Cycling and Beer

With the Amstel Gold Race this weekend, proof that cycling is linked to beer. It’s not just a one-off, recent races in Belgium have been sponsored by Kwaremont, a brand of beer that’s exploited the sport and it’s not that long ago that a major team was sponsored by a large brewery.

Amstel Gold is a brand of beer belonging to Heineken International, the world’s third largest brewer. The Dutch multinational might own the race but it can’t own the route. Sunday’s race passes through the aptly-named village of Gulpen with its Gulpener brewery.

Right Here, Right Now
For cyclists who like beer, April has to be the best month. The Netherlands and Belgium offer some of Europe’s best brewing. There’s plenty to choose from in the Netherlands but Belgium surely wins for diversity and eccentricity. While German brewers today must follow strict purity laws set down in medieval times, Belgium’s brewers have gone in the opposite direction, mixing in new ingredients and trying new techniques to the point where each beer comes with a special glass whose particular shape is designed to ensure it’s served correctly. Whether it’s the open air “lambic” beer from Brussels or the fruity varieties from Flanders, there are over a thousand brewers in Belgium proudly resisting the global forces of consolidation and economies of scale… words surely dear to AB Invev, the world’s largest brewer. It’s bought its way to the top and today the Belgium firm owns brands like Budweiser and Labatts.

Beer and wine companies may sponsor a bike race or team but a spirits brand cannot. Hidden in the UCI rulebook is a paragraph stating

“no brand of tobacco, spirits, pornographic products bis or any other products that might damage the image of the UCI or the sport of cycling in general shall be associated directly or indirectly with a licence-holder, a UCI team or a national or international cycling competition. As defined in the present article, a spirit is a beverage with a content in alcohol of 15% or more.”

So beer and wine are ok but not brandy, vodka or anything stronger. As well as the Amstel Gold deal, some recent races in Belgium have had Kwaremont beer as a sponsor. The beer plays on its links to cycling and used the spring classics to help with a relaunch. It’s not beer but in recent times the Tour Down Under used to be sponsored by Jacob’s Creek, a brand belonging to French company Pernod Richard and Orica-Greenedge today has a deal with Michelton Wines. Playing on links to Belgium US brand “New Belgium Brewing” has been an active cycling sponsor in the US and the US Pro Cycling Challenge is sponsored by Sierra Nevada Brewing.

Excluding Tinkoff Restaurants which sold own label beers as part Oleg Tinkov’s plan, the last sponsorship deal between a brewer and pro cycling was the Buckler team in the early 1990s which several sponsors later is Belkin Pro Cycling today. Only Buckler is a brand of zero alcohol beer, a sign of the times perhaps as alcohol and the open road went their separate ways. I don’t know if Buckler wanted to associate with the healthy-living side of pro cycling or just wanted big publicity in July.

Before this there were several teams sponsored by beer. The Internet says British brewer Watney planned to sell its beer to the Belgians and hatched a plan to sponsor a pro team as a way of cracking the market but it does sound like selling ice to Eskimos and the plan didn’t work. Most famous at the time was the Pelforth team from France in the 1960s with the likes of Raymond Poulidor and Henri Anglade. To bring it full circle, Pelforth is still making beer today but is another brand owned by Heineken.

You wouldn’t and shouldn’t put in your water bottle during a ride but it’s ok after. It can hydrate, offers calories and is a decent source of silicon which can help with healthy bones. In times past beer was consumed by cyclists but typically because local water fountains were risky but many riders would down wine instead. Some were known to enjoy the taste of champagne in their “finish bottle”, it’s said the fizz and sugars gave them extra energy.

Last year’s winner of the Amstel Gold Race was Roman Kreuziger. He is from Plzeň, also known as Pilsen in the Czech republic. The town is the birthplace of the Pilsener beer.

39 thoughts on “Cycling and Beer”

  1. You are forgetting the US-based Coors Light cycling team! Joking about whether that really qualifies as a beer aside, they were a pretty good team on the domestic circuit back in the 90ies with racers such as Mike Engleman, Alexi Grewal, Scott Moninger, Roy Knickman, Roberto Gaggioli, and Davis Phinney.

    Speaking of alcohol and image, I recall one story in Velonews about the team having some problems while racing in a dry (no alcohol) county in Texas.

  2. Sad to know CINZANO could no longer sponsor a cycling team while in the USA, Crown Royal and Smirnoff can put their advertising on cars going round and round in NASCAR races and Aperol can sponsor MOTOGP.

  3. As a Scot, I will now pretend to be outraged that the UCI won’t allow our national drink to sponsor a cycling team, but the Benedictine monks from the Buckfast Abbey could sponsor one with their own tonic wine. Despite it being a drink widely associated with hooligans and unofficially known among Scots as “Wreck the Hoose Juice”

  4. Reinheitsgebot was lifted in 1988! Le tour is being used as an excuse to hold a number of beer festivals in Yorkshire (and Lancashire) and a number of special brews have been created. The UK also has more than 1000 breweries with some equally crazy recipes.

  5. I would think that a descent beer would be far better for you than some of these chemically rampant energy drinks so beloved by the Marketing Bull Departments.

  6. I’m going to have to disagree with you this time Inring. On long rides, 150k or more, I have found Guinness to be very beneficial for that last 50k home.

  7. When I visit Brussels I always try to take time for a beer or two (Duvel in most cases) in the quintessential “A la Mort Subite”. I remember the time they had an image of Eddy Merckx hanging on the wall.

  8. Nothing special about cycling here. Amstel has sponsored football (Dutch cup) for a while, and Heineken still sponsors Champions League (or am I outdated there) Watching sports and drinking beer is just a popular combination.

  9. On a trip to France last year I was childishly pleased to find Pelforth in the hotel bar. Obviously we had to sample some. It was rather nice.

  10. Talking of beer and cycling, let’s not forget the traditional race “Rund um den Henninger-Turm” in Frankfurt, held from 1961 until 2008, at May 1th.
    Sponsored by the brewery Henninger, and the traditional uphill finish was direct underneath the Henninger-Turm (-Tower), a 120 m (390 ft), 33-storey, reinforced concrete tower filled with 16,000 tons of barley, witha barrel-shaped revolving restaurant on the top.
    They also sponsored my local team “Henninger Sossenheim” and I wore the jersey with the shape of this tower always with pride. Though I wasn’t allowed to drink beer that time.;-)
    Unfortunately the brewery was sold, the race ends now in a lame inner city finish and has a real ugly name (which I refuse to speak out loud). And this year they demolished the old tower, which was a landmark of our city for decades.
    Now we have bank skyscrapers as landmarks. But no bank here sponsor cycling…… other as Henninger, who really did a lot for cycling in this country.

  11. Sierra Nevada out of Chico California has arguably done more for bicycle racing in the Western US than any other beer sponsor period since the Coors Classic or Red Zinger.

    They have been trying to get the Amgen tour through Chico for years I believe that happened last year?

      • If Amgen only made money on EPO/PED’s they would not be a $87 Billion dollar multinational pharmaceutical company!

        Nick lighten up, go have a beer Happy Easter!

        • Multinational pharmaceutical companies only make good and healthy products? That would be good news.
          There are more pill addicts than alcohol addicts in the worls.

  12. With all the talk of beers from the northern end of the world, I can vouch that a Boags beer from the state in Australia that gave cycling Richie Porte is not too bad a drop at the end of a ride. If you don’t know which state this is just look at chain that Richie wears around his neck. Happy Easter riding to all followed by their favourite tipple!!!

  13. hmmm. so… vodka brands can’t sponsor katusha but Orica (which makes explosives for the mining industry which is poisoning Australia) can sponsor no prob? I think that rule isn’t very thought through.

  14. Watney did in fact sponsor a successful Belgium pro team for several seasons in the 60s with Frans Verbeeck ( the flying postman) as one of it’s leaders.

    Chuffy. Pelforth certainly is still available in France, in both the dark and light forms, but rather expensive.

  15. Very good piece and choice of subject.
    1) Beer is strongly associated not only with road cycling, but with cyclo-cross. More Belgian connection, but also Czech.
    2) Talking Czech.. Kreuziger is not from Plzeň (home of a defunct CX World Cup race, btw), I believe. Wikipedia has it that he is from Moravská Třebova (great beer anyway, Černá Hora). Same place of birth as, interestingly, Leopold König.
    3) On wine… it still surprises me that the wine business in France, Italy and Spain, the 3 GTs , the 3 touristic super-powers, and the 3 biggest wine producers, still doesn’t see the whole potential value of cycling as a means for the explicit promotion of wine. Some second-tier teams in Italy, the odd TT across famous vineyards, the old Paternina team with which Lejarreta made the TdF top-5 in 89… I think there’s waaay more potential there.

    • I’ll cover wine and cycling soon, probably during the Giro with the Barbareso-Barolo time trial stage. It’s more directly-related to cycling as the terrain and weather matter for the vines just like they do for racing.

  16. The “US Pro Cycling Challenge” is actually the “USA Pro Challenge” … and was originally the “Quiznos Pro Challenge.” But most erroneously refer to it as the “Tour of Colorado.”

  17. Here in Australia, we had a junior team in recent years racing both the National Road Series & the Queensland road series. It was sponsored by Erdinger Alkohol-Frei – certainly sparked some interesting discussions…

  18. Small trivia regarding the buckler beer, but it is said that Buckler is no longer available in the Netherlands (Heinekens’ home market) after the brand’s image declined following Dutch cabaret performer Youp van ‘t Hek mocking the brand (and its consumers) in a show in 1989.

  19. This would have to be the only instance where a spirit is defined as anything above 15%ABV. In most of the world, it’s 40%… Also interesting, as many wines go over the 15% limit

  20. isn’t this the paragraph that the UCI used against Mr.Boommaker .com?

    I think the internal issues of the UCI have damaaged the brand of cycling more than any sponsor ever could.

    • The Mr Bookmaker / Unibet team’s problems occured because of a French law forbidding bookmakers to sponsor sports. They wanted a ride in the Tour de France but could not, despite ruses with question marks on their jersey. It was more a massive misunderstanding on the part of a sponsor trying to get around the law than any UCI rules.

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