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News feature, August 28, 2008
State of the Peloton: North America
The North American peloton* will be undergoing some major changes after the 2008 season. The potential loss of two big teams could produce a sea change of sorts, flooding the market with top talent. Cyclingnews' Mark Zalewski gives a 'State of the Peloton' report, including who is staying, who could be going and who might be growing because of it. In part three, he delves into the up and comers and the women's peloton. Also see part one and part two.
Converse to what is happening on the top-end of the team budget spectrum, teams like Jelly Belly continue to pedal away with a secure, long-standing sponsor. Director Danny Van Haute also has been around the block a few times and knows how fortunate he is, especially just having re-upped for another three years. "I told our riders that we are ready to go for the next three years," he said. "Our negotiations are going very well, so well that I think all the major details are done and we just need to sign the contract."
Of course with this news he is quite a popular guy. "My email is quite full... even the spam folder is full! It's unfortunate because we need teams to stay here in the US and get sponsorship. Jelly Belly is a big supporter of cycling, for eight years and now another three. We all need to recognize that these companies like Jelly Belly, Aramark and GT all love cycling."
But like other teams the influx of riders does not mean he has the money to hire additional spots or pay the salaries that some of the big names are earning with their current contracts. "Yeah there are going to be riders available but I don't have a budget like Health Net or Toyota, I have to stay within my budget."
"These riders that are coming available need to understand there are only a few choices," he said. "Every team has their weaknesses and we have ours – can we pick somebody up that will improve our squad next year? I think so. But they need to understand that they aren't likely to make these six figures that they are making now. I applaud them that they can do it but you have to be realistic now."
As a former racer himself, Van Haute tries his best to balance between getting the most out of his budget while not low-balling riders. "I want to be fair to the riders as well because I was once a rider at their level. When they call me I only have so much money and I am going to be fair with them – I won't pay them $5,000 but also only what I can afford."
Also resting in the warm security blanket of a multi-year sponsorship is Jittery Joe's, who also have been a sponsoring cycling for some time. Manager Micah Rice said that the current market combined with a smaller window to sign riders is adding to the circus-like atmosphere. "It's a weird time out there because nobody is signed and we have month less to deal with the UCI. So when it goes down it is going to be crazy!"
"Jittery Joe's has a ten year contract and we are not going anywhere. We expect to be back in the same capacity, but we may or may not have a co-title [sponsor.] We will have a team and I think that if we don't have a co-title we will have to scale back a little because the cost of travel is ridiculous! Maybe a couple fewer riders we really aren't talking to any new riders until we get things sorted with our current riders."
The newer guys
For smaller, up-and-coming programs, the choice can be to either blow the budget on one name rider and hope it elevates the team, or stay with developing younger talent. The latter will be true for Time Pro Cycling in 2009. "We aren't concerned with 'big' teams going away and flooding the market with riders," said director Erik Saunders. "It's actually a good time to introduce new talent and we will be doing that."
"We are expanding our U23 performance camp that we did this year to help us achieve this and make this camp our primary recruitment tool for new riders. We had some great riders come out to meet us and convince us that they had the stuff to make it – riders who aren¹t 'known' young riders. The bigger surprise will come when we win ever bigger races with riders that no one ever heard of!"
The Toshiba-Santo-Herbalife team may be lower on the NRC, but a large part of that is it does not race many NRC races, choosing to focus on series such as the USA Crits. Team director Ravi Rajcoomar is one of the few that is using the current situation to leverage more sponsorship dollars.
"We are hoping for some increases and we are planning. There is a lot of talent is out there... we spin that card and say it is a team's market and a lot of those guys are friends of the program. But at the same time with the economy the way it is..."
"I really see a lot of people not racing their bikes next year," he said. "In order to live you need to be at a certain price point so guys might have to re-look at their careers. But on the flip side there is more prize money than there ever has been. So I see great opportunities for small teams or individuals who are smart and can market themselves to go out there and do well."
Representatives from Team RACE, Rite Aid and DLP did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
For the ladies
The changes to the domestic racing scene are not limited to just the men's teams. The women's peloton could be losing teams, and with a much smaller peloton the affects are amplified. The Cheerwine team is rumored to be ending its run with the major sponsor wanting to move on from cycling. Team manager Thad Fischer would not confirm the actual status of his team's sponsor but acknowledged the possibility.
"That may be the case," he said in an email. "I can't confirm 100% at the moment. At this juncture I am searching for a title sponsor for 2009 just in case."
Also leaving in 2009 is the Advil-Chapstick team.
The Aaron's Corporate Furnishings team will be losing its sponsor for 2009, but team manager Micah Rice said the team would be back with a new sponsor. "The team next year will not be Aaron's Corporate Furnishings but we will wait to unveil [the new sponsor] when all the papers are signed. It's an incredible team and one of the best. We were first in the Prestige Series and we have sponsors that want to be apart of that!"
The only domestic program to sponsor both full pro men's and women's programs, Colavita-Sutter Home, is finding the tough economic times hard to handle two squads. However, John Profaci recognizes the importance of supporting women's cycling and said he will do whatever he has to in order to keep his program.
"I don't know what to say about the women but I know there are some changes there. If I have to cut back, that is what it will be. It will not be a complete close down because I want to continue women's cycling. I'm really happy to have a great partner with Jamis in this regard."
The US Women's Cycling Development program run by Michael Engleman will continue to help riders find guest rides on teams and to help teams network to find sponsors. This may help even out the situation in the women's peloton.
Additional reporting from Kirsten Robbins. * Only UCI registered trade teams were reviewed for this story.