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By Ted Costantino
After two years with Mario Cipollini’s Domina Vacanze team, Specialized Bicycles announced that it was switching its sponsorship to Germany’s Gerolsteiner squad for 2005, in part because the team has added American Levi Leipheimer to its roster.
Specialized also announced an expansion of its domestic sponsorship role next year, adding its support to the men’s side of USA Cycling’s under-23 development program. Specialized will supply bikes and equipment for road, mountain, cyclo-cross and track to the U-23 team. We chatted with Mike Sinyard, Specialized’s president and founder, about his company’s longstanding commitment to bike racing.
VeloNews: Can you tell us how the Gerolsteiner sponsorship came about?
Mike Sinyard: We had always admired the Gerolsteiner team and the management there is kind of a very pure team and a younger team, and they also have the World Cup leader [Davide] Rebellin. But what really did it for us was when Levi [Leipheimer] joined the team, because I had wanted to work with Levi for a number of years. I think he’s such a great guy.
So hooking up with them was really good and I appreciate their perspective because they are very technical. The bike has to be really perfect with the weight and the stiffness, so we went through a lot of tests with them and they were very — Michael Rich rode the bike a lot and they were very satisfied with it. It’s very exciting. We’re committed for four years.
VN: Assuming the ProTour goes ahead with the structure they’ve announced, it looks like a much larger commitment in sponsorship.
MS: Yes, the number of bicycles and equipment goes up significantly and the teams are having to have basically three squads and masseuses and mechanics, so the budgets for that have very significantly increased.
MS: A lot!
It’s interesting, it’s one thing as far as the financial commitment, which is pretty big, but really the bigger cost is all the materials and the soft costs within the company of two or three people working on that full time plus our guy Simoni [Toccafondi] who is over in Europe. We’ve agreed with [Gerolsteiner] that we wouldn’t communicate the costs, but usually the cost is three or four times what the hard dollars are. It’s a big effort. And to do it right, to really learn from the team and work with them closely and get everything dialed in, is a big effort.
VN: Do you think the ProTour could put an unnecessary burden and hierarchy on the sport?
MS: You know, I don’t know. Some of those organizations and the structures are probably good and needed, because sometimes teams weren’t well organized or well financed and the riders would end up in trouble with the money, so I think more organization and structure was needed. I don’t know how that will play out. And even if they didn’t have the ProTour, it was the same in a way, because only certain teams were selected for the Tour de France.
VN: But now it will only be the selected teams, and the pressure for results and exposure will increase significantly.
MS: Yeah, but it was always there anyway. The key races are the key races. So I do think a little more structure was needed, and I think it’s good for the riders, because the riders need a little more support.
VN: You’ve also made a big commitment to the U-23 program.
MS: I am personally really excited about that. We worked with the mountain bike side last year, and we said we want to work with the whole program. I just see in the other countries, whether Italy, France, Australia — I mean, all these other countries have huge programs. You see the riders coming out of there, and you say gee, how can Italy and France have all these great riders? Well, there’s such a nice support program there. So we saw an opportunity to get involved with the U-23 program. I really respect Steve Johnson [COO and Director of Athletics for USA Cycling] and the whole crew there. We have an option to continue on with that for eight years, and I’d like Specialized to be involved with that for the next 20 years, 50 years. That should be what we do.
With youth cycling, we need a stronger structure in the U.S. We’ve got a lot of wonderful athletes. What about bringing in some people who would have gone into track and field? What about some black riders? I mean, can you imagine really mixing it up and getting more talent in there?
VN: What does sponsorship do for Specialized?
MS: We’ve been involved for many years, since the beginning. That’s how we started. I think that it brings a lot of things. One is that it brings a lot of psychic value for us, because we love it, and it creates pride for the people in the company.
But more importantly, we do learn a lot about the products. When you take things to the very, very highest levels, whether it’s making the shoes for the top riders or the bikes, our goal always is that the products that we make that are available in the bike stores are the same products that we can supply to the pro team. Like our shoes now, a lot of the pro riders are using our shoes and we just take them out of the warehouse. That’s the goal that I have, that the products that we make, we can just take the stock product and here you go, it’s ready to go. And by working with a team, you can do that. Years ago, working with Ned Overend, we learned how to make the bikes better and better, and he just rides a stock bike. That’s the way it should be.
A lot of times it’s a tremendous amount of pressure, and you need to learn to operate very quickly.
VN: What about sponsorship opportunities for amateurs in the U.S.?
MS: We do that through the stores; a lot of the stores we work with, we offer what we call the Factory Team. We encourage our stores to do that, and it’s one of the ways we offer marketing dollars to them. And then the dealers can get involved in the community and it works really well.