Monday Shorts

Happy New Year! The 2024 road cycling season has started with Lukas Pöstlberger (Jayco) winning the Sun Hung Kai Properties Hong Kong Cyclothon. Such is pro cycling that hibernation awaits…

Yes the race is in 2023, comes after a busy previous weekend’s racing and there’s nothing on the calendar until the Australian championships and then Tour Down Under in January. But it’s in the rules (2.1.001) that any race that follows the final World Tour or World Championships event is technically part of the next season so the Hong Kong race counts for 2024. It’s the pro cycling equivalent of a tomato being technically a fruit, only everyone uses it as a vegetable. We must remember to count this race from 2023 in the 2024 tallies.

Is that it (1)?
No news from Jumbo-Visma about the pulled merger apart from one line saying they didn’t want to do the deal in the end as it would have sunk the Soudal-Quickstep team. Which is unusual given the very structure of the deal was designed to achieve this, even if the prime aim was to ensure the Jumbo-Visma structure continued with a top sponsor, the equivalent of taking a friend’s back wheel mid-ride so you can ride on until you clock they might be stuck beside the road for a while. The Belgian “wolfpack” would have had been toast given the prime sponsor and major shareholder were leaving with just weeks before the UCI deadlines.

Is that it (2)?
No news on a replacement sponsor for Jumbo either, just leaks with Lease A Bike said to be onboard as a new sponsor and Visma becomes the first name. Last week’s UCI registration announcement saw the team reprise the old holding name of Blanco. If it is Lease A Bike, this is a corporate bicycle leasing scheme and not exactly a household name. Perhaps all the more reason to enter sports sponsorship and companies thinking about leasing some bikes for their employees can get VIP trips to World Tour races. Still something suggests Pon Group has stepped in to help the team but the team is after a longer term sponsor as the corporate bicycle lease market feels like an odd thing for a top team to trumpet.

One quick thing to mention here is the “they’ve won all three grand tours, why can’t they get a sponsor?” FAQ. Few corporate backers will be sitting around for the news of the Vuelta win and suddenly appear with fistful of Euros. Sponsorship deals take months, often years to cultivate and are based on wider things like demographics and reach. A triple win like this is good for the long term but unlikely to lure sponsors all of a sudden.

Is that it (3)?
Soudal-Quickstep ride on. But for how long? Even if the mooted takeover never happened there’s no return to the status quo ante. We now know the lead sponsor was willing to drop the team and that the team’s major shareholder was planning a form of exit too. To cut to the chase, imagine you’re a rider or an agent: would you sign a long term deal with this team? If there’s doubt then the team’s got worries.

Giro presentation 1
The Giro route was presented the other day and you can see this blog’s thoughts of course. The Giro Donne was also supposed to be presented but this was pulled at the last moment. Either way the women’s race has changed name and crucially RCS are behind the organisation so we can expect much more professionalism in the organisation and the communication, a delayed presentation for October isn’t much to worry about, it should be a big boost for the event. Can we expect them to address the July calendar slot next?

Giro presentation 2
There’s a hypothesis here that having politicians show up for a bike race matters. Cynics may say it’s just for the sake of a photo opportunity but seeing the French President show up for an obligatory stage visit at the Tour de France speaks to the race’s importance and visibility and many other politicians make their way to the Tour, some even bid to host a stage. This has been more absent at other races, notably the Giro but we saw President Mattarella at the finish in Rome last May. Now the Giro presentation had “Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forestry” minister Francesco Lollobrigida although the hypothesis stands through gritted teeth since if people outside of Italy have heard of Lollobrigida it’s probably either because yes he’s related to Gina… or he’s got headlines like “I’m not a racist“. Another hypothesis is that grand tours are clients of their political customers so we’ll see if the Giro becomes more nationalist and if the government is swinging behind the Giro does the race visit the ruling parties’ heartlands more in return?

That’s most definitely it
On to another grand tour presentation and the Tour de France route is out this week. You can sleuth the route by phoning hotels to see if they’re already booked up; you can scour France’s extensive regional newspapers. Or you can get a leaked copy of the route. Some details about the course online already are quite detailed, more than the usual start finish places. Either way those of us looking for the route are 0.001% of the Tour’s audience, most people will wait for the presentation next week and there’s still more to learn on the day itself.

Staying in France and three French teams for bike sponsors with Lapierre confirming they’re ending the deal with Groupama-FDJ and we know Ag2r Citroën stopping with BMC and Specialized leave TotalEnergies along with Peter Sagan. Thanks to some transparency the French squads publish accounts and Lapierre’s annual rate was €1.5 million, plus all the bikes supplied as well. So it’s a team’s second source of income after the title sponsors, not game-changing by itself but able to fund the salaries of several riders or one star, without it the bottom falls out of a team budget. Which is why it’s an important part of the team takeover discussions we’ve had with Jumbo, Ineos and others.

Talking of Ag2r, what have they and Ineos got in common? Both have made several signings for next year but have yet to announce them. Late announcements can be polite, it doesn’t look like you’re pilfering a rival team’s riders mid-season; do it on a quiet day when there’s no road cycling news and you might get more coverage than on a September day when the Vuelta or Worlds probably crowds out more. Something more seems up at Ineos of course with their attempts to sign more riders but we should get news on both teams soon, if only because their signings are mixing with their team team mates already.

Finally having announced the start of the season at the top of this post… confusingly riders changing teams are still employed by their old squad until 1 January meaning even if they’re showing up with their new team on training camps they’re still dressed on “old” kit. It’s as someone changes jobs from Samsung to Apple but has to keep using an Android phone until January or any other example of joining a new employer while still being paid by the old one. This really ought to be one of those “quick fixes” where the standard pro contract is adjusted to run from, say, 1 November to 31 October instead of the calendar year, and either staggered over several years so that nobody gets short changed by a 10 month contract or introduced to neo-pros and carried forward.

41 thoughts on “Monday Shorts”

  1. I remember seeing pics of training camps in the south of Spain where some riders have looked like they had somehow been misinformed about the location – but must they ride their old team bikes until January?

    • Yes. The rider’s contract with their team is Jan 1 – Dec 31. Obliged to ride team kit and equipment throughout that period or risk retribution, which has occasionally happened in the past. True even in cyclocross where New Year’s Day is mid-season. The first event of the calendar year is new team/kit/equipment day from the cross the day before for riders who change teams.

      • Teams can grant permission and there’s a “truce” where everyone can wear the new kit in December at the training camp in, say, Calpe so they can have the photos for the season as it’s usually the only time of the year all the riders are together in one place.

        Bikes are more mixed, some might change before and certainly they’ll have them delivered between now and January. Or just ride on them at home/indoors so they can get used to some things, eg if changing from Shimano to SRAM etc.

    • It is weird – and needs binning off – it looks unprofessional. Let them wear unbranded/plain kit; a far better solution which still respects a ‘contract’.

      Motorsport manages it far better; in fact, MotoGP the final race is on a Sunday, the next day is a test – and riders will hop on their new teams bikes….sometimes in blank overalls with just personal sponsors, but occasionally in new team kit. I also recall F1/WRC drivers testing a new car in December in just white overalls….none of this current team kit nonsense.

      As ever, cycling is massively behind the curve – and stuck in tradition.

  2. Thanks again for the interesting post.
    The whole Jumbo, Visma, Soudal etc etc saga seems to have been put on hold for some reason. I suspect the whole thing will start up again come the Spring and as was pointed out, riders and staff will start to wonder again about “job security”.

  3. Visma’s ‘Lease a Bike’ sounds very much like Gerry Ryan’s ‘Team BikeExchange’, a sort of filler in the hope or expectation of something better turning up.

    On the subject of bike brands and sponsors, Simon Yates is riding the non-UCI Taiwan KOM Challenge on Friday. A further sign of the need to keep equipment (Giant) sponsors happy. Surely Simon would prefer the beach rather than jetlag and 87kms climbing to 3275m after a long and wearying season.

    It’s maybe not surprising to see Groupama-FDG changing from Lapierre frames though a pity seeing something radically different dropped for yet another frame which could almost have come from the same mould as all the rest. Did the FDJ riders like them?

    • It’s a brute of climb in Taiwan and as you say, Yates can’t quite go into the off season yet. That said there’s a secondary kind of Asian calendar now with riders finishing the Japan Cup, Guangxi and soon comes the Singapore criterium and then the Saitama criterium, all with a mix of riding and holidays.

      Lapierre has been a long deal, from the 1990s onwards. From what I gather more lately the Lapierre bikes went well in in iterations, eg when they got a new version they liked it, then it began to age. The same applies to other teams, just the other day an Ag2r was saying the BMC bike was getting a bit “old”.

      • I find this lack of bike sponsorships, at least for the moment, interesting. All brands are pulling back given lousy sales the past two years, including Specialized. Who steps up right now? BMC should have a major presence, but maybe Tudor is enough. I always forget some of the brands but who really is left to sponsor? Another Giant team?

        • Decathlon are coming in for BMC with their Van Rysel bikes.

          I wonder if that ag2r quote was misheard and it was most of the team were getting a bit old rather than the bikes🤣

    • “Did the FDJ riders like them?” is one of the myths that just won’t die I guess?
      Does ANYONE really believe million+ euro (interesting take on this
      deals for what brand-name is on the downtube depend in ANY way on what the riders prefer?
      If you’re a big enough star it seems either they’ll make ’em to your measure (Sagan, Boonen, Cavendish come to mind) or let you (Nibali, Ballan and back-in-they day all the big stars) have whatever you want built and painted-up in team colors, so in the end it’s about who can write the biggest chex to have their decals on ’em while the regular team guys just make-do with t-shirt sizes. IMHO that’s why you see those insanely long seatposts and stems and other wild/wacky bits to put the rider in the position he wants on an off-the-rack “too small, too big, close enough” frameset.

      ↩ ∞

      • Riders can still have preferences, a TT rider for example might think hard about a contract from a team with a bike that’s known to be slow. Some will say things in private, some semi-private. From time to time we get outbursts caught on camera, like Mollema’s SRAM outburst or Aru’s “cazzo di bici” etc. The days of rebadged frames etc are over now.

        Amateurs might worry about this derailleur or that seat post but plenty, many pros don’t care as long as it works. Ask them what they think of the latest derailleur and some just haven’t thought about in the same way a consumer trying to learn about a product does.

        • But isn´t Larry right that some star riders with highly individual preferences (or just unusual morphology) are given frames made to measure? The cost of a custom mold may well be a five-figure sum, but it´s only a fraction of the rider´s salary – and the investment can, in the happy case, pay itself back in just a couple of weeks in July…

          • We had a client who was a Big-S dealer. He told me the mold they made for Boonen’s bike was originally just for him but then they decided to sell ’em to the punters as well. Claimed the bike he was riding on our tour was one of them, so the Big-S maybe ended up covering the mold costs that way?
            Then there was the Bettini story – Big-S sent him a bike that was the wrong size so he ended up at his local Big-S retail store to swap it for the right size!

          • The first sentence in your comment led me to interpret it as you implying that we are fools if we believe a (in this case) Groupama-FDJ rider is telling the whole honest truth and nothing but the truth when he says he likes his Xelius or thinks that it´s the best bike he has ridden during his career. But okay, it was a misinterpretation.

            PS I thought DJW made a simple straight question and that he already agreed with you in that what the riders thought about their Lapierres was immaterial when the team – or Lapierre, as the case may be – dedcided to end the 22-year partnership.

        • I’m not claiming RIDERS don’t have preferences, just that when it comes to a TEAM deciding on what brand-name sticker will be on their bikes, what the riders might think simply doesn’t matter. If that rider is a big enough star he’ll get what he wants one way or another, even if it’s just putting the sponsor’s sticker on something else. Been going on probably since there were bike sales based on racing results.
          Rider X might want to join Team Y because he wants to ride a bike with a certain brand-name on it (and maybe get a special check to do so?) so might even take a pay cut to do it..but I’d like to see one who did show improved results based on that decision.
          That a-hole from Texas was right about one thing – it’s not about the bike, unless it has some serious defects…and even then, teams are still cashing checks to use SRAM, despite Bauke Mollema’s opinion, along with other obvious failures.

          • “Did the FDJ riders like them?” is one of the myths that just won’t die I guess? –
            was the thing that started this discussion. If you don’t fall for it, BRAVO! But I’m amazed at how many still do, whether it’s bicycles, golf clubs or whatever. And when someone asks if a bike sponsor change might be because the riders didn’t like them…what is one supposed to assume? Nobody cares what the riders think – they just use the stuff and mostly (Mollema excepted) shut-up about it unless it’s to sing some marketing playbook song.

          • ““Did the FDJ riders like them?” is one of the myths that just won’t die I guess?” didn´t actually start this discussion – it was your reply to DJW who had asked the question you quoted.
            And while I don´t wish to reply on DJWE´s behalf, he certainly didn´t ask “if a bike sponsor change might be because the riders didn’t like them”!
            PS I, too, think it´s a pity that the Xelius – which is at least a bit more “different” than most other team bikes (that seem to compete in who bears the greatest resemblance to every other team bike :-))

          • Didn’t Sean Kelly say when asked “what was your favourite bike that you rode during your career?”
            His answer, “The last one I got paid to ride……..”

      • It is probably true that one should take all comments pro riders make about their bikes, especially new models with a pinch of salt. However, it may well be the case that a rider really does like his bike and finds it better than his previous bike or model and what he says actually is what he genuinely thinks.

        Whether a custom, made to measure, frame equipped with seat posts and stems of “standard length” rides better than a slightly too small frame equipped with those insanely long posts and stems is, I´m afraid, bound to remain an open question – at least for those of us who´ve never had the pleasure of owning that perfect bespoke frame.

        Regarding the take you linked to: I´m not an opinion making rider myself, but I´ve never chosen a certain brand because I´ve seen it as team bike in July or chosen not to buy a brand because it´s not among the bike sponsors in the tour.

        But I must admit that the importance brand recognition cannot be overestimated and spending a million or even two a year is well worth it, if just a certain percentage of buyers make a choice between a familiar brand and a brand they´ve never heard of 🙂

        • “However, it may well be the case that a rider really does like his bike and finds it better than his previous bike or model and what he says actually is what he genuinely thinks.”
          Except for the fact I don’t think I’ve EVER heard the reverse. Even if he genuinely thinks “This year’s bike is a POS, gimmee back last year’s!” he gets paid to say the opposite, even if he’s a big enough star to maybe get a batch of last year’s bikes sprayed up in this year’s team livery.
          Like my old father used to tell me about golf: “Tiger Wood’s golf clubs may have a brand-name sticker on them, but don’t think for a second you can go into a golf shop and buy clubs that are the same in any way BUT the sticker on ’em.”
          This stuff has almost always been about the “branding” over everything else. Why should cycling not be part of the same joke scene – “Sir, this is the exact same bicycle your hero rides to win the Tour!” Might as well sell him a rare old coin while he’s at it…one with 10 BC marked on it?

          • In all respect, that is something so plain and obvious for everyone that there is no point in stating it – and even less in assuming that someone hasn´t grasped that athletes are not paid to make negative comments about their equipment.

          • I remember the first iteration of Venge – Cavendish and Sagan both refused to ride it, instead remained on the non aero models.
            So there are rare occasions of the reverse .

  4. If riders have to stick with their previous team’s bikes & kit until the end of December then how does that work with time triallists wanting to do wind tunnel testing for new bikes & kit in the off-season? Is that allowed because it doesn’t involve being seen in public?

    • Yes, if it’s ought of sight it’s fine. So wind tunnel and indoor trainers for the TT bike. Plus the next TT for most riders is a long way away, unless you’re doing the Aussie champs, let alone the next important TT.

      • Thanks. I seem to recall riders saying in interviews about doing work in wind tunnels in the off-season, though I suppose by that they could just mean any period when they’re not competing rather than specifically November and December.

        • It’s not even just changing teams and getting the latest kit, Jay Vine won the Aussie TT champs on a still Campag equipped Colnago after they had moved to Shimano and Enve kit.

  5. Is there a particular reason why the UCI road season doesn’t line up with either the actual year or rider contracts? Or has it just ended up this way through oversight? (e.g., UCI not thinking about any racing outside European seasons)

    I don’t really see why it can’t be fixed. announce now that any new contracts that extend beyond the 2025 season (the end of the current 3 year cycle) will terminate on the anniversary of 1 November 25 rather than 31 December. If anybody has a longer contract, they’ll know to sort it out, anyone who doesn’t will be forewarned that there’s a 10 month year coming up soon.

  6. “…Giro does the race visit the ruling parties’ heartlands more in return?” made me laugh. Since the end of World War II in 1945, Italy has had 69 governments, at an average of one every 1.11 years according to Wikipedia, so by the time RCS could set a route, the bigwigs they wanted to fete would likely be out-of-power. That’s my hope for the current regime 🙂

  7. Regarding Soudal-Quickstep, it’s not just prospective future riders that this merger soap opera has affected, but all of their current roster. Remco being dissatisfied and wanting to move on has been an open secret for quite a while, but the fallout from the merger talks seem to have left a lot of bad blood between riders and management. That said, I wouldn’t expect that it to really distract the riders too much. It’s not like Lefevere just started being a horrible boss at the end of this season!

    • But somehow, some way, despite being “a horrible boss” his Wolfpack team has a pretty impressive record in one-day racing. And one can’t claim they put up with him because the paychecks are so fat ala SKYNEOS…so the guy must be doing something right no matter how “horrible” you think he is.
      I don’t read much about how awful he is from riders who leave the team, maybe Sam Bennett is the exception? I think there might even be a few who left and then came back?

  8. The Pon (Cervelo owner amongst others) lease a bike sponsor is owned 50 or 60% by Volkswagen Financial Services who purchased that stake earlier in the is a credible sponsor with financial backing

  9. Calm down Larry. Your personal prejudices fortunately have no effect on the commercial support required to help run the sport. Sponsors have always been one of the sports lifeblood. Pon deal in commodities/products which touch indirectly on or involve most of your ‘hates’. Peugeot/Shell and others were never viewed in such a jaundiced way when they were on the road in the 60s.
    I have chased and obtained sponsors, including Ladbrokes a large UK betting company, large and small for years with no concern about their business. If it’s legit, and they want to contribute some cash to help the sport and themselves then great. I have never taken a moral or political view. I am simply relieved, excited and grateful that all the contact chasing, letter/email writing and door knocking has a bought result. Probably only about one in twenty produce that result, so it’s time and hard graft for an amatuer.
    I would imagine that most, if not all sponsor chasers, take a similar view. No sponsors and the sport would be in a difficult position. Be careful for what you wish!

    • Hmm. Interesting conundrum, isn’t it? Not sure why Larry should “calm down”, he didn’t say anything unreasonable. While I can sympathize with your viewpoint, regarding the difficult search for sponsors, it must surely be better to have commercial ones than some more ethically questionable ones. I can see that you can’t be too picky, but saying “I have never taken a moral or political view” is a bit naive, isn’t it? Surely you must draw the line somewhere, or do you mean that you’d happily accept money from any source, criminal or not?

    • No worries here – if you have no trouble sleeping at night while taking money from unsavory sources that’s on YOU, not me. But no need to tell me to “calm down” if I don’t like it and call it out when I see it. You’re probably fully behind this too (as it’s all about the money and not much about sport)
      while I think it would be a disaster. More sport, less business. As I like to day, nobody tunes in to watch hedge-fund managers at work!

  10. George.
    Read my comments. I said “if its a Legit “. Legit means legal and legitimate and that is the my only line. Naive I most certainly am not! If I took a political or moral view on sponsorship I would give up today. The aim is to raise support for the sport in the general sense, not worry about points that aren’t even on the radar of most people.

  11. I don’t want to get bogged down in personal views on what makes for an acceptable sponsor. We all take our own position. My simple position is that if the potential sponsor is legal and legitimate and comes my way, then it’s fine by me. What I can add to the discussion is based on years of personal sponsorship chasing experience. The Ladbrokes Betting Office event sponsorship mentioned earlier enabled eight events a year to be successfully run for five years, giving 100s of riders a chance to race for decent prize money, giving the sponsors plenty of coverage for there investment plus the organizing club some financial support. More importantly it led directly to a contact with a Life Insurance Company Executive . “It’s not what you know but who”. There are countless examples of this! This contact led directly to team sponsorship for five years from a Life Insurance Company.
    It’s a tough task at the best of times, and even tougher given the present financial climate. Being picky over personal views or morals is a luxury that would make the task even more demanding.

  12. “It’s a tough task at the best of times, and even tougher given the present financial climate. Being picky over personal views or morals is a luxury that would make the task even more demanding.”
    If riding around with the logo of a fracking or gambling company on your jersey is OK with you, it’s OK with me, but I won’t be buying anything associated with your team if I can help it.
    I turned town a job offer (and later sponsorship from) a certain company (let’s call it Standardized) because I hated their business philosophy.
    But I’m not trying to paint myself as some kind of saint here…I once sold used-cars for a living 🙂

  13. Hahaa Larry. You should have taken the sponsorship offer from ‘Standardized’, I would not have hesitated.
    In my real professional life I am an Earth Scientist, and consider the whole ‘fossil fuel’ agenda a giant globalist scam. The climate has changed since the Earth’s formation billions of years ago, and will continue to do so through natural processes way beyond those that the scammers can dream up!
    See how people can have different views of our world? It would be a strange old place if we all thought the same!
    The bike is a wonderful escape from all these different opinions. Lets enjoy it whilst we can.

    • “I consider the whole ‘fossil fuel’ agenda a giant globalist scam. The climate has changed since the Earth’s formation billions of years ago, and will continue to do so through natural processes way beyond those that the scammers can dream up”
      .. explains a lot. And if that’s your opinion I will not waste another second on you…other than to wonder what global cabal you think is poised to profit from it vs the fossil fuel industry who has lied to us just like the tobacco industry did while raking in billions?
      I understand you would have taken the “Standardized” job and/or sponsorship – for the same reason you can sleep well at night after taking money from pretty much any unsavory source. Reminds me of the old story about the philosopher who was hard-of-hearing. Someone mentioned “business ethics” and he wasn’t sure he’d heard it right…explaining that it was an oxymoron…so could someone clarify what was said?

  14. Willem Twee were a cigar manufacturer from Veenendaal in the Netherlands back in the Peugeot/Shell days. Nobody had a problem with either. The Ladbrokes sponsorship was event sponsorship so other than the leaders jersey, never appeared on team/club jerseys. The original UK CCB jersey, which I think you might be familiar with, carried the advertizing name of Hambro Life Insurance. I am happy to accept your moral/political stance on corporate and regional/local sponsorship. It’s a good job we all have different perspectives on life and the sport. I really think we have been having a one to one conversation for long enough. Readers and our host INRNG will be becoming bored with our differences!

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