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92nd Tour de France - July 2-24, 2005
Making it happen
The companies behind the teams at the Tour de France
The flash of colour speeding around France at the moment serves a purpose other than showcasing arguably the sport's toughest event - it is a means of promoting products through a medium available to millions of people worldwide. Les Clarke takes a look at who sponsors who among the Tour's teams.
As the 21 teams taking part in this year's Tour de France make their way around the country, a multitude of companies are represented on the jerseys of the riders. Some of these are instantly recognisable, such as Discovery Channel and T-Mobile, and the businesses they represent are well-known - Discovery Channel is a cable network specialising in educational and outdoor programming, and T-Mobile is Germany's national mobile network carrier, with a global presence.
But what about teams such as Ag2r Prevoyance, Euskatel-Euskadi or Fassa Bortolo? They sound very European, but not familiar to an audience outside the area where these organisations operate. In most cases, the riders themselves are a mix of nations united as a team, but more often than not team management and the companies that sponsor the team will be from the same country.
In most cases the companies sponsoring teams are well-established entities in the country of origin for each team. They use their sponsorship as a 'cycling billboard' that makes it's way around the continent where there are bicycle races. Most times the sponsorship sums are substantial, and headline sponsors expect prime exposure for their business - so when a rider breaks away such as Jens Voigt and Christophe Moreau did on stage 9 of this year's Tour, sponsors would definitely be cheering their charges on!
With the new Pro Tour format some teams have had to alter their sponsorship deals to reflect team amalgamations, changing names and jerseys in the process. Teams such as Ibanesto.com, Alessio-Bianchi and Saeco don't exist anymore, being replaced instead by Illes Balears, Liquigas-Bianchi and Lampre-Caffitta respectively. In most cases budgets have increased slightly, and some teams have folded for this very reason - some observers were speculating the death of many teams as the season began, but so far it's been successful and the racing some of the best for several years.
But back to the sponsors and the teams - to improve your race-watching experience we've compiled a list of team sponsors and their areas of expertise, just in case you were wondering.
This team has to be the most visible and talked about team in the pro peloton for one reason: Lance Armstrong. Their headline sponsor is a TV broadcaster specialising in educational and recreational programming, well known for documentaries, particularly within the US audience. AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) is another sponsor of the team and specialises in computer processors. Berry Floor has retained its sponsorship of the squad after the departure of US Postal Service, and their area of expertise is, as the name suggests, flooring. Discovery Channel came on board after US Postal stepped down at the end of last season, citing inadequate exposure to their target market as the reason for doing so.
T-Mobile is the 'national' mobile carrier of Germany. The squad formerly known as Telekom updated sponsorship to reflect changes in technology but retained the magenta, black and white strip instantly recognisable to fans everywhere. Unlike many teams, there are no 'co-headline sponsors'; the bulk of funding comes through T-Mobile and various subsidiaries. The company has been sponsoring this squad since 1991, making it one of the pro peloton's oldest teams; with this history behind them, the team has built a strong reputaiton which the company utilises in advertising and brand awareness.
CSC is a team often spoken about, but few people know what the company does. CSC stands for Computer Sciences Corporation and they are the official IT partners of the Tour de France. They have been sponsoring the squad since 2002.
Co-sponsor ALM Brand is a Danish financial services company, specialising in non-life insurance, banking and life and pension insurance. There was speculation the team would be losing some of it's sponsorship for this season, meaning a squad with less star riders, but the team recently announced that CSC would be continuing to sponsor it until 2009 with a beefed up budget and Ivan Basso on board.
Illes Balears-Caisse d'Epargne
Similar to the Communidad Valenciana squad, Illes Balears is predomianantly sponsored by their regional government. The Balearic Islands government, which includes the island of Mallorca, supports the team as headline sponsor, in this reincarnation of the old iBanesto squad, made famous by Miguel Indurain dominating the Tour during the mid-1990's. Unlike similar teams such as Kelme (now Communidad Valenciana), this squad has survived as a Pro Tour team and is expected to perform well in the future with Alejandro Valverde on board.
Davitamon is a subsidiary of Belgian pharmaceuticals company Omega Pharma, specialising in vitamin supplements, and formerly sponsored the Quickstep team when it was Quickstep-Davitamon. With the changes instigated by the Pro Tour it switched to sponsoring another Belgian squad, along with Lotto, the Belgian national lottery.
Lotto's ability to remain headline sponsor was looking doubtful for 2005 until Davitamon stepped in. It decided to remain in cycling sponsorship due to the popularity of the sport in Belgium, and their exposure through wins by Robbie McEwen and Peter Van Petegem.
Dutch banking firm Rabobank based its business in agricultural finance, in recent times expanding into a wide range of financial services. They have been long-term supporters of this squad,with plenty of exposure to show for their investment - riders such as Oscar Freire (who missed this year's Tour de France), Erik Dekker and now Michael Rasmussen are very visible riders who have put the orange of Rabo on the TV screens of millions to lift the profile of the company.
Phonak Hearing Systems
Phonak is a company that represents the diversity of those involved in financially supporting cycling, as it is a Swiss manufacturer of hearing aids. The team's motto is 'we race for better hearing'. They've certainly gained publicity through their involvement with the team - but after three doping scandals involving high-profile riders, participation of the squad in this year's Tour was seriously under threat. If the team had been prevented from riding the Tour, chances are sponsorship ties with the outfit would've been stretched to breaking point, even with wholesale changes to team management that took place after the Hamilton and Perez blood doping scandals.
The Italian cement manufacturer has risen to prominence through the exploits of Alssandro Petacchi, who chose not to ride the Tour this year in favour of concentrating on the Giro. The company is more enthusiastic about this team performing well in the Giro as local exposure leads to sales. The Treviso-based company is pulling out from its sponsorship arrangements for 2006, and management will be seeking to find a new headline sponsor to ensure the team's survival or at least prevent riders such as Petacchi leaving the squad.
The Spanish squad of American rider Chris Horner is sponsored by a strange mix of two companies - Saunier Duval is a heating company and Prodir a Swiss company that manufactures pens. The distinctive yellow kit represents the colours of Saunier Duval, and like most teams the squad took on a second headline sponsor as a result of higher costs and the Pro Tour's restrictions on team numbers in Grand Tours.
Liberty Seguros is a one of the world's largest insurance companies in its second year of sponsoring the squad. With management and riders from the old ONCE outfit, it retains the services of director Manolo Saiz and has built up a strong group of riders in a reincarnation of the successful ONCE team. Wurth is the German-based 'construction solutions' company that co-sponsors the squad - they make parts for building and manufacturing, and have a presence in over 80 countries. Due to this fact Liberty Seguros and Wurth are different to most team sponsors in that both have a greater global presence than other companies supporting squads in the pro peloton.
Credit Agricole is one of the most recognisable squads due to their long-term support of this team, which was formerly known as Gan. The French banking company sports the distinctive green colours and CA logo, seen on the back of riders such as Christophe Moreau and Thor Hushovd, their two most visible riders. And like many sponsor companies, they have a distinct identity but with operations overseas. They are proud of their alliance with the sport, and the company always gains exposure during the Tour de France, explaining their willingness to continue sponsoring the squad.
Liquigas is an Italian gas producer, and in 2005 re-entered the pro cycling ranks when they joined forces with bicycle manufacturer Bianchi to create the strong squad in green and celeste. Like many Italian teams they focussed on the Giro in 2005, but have riders capable of a good showing at the Tour. With Danilo De Luca in the Pro Tour leader's jersey during the Giro, no doubt Liquigas would have been pleased with its exposure to a local audience, something that is particularly Italian - directors dream of their company's name on the leader's jersey in their national race - it's part of the national psyche.
Cofidis, Le Credit Par Telephone
Cofidis is one of France's leading credit companies, providing personal credit and cards via the telephone. The company's profile has definitely benefitted from being involved with a squad that has experienced plenty of drama in the last two years. A chequered recent past for the team has seen wins and bans, but the tricoleur of the team's uniform is instantly recognisable, and with riders such as O'Grady, Chavanel and Moncoutie, TV time is certainly guaranteed.
Quickstep is a Belgium-based company that produces flooring products, and is another business with a long-term involvement in cycling; with such riders as Bettini, Boonen and Rogers in the squad, no wonder it keeps supporting the team. In a country of cycling fanatics like Belgium, it makes good business sense to support a pro cycling team. Big wins in Flanders and Paris Roubaix ensured maximum exposure, as did Boonen's early run in the opening week of the Tour until his withdrawal.
Another mobile telecommunications company sponsors this squad, and only took over the role after Brioches La Boulangere withdrew its support at the end of 2004. Formerly the well-known Bonjour team, management have found finance hard to obtain and as such the roster doesn't boast an star line-up to match that of other teams. Like most companies that sponsor teams, Bouygues Telecom makes potential customers on its website well aware of the link to a pro cycling team - this is, after all the reason for sponsoring a team in the first place!
Sheet metal production and coffee machines - these two companies couldn't be further apart in business areas, but both are recognised as the new sponsors of the 'old Saeco' squad. With no riders featuring on general classification in this year's Tour, the squad looked to the Giro for its three weeks of advertising and got it in the form of Gilberto Simoni, who featured in the lap of Italy. Look to Cunego to provide the advertising on wheels at next year's Tour de France, especially in the mountains.
Quite appropriately, Gerolsteiner is a company that specialises in bottled water; the sparkling variety. With high temperatures in France at the moment, the entire squad could do with plenty of the sponsor's product. A German team with a German sponsor, it follows the general rule of supporting a home team that can 'get the message out' to a local audience. At the end of Georg Toschnig's win on stage 14, commentators 'scolded' the Austrian because he hadn't zipped up his jersey, such is the importance of placing the sponsor's name at the frontline on every possible opportunity.
Française Des Jeux
Unless you're French, you wouldn't guess that Francaise Des Jeux is the French lottery. It has been supporting this team for some time, and like Lotto in Belgium have recently questioned the importance of sponsoring a pro cycling team. This commitment may once again be in question at the end of 2005, with few strong overall performances save for Brad McGee and Bernhard Eisel at the Tour de Suisse earlier this month.
This Italian travel agency sponsors a squad now different to the one made famous by zebra stripes worn so well by Mario Cipollini near the end of his career. The company has remained in a sponsorship role, but the squad was completely overhauled before the start of the Pro Tour. As with most Italian teams and their sponsors, the season's Grand tour focus is on the Giro, where local exposure is the aim of the game. This is reflected in their Tour de France squad and preparation, and as such riders from the team haven't featured in the prime positions for tv exposure.
The almost all-Basque squad (Unai Extebarria is Venezuelan of Basque descent) is unsurprisingly sponsored by a Basque telecommunications company (Euskaltel) and the Basque regional government (Euskadi), which roughly translates to basque in the Basque language. The team is a flagship of the Basque community, with the community taking a financial interest in the team and supporting them through the Pyrenees during each year's Tour de France. This team is extremely visible and offers a bright orange advertising opportunity, particularly in the high country close to home. Instantly recognisable, the team is one of the mainstays of the pro peloton and their sponsors are happy to keep their team on the road.
The French insurance company Ag2R Prevoyance have been sponsoring this team for a number of years and although it lacks Pro Tour status, a wildcard entry into this year's Tour means advertising opportunities around France. The company offers most forms of insurance, including home, car and personal.