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Yahoo! Cycling and Computers, Together At Last!!

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Thanks to Lucybears for starting the conversation in the Fanshots, but this needs its own post, or it least it launched too many brainwaves for me not to write. Was anyone else as flabbergasted by this as I was?

An online survey targeted at Silicon Valley Professionals revealed that an astonishing 50 percent are cycling enthusiasts and follow the local scene.

This is the lede in a CN story of how Yahoo! decided to plunge into cycling. 50% is a huge number. Not quite NFL, but I would take a guess that the Oakland A's wouldn't mind of 50% of Silicon Valley tech dudes, or any other sliver of the population, cared about them. I'd bet the Giants aren't far above that figure. Anyway, in response to this local phenomenon (and probably some assumptions about how Silicon Valley isn't entirely alone), Yahoo! has plunged itself into pro cycling as the title sponsor of America's latest new team. There are a lot of interesting subplots here.

First, another American team... at some point this has to stop, right? Maybe not: nowhere in the CN piece do they utter the words "Tour de France," the ultimate choke point on big teams and sponsors. So for now, let's assume they intend to build slowly, and if circumstances allow Yahoo! Cycling to someday evolve into a Tour team, c'est la vie. By 2013 or so, who knows whether the Shack will live on, or whether Columbia will still be an American team. Anyway, if the Tour were a short-term goal I would be dubious, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

Second, the tech connection... cycling and computers don't seem like the most natural fit, and yet this site is testament to the lie. Cycling's roots are in the blue-collar farming and mining worlds, but cycling fans come from all sectors of society, or at least they have. Now, since the sport is expensive and hard to access through traditional media, it's people who are at least comfortable with computers who have the greatest access to the sport, at least in the US. We use the internet to commune and watch races, but computers have a vital role to the riders as well: they analyze fitness or bike positioning or to design training plans. They share data with coaches, show terrain from tomorrow's race, or even help young North American pros stay connected to friends and family from their unfamiliar European base of operations. True, nobody needs a computer to ride a bike or even to develop into a professional cyclist, but they provide enough advantages that you're seeing at least a strong tendency for bikers to be computer savvy, and vice versa.

Finally, and maybe most importantly, the business model. A disclaimer: here's where we fans start to wander off into the intellectual deep end, and if you grab on to me, chances are we'll both drown. [h/t Tracey Jordan.] But the cyclist-as-billboard model seems to be taking another hit here. Headman Kevin Klein describes the concept thusly:

"The whole idea behind the Yahoo! Cycling Team is the recruitment of high tech professionals in the Silicon Valley and to provide a platform for partners to achieve more involvement at the community level."

So unless he intends to hire software engineers to run bottles up to the front, I assume what he means is that this huge supply of tech dudes who love cycling will be enlisted as supporters of some sort -- informal? fan club members? shareholders? I dunno. But they are aiming at some level of grassroots support to go along with the Yahoo! money dump. Presumably this will all become clear when they do their official launch in January.

Traditional business models have always called on cycling to act as the medium, not the message. I am always open to new ideas, so the idea of cycling transitioning into the message is intriguing, to say the least. It would say just as much about the sport at the pro level as it would about the growing popularity of cycling for other purposes: transportation, exercise, and dare I say it... entertainment!

Bottom line: Keep an eye on Yahoo! Cycling, as a new team and a barometer of changes in the larger cycling world.