Cycling teams through the ages



First of all, please forgive my complete technical uselessness. It is entirely possible that the above image is completely unreadable. If it is, please accept my grovelling 40 year old apologies and try this link... If that doesn't work, I suggest you give up and go and watch live pictures of the finish line of the Tour de SL. Or tell me what is the best thing to do because I haven't a scooby.

Anyway, what I am trying to show is the history of cycling teams over the period of the world tour. Long term PDCers may remember that I had a go at this a couple of years ago as well. I am not sure I was any better at flickr then, either.

What does it show? Well, actually, despite the general concern about the financial stability of cycling, I think it shows that in general cycling teams are remarkably resilient. We lost two teams this year, but none in the two years before that. And the two teams we lost were probably the most vulnerable: a wild and wacky Dutch squad which has never made much sense (come on a sunny caravan holiday... just what you feel like doing while watching a damp and drizzly Giro stage), and a national squad supported by a nation that barely had the finances to support itself. While it is very sad to see Euskaltel disappear (they have been a fixture for so long) if you had to guess at any team to fold, you would have guessed them. And as for VCD... well, they clearly had no idea what they were doing while they were on the bike, so why should they be any more competent in the board room?

So, how do teams survive? Well, there appear to be a range of strategies. The first is to have a sugar daddy who either has very deep pockets, or knows a company whose required taxes losses do. That covers a range of teams, from the richest (hello BMC) to those that are genuinely trying to build a commercial team (Orica, and to a lesser extent Vaughters' sideburns). However, the pure "rich boy plaything" model is actually relatively rare. Even BMC tries to pretend there is a point.

So the second route is to be genuinely a commercial billboard. This can range from Sky - who are front and centre of one of the larger international behomoths, to smaller Italian shops whose names are so complex that they wouldn't fit into the powepoint even in font size three.

Finally, there is a hybrid - which is called being Belgium (or possibly French). These teams have a commercial proposition because of the high profile nature of cycling in the 16 square miles of northern Europe in which they are based, but they tend to need a cycling mad sugar daddy in charge of the company. Of course, Belgium being Belgium, cycling mad sugar daddies and CEOs are not necessarily mutually exclusive sets.

One other thought does occur - despite what JV often moans about, cycling teams do appear to have some intrinsic value. My evidence for this is that they are so damn hard to kill. Europcar, Saxo, Argos-Shimano, even Garmin all have had near death experiences. And yet haven't died. Why not? Well, because with World Tour qualification, and the scale that you now need to operate in that space, the logistics, knowledge and infrastructure are valuable, and it is much easier to slap your brand on a team that is circling the drain than it is to start again. If even Bjarne and Oleg can make nice because the corpse of Saxo exists, then you know there value in the goodwill.

So - I am not sure I have huge insights, but I thought it was worth sharing. Given that we are back on asphalt and the crowds are gathering, may I wish you all greeting, hello again, its good to see you. Now tell me where I am wrong...


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