Monday Shorts

Sponsor merry-go-round edition, a few loose ends on the smaller teams struggling to stay on the road with UCI deadlines and shrinking sponsorship.

With Giacomo Nizzolo, Victor Campenaerts, Max Walscheid and others leaving Qhubeka-Nexthash the chances of the team continuing look ever-smaller. Plus behind the scenes  last week was the hard deadline for the team to submit all its documents to the UCI. Fail here and the rule says a team will be excluded. That’s still not the end of things, a team could send in paperwork which the UCI could ask for clarification on and so on and you’d imagine the UCI would try to accommodate a team. But the firm deadline has passed and there’s no talk of a saviour sponsor.

Two weeks ago the other team missing from the UCI’s list was Drone Hopper Androni, the new name for Gianni Savio’s Androni-Sidermec squad. The Italian team announced they missed the soft deadline for applying for their UCI licence for next year. It’s soft because miss it and a team can pay a little more for each day’s delay, but last week was the hard deadline. At the time Savio put the delay down to Drone Hopper being a start-up and so the paperwork needs a bit more time. Let’s hope it’s just an admin issue because Drone Hopper is a Spanish company making industrial drones – not the kind consumers buy to photo a roof, or film their cycling rides but ones for carrying heavy payloads, even water for dousing forest fires – and you wonder about the demographic crossover between cycling’s popular audience and the niche world of industrial drone procurement where a handful of people presumably need to be reached. Perhaps the bigger concern is a quick look at Drone Hopper’s details on the Infoempresa website reports “una facturación anual de menos de 2 millones de euros“, Spanish for sales below €2 million for the year. If this is right, it could be for older accounts, they have other entities, and might have raised more cash since. If the infoempresa number is wrong, well it still looks like a start-up launched by the University of Madrid and acquiring the naming rights for a pro cycling team is odd.

Meanwhile Vini Zabù team is likely to fold as well, perhaps shrink to a regional amateur racing squad. Title sponsor Vini Zabù has jumped ship to Intermarché-Wanty-Gobert and the Italian team’s record – it seems to have lodged more doping disappointments than memorable wins of late – means there’s no queue of sponsors to keep it going.

With the added cash Intermarché-Wanty’s management say they will have a budget of €11 million for the World Tour which must place them second last for now with Qhuebka-Nexthash below. It shows the range in the World Tour with Ineos on €50 million.

If Drone Hopper-Androni does get its UCI licence for 2022 this still doesn’t solve the conundrum of wildcard invitations for the Giro. Assume Qhubeka-Nexthash is alas no more, this means Alpecin-Fenix and Arkéa-Samsic get the automatic invites which leaves two invitations left. There are three teams chasing them: Androni, Bardiani-CSF and Eolo-Kometa. Eolo sponsor RCS races and Kometa is a Hungarian company and there are Hungarian riders on the team which suits the Giro grande partenza in Budapest so they’re an obvious pick. So Androni or Bardiani? Or maybe both if Arkéa-Samsic declines to start, the French team is obviously going to place a lot of eggs in the Tour de France basket but Samsic does have business in Italy and the team has a 30-strong roster where they could, say, spare younger riders.

You can see why giving the two best Pro Teams near-World Tour status suits them. The likes of Alpecin-Fenix get most of the benefits of being a World Tour team without any of the extra costs. But those extra costs aren’t so big, the savings on team registration fee and anti-doping contribution amount to about €100k a year, handy but not game-changing? View it like an insurance payment and it’s cheap, a guarantee to ride the top races rather than worrying about a challenger team overtaking them on the rankings next year. Perhaps the bigger benefit is the choice, they can go World Tour races if they want but if the sponsors have no interests or the calendar is too congested they can say “no” when others can’t.

Finally Nippo is the co-sponsor of the EF team and has been backing Japanese pro cycling since the 1980s. It too has looked like an odd deal but helping Japanese athletes develop has worked to the point where there’s a pathway into the World Tour for their riders. But for how long? US investment bank Goldman Sachs is trying to take over Nippo and with this might come new marketing priorities and cost-cutting. Very much a background story for now, but one to look out for.

25 thoughts on “Monday Shorts”

  1. Drone Hopper could be a potential partner for the local authorities involved in cycling races.
    I looked at procuring a smaller drone a while ago and, whilst the costs are small, there’s all kinds of issues around compatibility with corporate software and cyber security. So it’s probably easier to hire in the experts?
    Perhaps also there’ll be a day in the future when team and support cars could be augmented by drones, carrying wheels, gear, drinks etc?

    • “Perhaps also there’ll be a day in the future when team and support cars could be augmented by drones, carrying wheels, gear, drinks etc?”
      Now THERE’s a scary thought! The riders currently have to worry about morons at the roadside + race caravan cars and motos not always controlled by experienced experts but why not add some aerial excitement with even more clueless operators…. flying drones around to drop wheels, bottles, etc. into and onto the peloton? What could go wrong? Maybe we should ask the US military to operate ’em?

          • Drones got banned in alpine skiing after a very scary accident when a drone almost crashed on a skier. I wouldn’t really like the idea of these things hovering above the peloton. It’s just adding unnecessary risk.

        • I’ve got to say we’re probably a significant way away from this. You have the problems of said drones being powerful enough to carry equipment for a sustained amount of time, and the inherent risks of following along roads with over hanging branches and power cables. Plus, throw in multiple drones and you potentially get chaos.
          It’s not the same a piloting a helicopter or plane. Though perhaps you could have these things waiting in the sidelines ready to do “supply drops”. I realise that there are attempts to robotify cars etc and this might lead to a similar situation for drones (btw has anyone seen the robot food delivery vehicles in Milton Keynes). But we are a substantial step from being anywhere near this.

  2. Gawd, how I wish for the days before “Heinie’s Folly” was foisted upon pro cycling.
    I’ve yet to understand how this scheme benefitted anything other than the UCI’s bank accounts and why it’s outlived the guy whose idea it was.

    • One of the smaller but stronger WT team could certainly drop down to pro-Conti level and get a bit more flexibility with their schedule as well as a few more staff. In theory the admin cost saving could also give them base salary for two neo-pros but I presume now days the Neo-pros everyone is fighting over would cost a deal more than the base salary.

      With their roster, some of these teams could certainly guarantee to be the top 2 at pro-coati level and won’t need to worry about race invite. I suppose the UCI may have allowed this intentionally to help new team grow before they are ready for WT. But it is just not fair for Alpecin-Fenix to take advantage of this year after year. For all purposes they are wealthier than many WT teams. For all purposes, Ineos, JV & UAE could do this and their race program wouldn’t be affected at all. If anything they have more flexibility in deciding their program. Though, they wouldn’t do it because not in the WT sounds stupid. But you can imagine one of them do it to protest for something the same way ASO tried to pull TDF out of WT one year.

      Maybe a team should be treated like a WT team once they’ve been at the top of pro-conti level for a few years. ie. requiring to pay the same registration fee as WT teams and make the same anti-d0ping contribution, and requirement to participate in all WT races not just to pick and choose.

    • oh come on larry, the sport has to be modernized at some point which means leagues and overall season rankings, you’ve bemoaned the world tour for a decade now! (your tenacity is admirable) i can only think of professional tennis and professional that operate with the sort of invitation-only concept you’re always proposing, but those are individual sports which would seem an easier proposition logistically.

      while i do agree though that it needs to be massaged into a better system and 18 (or 19? or 17?) teams seemed pretty arbitrary then and now, but inrng has demonstrated almost every year for the last 15 (?) years that the uci doesn’t turn much of a profit, so this whole assertion that the “scheme benefits only the uci’s bank accounts” isn’t backed up by the numbers.

      so in all sincerity, what do you propose otherwise? back to races inviting whomever they chose? how does that benefit the sport and spectators?

      • “ in all sincerity, what do you propose otherwise? back to races inviting whomever they chose? how does that benefit the sport and spectators?”
        First, explain to me how Heinie’s Folly currently is “benefit(ing) the sport and spectators” vs the previous situation. But even before you try, I ask what was WRONG with pro cycling before Heinie’s Folly was shoved down pro cycling’s throat?
        “Globalization” was talked up as a big goal as I recall but a) has that happened b) has this been good c) can Heinie’s Folly be credited for it?
        One might claim pro cycling would somehow be worse-off if the WT hadn’t been invented but I remain convinced it’s only managed to do the two things outlined earlier…neither of them particularly “benefit(ing) the sport and spectators.”

  3. Being in the world tour must offer a degree of security to sponsors and riders looking to sign for a team. There is no guarantee that a team will make the top of the rankings two years down the line.

    • Well, that was one of the selling points but as the article and hoh’ comments noted, it hasn’t exactly worked out that way. What it has done is jacked up the costs for pretty much everyone involved and put more euros in the UCI’s accounts in Switzerland. I can’t call either of those great reasons to continue with “Heinie’s Folly”. Whatever magic it was supposed to work hasn’t been very magical IMHO but it seems pro cycling’s stuck with it. It’s certainly not in the UCI’s financial interest to get ride of it so….

      • I more than half-expected you to have read it 🙂 The story that emerges seems to be one of a godforsaken small town quite possibly rather desperate to find someone to use one of many vacant industrial halls and of a a startup company that is very eager to find customers for its products. The actual production line isn’t there quite yet, but will be as soon as *the* deal is ready and signed or when *an investor* has come up with a big dosh of money.
        Drone Hopper may well turn out to be a kind of small scale Spanish Tesla of UAVs, but I’m stilll a bit worried about the future of Gianni Savio’s team.
        PS I spent a good half an hour trying to find a pic of a jersey with “Drone Hopper” on it somewhere, but to no avail. Actually I’m not sure it wasn’t printed on the bib shorts…but I do remember it striking me as a bit odd that it wasn’t Androni Giocattoli – Sidermec (but I know that, too, could be a false memory).

  4. Savio, Citracca, the Reverberi brothers – blow them out of the sport and let Italian cycling build a new way of working. Those three teams have been a drag on the sport for years; they do nothing except expect everybody to fawn over them, give them a free pass for their ignorant backwardness and applaud the simple fact of their being Italian for three weeks in May. Please spare me the special pleading on behalf of Gianni’s personal Colombian pension scheme.

    Take off the blinkers, stop looking at them with blind eyes, wave goodbye with no regrets and look to build more solid foundations to the pro class commensurate to a justifiably proud cycling nation.

  5. I researched and spoke to a dozen pro cycling teams years ago about sponsorship.

    Surprised to learn how tough it was for the corporate team to activate at events. They don’t know which tours you get invited to. By the time you do hospitality is all booked by confirmed team and tour sponsors.

    Fondos do more for their brand than team TV media coverage.

    Merchandise sales even for major teams is very small revenue.

    Vaughters shared he was trying to “franchise” Slipstream by using the anti-doping story and argyle colors. But that’s been abandoned with EF sponsorship.

    Most of these smaller teams lack any unique personality or story and thus never break through.

  6. Meanwhile, what’s up with JV/EF? Is JV taking the Cannondale bikes away from those leaving EF, then when photos show up of (so far) Higuita and Craddock riding the bike of their new squad, he tries to wiggle out of the rest of their 2021 salary with some phony breach-of-contract BS?

    • It is a breach of contract but usually tolerated, I looked at the issue of contracts and timing back in 2013 and at the time it was just odd to see Uran in Sky kit on a Specialized bike, nobody was threatening to fire him.

      Riders need to know their new bike well before the new year, to get the feel of it, the position set-up and cleats as a lot can change from the gear shifting to the pedals. It makes sense to start riding your new bike as early as possible and the solution to this is to run contracts from 1 November to 31 October but ensure any riders don’t lose out, eg those retiring still get paid 12 months.

      • “It is a breach of contract but usually tolerated,” is exactly why I’m wondering WTF is up with JV/EF, though it sounds like he’s already walking back the silliness in the case of Higuita.
        I agree with your idea on changing the contract terms from calendar years to something more inline with how the season works.
        Dunno why a team would even want a guy who has signed with another team riding around in their kit and on their equipment – cut ’em loose! Those training camp photos always look silly when they have guys coming in from elsewhere still using the stuff from their previous squad.

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