With the new season underway do you know your Cofidis from your CCC, Michelton from Movistar? Do you know what the EF in EF Education First stands for? No, it’s not Education First and the answer’s below and you can also learn what all the World Tour team title sponsors do.
Ag2r La Mondiale is a French social insurance company, offering health insurance and pension plans to savers in France. It’s mutually-owned and has grown via mergers to become one of France’s biggest insurance companies with 650 agencies across France.
- Title sponsor since 2000 and the team was founded in 1992 as Chazal
Astana was the capital of Kazakhstan – it means “capital” in Kazakh – but the city has be renamed Nur-Sultan. The name lives on with team and it rides to promote the country although given the scandals over the years it’s not always made the country bask in glory although how much the negative headlines cost versus the wins gain is another matter.
- Title sponsor since 2007 when the team was born out of the ashes of the Liberty Seguros team which was engulfed by Operation Puerto
Bahrain-McLaren is backed by the oil-rich island in the Middle East. It’s harsh regime that sits right at the bottom of the press freedom index and other scores but this blogger better say nice things about because you can get jailed for tweeting criticism. It’s a case study in “sportwashing”, the use of a sports team and so far seems rather successful, outlets sceptical about the recent Saudi Tour seem happy to run with features promoting the Bahrain team and it’s backer… a close ally of Saudi Arabia. New for 2020 is the McLaren name but the sports car manufacturer is owned by Bahrain’s sovereign wealth fund so it’s partly an internal affair but the team will offer publicity and promotion for the brand which could be heading for a stockmarket listing.
Bora-Hansgrohe is a German team sponsored by two Mittelstand manufacturers. Bora makes kitchen extractor fans with the selling point that the fans are located beside the cooking hob rather than above them and the firm has experienced prodigious growth since it started sponsoring a team. Hansgrohe make plumbing parts like taps and shower heads and if they have a Germany history since being founded by Herr Hans Grohe in 1901 are these days majority owned by US conglomerate Masco. Don’t confuse them with arch rival Grohe, the plumbing version of Adidas vs Puma. The silent partner is Specialized, the influential bike brand was instrumental in bringing Peter Sagan to the team.
- The team started in 2010 as Team NetApp
CCC is a Polish footwear retailer with some manufacturing too. It started in the 1990s as Cena Czyni Cuda which translates as “the price makes wonders” and it’s a philosophy that’s sustained the company ever since, it stamps on costs. Visit a store and boxes are piled high with shoppers taking out of shoes themselves to try for size rather than an assistant bringing them out from a store room, this means fewer staff and more retail space. It also appears to hold a perpetual sale which adds to the discount vibe. All this has made founder Dariusz Miłek a billionaire and CCC is one of the Polish stockmarket’s 20 biggest firms. What started in Poland is now international with a push into Germany, Russia and Switzerland and the pro team will help with marketing, if you’ve seen the Sprandi name on the jersey it’s a brand owned by CCC.
- Miłek has sponsored the old BMC team which can be traced back to 2006, the same year in which the CCC team also got underway, today’s team is the old BMC team plus some CCC team with the old CCC team now acting as their development squad
Cofidis are new in the World Tour but are such an old team they were in the Pro Tour years ago and have existed since 1997. It’s backed by a French consumer lending company which has now expanded to offering loans in Spain, Italy and central Europe making the cycling team a useful marketing tool. Ultimately Cofidis is now part of the Crédit Mutuel financial group which also owns online bank Arkéa, sponsor of the second tier Arkéa-Samsic team.
Deceuninck-Quick Step is still awkward to spell. Deceuninck is a Belgian maker of PVC windows and cladding, mainly for industrial and office buildings and has sales across Europe and North America, it’s on the Euronext stock exchange with a market value of €270 million today. Co-sponsor QuickStep may seem quintessentially Flemish but it belongs to company founded in Amsterdam… Amsterdam, New York called Mohawk Industries, a giant supplier of commercial and residential flooring. It all vibes construction sites which part explains the blue overalls team kit but Zdeněk Bakala is the majority owner and the Czech billionaire is said to fund the team as well giving them a white collar touch too.
- Quick Step’s sponsorship began in 2003 but the team is an assembly of mergers over the years and can be traced back to the 1990s
EF Education First Pro Cycling is a language education business that was started in Sweden and now HQ’d in Switzerland, presumably for tax rather than sunshine. EF Education First sounds repetitive but the initials EF actually stand for Europeiska Ferieskolan rather than Education First, it’s Swedish for “European Holiday Schools” because this is what the founder Bertil Hult first named his venture and it’s grown to a big business making the Hult family billionaires. The team has changed its name every year since inception but was bought by EF outright from its founders late in 2018 and ever since is now a more stable entity.
- The team began as a junior development team in 2003, became a pro team in 2007
Groupama-FDJ is 50-50 joint venture owned by its two sponsors. If you want to sound très French then pronounce it it Groupama-FDG. Groupama is a giant French mutual insurance company – and rival to the Ag2r – and with a rural logo which hints at the original name Groupe des Assurances Mutuelles Agricoles. FDJ is short for La Française des Jeux. It’s the French state lottery which has just been privatised but has committed to fund both the men’s and women’s teams for several years so no change on the horizon. Team owner Marc Madiot is a keen patriot – he’ll blast the French anthem on the team bus for Bastille Day and keeps national champion’s jersey free from sponsor logos – but with a sideline in Americana thanks to his cowboy boots and a Corvette in the garage back home.
- The team began in 1997 and has kept the same sponsor all along; in 2012 it was FDJ-BigMat
Team Ineos is the new name for Team Sky after Ineos bought the team last spring. Ineos is a petrochemicals company that mainly makes plastics and manufactures and supplies the chemicals to make the plastics that surround us and it’s grown so big it’s now drilling for oil and gas for raw materials and energy. It’s a private firm owned by James “Jim” Ratcliffe, Britain’s third richest person. He bought the cycling team for fun and also has a sailing team, has bought French football club OGC Nice and is now a sponsor of the Mercedes Formula 1 team. Why? Because he can and it must be fun to own all these teams but they help with dealmaking too, especially the Formula 1 connection which offers VIP opportunities galore. If you want to know why Egan Bernal, Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome are all riding the Tour de France it’s because the big prize is what counts for Ratcliffe.
- The team began in 2010
Israel Start Up Nation is the result of the Israel Cycling Academy takeover of the Katusha-Alpecin team and by acquiring the World Tour licence the team jumps up into the top level. It’s not the Israeli state, instead it’s financed by Israeli-Canadian real estate billionaire Sylvain Adam, a keen cyclist who recently migrated to Israel and has been spending his fortune to promote the country. He part-funded the Giro’s start last year, backs this team and when Madonna sung at the Eurovision song contest in Tel Aviv last year it was because she was being well-paid by Adams to do so.
- Adams bought Katusha which bought Oleg Tinkov’s Tinkoff Credit systems team which began in 2006
Jumbo-Visma have Dutch supermarket chain Jumbo – say Yumbo – and Visma, a Norwegian IT services company. The team’s shot up the spending rankings, only a few years ago they were among the poorest. Jumbo is family-owned, growing fast across the Netherlands to become one of the leading food retailers and are now expanding into Belgium. The supermarket’s payroll had been managed by a firm which was recently taken over by a Norwegian software and services firm called Visma… which has now come on board with the cycling team too after the connection was made at work.
Lotto-Soudal is the longest continuous team sponsorship in pro cycling with the Belgian state lottery backing a team through various name changes over the years ever since 1985. Soudal is a Belgian business making adhesives and sealants, a staple in DIY stores. Cleverly the race with Soudal-Lotto jerseys outside of Belgium because you can buy Soudal products all around the world but only Lotto tickets in Belgium. Despite the pedigree and the government backing this is firmly Belgium’s second best team.
- The team goes back to 1985
Mitchelton-Scott‘s headline sponsor is a winery in Nagambie, Australia and a business belonging to team owner Jerry Ryan who’s become one of Australia’s wealthiest people thanks to his Jayco caravan business – Australia’s largest vehicle manufacturer ever since Ford and GM/Opel pulled out – and an astute investment in the Walking With Dinosaurs franchise, the result of which is prodigious wealth and he’s ploughed a lot of this back into Australian sport, including this cycling team. Normally alcohol sponsorship is forbidden in France but the team isn’t troubled in the Tour de France because the winery is also a hotel and spa that caters for functions and weddings. They’re hunting for a title sponsor but this always seems to be six months away. Scott is a Swiss-American sports brand, registered in Switzerland but with a US heritage and if you know the frames they also make skis, ski poles and accessories for dirt motor cycling like body protection, goggles and more.
Movistar is a mobile telecoms operator that belongs to Telefonica with activities in Spain and Latin America as well as in the UK and Germany under the separate O2 brand.
- This is the longest surviving team in the peloton with a lineage going back to 1980 and the Reynolds team with José Miguel Echavarri at the helm for most of the time before handing over to Eusebio Unzué and now Sebastian Unzué is picking up the reins.
NTT is Japan’s national telecoms company. Several years ago it bought IT services firm Dimension Data and finally rebranded “Di Data” as NTT and so the team has changed its name to suit. The sponsorship remains connected to the IT branch of the firm rather than the phones.
- Dimension Data came on board for 2016 and the team can trace itself back 2008 as MTN, named after the South African telecoms operator
Team Sunweb are backed by a European holiday tour operator that is part of the Swiss-Dutch Sundio Group, essentially a Dutch company but with its HQ in Switzerland. Holiday makers in UK, Germany, France, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands buy packages online to fly south: the sun via the web. It already turns over €600 million a year and takes over a million people on holiday. The team’s DNA is Dutch but they fly under a German flag, presumably to help tap a big market.
- A quiet story of growth that goes back to Shimano–Memory Corp in 2005
Trek-Segafredo is the combination of US bike brand Trek and Italian coffee Segafredo. Trek should be familiar while Segafredo is an Italian coffee giant controlled by founder Massimo Zanetti that floated on the stock exchange in 2016 and Signor Zanetti is responsible for hiring, read paying, Vincenzo Nibali.
- Formally the team began in 2011 as Leopard-Trek
UAE-Team Emirates is backed by the United Arab Emirates, a federation of kingdoms with Abu Dhabi as the capital, a close ally of Saudi Arabia and Bahrain mentioned above and another oil and gas rich state. The Emirates name is also the airline, a big blue chip global sponsor in a peloton of mainly minor and local brands. The team can trace itself back to the old Lampre team and beyond and is gradually moving away from its Italian roots even if they’re on Colnago bikes with Campagnolo and retain eight Italian riders, down from ten last year.
- The team can be traced back to 1990 when it was Colnago-Lampre
- There’s not much change on 2019 – this is 80% copy-paste of last year’s version – with a nexus of energy-rich authoritarian states as sponsors and rich sugar daddies, with Sylvain Adams replacing Igor Makarov
- Trek is the last bike manufacturer to have its own team and Scott is the only other bike brand to have its name in lights as the likes of Merida, Cannondale, Giant, Cervélo among others have dropped off the naming rights radar, partly down to price as team budgets rise
- All three French teams are mutually-owned firms with a rural clientèle presumably interested in the way the sport can reach parts of France that others don’t
- Other teams have different reaches. Consumer brands like CCC, Sunweb, Segafredo, Emirates and Movistar sit alongside companies like business-facing companies like Deceuninck, NTT and Visma and these sponsors have very different names, Visma for example probably really want to offer VIP moments to clients and investors rather than become a household name
Photo credits: Cofidis podium, Chris Auld photo courtesy of the Tour Down Under; NTT by Flickr’s Ryuichi Ikeda