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 by: Bill Oetinger  1/1/2019

What’s in a Name?

The little world of professional bike racing got knocked back on its heels in December when news broke that Sky and 20th Century Fox were going to terminate their sponsorship of Team Sky after the 2019 season. I mean, this is (was) the best-funded, most powerful team in pro cycling, with six recent Tour de France victories, plus a Giro d’Italia and a Vuelta a España, not to mention a zillion other race wins over the past few years. It was like learning the New York Yankees were disbanding. Okay…not quite. But it was a jolt. 

Blame it on Big Business. When Comcast outbid Disney to take over Sky’s TV enterprise, they had no interest in supporting a bike team, no matter how successful that team might be. It’s no reflection on the merits of the team or its riders. It’s just…sorry, we have other things to do with our money.

As important as bike racing is to its participants and its fans, it is worth remembering that the whole enterprise is not valued at the same level as many other major sporting activities. Professional football (both kinds), baseball, and basketball franchises are worth absurd amounts of money and bring in absurd amounts of money and pay their players absurd amounts of money. Ditto for at least the top tiers in tennis, golf, auto racing, etc. Cycling teams, on the other hand, limp along on what amount to shoestring budgets. The best riders are paid well but still at a rate of slightly more than pocket change for other top athletes in more lucrative sports.

Cycling does not play out in arenas—except for the tiny niche of track racing—so admission cannot be charged (nor can the fans be induced to pay for food and drink and souvenirs while at the ballparks). Where is the revenue stream for cycling? Mostly it comes from team sponsors.

Trade teams, we call them. I’m not enough of an historian of the sport to be able to document this precisely but my superficial take on it is that, somewhere around the late ‘50s, bike jerseys started sporting the names of some company that had paid the team to put the name there. Molteni, Cignus, Bianchi, Bic. As long as the jerseys were wool, there was a limit to how many logos could be worked into the knit (hideously complicated Christmas sweaters notwithstanding). But eventually traditional wool gave way to some form of miracle fiber upon which could be printed (or sublimated) as many colors and logos as a busy marketing man could envision.

No turning back after that! Now we take it for granted that every available inch of jersey and most of the space on shorts is going to be plastered with logos, paid for by the assorted sponsors. In somewhat oversimplified terms, those sponsorship arrangements are what keep our pro peloton rolling down the road.

But cycling being one of the poor stepchildren of the sporting world, those sponsorships and that revenue are always hanging by a thread. If you’ve followed the sport for even a handful of years, you’ve seen dozens of sponsors come and go, with teams scrapping and begging to find some new sugar daddies to foot the bills for the next season or two. There are any number of reasons why a company or a government-sponsored agency might decide it makes good sense to drop a medium-sized bucket of money on a bike team. Those reasons are too various and occasionally mysterious to get into in this column. Let’s just be thankful that enough high-rollers decide it makes sense. Without them, we’d all be just amateurs.

We watch the races and see the riders whizzing by in their harlequin colors. We hear or read or see the names of the teams. But do we know what they mean? Do we know who those sponsors are and what it is they are promoting—about themselves—when they pay money tp put their logos on the backs of bike racers? I’m a die-hard bike fan and I confess I have not known what at least half of the sponsors were promoting…who they are, what they make or do or sell. The UCI WorldTour is still a decidedly Eurocentric package and that is reflected in the sponsors: they are mostly based in Europe and target that market. If we lived and worked and played in Europe, perhaps many of these names would be more familiar to us.

As we launch off into a new year, looking forward to the races ahead, I thought it might be a useful service to my readers to provide a cheat sheet on sponsors: who is it behind those names and colorful logos? I have done a little digging around the internet and have put together short thumbnails for all the UCI WorldTour teams. My primary interest here is in the sponsors. I added the lines about marquee riders because I think it puts real faces on the team names. However, I have been working off 2018 team rosters mostly and may have missed some transfers during the off-season. I caught a few of them but may have missed a few too. I think the sponsors are correct, but take the rider names with a grain of salt.

Almost all of these teams have evolved over the years from previous embodiments with different sponsors. As noted, sponsors come and go and the teams reinvent themselves, with new kit and new team cars and new websites, etc. I doubt that over the past half century we could find two years in a row where all the teams stayed the same. Nailing down a list of this sort is like hitting a moving target. It is—probably—accurate at this moment. Here are the 18 top-tier teams in alpha order… 

Ag2r La Mondiale
Established 2000
Marquee riders: Romain Bardet, Mathias Frank

Sponsor: the AG2R La Mondiale Group, which is a French-based international group for supplementary pension and estate planning insurance.

Astana Pro Team
Established 2007
Marquee riders: Dario Cataldo, Jakob Fuglsang, Miguel Angel Lopez, Luis León Sánchez

Sponsor: Samruk-Kazyna, a coalition of state-owned companies from Kazakhstan and named after its capital city Astana. 

Established: 2016
Marquee riders:  Gorka Izagirre Insausti, Jon Izagirre Insausti, Vincenzo Nibali, Domenico Pozzovivo, Rohan Dennis

Sponsors: the government of Bahrain and the Taiwanese bicycle manufacturer Merida

Established: 2013
Marquee riders: Peter Sagan, Sam Bennett, Emanuel Buchmann, Rafał Majka

Sponsors: BORA, a German manufacturer of home appliances, and Hansgrohe, a bathroom fittings manufacturer.

CCC Reno
Established: 2006
Marquee riders: Damiano Caruso, Richie Porte, Dylan Teuns, Greg Van Avermaet

Sponsor: CCC, a Polish-based shoe retailer. Up through 2018, the team was BMC, owned and sponsored by Swiss businessman Andy Rihs (manufacturer of BMC bikes) until his death this past year. After his death the team passed to Jim Ochowicz and Dariusz Milek, who lined up CCC as the new sponsor. Reno is the name of their chain of shoe stores in Germany. 

Dimension Data
South Africa
Established: 2014 
Marquee riders: Edvald Boasson Hagen, Mark Cavendish, Stephen Cummings

Sponsor: Dimension Data is a company specialising in information technology services. Based in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dimension Data focuses on services including IT consulting, technical and support services, and managed services.

EF Education First-Drapac p/b Cannondale
Established: 2007
Marquee riders: Pierre Rolland, Rigoberto Urán, Michael Woods

Sponsors: EF Education First, a Swedish–Swiss education company, and Drapac Capital Partners, an Australian–American real estate firm. Cannondale Bicycle Corporation, an American–Canadian bicycle manufacturer, is the presenting sponsor. 

Established: 1997
Marquee riders: Thibaut Pinot, Sebastien Reichenbach

Sponsors: Français des Jeux, the operator of France’s national lottery games. Groupama is an abbreviation for Groupe des Assurances Mutuelles Agricoles (English: Group of Mutual Agricultural Insurances), a French insurance group headquartered in Paris with operations in 12 countries.

Established: 2009
Marquee riders: Marcel Kittel, Tony Martin, Simon Špilak, Ilnur Zakarin

Sponsors: sports clothing company Katusha Sports and German shampoo manufacturer Alpecin.

Established: 2015
Marquee riders:  Robert Gesink, Dylan Groenewegen, Steven Kruijswijk, Primoz Roglic

Sponsors: Formerly LottoNL-Jumbo, with the lead sponsor the Dutch national lottery. As of this year, LottoNL is gone. Jumbo  is a Dutch supermarket chain. Visma is a privately held company based in Oslo, Norway. The company provides business software and IT related development and consultancy. 

Lotto Soudal
Established: 2008
Marquee riders: Tiesj Benoot, Thomas De Gendt, Andre Greipel, Tim Wellens

Sponsors: the Belgian lottery and Soudal, an adhesives and sealants manufacturer.

Established: 2012
Marquee riders: Johan Esteban Chaves,  Roman KreuzigerSimon Yates, Adam Yates

Sponsors: Mitchelton is an Australian winemaker. Scott is an Australian bicycle manufacturer.

Movistar Team
Established: 2005
Marquee riders: Mikel Landa, Nairo Quintana, Marc Soler, Alejandro Valverde

Sponsor: the Spanish mobile telephone company Telefónica, with the team riding under the name of the company's brand Movistar.

Quick-Step Floors
Established: 2003
Marquee riders: Julian Alaphilippe, Philippe Gilbert, Bob Jungels, Niki Terpstra, Elia Viviani, Enric Mas

Sponsor: Quick-Step Floors, a manufacturer of flooring.

Team Sky
Great Britain
Established: 2010
Marquee riders:  Egan Bernal, Chris Froome, Michał Kwiatkowski, Wout Poels, Geraint Thomas

Sponsor: Sky UK (formerly British Sky Broadcasting Limited, BSkyB and Sky) is a telecommunications company which serves the United Kingdom. Recently purchased by US media giant Comcast, their sponsorship will end after the 2019 season. After that…?

Team Sunweb
Established: 2009
Marquee riders: Tom Dumoulin, Wilco Kelderman, Michael Matthews, Sam Oomen

Sponsor: Sunweb Group, a company coordinating and booking holiday vacation accommodations and packages.

Established 2014
Marquee riders: John Degenkolb, Bauke Mollema

Sponsors: Trek is a US bicycle manufacturer. Segafredo Zanetti is a chain of espresso cafes.

UAE Team Emirates
Established: 2001
Marquee riders:  Fabio Aru, Rui da Costa, Alexander Kristoff, Daniel Martin

Sponsors: the United Arab Emirates (the country) and  Emirates (the airline). 

There you go! Don’t you feel better, knowing all that? There are also 27 UCI Pro Continental teams and 45 UCI Continental Teams, two groups we might refer to as the minor leagues…like Triple A and Double A baseball, sort of. A few of those teams will be invited to a Tour or Giro or Vuelta and definitely to any number of less exalted events. But if you want to figure out who their sponsors are, you’ll have to do your own digging.

We already know Team Sky will be different for 2020. They may find some new fat cats to bankroll them going forward. Or the team may fold, putting some very high-priced talent on the auction block. In which case, someone else would inherit their WorldTour license and a new team would be created. However it shakes out, we can say for sure this list will not be the same two years in a row.

Bill can be reached at srccride@sonic.net

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