A lot has been made about the demise of the Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team and the impact that may have (or just signify) on our business sector.
It’s surprising how long Discovery and its’ infrastructure survived in this game, and it seems likely that not only had they made their marketing point, but that winning Tour after Tour (even Lanceless) became boring for the VIPs of all parties.
But have you noticed the developments that are happening?
Three domestic teams are on the rise and maybe even Tour-bound, and for entirely different reasons.
I wasn’t sure what to make of these hipsters in February. They bore no resemblance to their TIAA-Cref origins. They were well-designed from their socks and armwarmers through the BMW wagons to the cones their mechanics use in team parking. They had catchphrases, nicknames, the best team website with individual blogs… style. And the anti-doping message was consistent and integrated throughout long before the Tour. They backed up the packaging with both solid results and consummate professionalism. Slipstream topped off their season with results at Univest and 2nd and 5th overall at the Tour of Missouri as well as overall Young Riders jersey. They have signed several huge names (Vande Velde, Backstedt, Millar) for 2008 and may even have a surprise up their sleeve.
If they represent squeaky-clean marketing dreams and turn up at schools to talk about safety and fitness, there is another squad that debuted this year with very different motives.
Rock and Republic
This team was not at the Tour of California, but rolled up to the San Dimas and Redlands stage races in menacingly pimped Escalades. Bling encrusted baseball hats, different team kits for different riders, ink and piercings to the fore. All in the name of $300 jeans that few outside of Los Angeles Denim Bars were aware of or aspired to. Results were not stellar to begin with, but then Rashaan Bahati sprinted for the win at the CSC Invitational in Arlington and showed up on the cover of major cycling publications. Next year the team has also expanded and brought in Frankie Andreu as DS. Rumored new signings include Chris Horner and Freddie Rodriguez.
If your UPS guy can’t understand how points work in a stage race, or how a rider that did not win a stage won the overall, how about GOOD v EVIL? European cycling was great for a small number of cyclophiles for years – this is the time for domestic racing to take on its’ own identity. And better yet, both teams have a multi-year plan that sees them racing the Tour de France (Slippies this year).
Also noteworthy is Gavin Chilcott’s BMC squad. While Phonak kicked the company in one shin and Astana took them out entirely, the US side of the operation continues to grow and will also absorb some star names for 2008. Tony Cruz should be there, as will Nathan O’Neill and Jeff Louder. Other big names are still in play but looking like BMC candidates. The interesting thing about this for US retailers is having a bike company as title sponsor again. Sure, Trek and Disco were inseperable and there have been other close relations, but not since Huffy have we seen a sellable bicycle as top name on a Pro Tour jersey.
Healthnet, who have represented well for a number of years, are riding off into the sunset, and Kodak Gallery is divorcing Sierra Nevada. We should see Kurt Stockton’s Sierra Nevada in the regional sense again, and it remains a possibility that Kodak Corporate will step in where the Gallery stepped out for Robin Zellner.
Navigators, the longest-running domestic pro cycling team, are also closing shop.
All in all, 2008 looks to be the most exciting season ever for U.S. bicycle racing. For retailers and manufacturers, for racers and for spectators. Now, it remains to be seen if Vs is on the program, but with broadband broadcasting taking over that may not even stand in our way.