 2014 at 3:48 pm
Richard EASTHAM January 31, 2014 at 12:49 am

I vividly recall having La Jouvence de l’Abbé Soury rubbed on my legs by the DS when I was riding for a French amateur team in Normandy in 2001. “Bien pour les jambes!” he proudly announced. Smelt nice. Utterly ineffective. Happy days!

Thesteve4761 January 31, 2014 at 6:23 am

Unitedhealthcare have been racing in Europe for a few years now…. Since 2011 I believe. Although they usually get their butts kicked.

Also, UHC is the parent company of Optum Health Group, who sponsors a continental us team. Ironically, the two teams get along like oil and water.

On a side note, it’s pure comedy when a Spanish commissaire tries to say “UnitedHealthcare por aqua”.

gabriele March 1, 2014 at 5:28 pm

More or less like when a non-Spanish speaker tries to write it down…
…”aqua”??? “Latin countries” aren’t called like that because they actually speak Classical Latin, did you know?
Anyway, yes, it’s funny :-)

patrick February 28, 2014 at 11:03 pm

Maybe it has been mentioned already, but greenedge was/is the name of a race horse owned by Gerry Ryan. Or so I’m told.

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